Emanuela Rossini
In the past, teaching translation was only through 'training translators', but now, the broader context recognised within the area of Translation Studies makes translation an interesting field of research and a didactic tool for Comparative Literature and intercultural teaching 1. The aim of the present study is to offer a case study (i.e. a descriptive analysis of translation) in order to show how translation might be used as a methodological instrument to work with students interested in acquiring an awareness of how language is deeply related to social reality and the factors and conditions that influence the reception (reading and interpretation) of texts that originate from other linguistic and cultural systems. In fact, studying the strategies of translation can become not only a way of entering the text, but also provides a didactical tool which serves to understand the author and social context, at the same time helping students to read a text from a literary, cultural and political point of view. In this way, literature is proposed as an insight into a political view of the world and as an interpretation of a certain reality, whereby the translation is 'invisible' but implicit in shaping ideas, values and cultures.
Descriptive Analysis will be using a case study: the analysis of the translational strategies and approaches adopted in translating Comedians, by Trevor Griffiths into Italian. Comedians is a play that poses many challenges to the translator. The specific geographical, cultural and linguistic context within which it was moulded (Manchester in the early 1970s) and the political debate it presents, make the translation of Comedians an interesting case study to analyse the factors, underlying theories and assumptions that must be taken into consideration by the translator.
The present study is preceded by a theoretical part in which the theoretical references and the methodology of analysis are illustrated. My approach to the study of literature is a polysystematic one advanced by Russian formalists. This functioned as a starting point for the group of scholars in Translation Studies in so far as it proposed a descriptive research and a comparative study of translation following James Holmes' model of mapping out hierarchies of similarities between texts in order to analyse better translation strategies.
A Descriptive Analysis of Translation. Theoretical Background.
Translating as a Semiotic Transfer. An Analytic Model for Translation Analysis
The history of the relationship between the original (Source Text) and the translated text (TT), can be defined as an unbalanced one, given that the emphasis was placed on the original text. Thus, the source text became the focal point in the translation process, whereby the starting point of a 'metatext reading' aimed at reconstructing the original text at a syntactic, semantic or pragmatic level. This attitude can be traced back to the model devised by Eugene Nida (Nida and Taber: 1969, 484) in which the process of translation is presented in its three distinct phases of analysis, transfer and reconstruction:

Transfer >

The assumption is that translation is 'linear' and it involves a binary choice, which either reformulates the ST's content in TL words retaining most of the SL features (literal translation) or reformulates the ST's content in the TL using TL form (free translation). The latter involves a departure from the original at a syntactic, semantic and pragmatic level.
These definitions 2 have become two limiting definitions of what a translation might be and what is worse they have often been used to judge a translation. In practice, a translation cannot be entirely 'literal' or entirely 'free'. Instead, as translating is a communicative and interpretative act between two languages and two cultural systems, the process itself is consequently subject to the constraints arising from both the source and target systems. As Susan Bassnett states:
The degree to which the translator reproduces the form, rhythm, metre, register of the SL text will be as much determined by the TL system as by the SL system and by the function of the translation (Bassnett: 1980, 80).
In this respect, Nida's definition of translation represents a move in the right direction since, according to the latitude allowed the translator, Nida distinguishes:
- a formal translation, focused on the message itself (sentence to sentence, genre to genre). Footnotes can be introduced and the purpose is mainly didactic: "to make the reader understand the customs, manner of thought and means of expressions of the original".
- a dynamic translation, based upon the principle of 'equivalent effect' (Nida: 1964, 98).
The attention placed by Nida on the effect of translation on the reader leads to a consideration of the purpose and function of each translation. As Mette Hjort pointed out, translation is judged in terms of its actual functioning in the target system: "the criteria of correctness (for translation) is a matter of satisfying appropriateness, conditions and intersubjectively mediated rules or norms" ( Mette Hjort: 1990, 42).
Any translated text shows a certain correspondence with the original, by the fact of being its translation, and also certain deviations from it, because of the interference of the target system in its production. These deviations, which have always been regarded as negative phenomena (loss, addition, departure from the text) are, according to Toury Gideon, the evidence of "those factors determining translation performance beyond the linguistic rules" (Toury: 1981). Translation is translation by virtue of both equivalence and difference.
Compared to the two common definitions of translation - free and literal - Lefevere formulates a more dynamic and flexible definition of the "actual translation" (a term borrowed from Van den Broeck: 1985) indicating what translation is, rather than what it could be, or what it should not be:
Translation is the result of an activity which derives from a text in the SL to a text in the TL which corresponds with the text in the SL in certain relevant features and can be substituted for it under certain circumstances (Lefevere: 1980, 155).
This echoes Catford's definition of translation equivalence: "translation equivalence occurs when a SL and a TL text (or item) are relatable to (at least some of) some relevant features" (Catford: 1965). These relevant features are to be intended as "functionally relevant features" with respect to the system of reference. They are not the linguistic features or the functions encoded in any language which Toury names as "linguistic means" (Toury: 1980a, 95). In addition to the habitual linguistic functions, certain elements in the text acquire what Toury describes as "institutionalised functions in a certain textual tradition" (ibid., 96). In other words, literature and art, described by Lotman as the "secondary modelling system" (Lotman: 1978, 211-31), impose additional values on the primary one, i.e. the natural language. We call these 'additional values' or "signs" according to the definition formulated by Peirce, as "anything which determines something else (its interpretant) to refer to an object to which itself refers (its object), the interpretant becoming in turn a sign" (Peirce: 1931-1935, 228). A sign, for example, may be impressed in the word 'perestroika' for its reference to a certain period in the political history of Russia. Any text may be seen to constitute a semiotic entity in which each sign is in relation to others inside and outside the text. Pierce thus describes the types of relations in a text:
Syntactic - relation between Sign and Sign
Semantic - relation between Sign and Object
Pragmatic - relation between (Sign-Object) and Interpretant (ibid.).
The signs are not static. As Hatim and Mason suggest, every sign becomes in turn a new signifier in search of connotative meaning: "the sign, as the sum total of signifier and signified, can itself function as a signifier for a new signified" (Hatim and Mason: 1990, 112). The efficiency of language is determined by its predisposition to change, due to the continuous reorganisation of signs in the cultural system and its subsystems (following the natural development described by Jakobson as a "destructive-creative process", of conventions, social rules and habits). It is, in fact, in its actual usage that language is enriched by new values which are present in external reality. Saussure's dichotomy between two different phases of development of any natural language (static and dynamic at the synchronic and diachronic level) is reconciled in the view of culture advanced by the Russian semiotician, Jury Lotman, as a "polysystem" where language functions as a "primary modelling system" and art and literature are described as "secondary modelling systems". According to Lotman, language is structurally tied up with the cultural system:
no language can exist unless it is steeped in the context of culture; and no culture can exist which does not have as its centre the structure of natural language (Lotman: 1978, 211-32).
Language, then, is at the heart of culture and it is the interaction between the two that results in their continuous development. We can say that a linguistic phenomenon has changed only when it is regarded as such and then categorised by the language system and it has been no longer an exception (at the usage level).
Therefore, the study of the relationships between signs becomes the study of the "textual functions", in other words, of all those additional values imposed by the cultural context on the text.
According to the meaning that a sign acquires in the text (if it reverberates the general meaning of the text or provides a fundamental clue for the understanding of the 'intended significance' of the single part), it will occupy a certain position within the semiotic entity. Inside any text there will be a "dynamic hierarchy of relevance" to be considered as Toury describes "every feature, at every level, and under certain circumstances, may assume, a high or even the highest position in this hierarchy" (Toury: 1980b, 38). Thus, in the first phase of the activity the translator will create what Holmes defines as an initial MAP: "one abstract mental conception of the original text"(Holmes: 1978a, 72). This MAP will contain various information regarding the text's linguistic, socio-cultural, literary features and will function as criterion useful for the creation of a second MAP, the 'target text map'. In creating this second MAP the translator will seek correspondences with the features of the first MAP. These correspondences may be formal or functional or, in Toury's terms, "adequate" or "acceptable"(Toury: 1980b, 34). This dilemma is created by the interference in the translation process of factors, which originate from both the source and target semiotic systems. The translator needs to decide which relationships in the source text are dominant and their functions, and s/he needs to establish a list of priorities. On the basis of this hierarchy of correspondences s/he will ultimately write the text.
It is important to remember that the translated text does not necessarily preserve the hierarchical order of relevance of the features contained in the source text. Moreover, no translation is entirely adequate or entirely acceptable. In practice, it represents a combination of these two extremes, where there will be a formal correspondence at a certain level and a functional one at another, according to the priorities established by the translator.
The two alternatives of source-oriented and target-oriented approaches are therefore two poles of the area delimited by the two texts and representing the area of their multiple potential relationships. It follows that what is termed 'equivalence' in translation is no longer a search for sameness3, since sameness does not exist even between two translations of the same work. Rather, it has become the principle itself that underlines the entire process of translation: a "functional relational concept" (Toury: 1985, 40) and it describes the actual links and disparities between the original and the translation itself. Equivalence in translation can be described as what makes the relationship between the two texts possible. In other words, what makes a text a translation. This can consist of those textual functions shared by the two texts but that, having been encoded in different signs, occupy a different position in the hierarchical order of the two texts, and means therefore, "equivalence in difference", as Jakobson puts it (Jakobson: ibid., 233) or "invariant under transformation" (Ludskanov: 1975, 5-8). Semiotically speaking, translation can be envisaged as the process, which transforms one semiotic entity into another, under certain equivalent conditions to do with semiotic codes, pragmatic action and general communicative requirements.
The Case Study of the Descriptive Analysis: Comedians, by Trevor Griffiths
The aim of the present Analysis is to describe, within the limiting parameters established by the translator, the types of strategies that have been adopted, and the possible limits they might present with respect to the intended purpose of the translation (that is to say, for example, whether the footnotes used in a face to face translation really can help the reader to understand and appreciate the original text). To put it differently, the aim is to see whether one strategy effectively achieves its intended purpose and the assumptions and concepts which guide the translator. The descriptive method proposed by Holmes (1978a) and the pragmatic approach to translation, as advanced by scholars in the field of Translation Studies has been selected for analysis. The Italian translation will be evaluated not in terms of what it could have been, but in terms of what it is, and how it works in the target system. The Analysis is divided into different sections: first, an insight is offered into the world of Comedians, and in particular into its political and sociocultural resonances (1); then a look is taken at its reception, in Italy (2) 4; finally, a focus on the different strategies adopted by the translator of the Face to Face translation, according to how they respond to a source-oriented (3.1) or to a target-oriented approach (3.2). An attempt will be made to see what priorities the translator has given and how the solutions work in the target text.
1. Comedy as a Political Spy-Hole on Society. A Close Reading of the Play
Comedians is set in the Manchester of the early Seventies. The play opens in a secondary school where Eddie Waters, himself an ex-comedian raised on the traditions of Music Hall 5, is running a course for comedians. The second scene switches to a working men's club 6, where the six 'student-comedians' are to perform their acts in front of a live audience and, more important, before the talent-spotter Bert Challenor, who has travelled from London to assess their performance in the hope of offering some of them jobs.
In the first act, six aspiring comedians are attending their last lesson prior to performing in front of Challenor. The evening is an important one because they might win the chance to become professional comedians and thus considerably improve their social position (they all come from the working class). There are: two Irishmen, Mick Connor a bricklayer from Dublin, and George McBrain a docker from Ulster; the two brothers, Phil and Ged (the former an insurance agent, the latter a milkman); Sammy Samuels, a Manchunian Jew who owns a third-rate club; and Gethin Price, a railway worker, from Lancashire. While waiting for Challenor to arrive, Waters admits to his students that he "never rated that man", and that "he doesn't reckon me either" (Griffiths: 1988, 38) 7. The antagonism between the two men began when Waters refused to join Challenor in the 'Comedy Artist and Manager Federation', and chose instead to remain an independent comedian. The six comedians soon understand that two opposing methods of conceiving and enacting comedy lie at the heart of the continuing hostility between Waters and Challenor.
Waters' idea of making comedy is still rooted within the Music Hall tradition, despite the fact that by the Seventies the Music Hall has almost completely been replaced by working men's club. According to this tradition, in fact, comedians base their material on situations drawn from personal life and related to the local reality familiar to their audiences. Most of the gags and jokes prepared by the six comedians during the course remind us of this tradition. The performances of those comedians who finally decide to join Waters include songs and monologues typical of Music Hall, and the jokes, too, are based upon personal experience. For Waters, a comedian should always "tell the truth" (ibid., 55), in order to draw pictures of the world. This decision should make spectators aware of the objects of their terror, of the things they shy away from. Therefore, the comedian turns out to have an important social role in shaking people out of their customary, passive frames of mind, forcing them to think and to re-enact the present situation, and to challenge the ills of society which need to be changed. Alternatively, Challenor believes comedians to be mere "suppliers of laughter" 8. The type of comedy that Challenor proposes is obscene and based on stereotypes, presenting them simply to release a laugh instead of working from within the stereotypes to reveal the basic prejudices from which they spring (as Waters says). The type of comedy advocated by Challenor is therefore similar to that presented by television, dictated by speed and totally unrelated to the everyday life and local humour. It appears clear to the six comedians that their task is to decide whether to remain faithful to the principles professed by Waters, under whose influence they have been trained, or to change them in order to please Challenor. Considering that it is Challenor who is in a position to offer them a job, the choice becomes dramatic and acquires a larger dimension in the play, presenting the old dilemma between remaining faithful to an idea, a principle, or accepting a necessary compromise. The position of each of the comedians in respect to these alternatives is revealed during their performance: some of them remain faithful to Waters and do not change their gags (for example, Connor and Ged), whilst others (Sammy and McBrain) compromise and, after starting with the jokes they had prepared during the course, they abandon Waters' tutelage to turn to obscene jokes involving stereotypical characters. Only one of them, Price, rejects both alternatives. He decides to opt for a comic form, which is harder, more provocative and violent. After having read a book by Grock, which he borrowed from Waters, Price realises that unless one breaks with the past there can be no truth. And more important: there can be no change without revolution. His performance therefore abandons the Music Hall tradition, combining instead a sharper style of comedy with the 'angry wave', and thus following in the wake of Grock. The result is something very disturbing. Price arrives onstage carrying two mannequins, a man and a woman, in respectable middle-class dress, and proceeds to attack and offend them. Deep irony arise from the situation, since he addresses them in working-class slang - very different, far removed from the language of the middle class - and thus emphasises the underlying social distance between him and them. A crucial moment occurs when he pins a rose to the woman's bosom and a spot of blood appears on her dress, thus stressing the impossibility of communication between the two classes and the sense of impotence which this instils.
Through Price, Griffiths suggests a third dialectical pole. This alternative, however, seems bound to fail, and Price is left alone at the end to continue his personal crusade. In Comedians, the debate on comedy, which apparently serves as the main theme, actually functions as a larger framework and metaphor, for a dispute on questions concerning social reality. The three distinct comic positions represented by Waters, Challenor and Price, and the ensuing debate between the six comedians (ibid., 54) amount to a declaration of principles regarding not only the art of performative comedy but also the state of contemporary society and ways of changing it. Waters' pedagogic attitude reflects the liberal position of the reformers within the Labour Party of the 70s, according to whose view social change is brought about slowly and as a result of education. Price, on the other hand, holds a radical position, according to which social change can occur only through revolution. His account of what happened when he was sent to a psychologist (because he punched his teacher) is clearly an attack on Waters' liberal principles.
In Comedians, as in other plays (for example, Through the Night, 1975), Griffiths uses the theatre as a Brechtian weapon, through which social battles can be fought (Griffiths: 1988, 39). Many social and political issues are therefore presented and analysed during the play, such as class division, social mobility and the disintegration of the working class. The student class is essentially seen as a social class and the compromise that they are asked to accept is the compromise between those liberal ideals, which the working class of the Seventies found, in the Labour Party and market logic. The disagreement among the same group of comedians reminds us of the dissent within the ranks of the working class during the election campaign in the Seventies, some eventually voting for the Conservatives 9. However, the expression through which this 'battle for ideas' plays itself out, is always a theatrical expression. The structure of the play with its triadic movement expressed by the three acts - from school to club and back to school - allows the three different positions to be dramatised further and presented via scenic discourse. The stage space becomes a key component of the stage action, not only in presenting the different comic positions but also in eliminating the barriers between fiction and reality and thus transforming itself, during the second act, into a social space. The strength and 'significance' of the play are not to be found in any one of the three suggested alternatives, but in the dialectical positioning of the characters and spectators in the face of these three possible alternatives. Even if the author did incline toward Price or Waters' position, the theatrical device offered by the structure of the play itself would still give the audience the possibility of choosing between and subverting any of the 'possible' interpretations afforded to the play by the author. Therefore, by placing the spectators in a dialectical relationship with the debates occurring on stage, Griffiths manages to avoid the risk of 'delivering' a moral lesson and forces the spectators to take part in the debate and adopt their own social position.
2.1. Comedians in Italy
The main problem in translating Comedians into Italian was created by the density of cultural references linked to a reality and a social system so far removed from those of Italian society. The debate on political issues and society, which supports the debate on the nature of comedy itself, is closely related to the English situation of the early 70s. The insurgent social movements which spread in Italy and in Europe in 1968 had only limited counterparts in England since the working classes failed to evolve in a collective revolutionary movement on a national scale (Hayman: 1973, The Times). The structure of English society itself, the division of classes, the women's movement, meant that popular social expressions found different outlets in the two countries. The linguistic texture of the play, the idiomatic expressions, jokes, swear words, accents and different social registers had no way of crossing national borders since their meaning is derived more from an act of subverting and transgressing the codified meanings of the English cultural system rather than from their referential relationship with an external reality. The language used by the characters is proper to the working class in the north of England, in particular in Manchester, and it is full of idiomatic expressions and jokes. For example, the jokes about the Irishmen on which Connor bases his performance was characteristic of the north of England in the 70s, where the figure of the immigrant from Ireland is stereotyped and often portrayed as drunk, slow and of limited intelligence. Moreover, in the play there is much reference to places, clubs, streets, which are geographically recognisable, along with names of local actors, celebrities who were well known during the period. This specific geographical, cultural and linguistic context within which the play had been set made its initial reception difficult in other areas of U.K.
The playtext entered in Italy thanks to two versions: the 'Face to Face' translation, by translator Ettore Capriolo, and the so-called 'adaptation', by theatre director Gabriele Salvatores together with Gino and Michele, the actors of the 'Teatro dell'Elfo' company. The two Italian translations differ both in their underlying approach to the original text, which is mainly source-oriented in the former translation and target-oriented in the latter, and also in their purpose, which is didactic in the first and for the stage in the second. This reflects the two typologies illustrated in Nida's definition of translation, of formal and dynamic translation.
2.2. Two Typologies of Translation: Didactic and for the Stage
The 'Face to Face' version is a 'literal' and 'word by word' translation of the English playtext. It is meant to function essentially as a linguistic support, providing the reader with a better understanding and appreciation of the original text (intended as a cultural reference to the Seventies) 10. Similar to any 'Face to Face' translation, it should not be read as a text, from the beginning to the end, but consulted occasionally as one uses footnotes added to an original play. Therefore, the limiting conditions set by translator can be defined as follows: (i) the staging of the text is not its primary function; (ii) it presents its material as 'faithfully' as possible to the source text's cultural references (and author's intended meaning); (iii) the intended reader is one who approaches the translation guided by a desire to understand the English text (i.e. Student). As far as the staged version is concerned, the original playtext was totally re-written by Gabriele Salvatores in order to create a playtext able "to speak our language". Together with the six actors (some belonging to the 'Elfo' theatre company, others from different parts of Italy and from different theatrical experiences) Salvatores felt that all the actors had to be professional comedians with experience in 'cabaret' 11, 'Commedia Italiana' and in general, improvisations. He selected what he and the company felt as dominant points in the original playtext which, given their social resonance, "personally and collectively" responded to (a) the debate on comedy; (b) the political and social dimension given to this debate (or, as Salvatores says, "una forma di teatro politico"); (c) an effective theatrical device (theatre within the theatre) which allows this debate to overflow onto the stage (Salvatores: 1986, 67-75). These focal points, which constitute the texture of the original playtext have been transposed into an Italian context (specifically a Milanese context) and re-worked by the actors according to "their experience as comedians and in life: the Italian comic tradition and the social-political reality they, as real comedians, had to come to terms with" 12. The result was a play which departed from the original in structure and thematic points. For example, the third act was elided, all the English jokes changed, many situations which were seen as 'typically English' were replaced by others which were not only recognisable by the new audience but resounding with different social connotations, all in order to come closer to the text in its 'social potential', allowing the audience to respond. The sense of provocation inherent is then seen by the author as 'the meaning' of the play itself: "la realtà è da ricercare nel subbuglio che ogni rappresentazione di questo testo ha sempre creato" (Griffiths: 1986, 37).
The relationship between the stage version and its original is to be understood, therefore, in terms of a 'genetic' link since Salvatores and the theatre company treated the playtext not as a unique piece of art, but as a starting point from which to have a new experience, which, in turn, will trigger off further experiences in the audience. Due to limited space, here, only the 'Face to Face' translation will be taken into consideration. Priority is given over the staged version, as this one actually served as a matrix for the staged version, whereby the Theatre Company with the support of the 'Face to Face' translation in fact read the original text.
3. Descriptive Analysis of the 'Face to Face' Translation. Strategies and Approaches
3.1. Source-Oriented Approach and Strategies
In the translated text all the words referring to places, streets, proper names, names of famous comedians, of particular commodities (i.e. brand names, types of beer, supermarket chains etc), in general those referring to the specific reality of Comedians presented above, have been left in English. Here are just a few examples:
PHIL. "Sarà alla New Inn" (p. 26).
PHIL. "(...) Market Street" (p. 29).
SAMUEL. Adesso le sue preoccupazioni sono finite, signor Challenor. Mi dia retta. Cinque dei più bei numeri comici a ovest di Royton. Io sono divertitissimo (p. 79).
CHALLENOR. Ah no? Ce n'è qualcuno che lavora nei nights delle Midland, lo sapevi? Gente terribile, naturalmente (p. 77).
This strategy expects a lot from the target audience since it relies on the reader's cultural and linguistic knowledge of the source system. Even if the intended reader of the translation is someone who has at least a little English, s/he is unlikely to know what kind of people tended to patronise a specific club, lived in a specific road, or the variety of evening entertainment offered in the Midlands during the mid 1970s. Since many place names are indicative of the social status of the people, what may not be understood are those 'hints' as to the social status of the six comedians which may be described as "working class". For example, the following passage is full of cultural allusions, which are left in their untranslated English form, but at the same time are supposed to be intelligible to the reader without any need for further explanation (according to the didactic purpose of the translation):
MACBRAIN: Signore e Signori, benvenuti al Capocabana di Factory Street, dove il programma di stasera prevede un'autentica orgia di talenti famosi, compreso il signor Sammy Samuels, il Golda Meir di Gaglandia, fresco reduce dai recenti clamorosi successi sexy all'Hilton di Gaza, e non dobbiamo dimenticare, naturalmente, il Telly Savalas del Varietà, l'autore dell'applaudatissima La Scimmia Nuda, il signor Gethin... (p. 35).
These examples represent one case of 'mesh strategies' which will be discussed later. The title of one song, The Naked Jape, is translated (La scimmia nuda) whereas the other titles are left in their English version.
Without knowledge of the specific reality that references in Comedians allude to (section 2.1.) one is unable to understand the functional contemporary relevance of many expressions or words or even the relevance they might have had at the time (recognition of "signs" is indispensable for their reworking).
One might give a few more examples: the nickname "Mick" used insultingly for Irish men (in the text applied to Connor) can only be understood within the context of the stereotyped Irish man of the North of England. The comedians' personal names which are left in English, are likewise important vehicles of information relating to the debate on comedy and to the different positions held by the characters. Price, for example, refuses Waters' and Challenor's principles. The only clues the reader has to understanding Price's thoughts on the nature of comedy are given by his references to Grock and by the comments he makes on those comedians who have inspired him. For example, in the following passage:
PRICE. Davvero ha lavorato con Frank Randle?
CHALLENOR. Il migliore, nel suo genere, forse.
PRICE. In che senso nel suo genere?
CHALLENOR. Era solo un fenomeno locale. A sud di Birmingham non era più nessuno. Ce n'erano tanti come lui - Sandy Powell, Albert Modley, Jimmy James (in the footnotes: names of famous comedians). Ma il gigante era George... (p. 81).
Each comedian is supposed to evoke immediately a sketch or a gag in the reader's mind and to indicate, within the parameters of the debate on comedy, the relative positions of each of the six comedians. While in the footnotes it is said that the name refers to a famous comedian, it is still not stated the kind of comedy he was famous for, which could be considered of vital importance regarding the debate on comedy.
Complementary and simultaneously opposed to this is the following strategy: the use of footnotes added to some of the words, which are left in English in the translation. Footnotes here are meant to supply the text with information about the cultural, geographical and historical context in which the words are being used in order to bring the reader closer to the reality of Comedians, thus responding to the underlying didactic purpose of the translation. Information might be given, for example, as to how the educational system of England is organised and what an "O" Level exam is (footnote 1); that 'Crossroads' was a popular television series in the Seventies, set in a town in the North of England (footnote 10); or to explain what the following words refer to: Wimpey (p. 31); Ken Dodd (p. 31); Worthington; Woolworth (p. 31); and countless others 13. In the following example, to enable the reader to understand Challenor's sarcasm, it was felt necessary to explain in a footnote that Southport is a seaside resort, in the North of England, where old people often spend their holidays:
CHALLENOR: Pensavo che alla tua età tu ti fossi ritirato in un bungalow a Southport, Eddie (p. 77).
The function of footnotes is essentially, therefore, to fill a cultural gap between the reader of the target text and the original 'intended' reader/spectator that Griffiths had in mind when he wrote the play:
I wrote the play having a specific audience in mind, that living in the same area of the characters would be able to understand them, even understand their deepest motivations (Griffiths: 1986, 35).
In this sense the strategy very clearly reflects a historical source-oriented approach to the original text, reflected in the purpose itself of the translation. The footnotes, despite constituting a text in themselves (therefore, open to almost any kind of reading), reveal a stricter attempt by the translator to guide the perceptions of the reader. However, even in so doing, this strategy is still bound to fail with respect to its intended purpose. If in fact the particular cultural reference can be explained in a footnote, the broader social context of that reference, or situation, is encapsulated by and working within a larger circle, which may be an ideology or a conceptual mental structure embodied within the target system (e.g. a prejudice). The footnotes simply isolate what is a part of a broader cultural entity, and while explaining what the small circle may signify they still leave in the dark - take for granted - the general background which gives energy and relevance to small details. Let us take a look at a specific example:
PHIL.- Ogni giorno che passa assomigli sempre di più al reverendo Paisley, George (footnote).
MCBRAIN. (imitando Paisley) Eviti di sfottere il reverendo, signor Murray. Non siamo rimasti in molti a saper camminare sull'acqua (p. 27).
(Footnote 3) The Reverend Ian Richard Kyle Paisley had been an MP (Democratic Unionist) in North Antrim from 1974 to 1985, the year in which he resigned as an act of protest against the Anglo-Irish agreement.
Behind this anecdote lies the difference between being Catholic in a Protestant country and in an officially Catholic country such as Italy, where the presence of the Pope exerts a considerable psychological, political and economic pressure on the faithful. Also, the way in which Catholics are perceived in England by Protestants is important in helping us understand both the radicalism and conservatism of the Catholic community in this country (since they always had to strive to present a sense of unity and, consequently, the radical reactions of certain sectors of the Protestant community). In order, therefore, to understand the subtle hints and irreverent remarks, such as were seen in the above example, we need to be aware of a larger cultural circle - 'the context of the context' - which is usually not explained in the footnotes given the constraints of brevity. Moreover, even if the Italian reader was familiar with the position that Catholicism occupies within a Protestant society, it does not necessarily follow that s/he would understand the humour contained in a particular anecdote. By providing a superficial and 'intellectual' understanding of the mechanism on which an anecdote or joke is based, the footnotes may achieve an alienating effect, i.e. instead of enabling their reader to share an experience, to sympathise with another culture, they underline the 'incommunicability' between the two cultures. In fact, one who does not understand why an expression is meant to be funny in the original (despite being told in the footnotes that it is funny) may retreat within her/his own cultural borders and begin to regard the other culture suspiciously thinking that, maybe, 'those people' have a very 'funny' sense of humour.
In the following example we have an extreme case of the two strategies mentioned above. One might wonder at this point whether the translated text was really necessary after all, or whether it could simply have been replaced by longer footnotes added to the original text. The obscene song invented by Price is here left in English in the text and translated in the footnotes:
C'era una Signorina di nome Pratt / Che si appendeva alla lampada col cappello / Con una tosse spaventosa
Si faceva una sega / Mordendosi la figa con i denti (footnote 13).
The problems arise later when Waters analyses this with the intention of making Price understand that this song was symptomatic of his (Price's) problems with women. The translator had no alternative but to leave the words in English, thus rendering the passage somewhat obscure:
WATERS. (va alla lavagna e scrive col gesso le parole chiave l'una dopo l'altra, rapidamente, leggendole in tono uniforme). Pratt, Pratt richiama twat. Lady, twat, brutta parola, etc...Ma con chi ce l'ha con questa battuta? La sua donna 'jerk herself off. È forse un uomo?
PRICE. Fa rima con cough.
WATERS. È off che fa rima con cough. Che cosa pensa di questa donna. (p. 59).
Since one may not be fully aware of the weight of taboo words in a language which is not one's own mother tongue, there may be no emotional feeling or response on the part of the Italian reader to the idea of transgression achieved by these words nor a full understanding of their analysis. The transgression operated via language of a given socially codified system is not perceived if that system is unknown (or partly unknown). Here lie the limits of those translational strategies which only describe the external cortices within which jokes and swear words are contained and not their integral content, that which gives the expression its energy.
In conclusion, the strategies described so far fail, in my view, to achieve the intended purpose of the translation, that is to enable the reader to bridge the cultural gap. One reads the translation hoping thereby to understand what the English words are referring to, and in some cases, one finds the words in their untranslated English form, or a footnote which only explains the referential meaning of the unknown word (i.e. the brand of a beer). What they don't reveal is the cultural stigma these words carry.
Another strategy adopted, responding to a source-oriented approach, is that of seeking correspondence between the English and Italian language at a referential level, irrespective of the target system of reference. The source and the target language texts (or items) are here corresponding for some linguistic features, which are not the "functionally linguistic features" as intended by Toury (Toury: 1980, 96), but linguistic elements unrelated to their social referent. The following example may serve as illustration.
GED. (distribuendoli) (...) Nasello non ne avevano. E allora t'ho preso una focaccia (in English: pie).
SAMUELS. Ma è una focaccia di maiale (in English: pork pie), cazzo (127).
Here the translation involved only the transfer of linguistic means without considering the relationship of 'word to context' or the additional values (connotative meanings) imposed on language by the cultural systems. The meaning of the expression "pork pie" has been seen as the sum of the meaning of the two words that compose it. Subsequently, a word by word correspondence was sought at a purely abstract level since "focaccia di maiale" does not correspond to any recognisable object in the target system. The example illustrates how values in a given language are system-bound and culturally functional, rather than fixed and replaceable. By attempting to stay faithful to the original at the formal (syntactic) referential level, the 'Face to Face' translation departs from it in terms of its social and cultural allusions. When applied to the translation of (i) idiomatic expressions and (ii) jokes, of which Comedians abounds, translation at a referential level reveals its strategic shortcomings and its limited success with respect to its intended function:
(i). Some idiomatic expressions in English, rendered word by word in Italian, simply lose their effect and meaning (recognition fails to occur), such as: the exclamation "potatoes heads" (p. 50) translated as Teste di patata; "You were thinking about it. Jesus wept (p. 72) is translated as: Era a questo a cui pensavi. Anche Gesù lacrimava, where the dismayed English interjection receives an obscure expression, as its Italian counterpart; "What an excellent suggestion, give that man a balaclava for his pain" (p. 41) is translated as: Una proposta eccellente, date a quell'uomo un passamontagna per compensare il suo sforzo (...). The Italian expression is a bit obscure and does not convey the sense of irony of its English correspondent.
(ii) A joke subverts the semiotic model, the socially sanctioned structure of coded meanings shared by the teller and her/his audience. A familiar situation is subverted from within and presented in its twofold dimensions, one in compliance with the accepted order and the other returning the latencies of an infantile symbolic order 14, latencies which remain finally unrealised but suggested throughout. The tension and its resolution derive from the play between acceptable and repressed semiotic systems. In translating a joke, one needs, first of all, to understand the core of the joke, to discover the repressed situation that is being manipulated and to see whether one could reply with a knowledge of this situation in the target audience. In case this is impossible there is no alternative but to change the joke, thus finding within the target cultural system a possible transgressive or repressed image from which to start either modifying the original joke (this is true of the derogatory English jokes at the expense of the Irish, which are translated into Italian jokes about people from Southern Italy in the staged version) 15. In the 'Face to Face' translation, by contrast, this substitution of jokes was probably seen to be too subversive, since it would have entailed a radical change in the syntactical and semantic structures of the original text. Therefore, according to the strategy of the translation as operative at referential level, 'word for word', the elements translated were only the acceptable situation of the joke, merely the external layer and not that core which gives it energy, that is, that makes a joke a joke, the revelatory truth it conceals (prejudices and attitudes which society is afraid of and collectively suppressed). Having adopted this strategy, the translator decided to leave the reader exposed to English humour and subjected to the same difficulties as s/he would encounter in reading the jokes directly in English, with the possible risk of missing the allusions and failing to appreciate the joke's subtleties. Let us take a couple of some examples. Connor bases his jokes on a very typical stereotype, the 'Irishman', and on the social realities of Northern Ireland, with its polarised religious division. The character of the 'Stage Irishman' has existed in England since the 18th century and the Irish are traditionally seen as drunk, sleepy and irreverent. In the following passage, taken from Connor's virtuoso performance, the expression "Mick" serves as an insulting nickname for the Irish, generally in the combination 'thick Mick':
CONNOR. "First think he says, You're not a Mick, are you?
E la prima cosa che lui mi dice è: Mica sarai un irlandese del sud?"(p. 112).
Also "Whatsisname" by Connor, translated into Come si chiama? loses its strength thereby with the consequence that Phil's reaction can be seen as unmotivated:
CONNOR. Come si chiama?
PHIL. Come si chiama? Senti, vuoi andare vaffanculo, irlandese? (p. 45).
Many jokes refer to Catholicism, and they reflect the Protestants' irreverent attitude to Catholic mores and edicts, as in the following examples:
MCBRAIN. Ho sentito dire che la Chiesa ha concesso al papa una dispensa speciale ... può farsi suora (breve pausa)
CONNOR. È vero. Ma solo il venerdì (p. 35).
Furthemore, Samuel wittily responds to the Jewish community, another stereotype of British culture:
SAMUEL. Ma certo che ricordo di Mosè. Un tipo piccolo ... (pensoso) ... con una brutta dentatura, ohi quell'alito ... (p. 43).
The text is full of anecdotes and references to Judah, Irishmen, and the Pope. One should here emphasise that if the reader/spectator does not share, on a higher level than mere understanding, the prejudices that a joke reveals, the joke will fail to work. Footnotes might be useful in this case to describe how the joke is supposed to work in the original system, even if the joke might not elicit the same response as it did in the original. A sense of humour is in essence cultural-bound, and differences exist even within the target community.
(iii) In general, constraints imposed by the source system are perceivable throughout the translation at a syntactic level (thus making the translation sound 'a translation'). The result is often an overloading of the text and the loss of wit contained in the original and, it seems to me, that in many cases the translation might negatively affect one's reading of the original text by presenting a counterpart devoid both of humour and social impact. Here are just a few examples:
(...) è il cibo, inquinamento istantaneo. (...) ero distrutto; crollai con le mani sullo stomaco (p. 112).
(...) nuovi comici che si accingono a salire il primo gradino sulla scala della fama (p. 93).
(...) ne coglie un'occhiata durante un inchino. Un momento di immobilità (silenzio, tensione). Poi MCBRAIN lo spezza ed esce (p. 115).
In the following example, the speaker is telling a joke. Here the repetition of 'and' imparts a slow rhythm where instead we anticipate a moment of climax:
(...) e aiuta a spingere nell'acqua il suo caro e vecchio amico in carrozzella e il prete dice: in nomine òmine donnine e poi lo tirano fuori e nella carrozzella ci sono quattro gomme nuove (p. 109).
We could say that the 'word by word' translation in many cases undermines the irony of the jokes, thus showing that the translator deliberately disregarded considerations as to the fluency of the language, the rapidity and smoothness of expression and, in general, the strategy for reaching a climax and releasing tension, which are the principal techniques used in joke construction.
In my view this strategy of a 'word by word' translation at referential level presents certain limitations with respect to the intended purpose for which it has been employed (that is, to aid one's understanding of the original text). The main reason is because it failed to allow for the inevitable interference arising from the target system, regarding the Italian language instead as mute and passive, devoid of any social resonance. The perception of the English reality is difficult through an Italian translation, since language is intrinsically bound to the system in which it operates. Any language can describe another reality but only through the categories (conceptual, performative, ideological) within which its linguistic means have been functionally conceived and recognised by a given community as "there can be no true symmetric no adequate mirroring between two different semantic systems" (Steiner: 1975, 240) In other words, any shift from one language to another even if it is postulated, as in our case by the translator, at a merely referential level inevitably entails an intra-cultural shift. To be made aware of the impossibility of a direct similarity in terms of response between two texts is, in my view, to become alert to and to consider the social resonance, which arises from translation.
3.2. Target-Oriented Approach and Strategies in the 'Face to Face' Translation
There are some translational solutions in the 'Face to Face' translation, which respond to a functional and intra-cultural approach to the original text. In the following examples, for the specifically English items a corresponding Italian word is found, possessing the same connotations or performing the same textual function with respect to the target system. It is interesting to note that in this case, the (potential) social references and cultural allusions arising from the Italian text are different from the (potential) English ones, but, in contrast with those that we commented upon in the case of the referential translation, they are more appropriate to the situation, thus revealing how the translator may take into account the target response:
Gala Night in the City Varieties? / Serata di Gala al Varietà municipale? (p. 67).
he's been sent on a wild goose chase / lo hanno fatto girare come una trottola (p. 70).
(to everyone) I want to wish you luck / ( a tutti) In bocca al lupo (p. 77).
Senti, Ged, ascoltami bene, il Sig. Water può andare a farsi sfottere. Io non ho nessuna intenzione di passare il resto dei miei giorni disoccupato a farmi mantenere dallo stato / (...) on the pigging knocker collecting club money (p. 85).
In general, as far as the English swearwords are concerned, they have been translated with the purpose of achieving the same emotional impact on the reader:
Bloody idiot / stronzo (p. 27); Stupid mare / cretini (p. 27); Dirty bastards, filthy fuckers / luridi bastardi, sporchi figli di puttana (p. 25); Bloody weather / tempo di merda (p. 27); No pigging bus / fottutissimo autobus (p. 29); Piss off, will you? / senti, vuoi andare affanculo? (p. 45).
Swearwords are essentially culture-time and often community-bound. Therefore, what is to be translated in the case of swearwords is not the initial referential image but rather an expression invested with the same degree of emotional impact in relation to the same situation. Except for very few examples, it is quite interesting to note that all the swearwords in the English text have been translated according to a target-oriented approach (functional translation, as examined later) thus revealing the translator's awareness of the necessity (in my view) of moulding the expressions to the system of reference.
Some idiomatic expressions have been translated into functionally correspondent terms in Italian:
I've worked meself puce for tonight / Ho sgobbato come uno schiavo (p. 27).
Right, let's get cracking / diamoci una mossa (p. 41).
Got stuck on the Old Road. Walked the last sodding mile / Bloccato in piena Old Road. E gambe in spalle per l'ultimo fradicio kilometro (p. 41).
The "Good evening, Mr Woodentop" with which Phil is greeted, when he finally arrives in the class, is translated into "Buona sera, signor Trottola", an expression which, although not possessing the same connotation ('thick person'), and being not very popular, may well be appropriate to the situation since 'trottola' suggests one who keeps wandering aimlessly, or one easy to tease.
Throughout the translated text we noted strategies responding to the two different approaches alternating with each other, sometimes in the same line, thus revealing the moving of translator along the two poles of the source and target approach. In the following examples one idiomatic expression is translated word by word at the referential level, whereas the second one by means of an Italian idiom (functional equivalence):
I'm as full of vim as a butcher's dog, (...) I'm as lively as a cricket / Sono pieno di energia come un cane d'un macellaio, (...) sono vispo come un grillo (p. 81) Fish and Chips./ Pesci fritti e patatine; It's teeming down/Piove che Dio la manda (p. 126).
Here are some other examples illustrating diverse strategies operating within the same sentence: some words are left in English, use of footnotes, a functional target equivalence established at the semantic level:
PRESENTATORE. Signori e Signore, benvenuti al Capocapana di Factory Street (...) il signor Sammy Samuels, il Golda Meir di Gaglandia, (...) all'Hilton di Gaza, e il Telly Savalas del Varietà, l'autore dell'applaudatissima La scimmia nuda (The Naked Jape) (p. 35).
PHIL. You'll look like a dog's dinner / Sembri un figurino.
MCBRAIN. (un'esplosione) Il Kennomeat Kid! Ha! Questa è buona! Mi piace! (con la voce di Frank Carson). È la maniera in cui le racconto (p. 30).
Most of the songs and plays on words, rhymes, alliterations in the English text disappear in the translation since priority is given to the semantic level of the dialogue and the phonetic aspect of the English language is mainly disregarded. The following example presents a case in which priority in translation is given to the phonetic aspect but at the expense of the semantic content of the phrases which, in my view, contains a key message:
WATERS. The traitor distrusts truth (they look at him). The traitor distrusts truth.
WATERS. Assassino asciugati con l'asciugamano asciutto (lo guardano). Assassino asciugati con l'asciugamano asciutto (p. 48).
This case very clearly reveals the risk and limit presented by a 'word by word' translation, since it may happen, as in this case, that one does not relate one passage to the whole and one may miss the information arising from associative level of the text and created by repeated words and internal cross-reference. The word 'truth' in fact is a key word since it explains how Waters conceives the comedic task: "to tell the truth". Truth, for him means mirror of reality in its small details, whereas for Price, who uses the same word later on, it comes to signify faithfulness to one's own principles and ideas: PRICE. Sto solo cercando una 'verità (the truth)". The repetition of the same word is indicative therefore that Price understood the message sent by Waters, and that he wants to advance his own alternative position 16. The full meaning of the 'unit' is not given only by the referential domain of the individual words. Rather, as Bassnett claimed (Bassnett: 1980, 18) it derives from the relation between one word and those that surround it ("Horizontal Relationship"), the word and the language as a whole ("Vertical Relationships") and between its signified and signifier ("Structural Relationships"). The task of the translator is therefore to identify, weight and transform the set of relationships (syntactic, semantic, pragmatic) established among the words/units of the text both at the syntactical and pragmatic level. It therefore becomes most important for a translator to look at the text as a 'whole', as Mary Snell Hornby puts it: "translation unit is the text itself" (Hornby: 1990, 81).
One of the crucial problems faced by the translator of Comedians was to deal with social registers, accents, social connotations imprinted in words linked to a specific cultural and class-system context.
In the following example we have a case of a functional translation strategy at the phonetic level:
SAMUEL. You're a slippy fucker. Do you know that?
PRICE (rolling eyes): Yes, baas I know that, baas Yessuh baas Whup ma hahd an cawl me kinky
SAMUEL. Sei un viscido bastardo, lo sai?
PRICE. (roteando gli occhi). Zì, badrone. Lo zo, badrone. Zignorzì, badrone. Mi frusdi la desda e mi brenda a basdonade (p. 64).
Here in the two texts the same accent is conveyed, which is that of a black man who speaks in English (in the ST) and of a black man who speaks in Italian (in the TT). However, since the social position of black people is different in the two countries, we cannot talk of 'functional equivalence' (same social variation) but of 'equivalence of functions': the register variation in the source language encoded in the target language acquiring diverse social connotations in the target system. However, despite the few examples reported above, the Italian translation does not seem to take into consideration the task of rendering the social registers of which Comedians is full, even when, in my opinion, it is the phonetic level of the text which is carrying the dominant meaning. The six comedians, in fact, are representative of the working class and their language is indicative of their social position. In the translation, in my view, the language is too literal, educated (except for the swear words) and it is in contrast to the language that, even in Italian, six men from the working class, are supposed to speak 17. One example is given by the performance of Price (p. 119). Here, the strong accent of the North England (the=t', we=wi, etc) is indicative of the different social positions between Price and the two supposed middle class personas on stage. To neutralise this textual level and to translate the dialogues using very 'educated' Italian expressions, such as gradinata, ragazzi, fare conoscenza, prenderti a botte, etc.. is to bring Price close to the language of the other two and neutralise the linguistic difference, which is essentially a social difference in the original. Consequently, this social difference may remain difficult to grasp by many Italian readers. As far as the register variation is concerned, it must be recognised that the Italian language, in contrast to English, does not in general allow one to detect the social origin of a speaker but, rather, the region from which they come (due to the variations of dialects and regional accents in Italy). However different social status between speakers (i.e. a low level of education) could be conveyed by working on the semantic level, i.e. by using swearwords, or an inappropriate use of grammar rules, the use of parataxis instead of ipotaxis structures; and, in general, a poor and restricted vocabulary with many repetitions.
Conclusion of the Analysis
As confirmation of the belief that no translation is either entirely "adequate" or entirely "acceptable" (Lefevere: 1980, 155), the textual analysis has revealed that the translator's approach to the original text is not nearly so 'polarised' or narrow as statements suggest (essentially source-oriented). Throughout the text we discovered, in fact, a mesh of strategies alternating with each other. However, the general framework within whose boundaries all of the above strategies are seen to be working is that established by a 'word by word' model of translation with attention focused only on the micro text (that is characteristic of a 'Face to Face' translation). Throughout the translation, it is in fact possible to perceive the constraints originating in the source system, at the structural as well as semantic level, revealing the translator's constant attempt to preserve the syntactic order of the original sentences. Despite this, we managed to find cases in which the translator departs from the "source map" (in Holmes' terms) and transfers his information to the "target map", thus working only within the constraints of the target system (target-oriented strategies). We also noticed that the translational solutions offered in those cases never involved syntactical changes with respect to the original texture and had, therefore, probably been made only because they were felt not to be too subversive. As far as the dramatic discourse is concerned, the translation appears to be literal and it is evident that the translator treated the original text not as a playtext (made up of dialogues in context) but as a piece of prose. One could justify such an approach by claiming that this particular translation was not intended for the stage. It seems to me, however, that to disregard the specific features of the scenic discourse, its integral nature and the signifying function of its elements, is to ignore the meaning creating process proper to the dramatic discourse.
Translation and Research
In the last section of Translating Literature. Practice and Theory in a Comparative Literature Context (1992, 141-46), Lefevere suggests a list of topics which might be discussed and provide material for further research in the classroom. In addition, students might be encouraged to make up their own case studies on translations or personally carry out translations and then compare emerging problems, solutions and strategies adopted in the course of their work. Discussion in class with the students needs to be designed not to provide them with rules or 'solutions' but to increase their awareness of the issues involved, at the same time uncovering the mechanisms of canonisation and manipulation that are at work not only at many levels in literature, but also in society. In this way, the study of translations acquires relevance beyond the realm of literary and linguistic studies.