The application of a communicative model for text analysis in order to create an aesthetic translation of St John of the Cross’s poem "Noche oscura"

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The purpose of this article is to report on the approach and method employed in translating into Afrikaans the poem of Sint John of the Cross (Juan de la Cruz) starting with the line “En una noche oscura”, which in English has commonly become known as “Dark night” or “Dark night of the soul”. By way of introduction a brief overview of different approaches to translating is given. Although a polysystem approach holds many advantages it is argued that with that approach the danger exists that the focus in the translating process may shift from the basic text analysis to other interferential aspects. The view is held that a basic communicative model for text analysis is essential for translating. It should be a top-down approach, i.e. starting from the whole text working down to the smallest element. A schematic model of a communicative approach to text analysis is given and discussed, stressing that the theoretically separated elements always function interactively and cannot be seen in isolation.

One of the main elements, strategic competence, also of the translator as reader, is seen as an important factor in deciding on the most applicable approach for a specific situation while taking into consideration all the factors that have played a role in the creation of the source text. It is thus important to have a clear understanding of the context in which the source text was produced. Consequently, a brief background sketch on Sint John of the Cross follows. As his poem to be translated is regarded as one of the most influential mystical texts in Western culture a short overview of mysticism, focusing on the Spanish mysticism of the 16th century, is given. The main aspects of Sint John’s via mystica, i.e. the via purgativa, the via illuminativa and the via unitiva, the Sanjuanisti, are then outlined in order to gain a sound understanding of the poem, which he describes as an attempt to express the mystical union, which lies beyond words, in language.

This leads to a discussion of a communicative approach to language competence with a clear emphasis on the semiotic meaning of a linguistic unit and not of its capacity to dissociate itself into constituents of an inferior order. Due to a lack of knowledge of Spanish of the 16th century in which Sint John’s “Noche oscura” was written, the Afrikaans translation eventually given must then be seen as an indirect translation based on a wide variety of existing translations with reference to the source text, as well as by means of the large volume of linguistic works published on it.

After contextual research the pragmatic competence of the translator then comes into play. A decision has to be made on which functional element of the text dominates in order for the translator to decide on a logical translation method. The eight functional competencies, although they can never be separated into watertight compartments nor are mutually exclusive, can be a useful guide to help the translator decide on the most appropriate approach to translating the text. In this case an aesthetic approach without losing sight of the representational aspect was chosen, as many researchers of mysticism have pointed to a link between mysticism and aesthetics and to mystics’ predilection for poetry. This poem, described as “the most complete poem in Spanish” by Barnstone (1972), could indeed be expected to be a formidable task to translate into Afrikaans, which does not have a mystical poetic tradition. This problem was partially circumvented by evoking Biblical connotations in the translation where possible.

Organisational competence creates certain expectations and the translator would have to take cognisance of the genre conventions of mystical poetry. The original source text with the only complete existing Afrikaans translation is then given. Other subsections of the communicative model are then discussed, where applicable, in the translation of the text. As an aesthetic approach was chosen as the translation method a brief description of the lyrical form is given. The translation succeeds in retaining the strict syllabic form of the original. In the main the rhyme scheme is also adhered to, although it is phonologically different from the original due to the vast differences between Spanish and Afrikaans. Breaking of the rhyme pattern was also necessitated by the fact that the approach was not to sacrifice meaning for the sake of form. Where the rhyme pattern could not be retained it was attempted still to have an aesthetic effect by making use of other phonological elements such as alliteration and assonance. In some cases, syntactical shifts, which are still socio-linguistically natural, were made in order to retain the rhyme scheme. The content of the poem is then paraphrased as this gives a spontaneous concretisation of the meaning, which is regarded as the most applicable socio-scientific method for continuing the discussion of the poem. The paraphrase clearly reflects the coherence of the text. Because parts of speech in Afrikaans are not gender specific it is impossible to indicate in the translation that the narrator is female as is done in the source text. As Sint John of the Cross writes from within a common mystical tradition, the mystical ideas of and phrases relating to fire, the ladder and the nights of sense and spirit, for example, have to be accentuated in the translation, for instance by placing fire in the end position of the first line of stanza one. Textual cohesion is maintained in the translation by the repetition of words and variant forms such as “donkerheid” in the first stanza and “donkerte” in the second stanza. Repetition is also used as a means to support the hyperbolic effect in the text. Attention is also given to keeping the register simple, in line with the mystical tradition. Cultural differences leading to explication in the translation are reflected in the last stanza. Other language-specific elements such as connotations influence the lexical choices made in order to produce a better translation. To conclude, the new Afrikaans translation is given as an illustration of a translation method with an aesthetic focus based on a communicative approach to text analysis giving attention to the form as well as the meaning of each stanza.

Keywords: communicative theory; “Dark night”; language competence; literary translating; mysticism; polysystem theory; Sint John of the Cross (Juan de la Cruz); translation studies

Lees die volledige artikel in Afrikaans: Die toepas van ’n kommunikatiewe model vir teksontleding ten einde ’n estetiese vertaling van Sint Jan van die Kruis se gedig “Noche oscura” te skep

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