Research article
Issue: № 3 (3), 2015


The article treats the phenomenon of understanding as a communicative process in general, and reading a literary text is positioned as a type of communication process. In it the author is the message sender and the reader is the message recipient. Reading a translation of a literary text as a process and as a result is analyzed by the author particularly as an aspect of the process of understanding. The article also dwells on the mechanisms and stages of the decoding process when the linguistic and extra linguistic conditions are changed. The theoretical assumtions are illustrated by empirical data received in a research specially held by the author.

The communication act, according to R.Jacobson, is a linear interaction between the sender and the recipient mediated by the code, the contact and the context. Logically we may similize reading a text to oral communication. Thus, text understanding and interpreting are obviously determined by the same factors as verbal communication. Understanding of a literary text is the fulfillment of a definite communicative task. Which means that the difficulties in the text interpretation are similar to the difficulties in the interaction of communication participants. And the failure in decoding leads to the fact that the sender’s idea is not perceived at all or at least transformed.

In our thinking the reading process being likened to the communication act may be also linear and the stages of the information processing are placed successively and alternately. Thus, we suggest an adaptation of the familiar scheme of the communication act and develop it in connection with the reading process. It becomes evident that the information sent and the information received may differ both in quality and in quantity because the reconstruction the reader has to hold is determined by a different set of factors than the author’s and a new semantic entity, a new construction is given birth to.

Obviously its components will differ in quantity from the original one since any information transference implies information loss. More than that, the components of the recreated construction are far from identical to the original in quality. For, in the first place, they undergo individual processing by the reader, and, secondly, are affected by numerous linguistic and extra linguistic factors that change both their importance and their significance. Some researchers call it “the reader’s determinant” meaning a variable element “determined by the reader’s experience and the background (the reader’s mental context)” [3; c.10].

The text recreation process itself may be modeled as a kids puzzle-picture building - attaching separate pieces to each other. But this metaphor does not give way to the great scale of variations that a text reconstruction suggests every time it is read. In a puzzle-picture a particular place is ascribed to a particular piece in accordance with its shape and its “contents”, the places are fixed and preset by the programmed result – the original picture. The text recreation process can be also compared to the reconstruction of the patchwork quilt. The pieces are normally identical in size, they most definitely every time change their places, though remaining always the same in number. This never happens when reading a text, so neither analogy works here.

Text reconstructing is not predetermined by the expected result, neither it is directed towards a definite final product. Even the number of initial elements may  differ in the recreated text, actually it always does. In other words, reading a text, or reconstructing a text, - is a creative process unlikely to be programmed and limited by the result.

The recipient is evidently made to search for the key or the signal to the most complete reconstruction of the text sent by a speaker or a writer. But reconstructing is logically a secondary process. It follows that the reconstruction is a variation to a certain degree different from the originally sent message.

The theory of communication operates with the basic scheme: “the sender – the message – the recipient”. Its mechanism includes three stages: first there is a code preset by the discourse type, then there is a text coded within this system, transferred and decoded. The code is a constant, the text is a variable. Ideally the “input-text” and the “output-text” are identical, but in practice there is always a loss of information [2]. Y.M. Lotman states that this can’t be avoided a priori. However, it may be disputable, for in the reconstruction process information may not only be lost but also incremented through the influence of the new context. In this connection we can hardly treat the transformation of the initial text in terms of the information loss.

Quite definitely, if the input and the output are not identical both in structure and in contents it is a loss. Because even if the reader manages to preserve the number of information slots does it mean that the lost original element and the new replacing element will be fully equivalent.  

Our research goes further than that. We suggest that reading a literary text in translation makes a more complicated mechanism of information processing for it’s mediated by another participant. The linear scheme is getting longer which leads to larger transformations of the original message. The communication chain is extended through another member. And the reconstruction as a product undergoes an extra transformation mediated by the interpreter. The new piece is characterized by a greater amount of both semantic loss and semantic increment. Consequently the message sent and the message received are inevitably different. The semantic transformation on the whole is especially obvious when it goes about the analysis of the original and a translation of a literary text.

The theoretical hypothesis has been studied empirically. We put under the comparative analysis the original and the translation of texts by the contemporary British author J.Fforde. The units of different language levels were studied: occasional words, proper names, allusions, quotations, parodies, stylizations and epigraphs. The research proved the semantic loss, the semantic increment or semantic transformation of the original text depending on many factors.

A few of the most demonstrative results deal with the associations and intertextual links of proper names in the original text and its translation. Statistics show that almost 80% of possible associative links are preserved in the translation. They are the cases when in the original and the translating linguacultures there are direct received equivalents, or when it runs of the universal precedents.  Here refer proper names from the world literature, history, politics, culture. It is this fact that allows to preserve the allusive background of the original in the text of the translation. The 20% are made by unique proper names. They are produced by means of language play and mostly demand transformations thus changing the original semantics of the unit in particular and the text as a whole [1].

Summing it up, the semantic loss is inevitable in the process of translation, since there is always something greater than a human being in it. And in spite of the assumptions that it’s quite possible to represent particular language phenomena by means of another language to a full extent, still there are reasons why it is possible just in theory. These reasons are the grammatical types of languages, differences in lexical systems, cultural background etc. So the translation process is directly connected with many circumstances which finally define the quality of the “output-text”.

Coming back to the question set as a title of this paper - What We Read When We Read In Translation? – we will sooner guess that it is a product different from its original version. It’ll be safer to say that reading in translation we are reconstructing a reconstruction and recreating a recreation.


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