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Review of  Translating Emotion

Reviewer: Cinzia Citarrella
Book Title: Translating Emotion
Book Author: Kathleen Shields Michael Clarke
Publisher: Peter Lang AG
Linguistic Field(s): Translation
Subject Language(s): Portuguese
Issue Number: 23.4172

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EDITOR: Shields, Kathleen and Clarke, Michael
TITLE: Translating Emotion
SUBTITLE: Studies in Transformation and Renewal Between Languages
SERIES: Intercultural Studies and Foreign Language Learning
YEAR: 2011

Cinzia Citarrella, Department of Linguistics, University of Palermo, Italy


This volume, edited by Kathleen Shields and Michael Clarke, is a collection of
papers focused on different kinds of relationship between translation and emotion.

In the introduction the editors outline the structure of the book and the topics
of the contributions. The papers are about translation strategies and modalities
with respect to the semantic fields related to emotion; that is, the creation
through translation of new texts whose purpose is primarily to excite, in the
receivers, the same emotions experienced by the readers, and also to show the
ways translators convey their emotions in their texts.

The first essay, by Florian Krobb, focuses on the emotions contained in Goethe’s
Roman Elegies and their translation. The author explores the concept of
‘Weltliteratur’, a term coined by Goethe, and the notion of world literature as
a universal dimension of literary production. The aim of Weltliteratur allows
cultural European union through the acceptance of peoples’ particularities and
the affirmation of shared values of humankind. Many translations into English of
Goethe’s ''Roman Elegies'' subvert the concept of Weltliteratur in that English
translators prioritized metrical form and thus destroyed all the ambivalences
contained in the original text in order to make the text more clear. The
author’s aim was the preservation of beauty and the sentiments of the ancients
and the writing of new love poetry in a classical style where “physical love is
one avenue towards achieving contentment and completion” (p.14). In order to
convey emotions Goethe makes extensive use of metaphors; frequently these
expressions were deleted or modified by translators to remove ambiguities or to
adapt texts to their own culture. Early English translators intervened on
morally objectionable elements, thus obtaining a non-faithful translation as
final result. Modern translators have many difficulties in translating some
metaphorical expressions; many options have been suggested but all of them
reveal the limitations of the Weltliteratur into the world by means of translation.

Michael Clarke, in his essay ''Translation and Transformation: a Case Study from
Medieval Irish and English'', highlights the importance of the translator’s
creativity with particular reference to expressions of emotion in some early
Irish and English texts in which classic episodes are transformed under the
structures of the Irish saga. Ireland and Britain were very far from the center
of the Roman Empire; so also their culture and languages were very different
from classical ones. The old scholars invented the relationship between their
races and the Mediterranean peoples and also proposed some linguistic parallels
between English and Mediterranean languages such as Latin, Greek, and Hebrew.
According to this, translators of ancient and classical texts used sophisticated
strategies of translation like ‘analogical imitation’ (Doane, 1978, 49): some
books of the Old Testament are rendered in vernacular verse in the style and
language of vernacular pagan songs. These texts were not intended as faithful
translations but they absorb the source religious material into vernacular
poetic translation. To name but a few in the book of Exodus, for example, the
journey of the Israelites becomes the journey of a human soul, or, in the
Genesis, Satan’s rebellion is the tensions in the Germanic warrior society. Both
religious and Greco-Roman texts were also transformed, more than translated,
into the aesthetic and poetic standards of the target language according to the
divergences between languages and cultural systems. Despite so many differences,
Irish and Greek language and culture had a common origin in the Indo-European
world: so many elements are not so different because they shared a common
prehistoric culture.

The third paper, by John Kinsella, ''East Meets West: some Portuguese
Translations of Eastern Poetry'', explores the ‘unfamiliarity’ between western
and oriental languages and cultures. As early as the XVI century Jesuits had
understood that learning oriental languages and translating holy books were
fundamental for the missionaries in order to transform local belief systems:
they had to incorporate the ideas of faith into the structure of local
languages. This does not mean, however, to destroy the original texts, but to
attempt to catch their substance.

Interest in eastern cultures and languages remained also in the XIX century,
despite the European imperialistic policy. In this century Emanuel Felix, a
Portuguese from Azorean, made a translation of Chinese and Japanese poems in
order to reproduce a dialogue with cultures unknown to many readers.
Particularly difficult to understand and translate were the language of emotions
as it presents a high degree of metaphoricity: human emotions are linked to
natural elements such as happiness with the magpie in China. These metaphoric
expressions are very difficult to understand and explain because of the cultural
differences and chronological distance. Despite these difficulties Kinsella
argues that it is possible to cross cultural and temporal boundaries even if the
aim of a translation is to distinguish the strangeness of the source and
retrieve the sense of cultural otherness.

In the fourth paper, ''Channelling Emotions, Eliciting Responses: Translation as
Performance,'' Cormac Ó Cuilleanáin focuses on how translators attempt to
transmit emotions, the solutions and the degree of creativity they adopt in
their translations considering the high subjectivity and effects of emotions.
Being distant both in space and time from the originator, the translator has to
empathize with the original writer in order to capture his or her emotions and
to transfer these to the readers. In order to show translators’ different
behaviour and strategies, the author goes through various kinds of translation
of different texts: interlingual, intralingual or intersemiotic translations of
gesture, spoken or written texts. Many cultural differences make impossible a
literal translation of words or gestures as in different countries the same act
may have different values. Even when there is no great cultural difference,
translators have to individuate adequate strategies to explain the originator’s
feelings and emotions in a different language. Ó Cuilleanáin shows all these
features through the analyses of a passage from Lady Macbeth of Mtsenk, the folk
music of Klezmer tradition, the discourses of Martin Luther King, the
interrogations at Guantanamo Bay and the translation of Psalm 157.

Kathleen Shields’ paper, ''Auditory Images as Sites of Emotion: Translating
Gerard Manley Hopkins into French,'' looks at the importance of a translator’s
subjectivity in his or her decisions in order to translate figurative language,
particularly in Hopkins’ work, as well as to transfer auditory images as
carriers of meaning. An auditory image is an iconic mental representation
connected to an auditory perception: it is the impression of sound on audience.
In translation, auditory images are very often ignored as they are thought to be
connected to feelings more than ideas, but feelings are important to transfer
meaning. Puns may be ignored in scientific texts and substituted by denotative
terms, but this strategy cannot be used in poetry: auditory images reveal
irrational and emotional values that are underlying in poetry. Shields analyses
some extracts from the French translation of Hopkins’ poem ‘The Wreck of the
Deutschland’ by Bruno Gaurier, who tries, as far as possible, to transfer into
the French text the phonetic patterns of the original. For instance Gaurier
translates the expression “I’m soft sift” with the French “Sable je sasse”
keeping the alliteration of ‘s’ and adding a new layer of meaning: the
intransitive use of the French verb sasser, normally used transitively,
“captures the sense of the individual pushing through time without acting on
anything” (p. 96) and replicates Hopkins’ image of the hourglass.

In the paper “A Dash of the Foreign: The Mixed Emotions of Difference” Michael
Cronin looks at the history of translation in Ireland and the relationship
between Irish and English texts relative to translation. For the Irish and in
particular for the translator Tadhg Ó Donnchadha, translation was potentially a
bearer of impurities and it was considered necessary to add a filter to
domesticate the threat of otherness: the familiarity between the Irish and
English languages was a great source of impurity. Linguistic proximity and
indebtedness is also related to cultural and political features: Kiberd suggests
it is also “agonistic in the vying for cultural and political pre-eminence in
New Ireland” (p. 109). Translation was fundamental for the emergence of a
distinctive literature in Irish-English (or Hiberno-English) in Modern Ireland
and also for the reconfiguration of the relationship between Irish and English
in Late Modern Ireland. Late-modern writers make use of inventiveness and
multilingualism so that the loyalty to one language or another is bypassed. For
instance Paddy Bushe, who writes both in English and in Irish, in his
translation of Gabriel Rosenstock’s poems, chooses to leave the Irish-language
references as foreignizing elements in the text rather than domesticating them
in English (pp. 112-113). Irish-English is considered “the child of translation”
(p. 121): translingualism is related to the modern tendency towards
‘de-differentiation’ in a perspective of globalization.

The last paper, “Love and Other Subtitles: Comedic and Abusive Subtitling in
‘Annie Hall’ and ‘Wayne’s World,’’ by Michelle Woods is focused on translation
as a way to convey emotion and particularly love. Both films reveal the
importance of intralingual translation because of gender and cultural
differences. Subtitles are an important tool to “signal foreignness and
intellectual hefts” (p. 127); they reveal characters’ thoughts (especially in
''Annie Hall'') and translate the Cantonese that a character speaks in ''Wayne’s
World''. Despite Nornes’ notion of ‘abusive subtitling’, Woods points out that
subtitles may be also fundamental to highlight differences in order to create
comic effects. For instance in ''Annie Hall'', Woody Allen uses subtitles in order
to show the differences between what the characters say and think and to reveal
their feelings. The audience becomes a “secret entendeurs” (p. 135) and is made
aware of the foreign: while people watch a seduction scene with stereotyped
roles, subtitles reveal a subversive situation against preconceptions. Subtitles
reveal also a different aspect of love: the dialogue between the two lovers
represents love as an understanding between two different individuals, while
subtitles show love as “the locus of misunderstanding” (p. 136). So subtitles
become a trope of love and reveal also how all of us speak a foreign language
when we fall in love.


The volume contains several discussions focused on translation and emotions: the
papers contained in the volume highlight different aspects of the relation
between translation and emotions and in particular the importance of the role of
translators. The relation between the two features is not simple at all because
of the high degree of subjectivity of emotions and the challenge of faithful
translation. Different cultures, and even different individuals, conceptualize
emotions in very different ways: even if emotions are universal, their
conceptualization and linguistic expressions are divergent. According to the
subjectivity of ideas related to emotions, the language of emotion is
metaphorical everywhere and in every time; figurative language, though used to
clarify transforming abstract concepts into concrete concepts so that they are
more understandable, creates ambiguities. In translation figurative language is
often ignored as a rhetorical feature but it is fundamental to transfer meanings.

Because of this, translating emotions is not an easy challenge and frequently an
objective and faithful translation is impossible, but what is necessary is a
great degree of the translator’s creativity: translation is not as a mechanical
activity but a creative work. In this volume the importance of the translator’s
creativity is highlighted by Michael Clarke, referring specifically to
expressions of emotion in some early Irish and English texts. Sometimes a target
text is not a faithful translation but it is fundamental to convey meanings and
cultural elements. If languages and cultural systems are highly divergent, as in
for example western and non-western cultures, metaphorical expressions are even
more difficult to understand and translate. In each situation translators have
to individuate adequate strategies to convey the message of the source text and
the system of beliefs, but they have also to empathize with the original writer
in order to explain his or her feelings and emotions.

The editors have chosen papers that may be a starting point both for translators
and theorists of translation referring to translating emotions. It is greatly to
their credit that they offer good examples to show the difficulties and the
importance of the transfer of meaning related to emotions from source to target
text. Reflection is provided with interesting ideas and experiences.

These studies also offer new input for future studies on the translation of
metaphorical language, not only that related to emotion, and for studies on
strategies that translators may use in their works. The topics developed in
''Translating Emotion'' are also quite interesting from the perspective of
teaching translation strategies.

To conclude, this edited volume is a fine reader for those who are interested in
translating figurative language. The conclusions of the various analyses reveal
that it is possible to mediate between fidelity and creativity in translation by
keeping the real meaning of the original text and without violating the author’s


Doane, A.N. (ed.), (1978) Genesis A, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Cinzia Citarrella, Ph.D. in Linguistics, is currently a lecturer of Translation Studies at the University of Palermo, Facoltà di Lettere e Filosofia, and is a certified Italian as a Second Language teacher. Her main academic interests are Translation Studies, Cognitive Linguistics and Metaphor, and Language Teaching.

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