Frame-based interpretation of readers’ reception of the parallel translations of Ady Endre, On Elijah’s Chariot (Az Illés szekerén) Translation Theory translation jobs
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Frame-based interpretation of readers’ reception of the parallel translations of Ady Endre, On Elijah’s Chariot (Az Illés szekerén)

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Frame theory is intended to serve as a tool for linguistic and psychological investigations. The latter two constitute what we call cognitive linguistics, where the psychological processes, which take place in the mind mainly in comprehension are explained within linguistic boundaries, and vice versa, where the linguistic utterances are observed as physical manifestations of brain work. The fact that pure linguistic knowledge is insufficient to entangle the intricacies of utterances and the units, which make them up, can easily be proved by computer analysis. What the machine cannot be taught is the interim knowledge, which only the human brain is capable of storing and handling. Only “real world knowledge, built up on the basis of experience […], makes it possible to infer” (MacLachlan & Reid 1994: 2) the message conveyed by texts, that is, stretches of written or oral utterances. The missing links, which are assumed by the text, need to be supplied by the receiver. “Narrative economy” (ibid. p. 2.) is the greatest requirement for the texts, which are written with the most condensed form of language—poems. Frames are supposed to be directly accessible units, which organize items or chunks of information. They store knowledge of stereotypical situations. The question, to what extent can be poems regarded as ordered sequences or random heaps of stereotypical situations, may be as hard to answer as it is to tell literary and non-literary texts apart. A poem is defined as ‘utterance’ (York 1986); providing “aesthetic delight in language play” (Taylor 1981: 152); having a ‘special vocabulary’ (Schogt 1988: 84); “a-temporal, […] complete in itself, […] should cohere at a symbolic level, […] expresses an attitude, its typographic arrangements can be given spatial or temporal interpretations” (Culler 1975: 162); “a structure of signifiers which absorbs and reconstitutes the signified” (ibid. p. 163); “not being used in the language-game of giving information” (Wittgenstein 1967: 28); having ‘the language of paradox’ (Brooks 1947: 3); just to quote a few.

Apart from Wittgenstein’s skepticism, there is no argument against poems passing on something—emotions and attitudes. What is more, we can easily contradict Wittgenstein—emotions do not exist on their own; emotions are evoked by actions; they are the results of activities. The comprehension of events evoke frames in the mind, therefore, emotions, being logical entailments of activities, do the same. On the other hand, emotions cannot be described without embedding them in context, that is, the actions that incite them.

The activation of frames in the mind is the pivotal point in understanding. Comprehension is nothing but interpretation. It is true, however, that not only background knowledge is activated in the form of frames, but the first step in the mental processes is the calling up of the generic frame when assigning a text to a particular genre. On the other hand, this applies rather to narrative prose. Even if the generic frame ‘poem’ is activated in the reader’s mind, the further main frame and the supporting minor frames can be various for the simple reason that it is the poem that is given the most diverse interpretations. Therefore, framing a poem does not impose the same kind of ‘constraints’ (MacLachlan & Reid 1994: 2) on interpretation as in the case of prose. A good example of the different framing procedure of poems might be Carroll’s Jabberwocky, A Stanza of Anglo-Saxon Poetry, in which half the words have no conventionally associated meaning in English and in Weöres’ wonderful translation (Szajkóhukky) either. The readers interpret both texts as descriptions of an outdoor scene with creatures of various sorts frolicking or moving about. The texts also prove that interpretation is more than just an application of the linguistic knowledge necessary to decode words and to make connections between them and the units in which they are embedded.

Framing is endophoric as well as exophoric, relying on intratextual and intertextual information, respectively. In this research I do not differentiate them; for my purposes the simultaneous application of both is relevant. The third type of framing—circumtextual framing—is important when reading poems because it refers to the material presentation of the text. To interpret poems is challenging for many reasons; the greatest is that the readers are normally unaware of the acts of framing, but in a research like this they are requested to verbalize their unconscious and intuitive reactions.

The translatability of poems has always been the cardinal point for literary people as well as translation theorists. Landers (2001: 97) quotes Ciardi (1961) who takes the sceptical side: the translation of poetry is the art of failure. Szegedy-Maszák compares translation to music: “This [the separation of signifier from the signified] seems almost as problematic as […] pentatonic into twelve-tone music” (2003: 15). Zdanys (1987) approaches the problem from a different angle—his ambivalence concerns the teaching of literary translation because he feels that this creative process cannot be taught. Nevertheless, he later changes his mind and concludes that the art of translation can not only be taught, but can also make the student more aware of aspects of poetry, language, aesthetics, and interpretation. Zdanys, like many others, finds translation a subjective activity, subsuming translation under the larger goal of interpreting literature.

The difficulties in translating poems range from the formal requirements including scansion (the analysis of metre by noting how it is stressed and how many syllables it has) and rhymes to the semantic level. The figurative language, which poets use transcends the semantic limitations of language, that is, the greatest challenge in translation lies in the seizure and transmittance of the micro- as well as the macrometaphorically expressed content. Poems are not exempt from ambiguity or polysemy either. Still, there is unity in poems, and the concept of unity is “often used to mean a reconciliation of meaning and form” (Holman & Boase-Beier 1999: 5).

The translator is the first interpreter of the poem. If we follow Holland’s psychoanalytic interpretation strategies (1976), which are based on the direct proportion of interpretations and readers (as many interpretations as readers), we will see the translator as one of the many readers having one of the many viable interpretations. The problem is now obvious—what if different translators interpret the poem in different fashions? What if the majority of the readers will have a divergent reading from that of the translator’s? There seem to be several resolutions

- the reader of the translated poem should read the original text too, or
- there should be as many translations of the same poem as possible, or
- the reader should read the translated version as if it was the original.

In the first case comparisons can be made and the reader can become the critic of the translation, and the content will reach him through different channels, giving the possible inferences at hand. The translation might help to disambiguate the meaning if necessary, or the two texts will help the reader to arrive at a full understanding. According to the second, the different translations will provide different viewpoints, which will either merge in the reader’s mind in the form of one interpretation, or the reader will choose the one he likes best. In the third case the reader is left with one option—he will interpret the only text at hand.

“Translation theory is central to anyone interpreting literature” (Gentzler 1993: 1). Along with literary theories, translation theory is becoming increasingly relevant. Of Jakobson’s (1959) tripartite categorisation of translation (intralingual, interlingual and intersemiotic) translation ‘proper’, that is, interlingual translation must be considered for the observation of poem translation. Interlingual translation cannot be isolated from multiple linguistic, literary, and cultural aspects.

Richards understands poems, along with the reading, interpretation and translation of them, as part of a global system—communication. Communication comprises reception and production, alternately and mutually preconditioning each other. Reading, interpretation and translation are both receptive and productive processes, they are never separable. Reading is the achievement of primary experience, translation can be seen as the rearticulation of the experience, and interpretation constitutes part of both. The goal is to achieve perfect rearticulation at each level. This is the point where a conceptional paradigm is noticeable—from the goal of deciphering author’s meaning there was a shift in the 1980s towards a reader-oriented approach to literature, which allowed the reader to understand whatever he wished. The question is whether the translator belongs or must belong to the requirements laid down in the first period or he is the reader of the later era. Another question is how poems can fit into the readerly-writerly distinction, which is based on the reader’s involvement in the literary text. Richards redefined his theory while discussing how one should compare translations to original texts. In his project he attempted to resolve problems inhibiting perfect understanding. Richards’ aim, for literary translators to find and agree on a common purpose in order to determine an appropriate methodology, bore no fruit due to the huge number of different interpretations and translations. He realised that the fields of comparison within the process of translation were too broad. Speculations became unlimited, thus slipped out of seizure. He tried to collapse interpretations into one single response—in this respect he can be regarded as the forerunner of Sperber and Wilson (1986)—but such kind of consensus was never reached.

This model is built upon the Saussurean theory of communication where only encoding and decoding take place; it does not consider what pragmaticians later defined as inference. Without the reader’s inferential strategies the message cannot be passed on. Therefore, this model excludes the subjective nature of interpretation. This subjectivity suspended the possibility of a common objective basis for translation. As Richards put it: “[the translation process] may very probably be the most complex type of event yet produced in the evolution of the cosmos” (1953: 250). The only or at least the most viable solution for him was to educate and train translators in order to teach them how to achieve the correct understanding of the source text. But this is again the exclusion of the inferential processes, something that pragmaticians disapprove of.

Pound (1911-12) took a different view than Richards—he gave priority to the details as opposed to Richards’ comprehensive approach. He disregarded the unified meaning of the text but he found the individual words and images—even fragments of them—as the scope of interest. He raised the translator to the level of artistry, one, whose task is to engrave words into stone, who moulds the words. He saw a special energy in language, which is exerted through words. His imagist views were misinterpreted by his contemporaries (Amy Lowell, for example), who claimed that a poem symbolises an idea, which was a sort of metaphysical approach. Pound distanced himself from these views. He considered “translation as a model for the poetic art: blood brought to ghosts” (Kenner 1971: 150). He observed translation of poems in the same fashion as the writing of poems—the aim is to recapturing ‘patterned energy’ and to articulate the ‘luminous detail’ (ibid. p. 150-2). He favoured the rhythm, diction, and movement of words rather than the meaning of the poem or even the meaning of specific words.

Are translation and interpretation inseparable? Can translation be regarded as interpretation and, conversely, is interpretation a kind of translation? If the translator does not understand a text, he cannot render it into the target language. The formation of meaning, the rendering of meaning to the text must precede the linguistic transformation. Gadamer says that when one encounters something entirely unknown, there is no understanding (1990). He claims that the task of the translator and the interpreter is the same (1984: 271), because the translator must preserve the meaning. Because the understanding takes place in another language, it falls out in it in another way, therefore every translation is interpretation from the outset. Moreover, the understanding becomes complete in the translation (ibid. p. 269). Both interpretation and translation must surmount a distance, which is not only a temporal distance but a linguistic one too. Thus translation reduplicates the hermeneutic process and becomes the extreme case of it. The hermeneutic problem lies not in the competent linguistic knowledge but the understanding of the thing described in the text. The translator is aware of the fact that during translation there is always something lost. He constantly makes decisions what to retain and what to sacrifice. This attitude is itself the interpretation. However, translation is not only a loss but a gain too, because it is an over-explanation. Whatever is not clear in the original must be clarified by the translator. As a result, every translation is more transparent but, unfortunately, more prostrate than the original (ibid. p. 271).

From the point of view of its relevance in translation, interpretation is determined by (1) the primary structure of understanding in relation to interpretation and (2) the circularity of understanding. The mere existence presupposes the understanding of the world and the understanding of the things to be interpreted. Consequently, interpretation is not the seizure of something anticipated without any presupposition. The hermeneutic circle or the circle of interpretation (circulus vitiosus) is based on the assumption that the meaning of the parts is determined by the meaning of the whole and, vice versa, the meaning of the whole is made up of the meaning of the parts. However, understanding is more as well as less than mere logic. One needs to enter the circle instead of stepping out of it.

As far as the translator concerned, he enters the circle by understanding the text but must step out of it while rendering the text into the target language. A translator is a rewriter who determines the implied meanings of the target language text, and who also, in the act of rewriting, redetermines the meaning of the original (álvarez & Vidal 1996: 4). The translator converses with the text, just like the dialogue or conversation, which takes place as the fundamental process in understanding. Understanding is nothing but a conversation between people; it is based on questions and answers. If we do not understand the question, we cannot answer it. The archetype of human communication is the dialogue (Gadamer 1995: 45). However, the understanding of the written word requires a spatial and temporal estrangement, that is, the translator cannot be prevented from being alienated from both text and author. The translator must not only understand what the author had in mind but he must understand it in its particular linguistic presentation. Gehörtwerden means to hear the word fixed in the literary piece. The existence of the text is more or less for the inner ear. The ideal linguistic form demands something inaccessible for the human voice—this is the mode of existence of the literary text. The art of writing lies in the fact that the author vanishes—what remains is the text only. Does it mean that the translator need not have access to the author, including personal contacts, cultural and historical knowledge about his/her era?

Is translatability is as uncertain and indeterminate as Quine asserts? Local (micro-level) equivalence has generally been achieved in the analysed/interpreted poems, while global (macro-level) equivalence has been created with a lesser success. Whether the success of the translation depends on the mother tongue of the translator or not must be based on the macro level, that is, the global interpretation of the poem. ‘Success’ or ‘failure’ is based on the fact whether the interpreters found the poems written in English originally or ‘mere’ translations. It seems obvious that if the readers see the poems as translations, the poem ‘displays the cloven hoof’, that is, either parts of the poems or the whole poems betray the translator and/or his/her transmission of the text.

As stated above, understanding in general and the understanding of texts is conceived in conceptual structures such as frames, scripts, schemas, etc. Translation requires understanding from the translator’s part. (S)he will comprehend the text globally and locally, relying on the evoked central and peripheral frames. The translator reconstructs the text using these frames. This text is then interpreted by the readers by means of frames as discussed previously. The original text is processed in a similar fashion. If the two interpretations are compared, it will throw light upon the fact whether the original text and the translated version evoke the same frames in the readers. The more they do so, the more successful the translation is, i. e. the better global and local equivalence(s) have been created by the translator. If we accept the structuralist type of view that

    every language is a unique structure, or system, and that
    the units whichwe identify, or postulate as theoretical constructs,
    in analysing the sentence of a particular language (sounds, words,
    meanings, etc.) derive both their essence and their existence from
    their relationships with other units in the same language system,
    (Lyons 1977: 231-2)

it obviously follows that we just cannot view translating as some kind of simple or not-so-simple pairing activity where a given number of items from the source language are paired with an equal number of items from the target language. Different languages have different numbers of words or lexical items (expressions in general), and the relationship between the expressions of the source language are not necessarily of the same type as those obtaining between the expressions of the target language. One possible application of (some version of) the frame theory could conceivably be constituted by a detailed analysis of the relationships between the lexical items and other expressions in different languages. This analysis can further be supplemented by a comparison of the frame structures and networks obtained for each language separately, which, is something that could benefit both the translation theorist and the practising translator alike. It is possible for people to infer implied meaning from utterances. To arrive at an interpretation is obviously executed through schemes, scripts and frames. To untangle the intricate net of interpretation—frames—translation seems to be the declaration that translation is the most successful if the frames (both central and peripheral) evoked by Text-source and Text-target are the least dissimilar.

The interpretation of a text takes place by activating a small number of central frames and peripheral frames (ibid. p. 448.). The latter provide support and an inflow of information for the former. In the case of poems, for example, one central frame can be activated, which is the global message of the poem, supported by peripheral frames of the smaller units—lines or sentences, and stanzas. Obviously, these peripheral frames become central frames of the units within the poem. The quest for frames can even be narrowed down to the level of diction due to the special feature of the lexical items of a poem, i. e. they are more loaded than in any other literary text. Therefore, the frame-evoking units of a poem are:
- the content words;
- lines or sentences (depending on the segmentation possibilities);
- stanzas;
- the whole poem.

My analysis involves a two-step procedure. The first is the identification of the frames, which are evoked by reading the particular poem. One group of readers read the poems in English, the other group read them in the target language, Hungarian. There were two groups of readers—1. Hungarian university students, who read the poem in Hungarian and 2. Hungarian university students, who read Nyerges and Makkai’s and Szirtes’ English translations of the poems. The second step is to compare the readings and observe the incidental divergences. The observation of the frames was carried out on four levels:
1) through the titles given by the readers,
2) the word which they thought to convey the main message (keyword),
3) the sentences (= two lines),
4) certain lexical items.

The path taken from the titles to the keywords is supposed to throw light upon the global and the local perception of the frames evoked by the broad and narrow corresponding frames. The title-frames (Central Frames1) suggest that there is consensus among the readers that heaven awaits those who are ready to sacrifice their lives for their people and God. However, there is a significant difference concerning the way the people in the poems are described—Szirtes’ translation is seen more pugnacious (‘Crusade’), whereas Nyerges and Makkai’s text proposes more peaceful readings. This is surprising, because it is the first lines of a text that provide the macro-proposition, which is expressed in the title, and, in the case of the two translations, Nyerges and Makkai’s initial action verb (‘summons’) ought to be more belligerent. The keyword-frames (Central Frames2) suggest similar readings, which cluster around the road taken to eternity. The sentence-frames (Peripheral Frames1) are as follows: Lines 1-2: Szirtes’ text is closer to the original. Lines 3-4: Nyerges and Makkai’s text is seen as focussing on God’s providence, while Szirtes’ text focuses on death. Lines 5-6: The readings are the same as of lines 3-4. Lines 7-8: Szirtes’ text is about death only, while there is optimism too in Nyerges and Makkai’s version. Lines: 9-10: The readings are the same as of lines 7-8. Lines 11-12: The readings are similar but from Szirtes’ text more positivism radiates. Lines 13-14: Szirtes’ text is exclusively optimistic, while Nyerges and Makkai’s version is completely negative. Lines 15-16: The readings are very similar. The lexical-frames (Peripheral Frames2) support the above findings; the two English texts alternate between being similarly interpreted as the original and being differently interpreted. The overall conclusion is that both translations are read similarly to the original, as seen from the central and peripheral frames they evoke in the readers.


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- Ady, Endre [1908] (1989) Az Illés szekerén. IN: Ady Endre összes versei. Budapest: Szépirodalmi Könyvkiadó
- Ady, e. (2000) On Elijah’s Chariot. (Transl. (1) Nyerges, A. N. & Makkai, á. (2) Szirtes, G.) IN: In Quest of the Miracle Stag: The Poetry of Hungary. Makkai, á. (ed.) Budapest: PrinterArt.

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