European Society for Translation Studies

Text Perspectives and Translation

Text Perspectives and Translation

Heidrun Gerzymisch-Arbogast



How about looking at texts and their translations from different perspectives? Like the famous Leibniz example in which wanderers from the four directions of the compass head towards a town and each wanderer sees the same town but (only) from her individual perspective. All are right when they say the town looks this or that way as they see it. But it is only their individual perspective of the town that is seen not the town as a whole.


Isn’t this also true for translated texts? Can texts and their translations not be viewed from different perspectives as well? And shouldn’t our analysis and individual rendering of a text profit from looking at it from different perspectives? Starting from this premise we can think of at least three perspectives (as principles of thought) for  looking at texts but with only their integrated view allowing for an overall understanding (and translation);

(1)   a perspective that views only individual components of a text put together to form the structure of a text, e.g. words like Lego components which form a structure or system,

(2)   a perspective that takes the individual components further into the text and looks at their informational strings or semantic clusters and

(3)   a perspective which looks at holistic ‘Gestalt’ phenomena, implied background knowledge, cultural attitudes and values in a text.


Let us take Eco’s famous ‘coffee example’ in Experiences in translation1when he suggests:


Consider these two sentences, one from an Italian novel, the other from an American one: ‘Ordinai un caffé, lo buttai giù in un secondo ed uscii dal bar’ (literally, ‘I ordered a coffee, swilled it down in a second and went out of the bar’); and ‘He spent half an hour with the cup in his hands, sipping his coffee and thinking of Mary‘.
(Eco 2001:18).


Eco argues that culture cannot be translated because


The first sentence can only refer to an Italian coffee and to an Italian bar, since an American coffee cannot be swallowed in a second both because of its quantity and of its temperature. The second sentence cannot refer to an Italian subject (…) because it presupposes a large cup containing what seems like gallons of coffee.
(Eco 2001:18).


As professional translators and translation researchers we could answer that his example can very well be translated – from different perspectives;

(1)   from a componential perspective: we can look at coffee in its substance (as instant coffee and/or espresso)

(2)   from a pattern perspective we can look at the collocation of ‘coffee’ (i.e. ‘swilled it down’ versus ‘sipping his coffee and thinking of Mary’), which would tell us whether to render ‘instant’ or ‘espresso’.

The dimension that Eco probably has in mind though is

(3)   the holistic dimension, i.e. the implied cultural knowledge dimension of how coffee is consumed in different settings and societies reflecting different cultural values.

The holistic perspective is, as we can see, implied but is interrelated with the other perspectives. Our translation therefore, could possibly reflect only one or all three perspectives depending on which perspective is chosen for the individual translator within the framework of a set translation purpose.


There is ample literature on systematically approaching translations by different perspectives, (i.e.the atomistic, hol-atomistic and holistic perspectives and the interrelated translation methods of Aspectra, Holontra and Relatra). This way of looking at translations can be applied to a great variety of text and translation types (literature, bible, music, film, LSP, polysemiotic texts & translations), incorporating such descriptive standards as lexical & syntactic idiosyncrasies, informational development, meaning levels and clusters & coherence, as well as holistic portrayals of background (cultural) knowledge and underlying strata of meaning and sense.


Some recent Publications reflecting different text and translation perspectives in a variety of different text types (literary, bible, LSP, advertising) of translation and interpreting include:

Floros, Georgios (2006): “Towards establishing the Notion of Idioculture in Texts.” In: Heine, Carmen/Schubert, Klaus/Gerzymisch-Arbogast, Heidrun (Hrsg.): Text and Translation: Theory and Methodology. Jahrbuch Übersetzen und Dolmetschen Band 6 2005/06. Tübingen: Narr. 335-347.

Gerzymisch-Arbogast, Heidrun (2004): „Ein Stück Torá in der übersetzungswissen-schaftlichen Diskussion“. In: Krochmalnik, Daniel/Schultz, Magdalena (Hrsg.): Wie gut ist unser Anteil. Gedenkschrift für Yehuda T. Raddday. Heidelberg: Schriftenreihe der Hochschule für Jüdische Studien. Band 6. 37-56.

Gerzymisch-Arbogast, Heidrun (2005a): “That rising corn … ce blé qui lève … die aufgehende Saat… Towards a Common Translation Profile“. In: Katrin Götz/Thomas Herbst (Hrsg.): Translation and translation theory: uni- or bilateral relationship?. ZAA Zeitschrift für Anglistik und Amerikanistik Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann. 117-132.

Gerzymisch-Arbogast, Heidrun (2005b): “Text und Translation“. In: Zybatow, Lew (Hrsg.): Translationswissenschaft im interdisziplinären Dialog. Innsbrucker Ringvorlesungen zur Translationswissenschaft. Band 3. Frankfurt u.a.: Lang. 35-54.

Gerzymisch-Arbogast, Heidrun/Will, Martin (2005c): „Kulturtransfer oder Voice Over: Informationsstrukturen im gedolmetschten Diskurs“. In: Braun, Sabine/Kohn, Kurt (Hrsg.) (2005): Sprache(n) in der Wissensgesellschaft. Proceedings der 34. Jahrestagung der Gesellschaft für Angewandte Linguistik. Frankfurt: Lang. 171-193.

Gerzymisch-Arbogast, Heidrun/Kunold, Jan /Rothfuß-Bastian, Dorothee (2006): “Coherence, Theme Rheme Progression and Isotopy”. In: Heine, Carmen/Schubert, Klaus/Gerzymisch-Arbogast, Heidrun (Hrsg.): Text and Translation: Theory and Methodology. Jahrbuch Übersetzen und Dolmetschen Band 6 2005/06. Tübingen:Narr. 357-378.

Kim, Young-Jin (2005): “Cultural Constellations in Text and Translation”. In: Engberg, Jan/V. Dam, Helle/Gerzymisch-Arbogast, Heidrun: Knowledge Systems in Translation.TTCP Series. Berlin/NewYork: Mouton de Gruyter. 255-273.

Kunold, Jan (2006): „Probleme der Musikübersetzung: Die Musikalische Fokussierung. Am Beispiel der englischen Übersetzung von Schuberts ’Die Schöne Müllerin’. In: Béhar, Pierre/Schneider, Herbert (2006) (Hrsg.): Das Österreichische Lied. Hildesheim: Olms.

Ndeffo, Alexandre (2004): (Bi)kulturelle Texte und ihre Übersetzung. Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann.

Sunwoo, Min (forthcoming): “Operationalizing the Category of Translation Purpose”. Paper to be presented at the 3rd MuTra Conference LSP Translation Scenarios. Vienna April 30-May 4th, 2007.

Will, Martin (forthcoming): “Knowledge Systems and Terminology Management in Simultaneous Interpretation”. Paper to be presented at the 3rd MuTra Conference LSP Translation Scenarios. Vienna April 30-May 4th, 2007.

[1] Eco, Umberto (1999/2001): Experiences in Translation. Translated by Alastair McEwen. Toronto – Buffolo – London: University of Toronto Press.