We’ve already discussed how instances of intertextuality can be found in all texts, whether literary, political or otherwise, as well as in everyday conversations. By mentioning a quote from a book or a reference to a movie or commercial, every time we communicate we generate millions of connections and create a network of links that lend greater meaning and depth to our messages.
Each reader will have a different interpretation, and references won’t always be clear to everyone. However, if an average reader, while reading a text in his or her native language, can have trouble deciphering the meaning of a reference or even ignore it completely, what happens then in a translation, where not only is the language foreign, but the culture may also be radically different? How many intertextual references are likely to fall by the wayside?
To answer this question, we must consider the relationship established between the translator and the intertext. When we communicate, not only does our understanding of the semantics come into play, but our knowledge of the subject, all texts we’ve read previously, as well as all our cultural baggage, also become activated. And this is where the job of the translator takes on a fundamental role.
A translator must possess an excellent understanding of the grammar and semantics of the source language, as well as extensive knowledge of the culture to which it belongs. It can’t be stressed enough that the translation process involves not only translating each word of a text from one language to another, but rather a translator’s greatest value is in his or her ability to produce a transversal reading of the text, and thus capture everything that was meant to be conveyed by the author.
Hence, the battle between human and machine translation is not over. If you’ve ever tried to translate a pun using an automatic translator, for example, you’ve most likely noticed that the literal translation of the phrase makes absolutely no sense.
Consider the phrase beware of Greeks bearing gifts. In general, it means that you mustn’t trust your enemy, but specifically it refers to the Iliad, the Trojan War and the famous wooden horse. Anyone who knows the story will have no difficulty in establishing links, while someone who doesn’t know it might wonder what’s wrong with gifts from Greeks. A translator could simply translate it in another language as do not trust your enemies, or another simplified version, but the nuances of the saying would be lost.
It is important to recognize these instances in order to convey the nuances in the same way as the author. However, it is worth noting that in many cases, the correct interpretation of such instances is the result of thorough research. The construction of a language depends not only on words that make it up, and it is the fundamental job of the translator to connect cultures.