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Translation in History lecture series: Roman Jakobson and the translation of poetic language

ucyow3c11 January 2016

pencil-iconWritten by Tania Castro Rodea (UCL Translation Studies)

Roman Jakobson

On Thursday 26 November, we welcomed Professor Jean Boase-Beier (University of East Anglia) to UCL as part of the Translation in History lecture series. Her talk, ‘Roman Jakobson and the Translation of Poetic Language’, focused on the key ideas of this influential linguist and some of their implications for translation.

Professor Boase-Beier emphasised that Jakobson did not propose any particular way of translating; he did not give a set of instructions. But what he did say is of use because it can help us “think around translation, think about practice, and what consequences that has.” Boase-Beier also pointed out that, among Jakobson’s articles that are important for translation, some do not even mention translation, and so it is advisable to be aware of the wider context of his thinking, to know how he developed his ideas, particularly if we want to understand what already well-known quotes really mean.

In this regard, Boase-Beier posits that many people do not understand the most famous statement of Jakobson, that “the poetic function projects the principle of equivalence from the axis of selection into the axis of combination.” To explain this statement, she used an example where the words cat, kitten and feline were offered as options. When we select, she said, we choose from words that designate similar things. But once the word ‘cat’ is selected, this is transferred to the axis of combination, where the choice is not based on things, but on the word selected and its similarities with other words. We say “the cat sat on the mat,” not because the cat has similarities with the mat, but because of the similarities between the words: they rhyme.

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Hopkins’ Bovary: the temptation of originality

ucyow3c3 November 2015

pencil-iconWritten by Deborah Dawkin, Phd student

A translator’s creativity and originality can sometimes represent a threat to the integrity of a literary text, argued Professor Lance Hewson (University of Geneva) in the first lecture of the Translation in History Series 2015–16 on 8 October 2015. Professor Hewson is the author of the recently published An Approach to Translation Criticism (Benjamins, 2011), in which he re-evaluates the possibilities of translation criticism. This Translation in History lecture focused on the 1946 translation of Madame Bovary by Gerard Hopkins.

Hewson suggested that while it is easy to “to rubbish” a translation, translation criticism should engage with the translation and try to understand the choices made by the translator and their effect at the time. To do this, he suggested, we need a clear interpretive framework.

© Mary Hinkley/UCL

© Mary Hinkley/UCL

Hewson’s framework is indeed thorough, comparing the translated text with other translations as well as the original text, both on a macro- and micro-level. The emphasis of his work is on identifying how changes (shifts) made in translation affect the reader’s experience and open up or close off potential interpretations.

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Subtitles, Surtitles & Supertitles

Siobhan Pipa30 May 2014

Toneelgroep_Amsterdam__TA__Roman_Tragedies__Jan_Versweyveld

Surtitling in action

Subtitled films and programmes used to be the preserve of art house cinemas or specialist TV channels, whilst English speaking versions of popular foreign shows would be commissioned to fill prime-time slots.

And although English speaking recreations are still being commissioned, we are now much more likely to catch the original, in all its subtitled glory, right alongside it.

As a whole we seem to be more accepting of subtitles than ever before, especially if the wave of hugely popular Nordic noir dramas to hit our screens is any indication and in her UCL Festival of the Arts talk ‘Subtitles, Surtitles & Supertitles’, Dr Geraldine Brodie (UCL Translation Studies) has her own theory as to why this is.

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