Precedent Phenomena in M. Bulgakov’s Works as Reflected in Their English and German Translations

Alexandra Milostivaya

North-Caucasus Federal University, Russia

Volume 8, Number 1, 2016 I Full Text PDF


The aim of this article is to study precedent phenomena to be found in the works by M. Bulgakov, as taken in their translation into the English and the German languages. During that, the author focuses on the specifics of depicting the semiotic culture codes in the target text, which allow evaluating the adequacy related to communicating the meaning of the source text in its translated versions. It has been shown that many of the losses in the connotative information describing the precedent phenomena in M. Bulgakov’s works are of objective nature and are due to the asymmetry in the culture-bound realities both in the source and in the target languages. However, a particular translation solution is more than in the least determined by subjective factors, i.e. the translator’s ability to properly decode the pragmatics conveyed through precedent phenomena, which does not run contrary to the author’s intention.

 Keywords: precedent phenomena; semiotic culture code; English and German translations of works by M. Bulgakov

  1. Introduction

The contemporary research into translation theory reveals special relevance of semiotic and linguoculturological aspects of this type of verbal communication act. The semiotic model of understanding translation is based on the principles similar to those of the communication process described by Ch. Peirce. The information obtained by the translator is coded into symbols in the target language. The symbol shall be directed to someone so that it creates in the other person’s mind a symbol that is an equivalent or may even be an improved one. This process is especially relevant when applied to literary translation because a literary text contains numerous types of implicatures, which should not result in “translation” perception of the text as a purely linguistic phenomenon, and ignoring important issues like the culture-related background of the work and the text’s semiotic richness. N. A. Nikolaenko notes that “the hard part for the translator is, above all, that each move within the plot and every single image must be transferred on the semiotic level as correctly as possible” (2004, p. 160). Given that approach, the target-language culture comes to the foreground as the factor that determines the perception of the target text:

Translation activity is part of a more extensive system of activities aimed at creating texts, and it is largely determined by this system, which means that the target culture, its literature poly-system, become more important than the link between the translation and the original (Torop, 1995, p. 15).

We believe that the semiotic and the culturological aspects of translation are interrelated closely. This was mentioned by P. Torop (2000):

In contemporary translation studies, semiotics is approached by certain tendencies that are characterized by connecting translation activity with cultural studies or placing the whole of translation studies, as a discipline of intercultural studies, into the context of the analysis of cultural contacts (p. 598).

The concept of semiotic culture code may help better understand the mechanism of interaction among translation, semiosis, and culture. N. F. Alefirenko (2002) defines culture code in the linguosemiotics of culture as system of symbolizing, i.e. developed with stereotypes of ethnic and cultural mind a configurative corpus of symbols and mechanisms for their employment aiming at performing two interrelated processes – “(?) developing and structuring pre-verbal meanings and (b) their verbalization through processing, transforming, storing and transmitting of extragenetic information within a certain communication-pragmatics paradigm” (pp. 61-62).

All this allows accepting the views expressed by D. B. Gudkov and M. L. Kovshova (2007) stating that “culture code is a system of symbols belonging to the tangible and intangible world, which have become bearers of culture-bound meanings; through Man’s mastering of the environment, these have incorporated cultural meanings, which can be read in such symbols” (pp. 7-9). In my opinion, it is semantics explication and pragmatics of semiotic culture codes that constitute the major element in the communicative adequacy of a literary work as adequacy… relies on the real translation practice, which often fails to deliver all the communicative-functional content of the original. Adequacy rests on the fact that the solution employed by the translator will often imply some compromise; translation involves some sacrifice, and while translating the translator will often have to put up with certain losses, which he/she does in order to communicate the major and the most relevant part (functional dominants) of the source text. Therefore, translation adequacy, as we see it, implies the primacy of communicating the semiotic meaning and not the formal language features of the source text.

The aim of this article is to study the precedent phenomena to be found in English and German translations of M. Bulgakov’s works. During that, the research also focuses on specific issues related to explication of semiotic culture codes in the target texts, which allows making judgment regarding the communicative adequacy of conveying the meaning of the source text through translation. This article is another item within a series of research into translation specifics of works by M. Bulgakov…Full Text PDF

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