Monday, July 13, 2020

Translation and Transfer

There’s been a puzzling spike in requests for one of my papers. Its title is From Fairy Tale to Pantomime and it can be accessed on my Academia page at or by clicking [HERE]. In recent weeks Academia has been informing me that it’s my most popular paper, and the requests for it come from many parts of the  globe: just yesterday there were two from the USA. Of course there’s a lot of ‘noise’ in answers to browser searches and so some of the searchers were probably not really searching for my paper. But what particularly surprises me in this case is that it was written for Christmas season reading. It traces some popular folk or fairy stories not only through translations but also through adaptations to other media like film and theatre. Then I saw the title of a new book series from the University of Leuven Press in Belgium, namely Translation, Interpreting and Transfer. The  publishers state that it
“takes as its basis an inclusive view of translation… keeping Roman Jakobson’s inclusive view on interlingual, intralingual and intersemiotic translation in mind. The title of the series, which includes the more encompassing concept of transfer, reflects this broad conceptualisation of translation matters.”
It makes me wonder whether there’s a new interest in transfer and whether transfer is similar to what this blog has elsewhere called conversion

Prague School linguist Roman Jakobson’s “inclusive view” comes in an article that’s constantly quoted: On Linguistic Aspects of Translation (see Sources below). Only seven pages long, it is, as people say, seminal. Yet it’s somewhat disappointing, because it only gives examples of  the translation of individual words. It’s an essay on lexicology rather than on translation of texts. Furthermore Jakobson’s contention that “an array of linguistic signs is needed to introduce an unfamiliar word” was already preached by Saussure. Nevertheless his categories of intralingual translation, interlingual translation and intersemiotic translation are useful concepts.
Only interlingual translation is deemed ‘translation proper’ by Jakobson. It’s certainly what people commonly mean by translation. The other categories are more arcane inventions by linguists and translatologists.
Jakobson did us a service by drawing attention to intersemiotic translation and giving it a name (actually two names: intersemiotic translation and transmutation). On the other hand he was wrong to put intersemiotic translation on the same level as the other two. Interlingual and intralingual translation – which together we might call lingual translation – are subordinate forms of intersemiotic translation, “a translation into some further alternative sign,” for it is also the case that a non-linguistic sign may be changed into another non-linguistic sign. That is to say, there is some form of interchange that is more all-embracing than what we usually call translation.

It was the search for this higher-order transfer of thought and emotion, and the proposition that we inherit the capacity for this rather than for the more specific lingual translation, that led me to offer conversion as a term for it in a 2016 post where it was defined as follows:
Conversion is the passage from a mental representation to another that preserves the information and feelings from the former which the converter wishes and has the capability to preserve.
 (To retrieve the post, enter conversion in the Search box on the right). So is the Leuven term transfer synonymous with conversion? We’ll have to wait and see what the new series produces.

Roman Jakobson. On linguistic aspects of translation. In R. A. Brower , ed., On Translation. 1959, pages 232-239. Full text at or click [HERE].

Leuven University Press. Translation, Interpreting and Transfer. 2020. or click [HERE].

Roman Jakobson as he was when I saw him in Montreal around 1970 at a reception hosted by the Polish-Canadian linguist Irena Bellert.
Source: Pinterest