Translation and the Readers Response Theory – II

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Basudeb dwells into the complexities of translation and readers response theory, in the second and final part of his erudite research, exclusively for Different Truths.

Translator’ construction of the text which he translates may not be identical to the text of the Source Language Text (SLT) author. It is his understanding of the language and the meaning of the SLT with the help of which a translator constructs a text of his own. His understanding includes not only the categorical and formal aspects but also the cultural significance of that language.

The translator’s taste, affinity, scholarship, experience social standing – all determine the meaning of the author’s text. (e.g., Baby swallows fly—ambiguity)
 Thus, a translator first is a reader and he decodes linguistic symbols which are signifiers of SLT. He is expected to be familiar with every nuance, linguistic features of syntax, of inflectional and derivational affixes, of its arbitrary behaviour of lexical items and so on.
The translator also needs to be very much meticulous about the cultural significance of the text he undertakes to translate. The phrase Cultural Significance in this context refers to both conceptual and Associative meanings of language. For example the word in English needle: 
Its conceptual meaning: Thin, sharp, steel instrument.
Its associative meaning:  Something painful.

A translator’s awareness of cultural awareness also leads him to examine the Pragmatics of the SLT. Pragmatics means characterisation of the speaker meaning. Interpretation of symbols, imagery allusions, etc., depends on many occasion upon the analysis of the context – the analysis which comes under the purview of pragmatics.

Let me give one more example of the study of pragmatics in this context: The utterance, “Could you drive my Volvo Car?”  It is made by a young girl to a young man. Both of them are found standing in the parking zone of a pub. The sentence may generate a multiplicity of meanings:  
M1    The man doesn’t know the skill of motor driving
M2    The man is used to driving an ordinary car, not an expensive car like Volvo
M3    The girl wants the man’s company or she wants him to be her escort.
M4     The girl is much conscious about her economic status; she is financially capable of possessing an expensive car like Volvo and she makes the man realise that she is economically superior to him.

Another example of pragmatics – I left her unhappy. Baby swallows fly.
The examination of the context can determine the exact meaning. This is what pragmatics examines. Pragmatics does not ask ‘What does X mean?’ It asks “What does one mean by X?” Pragmatics is interested in the functions, intentions, goals and effects of utterance. A translator’s close familiarity with the pragmatics of the SL text – the pragmatics, which may be defined as the cultural significance of the language is a prerequisite of a journey from one text to another text. Noam Chomsky calls it “pragmatic competence”.
The next stage in the process of translation is that a translator encodes what is in his mind about the theme, Meta theme of SL text. He also keeps in his mind at this stage of encoding the cultural significance (conceptual as well as associative meaning) and structural and grammatical aspects of the SLT. He keeps all these things in his mind for the following: One of the important characteristic features of a successful translator is to be faithful to the original text.

The problem in transferring the structural and grammatical aspects of the SLT into the linguistic framework of the Translated Language Text (TLT) text seems to be very much formidable. The translator is also expected to take utmost care of faithful transference of the structural and grammatical aspects of the language of into the TLT.
First, at the level of phonology, the rhapsody of the rhythm of one language is very difficult to transfer into another linguistic framework. Even if the transference is made at the level of phonology, the comparative evaluation will be subjective and absolutely private. It is because every language has a certain and specified way of organizing phonetic symbols of its own, forming a sound cluster—the auditory effect of which is only possible in that specific language only. Let us refer to Tagore’s Rakta Karabi and its English translation.

At the beginning of the SLT, Rakta Karabi, the voice addresses Nandini; as /Nandin/; Tagore in this TLT, Red Oleanders uses Nandini; the sonority of the auditory effect of /Nandin/ cannot be achieved by substituting /Nandini/ for /Nandin/. In the source language, /Nandini/ may be the most affectionate and endearing address for /Nandini/. Western readers and audiences will definitely miss the feeling of the name /Nandin/ because Tagore uses /Nandini/ in Red Oleanders. 

Problems of translating mythological names seem difficult. The mythological name, Krishna in Mahabharata has often been addressed as Kalachand, Krishna, Parthasarathi, Shyam, Dwarknath, Nandadulal, Devaki Nandan and many others on various occasions of the SL text. And each of these names of Krishna has its own contextual meaning. The image of Debakinandan has little to do with the image of Parthasarathi. A practicing translator usually translates the various names of Krishna as Lord Krishna on all occasions. To an American, for example, the English translation of the Mahabharata presents Krishna in all contexts as Lord Krishna.

Raghupati, Raghunath, Raghab, Janakinath, and Sitapati – all are unknown to a person who does not know Indian languages, as Lord Rama. Indeed, every name of Lord has its own connotation in each context. Lord Rama does not convey all the shades of meaning conveyed by various names of Rama. Problems again crop up in translating place names, in translating names of seasons like Asarh, Shravan, Poush, Phalgun, and Chaitra and so on. Tagore in his Rakta Karabi introduces “Pousher Gan”. If it is now translated into English “Song of Poush”, will a western reader who does not know Bengali language and its cultural significance understand and appreciate what it is? To appreciate the words and melody of the song sung in the month of Poush in Bengal one needs to be intimately familiar with the difference of climate among the seasons of Bengal and the joy and ecstasy, the seasons of Bengal generates in the minds of the Bengalees. The name, Varanasi, has often been translated as Benaras but Varanasi or Kashi has its own meaning which Benarash does not convey. A reader not knowing Indian languages will hardly appreciate the smell associated with the name of Varanasi. A comment made by Sukanta Chowdhury is relevant to this context: working compromise seems the only feasible solution.

By ‘working compromise’, Sukanta Chowdhury perhaps means that a translator has to resort to some devices with the help of which he may convey at least the essence of the idea of what he translates into another linguistic framework. On certain occasions, a work of translation may be explanatory, interpretative, metaphoric or even symbolic. It is at the discretion of a translator. A translator enjoys this freedom. Exact substitution and precise transference may not be possible on many occasions. A creator-translator has this liberty. This freedom makes a translator creative.

©Basudeb Chakraborti

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Basudeb Chakraborti is a retired professor of English and Faculty Dean, University of Kalyani. He founded the Department of English in Sikkim Central University (2013). He taught in the USA and India. He wrote more than 100 articles in different literary journals in India and abroad. Among his books, Thomas Hardy’s View of Happiness, Some Problems of Translation: A Study of Tagore’s Red Oleanders, Indian Partition Fiction in English and in English Translation, etc.