The organic nature of translated texts
Xabier Mendiguren


In the field of language teaching priority has been given to spoken language, to the detriment of written language. On the other hand, the communicative nature of language has, on occasions, been at the mercy of a sterile grammatical correction, without any consideration being given to the problems which are posed by the true communicative act.

Characteristics of the written text

Writing represents somewhat more than a simple linking of grammatically correct phrases. In fact, it is possible to write a sentence without any grammatical error, but which, nevertheless, is unacceptable.

The writer, unlike the speaker, has sufficient time to structure the message which he or she wishes to communicate. Nevertheless, he or she lacks some of the elements of which the latter makes use: intonation, gesture, etc. The speaker normally has the listener in front of him, and he or she uses "feedback" to adapt the messages to the requirements of the communication. To be a speaker does not imply, on the other hand, an ability to read. that is a skill which is obtained through learning how to read and write.

A text is a communicative unit, which must maintain a double coherence: on the one hand, with regard to the standards of the linguistic system, and, on the other, with respect to the aim pursued by the writer.

The four levels of text

In the first place, the author must look for the right model to attain his or her communicative goal (pragmatic consideration); then, structure the ideas which he or she wishes to transmit in a coherent fashion (semantic consideration); thirdly, construct the appropriate clauses with sufficient cohesion (stylistic consideration). He or she must, finally, write them respecting grammatical rules (correctness).

Whether they are translations or not, we are faced on occasions with texts which seem to be incorrect, although when analyzed sentence by sentence, they are grammatically correct. In these cases, an explanation must be looked for on some of the remaining levels.

In the field of translation work, not all levels have the same importance. Thus, at the level of cohesion analyzed in this article, the translator must face many different problems.

Cohesion has a direct relation to the way different clauses are joined. Halliday and Hasan distinguish five cohesion mechanisms in English: reference, substitution, ellipsis, conjunction and lexical cohesion.

As far as Basque is concerned, a tendency can be noticed today towards lengthening the syntagmatic axis at the expense of the paradigmatic axis (e.g.:"bere laguna da" instead of "laguna du", "bere aita naiz" instead of "aita nau", etc.).

Organic nature of text

Text has an organic nature: the elements which form part of same are on independent hierarchal levels. Thus, if the translator analyses the words and structures in isolation, he or she loses the overall view, which must always be borne in mind.

The organic nature of the text requires that the translator avoid mechanical mimicry, almost "word for word"; only in this way will the translation be something more than a group of linguistic elements placed in a chain, i.e., a text that, in addition to the necessary adaptation and correctness, has the required coherency and cohesion.