Anthropological translation: A semiotic definition

Massimo Leone

Punctum, 1(2): 81-95, 2015
DOI: 10.18680/hss.2015.0017


Drawing from Hjelmslev’s theory of language, the article proposes a typology of translation difficulties, claiming that the most insurmountable one relates to cultural patterns that are invisible to cultures themselves. As a solution, the article suggests the establishment of a semiotic variety of translation, exemplified through a pair of case studies. Verses 22-45 of Canto XXVIII of Dante Alighieri’s Inferno are usually problematic for Muslim translators: they describe the punishment in hell of Muhammad and Ali, the founders of Islam. Most Muslim translators choose not to render them in their language (Arabic, Farsi, etc.). The same verses have generated an iconography whose most famous instance is in the cathedral of San Petronio in Bologna. Giovanni da Modena’s fifteenth-century fresco depicting Muhammad in hell became the object, at the turn of the twentieth century, of heated tension between local Muslim radical associations, which wanted the fresco to be removed, and Catholic commentators, who defended the integrity of the Christian artistic heritage. Taking as a point of departure these two interconnected case studies, the article explores the difficult role of translation at the conflict-ridden crossroads of different semiotic ideologies.

KEYWORDS: Linguistic patterns; Cultural patterns; Semiotic ideology; Religious sensibility; Semiotic translation
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