WORD CONNOTATION IN TRANSLATION



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WORD CONNOTATION IN TRANSLATION



 

Even words having the same referential (denotative) meaning are not full equivalents as far as their connotation is concerned. Thus, an English-Russian dictionary gives two translations for the word dog: собака, пёс. The former translation equivalent is neutral, the latter is colloquial, expressive. Since the English word dog is more general, it is only a partial equivalent to пёс.

Or the Russian word дохлый is not a full equivalent of the English dead, as is given by the Oxford Russian dictionary145. Дохлый is a very informal, expressive word, whereas dead is its neutral counterpart.

Not only the denotative (referential) meaning of the word, but also its connotative shades should be taken into account in translating:

§ Emotional coloring: doggie – пёсик, bunny – заенька. The Russian language is known to be abundant in diminutive suffixes (солнышко, ложечка, чашечка). Since these suffixes are not as typical in English as in Russian, they are lost in translation: День склонялся к вечеру. По небу медленно ползли легкие розовые облачка. (В. Арсеньев) - Evening was near, and light pink clouds crept slowly across the sky. (Transl. by V. Shneerson.)

§ Stylistic overtone: to begin (neutral)vs. to commence (poetic); husband (informal) – spouse (formal); спать (neutral) – почивать (poetic);

§ Associations: nations have different associations connected with this or that word. Thus, in English the word blue is often associated with something unpleasant: to look blue – иметь унылый вид; to be blue – иметь плохое настроение; to tell blue stories – рассказывать неприличные истории; to be in a blue funk – быть в ужасной панике; to be in the blue – пойти по плохой дорожке; to burn blue – быть дурным предзнаменованием. The word blue corresponds to the Russian adjectives синий and голубой. Синий is often associated with unpleasant things: синий от холода (blue with cold), синий чулок (blue stocking), гори оно синим пламенем (to the hell with something). Голубой has usually positive connotations: голубые мечты (sweet dreams), голубой песец (blue fox), голубой экран (TV screen); на блюдечке с голубой каемочкой (on a silver platter).

Another example: in English, a chicken is used derogatory to refer to a cowardly person: Why won’t you jump? Are you a chicken? In Russian, цыпленок is associated with a helpless little creature and is often referred to a small child that needs help.

In translation, the connotative meaning is sometimes lost either because of the neutral text that requires no expressiveness or because of the lacking connotative equivalent (to commence – начинать; вечор - yesterday). Usually, these connotatively partial equivalents are compensated in the text (within the same sentence or even in the surrounding sentences). We can illustrate it by the following sentence from Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer. In the episode of fighting with a Model Boy, Tom teases the boy about his hat: “Smarty! You think you are some, now, don’t you? Oh, what a hat!” And the boy answers, ”You can lump that hat if you don’t like it. I dare you to knock it off – and anybody that I’ll take a dare will suck eggs.” In the Russian text, the highly colloquial, slangish words and expressions are compensated by slang words and very informal syntactic constructions in both Tom’s utterance and the boy’s sentence:

- Ишь, вырядился! Подумаешь, какой важный! Еще и в шляпе!

- Возьми да и сбей, если не нравится. Попробуй, сбей – тогда узнаешь.

 

 

INTRALINGUISTIC MEANING

 

Words influence each other and presuppose choice of their neighboring dependants. They cannot combine if they belong to different styles (*светлоокая девка, a boozy-woozy lady).

Words do not combine if they do not match speech norms, i.e. their word combinability is beyond the norm. Thus, in Russian we say молодой картофель but we cannot say in English *young potatoes, as the word potatoes requires the adjective new (new potatoes). Words in their primary meaning cannot be combined together if their near context is not taken into consideration. The Russians say “Не пейте сырой воды”, which cannot be rendered by the phrase “Don’t drink *raw water.” because English-speaking people use in this case quite a different word combination: “unboiled water”. So in translation we have to substitute one word for another that naturally fits the context.

Intralinguistic meaning is also revealed in puns, or plays upon words, which make most puzzling tasks for a translator. In this case a translator cannot use translation equivalents but has to compensate a word by another one that can be also played upon. For example, to translate a children’s riddle into English: Why is a book like a king? – Because it has many pages. (where the word page is associated with two homonymous meanings: 1) страница, 2) паж), a translator compensated the homonymous page by the Russian homonym глава (1.head, 2.chapter): Что общего между книгой и драконом? – У обоих несколько глав.

 

 

CONTEXUALLY-BOUND WORDS

 

The context-bound word is a word whose meaning is clear only in a specific context.

Context is the text that comes immediately before or after a particular word or phrase and helps to explain its meaning. The context is classified into micro- and macrocontext. The microcontext is a word surrounding within a sentence or phrase. The macrocontext is a larger text (a passage, a story, etc) where the word is used.

In translation both types of context are essential for guessing the meaning of a polysemantic word or a homonym. For example, a macrocontext is very important for translating newspaper headlines which are characterized by ellipses not only of structural words but also of notional parts of the sentence.

It is obligatory for a translator to take into account, along with the context, the consituation, which is often called background knowledge. This notion implies awareness of the time, place, and circumstances of what is spoken about. For example, to translate the following microdialogue:

- Сколько?

- 2:5.

several versions might be offered depending on the situation: “How much?” – “Two dollars five cents.” (in the store); “What’s the score?” – “Two to five” (after a match); “What’s the time?” – “Five minutes after two.”

The context helps to find a translation equivalent to a word not fixed in the dictionary or fixed in the dictionary but with another meaning. For example, in his novel Pninwritten in English, V. Nabokov used the phrase a very commonplace mind to characterize a hero. None of the dictionary equivalents (банальный, избитый, плоский) suited the translator (Barabturlo), who found his own equivalent: трафаретный ум. This is an occasional, irregular equivalent, fitting in a certain context. An occasional equivalent is obtained by substituting one word for another one to better reveal the contextual meaning.

Over time, a contextual meaning may become a normative meaning fixed by the dictionary. This occurred, for instance, with the word dear. All dictionaries translated it as дорогой, милый, любимый. But in the phrase my dear this word is used as a term of a very formal address and, therefore, corresponds to the Russian глубокоуважаемый, which has recently been fixed by the 3-volume New English-Russian Dictionary, edited by Y. Apresyan.

To find an occasional equivalent to a word, a logical method of interpolationis used. The contextual meaning of a word, expressed by the occasional equivalent, is found by studying the whole semantic structure of the word and deducing the appropriate meaning from the two adjacent meanings fixed in the dictionary.

For example, in the sentence The waves lap the granite of the embankment. the word lap contextualizes its two meanings at the same time: 1) to drink by taking up with quick movements of the tongue, which corresponds to the Russian лакать, жадно пить, глотать; and 2) to move or hit with little waves and soft sounds, corresponding to the Russian плескаться. The first meaning brings up an image of some kind of creature. The image is retained with the interpolated equivalent in translation: Волны лижут гранит набережной.

No doubt, to interpolate the equivalent, a translator should be aware of all the meanings a word has by using translation and monolingual dictionaries, as well as dictionaries of synonyms and thesauri.

Another way to translate a word whose dictionary equivalent does not suit a translator is to explain the meaning of the word. For example, at a meeting the chairperson can say, “Mr. N will be our timekeeper.” The word timekeeper has the following dictionary equivalents: хронометражист, хронометрист, счетчик времени, but none of them suits the style or the con-situation. Thus, a better solution for a translator will be translation by explanation: Господин Н. будет следить за регламентом собрания.

Usually explicatory translation is applied to neologisms, or newly coined words not yet fixed by bilingual dictionaries: e.g., People with can-do attitudes are essential to enterprise culture. – Люди, готовые к новым делам, очень важны для предпринимательства.

 

 



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