Introductory Editorial: On Intersemiotic Translation
as it Relates to Translation in General

Daniella Aguiar (UERJ) & João Queiroz (UFJF)





What are the main difficulties facing us when we attack the problem of translation? There is a tendency to assume that we are dealing here with multi-faceted, complex processes involving many levels of organization and description (cultural, semiotic, economic, cognitive, psychological, social, political), and one feels inclined to approach the problematic via multiple different perspectives and methodologies. The relevant position that different levels of organization (and the internal laws that regulate the levels) have in translation phenomena must surely be considered one of the most important theoretical challenges in semiotics. An integration of several modes of description (e.g. cognitive, cultural, social) in internally consistent explanatory models must be considered another major challenge in terms of the theoretical approach to the problem.

This special issue of APPLIED SEMIOTICS/SEMIOTIQUE APPLIQUEE is dedicated to translation. The contributors include specialists from a variety of backgrounds: Peeter Torop, Floyd Merrell, Susan Petrilli & Augusto Ponzio, Dinda Gorlée, Daniella Aguiar & Joao Queiroz, Nicola Dusi, Christina Righi, Kathleen Coessens.

For Torop, translation is a multi-level process involving cultural, economic, and ideological activities. Translators work at the frontiers of semiotic systems and cultures. They are not simple mediators, but producers of new semiotic systems for the description of a foreign text. At the same time foreign a text augment the responsiveness to other cultures as well as with itself. According to Torop, one of the missions of the translator is to increase the dialogic capability of a culture.

According to Merrell, in line with Peirce’s dynamic concept of semiosis and his logical-phenomenological categories (firstness, secondness, thirdness), translation involves inter-connectedness of signs, objects, their meanings, and their interpreters, that is, their translators. For Merrell, properties of complex systems inevitably enter the translation, introducing non-bivalent logical processes. These processes create “fluctuating identity, contradictory complementarity, and convergence of meanings emerging from ‘included middles’”.

Petrilli & Ponzio’s paper claims that a translation is an iconic-dependent process. They assert that a translation must be at once similar and dissimilar. This is what they call the paradox of translation, and they assert that a text is at once translatable and untranslatable, a phenomenon they call the paradox of language. They defend their idea of translation as a translative-interpretive device, which is an aspect of a “connective form”, a type of modeling strategy they describe as essentially metaphorical. This means to say that translation processes dominated by iconicity play a fundamental role not only in traveling across different historical languages, but also as the very condition of such travels.

Gorlée goes back to Jakobson’s three types of translation, focusing most deeply on the intersemiotic type. According to her, it “is the decentralization of verbal language to transpose it into nonverbal languages”. She exposes some problems and features of the intersemiotic translation (IT) phenomenon, or metacreation, and some theoretical discussion in correlating Jakobson’s language functions to Peirce’s categories, including Bühler’s functions of language in the debate. Her article is especially interested in the partnership between the verbal and musical arts in the opera.

Aguiar & Queiroz’s paper proposes an approach based on Peirce’s semiosis model with emphasis on the hierarchical and multi-layered properties and aspects. The authors assert that intersemiotic translation (IT) is a triadic-dependent iconic relation between hierarchical systems of different natures. They provide two different analytical models that correspond to two modalities of IT.

Nicola Dusi’s paper emphasizes the relevance of translation in contemporary semiotics. He makes a brief gives a summary of the debate about intersemiotic translations, among Italian semioticians such as Umberto Eco, Paolo Fabri, Omar Calabrese, and he discusses the adoption of different notions – translation, adaptation, transposition –, showing his preference for the concept of transposition. Dusi specifies several considerations surrounding the problem of equivalence and the levels of relevance in the analysis of such phenomenon, which he describes as multi-layered objects of mutually dependent levels. His paper is especially interested in the adaptation into a film from a literary work.

Another article concerned with the phenomenon of intersemiosis is offered by Righi. The main subject of her paper is the dancer’s body, the choreographic body, and the modifications that it must undergo in the course of the transference process from one medium, the live one, to another, the video one. More specifically, she tries to point out what happens within the dance medium – as the proper live medium for dance – and some of the modifications that its components go through when a dance is manipulated in non-live environments, thanks to the modern audiovisual and digital technologies.

Kathleen Coessens’ article explores translation in a different level. She is interested in meaning-making processes concerning visual experiences, and the hypothesis of a visual praxis as an embodied: a semiotic process.  The author uses some insights from Barthes’s subjective view on photography and Peirce’s triad of interpretants into the human perceptual and embodied position in visual praxis.

Maybe translation is the most difficult of problems faced by semiotics. Indeed, it probably requires the integration of several methodologies and modeling tools. As the reader will find, if we consider all of the excellent contributions here together, we are dealing with a class of phenomenon which is especially disposed to approaches that act on different time and observation scales (e.g. cognitive, social, historical), and their explanation must consider very different materials and structures in terms of dynamics and laws. This class of phenomenon is regulated by non-orthodox logical laws, and is fundamentally complex and multi-leveled, in descriptive terms, and is deeply dependent on iconic processes. New theoretical approaches to the problems of translation should therefore consider the possibility of integrating explanatory models developed in a number of different fields.


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AS/SA No 24, Introductory Editorial


© 2010, Applied Semiotics / Sémiotique appliquée

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2010.02.19