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Review of  Thinking through Translation with Metaphors

Reviewer: Pierre-Yves Modicom
Book Title: Thinking through Translation with Metaphors
Book Author: James St. Andre
Publisher: St. Jerome Publishing Ltd
Linguistic Field(s): Translation
Subject Language(s): English
Language Family(ies): Romance
Issue Number: 22.3010

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EDITOR: James St. André
TITLE: Thinking Through Translation with Metaphors
PUBLISHER: St. Jerome Publishing
YEAR: 2010

Pierre-Yves Modicom, U. Paris-Sorbonne and Ecole Normale Supérieure


The book is a collection of ten papers written by different authors. Their
common topic is the use of metaphors to describe the translation process: those
metaphors are examined for their presuppositions, their implications and their
methodological fruitfulness. The ten chapters are divided into four parts.

The first part, ''Something Old'', consists of three chapters. The first paper, by
Ben Van Wyke, explores the body/clothes metaphor commonly applied to the
original text and to its translation. This metaphor has been used in the Early
Modern period to legitimate sense-for-sense translation and adaptation, then by
German romanticists to criticize such a conception and is still discussed today
in reflections on faithfulness in translation. Van Wyke's thesis is that there
is a link between such a metaphor and theories of truth dating back to Plato.
After a short presentation, he comes to the praise of mask and disguise by
Nietzsche and its echoes in contemporary literature to advocate translation as a
test for deconstructing absolutist truth theories.

In the second paper, Yotam Benshalom deals with the dramatic and theatrical
metaphors for translation. Following Robinson (2003), he explores the problem of
spontaneity and then discusses the methodological implications of such a
metaphor according to the correspondent underlying theories of impersonating,
presented as an alternative between Diderot's ''automatic'', functionalist
paradigm, and Stanislavski's method based on identification and empathy, which
he explicitly favors.

Celia Martín de Leon's paper is much more concerned with overall
metaphor-theoretical issues in the perspective of Lakoff and Johnson (1980). She
distinguishes two great cognitive types of metaphors for translation: those
based on a transfer schema, e.g. the body-clothes scheme, and those centered on
imitation and action. Each type is divided into several subtypes and illustrated
by examples from early modern times. Of course, those types have consequences on
the conceptualization of translation: the focus lies on the content or message
of the text in the first case, on the translator's own activity in the second.

The second part, ''Something New'', is devoted to bias that can be involved by the
cultural area where translation is conceptualized. First, Maria Tymoczko, still
following Lakoff and Johnson, discusses the underlying assumptions of the
''Western tradition'', which dismisses collective practices and orality, sets
literacy standards and reserves translation for intercultural exchanges. She
exposes the etymological bias responsible for that situation and compares it
with Arabic, Nigerian, Chinese and Tagalog alternatives. Finally, in a more
historical section, she discusses the shift from the Ciceronian, more speech-act
oriented conceptions, to today's conceptualization, which she associates with
theological and political bias expressed among others in the translations of the

The contribution which follows, written by Valerie Henitiuk, is devoted to early
English and French translations and scholarship dealing with Japanese
literature. She introduces the incongruous metaphors used in that context, which
resort to ''squeezed jellyfishes'' and chemical manipulations, and she shows how
they are induced by the discrepancy between Japanese literature and the
expectations of the European public regarding literature. ''Sublimation'' and
''distillation'' metaphors betray the translator's assumption that the public
would find Japanese literature ''dull''.

The third part, ''Something Borrowed'', consists of three papers. In the first
one, Rainer Guldin uses the very concept of metaphor as a metaphor for
translation. After commenting upon previous attempts in the same direction, he
follows Cheyfitz's (1991) theories on translation and power to explain how both
metaphor and translation question and deconstruct schemes of identity and
domesticity: they represent ''the presence of multiplicity, opening from inside
the apparent unity of monolingualism'' (p. 177). After Black (1979) and Flusser
(1996), Guldin defends an interactional model highlighting the reversibility of
semantic focuses and ends up calling for translation studies to provide cultural
studies with a general theory of conceptual exchanges. Enrico Monti, in the
following paper, discusses the schemes used to describe the translation of
metaphors. ''Problem'', ''challenge'' and ''limit'' are the most frequent items found,
but Monti signals the existence of interactional, dynamic models involving
semantic forces and presenting translation as a composition of energies.
Finally, Stéphanie Roesler comments upon the special case of the French poet
Bonnefoy, who is also a translator. She shows how his metaphors for translating
(encounter, friendship, closeness, listening to a voice, deciphering a secret,
bringing someone else's fruits to maturity) all lead to a conception of speech
centered on subjectivity. Translating a poem is re-enunciating it or even
producing a new poem.

The last part, ''Something Blue'', includes two papers involving cultural studies
and especially queer theories: Sergey Tyulenev discusses the metaphor of
translating as smuggling (coming from Canadian author Philip Stratford) in a
perspective centered on identity smuggling. Translation can be a game with
social constraints but is hidden, unlike the ''hijacking'' conceptualizations
advocated by some feminists. For instance, (pseudo-)translations of Shakespeare
enabled Boris Pasternak to smuggle his political diffidence in Stalinist Russia.
Tyulenev's second case study is the translation of La Fontaine by gay politician
and poet Dmitriev at the end of the 18th century. In the final paper, James St.
André proposes a metaphor of translation as cross-identity performance
summarizing the aspects explored previously: disguise, confusion of identities,
performance, sociological bias and cultural transfers as well as the criticism
of individualistic, author-centered conceptions.


The first great virtue of the present collection is its high degree of
theoretical and conceptual transparency. Unlike many essays in translation
theory, the papers do not excessively resort to jargon and meta-theoretical
developments, thus making the book easily accessible even for a non-specialist.
This pedagogic quality is completed by the fact that the theoretical
perspectives advocated for in this collection are quite diverse, although the
main concern is heavily indebted to d'Hulst (1992): they include cultural
studies, different tendencies within cognitive grammar and conceptual metaphor
theory as well as more classical attempts inspired by Black (1979) or Flusser
(1996). In this inter-theoretical framework, the authors always begin their
papers with a few introductory explanations concerning their general underlying
assumptions. In this respect, the book can even be regarded as a good
introduction to several methods and theories of current metaphor and translation

The general plan of the collection and the partition of the four parts is
somewhat curious, but St. André, in his foreword (p. 8), justifies this original
classification and suggests that other ones could have been chosen. Among those
alternatives, two would have been possible according to general theoretical
lines that structure the whole collection and upon whose limits we shall
concentrate in the following: the relation to the cultural and critical
developments of metaphor theory on the one hand and the question of translation
as an autonomous activity and not a mere transfer on the other.

The first line echoes the concerns of several authors, including Van Wyke,
Tymoczko, Guldin, Tyulenev and St. André, who all suggest that translation
theory, especially when it is coupled with metaphor studies along the lines of
Lakoff and Johnson, could constitute an overall theoretical paradigm for
cultural studies. Quoting Derrida, one could have spoken of deconstructing the
notion of identity in the cultural sciences, as brilliantly shown by Van Wyke or
Guldin (the latter implicitly alludes to Michel Foucault's ''Archaeology of
Knowledge'' (1969/2007). The essays in the last part also prove how fruitful such
a critical perspective can be. It is all the more disappointing to see that the
historical interaction with other domains of culture is often neglected, even
though it should be at the heart of such an ''archaeology'' and of any attempt to
explain the constitution of a cultural paradigm such as the one which is now
supposed to be deconstructed. More generally, one often has the impression that
history is treated as a mere illustration or is taken as it is without further
comments on the origin and causes of the depicted phenomena, Timoczko being here
the most notable exception. A deeper critical analysis of the historical
developments at stake here would also have prevented some regrettable mistakes,
such as Benshalom's claim (p. 64) that ''the German dramaturg Gotthold Lessing''
developed a system in Diderot's continuity ''in the 1850s''. Actually, Lessing,
who was mainly a playwright and a philosopher, wrote his ''Hamburgische
Dramaturgie'' as a journal for theater between 1767 and 1768, and not 80 years
later as claimed here: Diderot and Lessing wrote and lived at exactly the same
time, the age of Enlightenment. This mistake has quite problematic consequences
regarding the intellectual background of the disputed theory: both authors were
theorists advocating a central role for emotions on stage and are the fathers of
the so-called ''sentimental drama'' as well as prominent members of the
philosophical tendencies which ultimately led to the notion of the author as a
genius. The question of the date thus takes a decisive importance: Lessing's and
Diderot's theory of the actor as an automaton is embedded in a much brighter
framework, actually not so far from Benshalom's own perspective, since it
includes a reflection on feelings being conveyed by translations and on the role
of spontaneity and emotions. But here, that part of their theory is overshadowed
by their representation as forefathers of ''automatic acting''. Echoing Van Wyke's
or St. André's concern, one could also remark that Diderot's and Lessing's
functional conception of performing is linked to the emergence of the figure of
the author as genius and semi-god: the playwright/actor and the
writer/translator couples are thus both echoed by a quasi-religious metaphor
with strong ties to the traditions exposed by Van Wyke and Timoczko, according
to which translation theories in the West are under the influence of
epistemological, if not theological, schemes granting to the source text the
status of an absolute truth. More generally, one could regret that the
translator is not depicted here as forming a pair with the author, a
relationship which can be understood as an opposition in a very structuralist
way: the status of each is defined only in opposition to the status of the
other. That couple is briefly evoked by some contributors, but is not described
in depth -- except for the special case of poet and translator Yves Bonnefoy,
which has consequences for the other main line of argumentation within the
papers, namely the topic of translation as an activity, but it leaves unanswered
that question of critically deconstructing that cultural paradigm of the
translator as doppelgänger of the (divine) author.

Benshalom, Martín de Leon, Tymoczko, Monti (regarding the dynamic,
quantificational metaphors), Roesler, Tulyenev and St. André all deal more or
less overtly with this question of the paradigm of translation as an activity or
a creation and not a mere transfer. This approach is extremely stimulating and
fruitful, yet, as a linguist, one cannot help regretting the lack of some
references: for instance, pragmatics and speech act theory are not considered.
There is not a single mention of any work by such canonical authors as Austin or
Searle, which could have been extremely useful in such a context. Roesler, in
her paper about Bonnefoy, quotes Henri Meschonnic, a French translation scholar
very influenced by speech act theory, but even here, the linguistic part of the
problems are left out. For instance, when she evokes the opposition between what
she calls speech and language in Bonnefoy's work, she says that this opposition
corresponds to the French terms ''parole'' and ''langage'', and quotes a text where
Bonnefoy actually speaks of ''parole'' and ''langue''. Linguists reading this have
already recognized the old distinction coined by Ferdinand de Saussure, and the
descriptions given by Bonnefoy and Roesler correspond to this. Yet, this
theoretical transfer is not mentioned and de Saussure is not named in the paper,
thus depriving us from relevant developments. It actually seems that excepting
those of Lakoff, Johnson and Pinker, only few fundamental linguistic concepts
have really made their way in these essays. The many fine and subtle intuitions
underlying most of the present essays are thus doomed to lack the accurate
developments they would undoubtedly have been worthy of. In other words, the
present collection of papers might be very interesting for people who are
generally interested in translation studies and metaphor theory, but reading
them with the linguist's eye is a call for more pragmatists and speech-act
theorists to move to that field of translation studies with their own concepts
in order to turn rhapsodic intuitions into that more solid theoretical frame
which action-oriented translation theories still seem to lack. In this respect,
the present book should work as a fruitful base for future reflections.


Black, Max. 1979. ''More about Metaphor'', in A. Ortony (ed.), Metaphor and
thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 19-43.

Cheyfitz, Eric. 1991. The poetics of Imperialism: translation and colonization
from The Tempest to Tarzan. New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

D'hulst, Lieven. 1992. ''Sur le rôle des métaphores en traductologie
contemporaine'', Target 4 (1): 33-51.

Flusser, Vilém. 1996. Kommunikologie. Mannheim: Bollmann.

Foucault, Michal. 1969/2007. The archaeology of knowledge. London: Routledge.

Lakoff, George and Johnson, Mark. 1980. Metaphors we live by. Chicago:
University of Chicago Press.

Robinson, Douglas. 2003. Becoming a translator: An introduction to the theory
and practice of translation. London, New York: Routledge.

Pierre-Yves Modicom is a graduate student in Paris. He holds a B.A. in Germanic studies and an M.A. in Linguistics from U. Paris-Sorbonne. He currently studies German Literature and Philosophy at the Ecole Normale Supérieure and Linguistics at U. Paris-Sorbonne.

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