Word In The Text And Subtext Meanings


Fiction is usually and initially oriented by authors to readers, who have proper cultural codes and coexist with them in the same information and semantic field. Decoding of textual, subtext and implied information requires the reader to have a high level of development of the linguistic and language personality. The translator is acting as the primary reader of the original and quasi (co)author of the text for the secondary reader from the system of the target language. In the case of textual bilingual communication, the differences in the cognitive fields of the author and the translator predetermine the degree of text understanding or misunderstanding on behalf of the translator. It is the translator who turns out to be responsible for readers’ misunderstanding and failures. The process and the result of translation are affected by the objective factors, including the historical and temporal and subjective factors. Translators are trying to coordinate events from the imagined text world due to the existing cultural context, historical context, text schemes, stylistic registers, etc. The article deals with parameters of complicated settings of literary texts which make the translator choose interpretation strategies that will allow keeping linguistic and cultural meanings, including word connotations, as well as readers’ access to the conceptual links of words.

Keywords: Textsubtextlinguistic culturemeaninginterpretation


Pragmatic and semantic diversity of fiction reflects its ability to direct its readers’ understanding, text interpretation and text reinterpretation. Individuality of text interpretations as readers’ individual text projections seems relative. The different nature of these projections depends on readers’ background and experience, knowledge systems, etc., and the way of decoding the text message. A special fictional space created in the text by its author implies relationships, formally similar to those relationships that are characteristic of a real (physical) space. WORD is considered as a point of the N-dimensional space of a literary text and allows the reader to navigate the text. The establishment of explicit and implicit intentions is to distinguish the interpretation from other main types of treatment of signs (Demyankov, 1987).

Problem Statement

Translation activity includes the goal; potential secondary readers; strategies and tactics chosen or preferred by the translator seen as an interpreter. The translator as the equal participant of text communication selects and starts to follow an appropriate communicative role, focusing on the rules of the generation of meanings adopted in the source culture and in the secondary target culture.

Traditional theories of translation practically do not take into account the linguistic and cognitive factors and ethno-cultural parameters that predetermine the textual bilingual communication. The interpretive text range may be limited by certain conditions imposed on WORDS as topological objects of the given textual space. WORD also turns out to be a “key” to textual worlds. Being activated in the process of reading, WORD participates in the general conceptual organization of the text. WORD’s associative nets take in various combinations of other words and their associative nets.

Paper Theoretical Foundation

Fiction is initially oriented by its author to its “own” readers, who have got appropriate and relevant cultural codes. Readers are supposed to be located with the author within the same information and semantic field. Readers’ expectations concerning the text its plot and meanings are based on his knowledge and information available. V.A. Maslova (Maslova, 1988) considers the text and subtext as different ways of sharing information, while the subtext turns out to be the result of the interpretation and the product of the co-creation of the author and readers. Text information is mainly given verbally and perceived explicitly. Implied information is also called subtextual information (Galperin, 1981). When processing subtext information, readers need information presumably available to them. They also should have the common background knowledge. The possibility or impossibility of decoding this information is directly dependent on the level of development of readers’ linguistic abilities and their “openness” to work with the text they are addressing to.

Interpretative essence of translation as a bilingual text communication manifests itself in the fact how actively the translator is working with the source text when trying to convey to the secondary reader from another cultural and language system the subjective representation of the text world created by the author. The subjective nature of interpretation reflects the peculiarities of a person’s individual conceptual system (Boldyrev, 2015).The target text can be adapted due to the cultural environment where the translator and secondary readers co-exist.

Research Questions

Text interpretation correlates with objects and events’ interpretation and their evaluation within a particular area. When structuring conceptual and thematic areas, the interpreter tries to find connections between certain areas. This study sought to describe the correlation between different cultural contexts and linguacultural peculiarities that influence the choice of equivalents within the same lexical category.

Purpose of the Study

Translators’ activity is initially mediated by another text, and includes not only text perception and understanding. The aim is to produce a secondary text that is seen as a N-variant of the source text or a text projection constructed by the translator who participates in the dialogue “author – text - reader” both as a primary of the source text and a quasi-(co)author of the target text for the host audience.

There are six translations of M.A Bulgakov’s novel “The Master and Margarita” (1929–1940) into English, some are focused on British and American readers. In British English the title of Chapter 7 “Нехорошаяквартира” / “Nekhoroshaya kvartira” (literally, ‘A Bad Flat’) is rendered is rendered with the help of the equivalent flat – “The Haunted Flat” (Bulgakov, 2003). In American English the title of the chapter sounds as “The Evil Apartment” (Bulgakov, 1995), “A Naughty Apartment” (Bulgakov, 2006), “A Bad Apartment” (Bulgakov, 2012), “A Fishy Apartment” (Bulgakov, 2011).

A complete one-to-one mapping of points in primary and secondary textual spaces is possible in very rare cases: even translation equivalents given in dictionaries can be used in different contexts in a different way because of, for example, concept formation (Kasevich, 2013) and situation context.

Research Methods

In this study, methods of semantic and pragmatic interpretation are applied. Socio-contextual methods were used to study the nature of social and intercultural relations of communicants. The meaning of the text is interpreted by reference to communicative and pragmatic context.


In the process of translation attributes of an object or event are actualized under influence of context, available meaningful and factual information about this object or facts, conceptual information about the author’s vision and perception of the real world and represented fictional worlds, implied information. Modification of the represented meaning of the word allows A. Olenich-Gnenenko (Carroll, 1958) to transform mushroom from “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” in a poisonous but rarely fatalamanita orfly agaric ( мухомор ): She stretched herself up on tiptoe, and peeped over the edge of the mushroom (Carroll, 1998) Алисавсталанацыпочкиивнимательноогляделашляпкумухомора ‘Alice stood on tiptoe and carefully scanned the amanita’(Carroll, 1958). This hallucinogenic mushroom мухомор (amanita orfly agaric) having a scarlet cap with white warts and white gills is often mentioned in Russian folk tales.

As for optimal word selection, classified parameters of the primary textual worlds should be taken into consideration. This search for words gets much more complicated in case of different cultural spaces. In a drugstore not only medical prescriptions are made up, here people can buy a range of goods and sometimes have a snack. In Russia you can’t have a snack at the chemist’s, or аптека ( apteka ). On the one hand, translators are quite right to use the word аптека in the meaning of pharmacy or apothecary as an equivalent for the realia drugtore . On the other hand, Russian-speaking readers fail to understand why characters from R. Stout’s “The Red Box”, R. Chandler’s “The Big Sleep” or R. Bradbury’s “Dandelion Wine” should go to the nearest аптека ( apteka ) to have a bite, buy some whiskey or a suitcase. Even in the case of having full linguistic equivalents (e.g. the Russian word дом ( dom ) and its English equivalents home or house , etc.) it is impossible to speak about a possibility to achieve so-called absolute equivalence due to the fact that these words may be different, if not in shades of meanings, but in the procedures for interpreting. In the 1980s most of the inhabitants of the USSR used to dream of a separate flat or apartment and had never heard of a penthouse build onto the top floor or roof of a block of flats, That is why the translator of the novel “Trusted like the Fox” written by J.H. Chase (1906–1985) was were compelled to turn home as a separate dwelling into a flat : Since she had lost her hearing she had known instinctively that her chances of having a husband and a home were even more remote (Chase, 1982) …какпотеряласлух, поняла, чтое` шансзаиметьмужаиквартируничтожен ‘Then she got sobered, and after having lost her hearing, she realized that her chance to get hold of a husband and a flat is insignificant (Chase, 1994).

The translator distinguishes different aspects of knowledge that a particular language unit transmits, taking into account not only information about the actual, i.e. real, world, but also about the possible fictional world created by the author in the text. The name of the fictional Tsar Gorokh (literally ‘Tsar Pea’) is used in many expressions and idioms: pritsaregorokhe (literally ‘during the times of Tsar Pea’) can be rendered as time immemorial , in the year one , or even as when Queen Anne was alive . F.M. Dostoevsky’s appellation to this name has an ironical sense and indicates to obsolete circumstances: Этоявэтотпоследниймесяцвыучилсяболтать, лёжапоцелымсуткамвуглуидумая... оцареГорохе ‘In this last month I learned to chatter, lying for days in the corner and thinking about the days of yore’ (Dostoyevsky, 1976). To save the concept of ‘days of yore’, C. Garnett (1861–1946), one of the first English translators of F.M. Dostoyevsky (1821–1881), uses the name Jack the Giant-killer . This name has the reference to a British fairy tale and legend about a brave lad who used to slay giants during legendary King Arthur’s reign: I’ve learned to chatter this last month, lying for days together in my den thinking <...> of Jack the Giant-killer (Dostoyevsky, 1914).

The constructed reality of any literary text is embodied in textual Worlds that involve the establishment of special relationships between this text and its reader. The reader considers the reality of textual events as the make-believe worlds. The author tries to create these make-believe illusory worlds and makes the characters look realistic and true to life. Interpretations’ selectivity depends on the subjective cause. The target text may represent certain cultural realities out of the reader’s real world. Literary translation is closely linked with sociocultural competence needed for the translator as a primary reader to re-create the world of the target text. In Russia housewives usually make strawberry jam, so translators prefer to turn orange marmalade from L. Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” into this particular kind of home-made strawberry jam (Carroll, 1923).

The translator’s ability to actualize subtexts is interdependent on misunderstanding of words, the author’s idiolect, inconsistency of a text fragment with reality, ignorance of host culture, non-coincidence of aesthetic and ethical views.

Encyclopaedic, cultural-historical and biographical contexts are important for text understanding and the further realization of its communicative task. For example, the Russian noun коса ‘braid’ when used in the singular denoted an unmarried girl, especially in expressions such as краснаякраса, русаякоса (krasnayakrasa, rusayakosa, literally ‘a fair-haired beautiful maid’). Traditionally, in Russia a beauty was to have fair hair. When the nanny from A.S. Pushkin’s “Eugene Onegin” (1823-1831) reminisces about her own wedding, she describes Russian folk ceremonies and rituals. According to the folk tradition, her bridesmaids were singing plaintive and rueful songs while unbraiding her single braid. That meant parting with her unmarried status and her old free-style life. Having two braids meant that the woman was a married housewife. The exact number of braids of the Tsarevna Swan-Bird from A.S. Pushkin’s “The Tale of Tsar Saltan” is important in the context of the episode when Prince Gvidon talks about the dream of marrying her. The first English translator of “Eugene Onéguine” (Pushkin, 1881) Henry Spalding (1840-1907) issued a complete etymological commentary when he tried to explain the way how the number of braids on the head of a Russian woman is connected with her family status (“In Russia unmarried girls wear their hair in a single long plait or tail, ‘kossa;’ the married women, on the other hand, in two, which are twisted into the head-gear”). In comments he uses a transcription method to explicate the realia коса ‘braid’ as kossa . Nevertheless the translation ( they loosed my tresses long ) implies long and loose hair but it was impossible for a peasant unmarried girl to have her hair loose. The British diplomat Sir Charles Hepburn Johnston (1912-1986) married Princess N.K. Bagration of Mukhrani (1914-1984) who was a great-great-granddaughter of Tsar Nicholas I of Russia. This fact may have influences the accuracy in his translation (Pushkin,1977) when he is speaking about the wedding ceremony and rite due to the canons of the Orthodox Church ( Then, crying, they untwined my plait, / and sang me to the altar-mat ). He even mentions the altar-mat spread around the analoy, on which the bride and groom should step simultaneously at the wedding. There are formal cases when a language unit or category of the source language is related to a similar unit or category in the target language. L. Zellikoff was born in Minsk (1901) and later moved to England with his family. For the princess from “Tales of Tsar Saltan” he prefers the variant with braids (Pushkin, 1970). Boris Brasol (1885–1963) was born in Poltava. This White Russian immigrant founded the Pushkin Committee (1935) and was one of the founders of the Pushkin Society in the USA. But he does not reproduce the linguistic and cultural connotations related to the number of braids, using hair as a neutral term of generalization (Pushkin, 1936). J. Reeves (Pushkin, 1969) and W. Arndt (Pushkin, 1983) followed this pattern. O. Elton (Verse, 1935) has chosen prefers tresses .J.Lowenfeldprefers to use locks (Pushkin, 2009) as an equivalent.

To perceive subtext and text implication along and acquire new knowledge readers should know how to discern and experience of meanings. Interpretation of events from textual Worlds implies readers’ ability to coordinate these events with reference to actual reality surrounding them.

In literary texts, words often turn into a tool that helps to code nationally specific values. In Russian culture the image of a goose is found in idioms representing an unreliable person such as хорошгусь ( khoroshgus ‘a fine fellow indeed’, literally ‘that’s a good goose’), чтозагусь ( chtozagus ‘you’re a sly one, aren’t you!’, literally ‘that’s a goose’), etc., or in a colloquial expression гусьлапчатый ‘goose gripping’ used when speaking about a cunning and smart person. In his “The Master and Margarita” M.A. Bulgakov creates a new expression заграничныйгусь (zagranichnyygus, literally ‘a foreign goose’) to describe Woland who introduces himself as a foreign professor: Вотприцепился, заграничныйгусь! ‘He’s clung to us, the foreign goose! Trying to pick an argument, damn foreigner! (Bulgakov,2003); He’s sticking to us like glue, the foreign pest! (Bulgakov, 1995). Despite the possibility of using foreign goose as a loan translation (Bulgakov, 1996; Bulgakov, 2012), it is highly probable that the version of the foreign snob would be functionally equal for the British speaking audience with historically formed contempt for foreigners and non-acceptance of snobbery: Just can’t let it go, the foreign snob! (Bulgakov, 2011).

Deployment of textual Worlds depends on the translator’s personal experience as well. The act of literary translation is a bilingual text mediated communication.


In the process of translation considered as a secondary text interpretation ethno-cultural and cross-language correlations depend on: 1) the relation of inclusion in the class; 2) the establishment of superordinate and subordinative relations; 3) actualization and orientation of generic relations; 4) generalization level; 5) establishment of associative links, etc.

Translators and translations are to give readers from the secondary system an “output” into other cultures and introduction with their ethnic and cultural peculiarities, presented in the original text. There are three options of making-up a text projection as a secondary interpretation: 1) “adjustment” when the text source is adjusted due to limits and specificity of its target audience, existing patterns and behaviour models, rules and regulations; 2) modification of represented values as expansion or narrowing concepts, the partial shift of the text’s focus, updating of values represented in the source text; 3) reorganization or complete restructuring. Cognitive-discursive approach is able to broaden traditional translation studies, and strengthen their interdisciplinary ties. Activation of the WORD and its links to a definite situation allow readers to set the necessary context taken as the text frame or schemata.

The translator should not only follow the author’s intention realised in a definite text, but also try to reconstruct blurred or unambiguous text components and meanings aiming to help secondary readers follow the author and the text as well, find their ways for text meanings.


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30 April 2018

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Sociolinguistics, linguistics, semantics, discourse analysis, translation, interpretation

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Maslennikova, E. M. (2018). Word In The Text And Subtext Meanings. In I. V. Denisova (Ed.), Word, Utterance, Text: Cognitive, Pragmatic and Cultural Aspects, vol 39. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 102-108). Future Academy. https://doi.org/10.15405/epsbs.2018.04.02.15