Translation as a source for the extension of meaning in the European languages
Silvia Luraghi (Università di Pavia)
The paper aims to find out how translation of highly prestigious literature has had the effect of spreading metaphors from a source to one or several target languages, thus contributing to create a common system of expressions in the languages of Europe. Note that, if one does not know that a certain usage originates from translation, it may appear difficult to explain how the meaning developed, based on the other meanings of a certain item or construction. It may be interesting, then, to inquire if an expression that is derived through metaphor in a source language, can still be connected with metaphorical processes of meaning extension in a target language.
The idea that translation may be highly relevant in supported by the data reviewed in Luraghi and Cuzzolin (forthcoming) on the translation of the Greek preposition epí in the New Testament. This preposition, whose original meaning was on, is variously translated into Latin as in or super (Latin has no preposition that corresponds to on). In the language of the New Testament it is used with verbs that did not occur with it in Classical Greek; accordingly, the Latin translators used in and super with verbs that had another construction in Classical Latin.
The new usages of in and super continued in the Romance languages, and, because translations of the New Testament in the Germanic languages were based on Latin, they also spread to the Germanic languages (the Gothic translation, based on Greek, had no further influence). Two good examples are the English expressions in the name of and to cry over. Indeed, in her thorough analysis of over Brugman (1988) finds that the occurrence of over with cry is hard to explain as a metaphorical extension based on the other meanings of the preposition. Brugman’s study is synchronic, and does not address the history of the preposition and the possible origin of this specific usage.
The semantic calque exemplified by super/over also implies a theory of translation that purports the primacy of single words over contextual meaning. Such was, as well known, the theory on which most translations of the Bible are based. In this way, translation can transfer concepts from a culture to another, often in connection with single common words, such as prepositions, that acquire additional content from the contexts in which they are used in the source language. In my paper I will elaborate these ideas by discussing more examples of translation.