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Review of  Translation and Linguistic Hybridity

Reviewer: Simo K. Määttä
Book Title: Translation and Linguistic Hybridity
Book Author: Susanne Klinger
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Translation
Issue Number: 27.1485

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This volume entitled ‘Translation and Linguistic Hybridity: Constructing World-View’ and written by Susanne Klinger explores linguistic hybridity in narrative fiction by explaining this hybridity as stemming from an act of translation performed by the author or a textual agent (the narrator or the character). The focus is narratological rather than sociolinguistic. The book is based on the distinction between “representational hybridity,” i.e. hybridity ”on the level of text that does not have a representational function within the narrative”, and “representational hybridity,” motivated by the narrative and entailing the presence of a fictional translator (Klinger 2015: 19). Representational hybridity is further divided into “symbolic” and “iconic hybridity.” The study is motivated by the fact that “the absence or presence of linguistic hybridity interrelates with the narrator’s identification with and allegiance to one culture rather than another” (ibid. 3).

As explained in Chapter 1, the volume deals with translation in two ways. The author examines the representation of linguistic hybridity in the source text as resulting from an act of translation. In addition, she analyzes the ways in which shifts affecting linguistic hybridity in “translation proper,” i.e. the translation of the source text into a target text, may affect the meaning potential of the text. The examples provided come from Nigerian narrative prose in English and translations of these texts into German. This material is chosen because cross-cultural texts within postcolonial writing are perfect examples of the ways in which translation is an object of representation (ibid. 5).

Apart from narratology, some of the concepts used in this study are taken from cognitive poetics, stylistics, and film studies. The goal is to provide an approach that takes into account the relation between language as medium of expression and language as object of representation. This explores “whether and how linguistic hybridity potentially has an impact on the mental representations the reader constructs when interacting with the text, and hence, whether and how target text shifts in linguistic hybridity can affect the text’s meaning potential” (ibid. 1-2). In particular, the volume aims at investigating “how linguistic hybridity interrelates with (i) the reader’s construction of the perspective from which the story events are perceived, (ii) the narrator’s attitude towards the narrated cultures (and the implied author’s attitude towards different languages), and (iii) the narrator’s and the characters’ cultural identity and affiliation” and their world-view (ibid. 2-3). According to this volume, translation shifts affecting the representation of linguistic hybridity may have a major impact affecting the interpretation of texts and the reader’s world-view. In addition, due to social and practical consequences the schemata affected by translation shifts may have, translation shifts affecting world-view may also “have an impact on the world we as community construct for ourselves and therefore on the way we live our lives” (ibid. 3).

Chapter 2 is concerned with the definitions and typologies of linguistic hybridity and proposes “a new tripartite typology of linguistic hybridity based on its relation to the reality portrayed in the narrative” (ibid. 10). The author claims that current terminology related to hybridity in cross-cultural writing focuses too much on language-based categories such as linguistic forms and discourse modes. Such approaches are insufficient when the goal is to “describe the relation between the language(s) on the level of text on the one hand and the language(s) on the level of narration and on the level of story on the other hand” (ibid. 38). The author argues that it is necessary to describe this relationship in order to examine the role of linguistic hybridity in the “construction of the perspective from which the story events are perceived, the textual agents’ cultural identity, and the narrator’s ideological perspective and allegiance” (ibid.). Such an analysis is necessary in order to decipher the ways in which shifts occurring in the translation process affect these categories. Therefore, the author proposes a typology based on representational function rather than form.

A key aspect within representational hybridity is the distinction between medium and object. In “iconic hybridity,” hybridity is represented as an object, the product of a self-translation performed by an embodied narrator or a character (ibid. 12, 20). “Symbolic hybridity,” however, “is the product of translational mimesis occurring in the narration and within one language—it symbolically represents one language within another” and hybridity is a mere medium (ibid. 19-20). Thus, the language on the level of text is not identical with the language on the level of story but merely symbolizes or symbolically represents it (ibid. 137).

An example of iconic hybridity is the following passage from Chinua Achebe’s (1994 [1960: 82]) novel No Longer at Ease: “He now spoke in English. ‘You know book, but this is no matter for book. Do you know what an osu is? But how can you know.” This form of hybridity is labelled iconic because it is based on the illusion of a verbatim, immediate representation of self-translation by a textual agent. The language as medium and language as object are the same—iconic hybridity represents itself and “the language as medium is identical to the language as object” (Klinger 2015: 12, 137).

An example of symbolic hybridity is the following passage from the same novel (Achebe 1994 [1960]: 46-47): “Call it what you like,” said Joseph in Igbo. “You know more book than I, but I am older and wiser. And I can tell you that a man does not challenge his chi to a wrestling match.” In this excerpt, hybridity or translation are not represented as an object; rather, hybridity, occurring on the level of narration, is only a medium (Klinger 2015: 12).

Chapter 3 deals with the interchangeable terms of perspective, focalization, or point of view. The chapter discusses various typologies of focalization and speech and thought representation (e.g. Genette 1988, Bal 2009, McHale 1978, Leech & Short 2007) and analyzes several examples from the corpus and concludes that when linguistic hybridity is erased or diluted in translation, the perception shifts from figural to narratorial. Contrarily, the shift may also be directed towards figural perception in cases in which linguistic hybridity is added to the text in translation (Klinger 2015: 81). Such shifts affect the perceived reliability of the information, the empathy the reader feels towards the characters, and ironic distance. In conclusion, “shifts in perception thus affect the reader’s construction of the narrator’s attitude towards the characters and events presented—in other words, the narrator’s ideological perspective” (ibid. 81). The narrator’s ideological stance is also linked to that of the author, for according to text-world theory “readers have a tendency to map their knowledge of the author onto the narrator” (ibid. 82, Gavins 2007: 129). As a result, readers think that the narrator’s world-view equals the author’s world-view unless the narrator is discordant or unreliable (see Cohn 2000).

Chapter 4 applies Murray Smith’s (2005) three-level typology of audience engagement (recognition, alignment, allegiance) in the context of film to the literary material of this volume: “thought and speech representation, for example, are strategies of alignment, as they grant us access to a character’s feelings and states of mind” and “linguistic hybridity can signal alignment” (Klinger 2015: 85). According to the author, the reader’s world-view and the way he or she constructs the narrator’s stance are more important than “the text-dependent degree of the language-facet of perspective (i.e. discourse mode)” in determining the reader’s response: “target text shifts in the verbal actualization of the allegiance […] will depend not on target text shifts in the degree of alignment on the language facet of perspective (i.e. target text shifts in discourse category) but on whether the alignment is erased in the target text, for example by shifting the language facet from figural to narratorial, or whether indicators of allegiance are erased or altered in the target text” (ibid. 90). Such shifts can affect the target text reader’s “attitude towards the narrated culture.” Typically, such shifts are the result of the mismatch between the intentions the translator has inferred from the source text and “actual intentions” (ibid. 132). If the translator’s world-view clashes with the world-view inferred from the source text, the translator may also deliberately or unconsciously alter the world-view of the text (ibid. 133).

Chapter 5 deals with the translation of the characters’ world-view. According to the author, since linguistic hybridity can indicate perspective, it has an indirect influence on characterization (ibid. 134). The author makes a distinction between representational hybridity in the character’s discourse pertaining to the mind-style either of an individual or a community, setting them apart from other individuals or other communities respectively. The argument is that iconic representational hybridity reflects the mind-style of an individual whereas symbolic representational hybridity reflects the mind-style of a community, for example an ethnic group. Thus, iconic hybridity signifies a norm departure and underscores in-betweenness whereas symbolic hybridity signifies a norm and underscores otherness (ibid. 136-7). Furthermore, while iconic hybridity represents a language variety, symbolic hybridity represents another language (ibid. 139).

According to the author, the distinction between text, narration, and story, and the distinction between language as medium and language as object, are useful when approaching linguistic hybridity in cross-cultural writing. Such analyses can guide both the practice and the study of translations of such texts – something that existing approaches fail to do (180).


This book is a valuable contribution to the increasing body of research on the translation of linguistic hybridity. Apart from translation scholars, narratologists and researchers interested in the interfaces between linguistics and literature will find it a useful addendum to existing scholarship. Non-specialists may find the book quite challenging to read, and sociolinguists might find it puzzling because the way this volume uses terms such as “iconic,” “representation,” and “symbolic” is very different from more common usages in sociolinguistics and linguistic anthropology. Graduate students will find the book useful, but it might be too demanding for other classroom settings. However, the examples analyzed by the author can be very useful instructional tools.

The volume certainly reaches its goals within its conceptual framework. Its major merit is to offer new insights into the interplay of form and function and provide fresh categorizations of speech, thought, and world-view representation. The discussion regarding the impact of the unconscious mapping of the figure of the author onto the narrator and the ways in which this mapping may change due to shifts occurring in the translation process is particularly intriguing. The interpretation of hybridity itself through the metaphor of translation is refreshing.

At the same time, the volume raises a number of questions. First, while the author claims that she investigates function rather than form and the construction of stance rather than the language-facet of perspective or the discourse mode, the typologies presented remain largely dependent on differences visible in linguistic choices. After all, it is difficult to see to what extent stance in a text can be analyzed without basing at least part of that analysis on the linguistic features of the text. Do form and function not go hand in hand? Can alignment be erased without modifying the “language facet” in translation? Can there be function without form? These questions remain unanswered.

Second, the ways in which the concept of hybridity itself is linked to attitudes, allegiance, alignment, ideology, stance, and intentions appears to be somewhat problematic as well. Indeed, is it even possible to know what the “actual” intentions of a text and is the presence or absence of hybridity sufficient when deciding whether there is alignment/allegiance or not? How can one prove that the representation of the speech of a character represents a group in some instances (symbolic hybridity) and that of an individual on other occasions (iconic hybridity) if what we have in both cases is the representation of the speech (or thought) of one character? And since the concepts mentioned above and world-view in particular are quite central in this volume, it would have been useful to discuss the meaning of these terms and provide clear definitions. Such definitions would contribute to avoiding the dangers of linguistic essentialism that often accompany linguistic relativism.

As these questions and concerns show, the volume is certainly thought-provoking and is therefore likely to contribute to create interfaces between cognitive approaches to text, text-world theory, narratology, and the linguistic study of literature.


Achebe, Chinua. 1994 [1960]. No Longer at Ease. New York: Anchor.

Bal, Mieke. Narratology: Introduction to the Theory of Narrative, 3rd ed. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Cohn, Dorrit. 2000. Discordant narration. Style 34(2). 307-316.

Gavins, Joanna. 2007. Text World Theory: An Introduction. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Genette, Gérard. 1998. Narrative Discourse Revisited. Trans. Jane E. Lewin. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.

Klinger, Susanne. 2015. Translation and Linguistic Hybridity: Constructing World-View. New York: Routledge.

Leech, Geoffrey & Mick Short. 2007. Style in Fiction: A Linguistic Introduction to English Fictional Prose, 2nd ed. London: Longman.

Smith, Murray. 2005. The Battle of Algiers: Colonial struggle and collective allegiance. In J. David Slocum (ed.), Terrorism, Media, Liberation, 94-110. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.
Dr. Simo K. Määttä is Senior Lecturer of French (translation track) at the Department of Modern Languages, University of Helsinki. His research interests include language policies, translation studies, sociolinguistics, and critical discourse studies. He has worked on EU and French language policies regarding regional or minority languages, the translation of linguistic hybridity, language ideologies and the interpreter's agency in community interpreting, and hate speech. Määttä's research has always focused on the representation and interpretation of linguistic variation. He also works as a translator and legal and community interpreter.

Format: Hardback
ISBN-13: 9781138801592
Pages: 198
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