Translating a Worldview

Linguistic Worldview in Literary Translation

by Agnieszka Gicala (Author)
©2021 Monographs 194 Pages
Series: Cultures in Translation, Volume 4


The book offers a view of the translation of a literary text as a reconstruction of the non-standard linguistic worldview embedded in that text, and emerging from the standard, conventional worldview present in a given language and culture. This translation strategy (and the ensuing detailed decisions) is explained via the metaphor of two icebergs, representing the source and target texts as iceberg tips, resting on the vast foundations of the source and target languages and cultures. This thesis is illustrated by analyses of English translations of two poems by Wisława Szymborska, the 1996 Nobel Prize winner: „Rozmowa z kamieniem“ (Conversation with a Stone/Rock) and „Chmury“ (Clouds).

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction
  • Translator’S Note
  • Chapter 1. Linguistic worldview: introduction
  • 1.1. History of the concept
  • 1.2. Terminology and definitions
  • 1.3. Methods of reconstruction
  • 1.4. Cognitive foundations of linguistic worldview
  • 1.5. Applications
  • Chapter 2. The linguistic worldview in literary texts and their translation
  • 2.1. Linguistic worldview and literary texts
  • 2.2. Linguistic worldview and literary translation
  • 2.3. Linguistic worldview in the proposed translation model
  • Chapter 3. The poetic world of Wisława Szymborska
  • 3.1. Introduction
  • 3.2. “A miniature of great problems” described “with ironic precision”: Wisława Szymborska’s poetry
  • 3.3. Showing “restraint” or “outdoing the author”: translators on Wisława Szymborska
  • 3.4. The world in Wisława Szymborska’s poetry
  • Chapter 4. Linguistic worldview in literary translation: Wisława Szymborska’s poem “Rozmowa z kamieniem” [conversation with a stone/rock]
  • 4.1. “Rozmowa z kamieniem” and the linguistic worldview
  • 4.1.1. The Polish lexeme kamień and the linguistic view of kamień
  • 4.1.2. The Polish lexeme skała and the linguistic view of skała
  • 4.1.3. The Polish lexeme głaz and the linguistic view of głaz
  • 4.1.4. The non-standard linguistic worldview in “Rozmowa z kamieniem”: analysis and conclusions
  • 4.2. English translations of “Rozmowa z kamieniem”: linguistic worldview in translation
  • 4.2.1. The English lexeme stone and the linguistic view of stone
  • 4.2.2. The English lexeme rock and the linguistic view of rock
  • 4.2.3. The non-standard linguistic worldview in English translations of “Rozmowa z kamieniem”: Stanisław Barańczak and Clare Cavanagh, Joanna Trzeciak, students’ translations – analysis and conclusions
  • 4.2.4. Other remarks on translations
  • Chapter 5. Linguistic worldview in literary translation: Wisława Szymborska’s poem “Chmury” [clouds]
  • 5.1. “Chmury” and the linguistic worldview
  • 5.1.1. The Polish lexeme chmura and the linguistic view of chmura
  • 5.1.2. The Polish lexeme obłok and the linguistic view of obłok
  • 5.1.3. The non-standard linguistic worldview in “Chmury”: analysis and conclusions
  • 5.2. English translations of “Chmury”: linguistic worldview in translation
  • 5.2.1. The English lexeme cloud and the linguistic view of cloud
  • 5.2.2. The non-standard linguistic worldview in English translations of “Chmury”: Stanisław Barańczak and Clare Cavanagh, Joanna Trzeciak, students’ translations – analysis and conclusions
  • Final remarks and conclusions: linguistic worldview and translation – translating a world
  • Bibliography
  • List of Figures
  • SUMMARY: Translating a worldview. Linguistic worldview in literary translation
  • Index of Names
  • Subject index

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The understanding of a simple poem [...] involves not merely

an understanding of the single words

in their average significance, but a full comprehension of the whole life of the community as it is mirrored in the words, or as it is suggested by their overtones.

Edward Sapir, “The Status of Linguistics as a Science” (Language 1929: 209)

The word world appears frequently in works in the field of cognitive linguistics. Cognitive-linguistic studies, including cognitive poetics, cognitive approach to translation, and cognitive analyses of texts often use the word world, giving it various meanings, as in the world of a text and linguistic worldview. This book, too, deals with a world, and more precisely: with the different conceptualizations of elements of the world, such as a stone and clouds, in literary texts, and in poetry in particular. It also deals with the practice of translation; and therefore it is about translating a world.

Linguistic worldview (abbreviated as LWV) is excellently, because immediately, revealed in translation. Translation brings out differences between worldviews hidden in two different languages. The fact that each language contains a given worldview has long been known, but it becomes especially apparent when we put different languages together – and translation activates the translator’s imagination, conceptual resources and cognitive abilities from the very beginning of the translation process. This happens already at the stage of reading and analysing the source text, as reading itself is already an interpretation. It can therefore be concluded that LWV is not something that the translator arrives at while concluding their work; it is more of a determinant of the whole and holistic approach to the translation task, i.e. the translation strategy. Detailed translation procedures, or techniques, i.e. the translator’s local decisions, result precisely from the awareness of possible differences in LWV. That awareness is therefore at the beginning of the translation process. To be sure, LWV also reveals itself in the study of a finished translation: in a comparative analysis of the original text and its translation or translations.

The aim of this book is to show the usefulness of the linguistic worldview theory in the process of analysis and translation of literary texts, using selected examples in Polish and English. An analysis of selected examples of translations of Polish texts into English allows us to consider LWV as a helpful tool at every ←9 | 10→stage of the translator’s work: first of all, in constructing an overall strategy and, then, in making particular decisions.

I hope that this book will be an inspiration for practicing translators, especially translators of literary texts, as well as teachers and students who wish to extend their knowledge of literary translation, by drawing their attention to the role of imagination and interpretation while analysing, comparing and translating texts. The book wants to sensitize the reader to the fact that the involvement of imagination is an essential and inevitable part of thinking and its imagery, which, in cognitive terms, is constructed by a given language. Thanks to imagination, the conventions of imagery in a given language can sometimes be consciously broken.

Among literary texts, poetry is characterized by the greatest condensation and ambiguity of content contained in a relatively small, closed whole, in which each word is important, even necessary. This is the case in the poetry of Wisława Szymborska, whose two poems – in the original and their translations into English – are the subject of my research. In this analysis, I use the assumptions of the linguistic worldview theory.

In Wisława Szymborska’s poetry, every word counts, and this allows one to assume that kamień [stone/rock] and chmura [cloud], two elements of the world mentioned by her in the Nobel Prize Lecture in 1996, are not accidental or insignificant. That is why my analysis focuses on their linguistic view – in Polish and in English – and on the struggle with its translation. Kamień [stone/rock] and chmura [cloud] constitute the themes and the main images in the poems “Rozmowa z kamieniem” [conversation with a stone/rock] and “Chmury” [clouds]. According to Szymborska, they appear as poetic representations of elementary constituents of the world – and that is why I deal with them in this book.

The choice of Wisława Szymborska’s poems as research material results not only from my profound scientific interests but also from my admiration for her poetry, which has accompanied me for years. Her poems are my own reading and research topics, which – as a teacher of literary translation in the translation specialization at university – I share with my students. Thanks to this, the book contains both the published translations of these texts and samples of my students’ work in the last few years of practical translation classes, for which I wish to thank my students here. I hope that such material and such an approach to it may constitute at least a small contribution to and inspiration for teaching and practicing literary translation.

I would like to thank Professor Elżbieta Tabakowska, whose wisdom, knowledge and scholarly attitude have been guiding me at every stage of my academic path, including the preparation of this work, and Professor Jerzy Bartmiński, ←10 | 11→whose works sparked my interest in the linguistic worldview, and who thoroughly reviewed this book. I owe special thanks to Professor Dorota Filar, who in her review of this book included very important, detailed comments that allowed me to cope with many inaccuracies. I am solely responsible for any remaining shortcomings in the book.

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This book is a translation of my own study, written in Polish and published under the title Przekładanie obrazu świata. Językowy obraz świata w przekładzie artystycznym, in 2018. Self-translation has turned out to be no easy task as the effort to understand the original author was doubled by the struggle to understand myself: my own thoughts and intuitions, recorded some time ago.

Some of the terminology proved to be a challenge, too. First of all, the key term linguistic worldview consists of three words in Polish: językowy obraz świata, which makes it easy to use it in reference to specific concepts, e.g. językowy obraz kamienia, językowy obraz chmury, while its English equivalent has to undergo an operation of removing one part of the compound (worldview) in order to produce the analogous combination, e.g. linguistic view of stone, linguistic view of cloud. Moreover, the Polish language makes an important distinction between pojęcie and koncept (followed by Polish linguists) whereas English has just one word: hypernym concept. The title of my book is about przekład artystyczny, where the adjective artystyczny allowed me to imply – in Polish – that what is meant is the translation of not only literary but also other creative texts. Unfortunately, artistic translation is uncommon and seems to refer to the graphic qualities of a text rather than its literary character; therefore, I opted for literary translation. Another possibility, creative translation, would be too broad a term, implying such phenomena as transcreation. One more key problem that I came across unexpectedly was the Polish adjective potoczny. While it can be rendered as colloquial in reference to language or style, it does not form a collocation with worldview (and linguistic worldview). I hope to have chosen the golden mean by sometimes saying colloquial linguistic worldview and sometimes (more often): conventional or shared linguistic worldview.

The fact that I have translated a text some of whose parts were prepared a long time ago meant that certain modifications were necessary, such as updating or deleting some information. I also removed errors and inadequacies, including a quotation from another source which contained a factual mistake. At the same time, however, I felt that some passages, especially in Chapter 1 (theoretical), are worth quoting in a more extended form in the English version of the book.

Finally, translating into English an ethnolinguistic analysis of Wisława Szymborska’s poems in English translations, and, when necessary, having to avoid the use of fragments of published English versions of those poems, forced me to meander between two icebergs (to refer to my own translation model, proposed ←13 | 14→in Chapter 2): the icebergs of the source and the target culture, language and text. Being aware that A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor, I sincerely hope that my own case: this book has proved the aptness of the model of translating as navigating between the icebergs.

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Chapter 1. Linguistic worldview: introduction

1.1. History of the concept

Linguistic worldview (henceforth: LWV) is attracting more and more attention of linguists around the world today. Having fallen out of focus in linguistic research sometime after the theses of Wilhelm von Humboldt and the discoveries of the first American anthropologists, the concept of linguistic worldview has now started gaining ground in the field of linguistics while being slowly disseminated into the neighbouring area of translation. Developed mainly by Slavic linguists (especially in Poland and Russia) in recent decades, the concept has not only gained more than one interpretation (and several definitions) but has also sparked controversy. What cannot be overlooked in this context is the recent development of ethnolinguistics. In Poland, research into linguistic worldview is conducted in such academic centres as Lublin and Warsaw; it is the key concept associated with the Lublin School of Ethnolinguistics initiated by Jerzy Bartmiński. Recent publications include the books: Aspects of Cognitive Ethnolinguistics (2012) by Jerzy Bartmiński (ed. Jörg Zinken), and two extensive collective works bringing together different approaches to the concept in question: The Linguistic Worldview: Ethnolinguistics, Cognition, and Culture (2013) edited by Adam Głaz, David S. Danaher and Przemysław Łozowski, as well as Languages – Cultures – Worldviews. Focus on Translation (2019), ed. Adam Głaz. Outside Slavic linguistics, several books have been authored by James Underhill, among which are: Creating Worldviews: Metaphor, Ideology and Language (2011) and Ethnolinguistics and Cultural Concepts: Truth, Love, Hate and War (2012).

Linguistic worldview is a concept derived from two sources distant in time and space. One is constituted by the works of the German philosopher and linguist Wilhelm von Humboldt and his successors; the other is research done by two American anthropologists and linguists: Benjamin Lee Whorf and Edward Sapir. However, the very first intuitions about the influence of language on worldview are much older: the presence of such a belief can be found as early as in Aristotle’s Rhetoric, where we can find an idea of linguistic worldview (Bock 1992: 248). Jerzy Bartmiński mentions that in Rhetoric, Aristotle “spoke of topoi (loci communes), i.e. generally accepted, well-known, ‘well-worn’ statements,” which indicate “common points of reference in the process of inference and persuasion” (Bartmiński 2001: 28–29).

Another trace in the history of intuitions about a relationship between thinking and language are the words of Martin Luther, who in 1530 commented ←15 | 16→on his Bible translation in Ein Sendbrif vom Dollmetschen (An Open Letter on Translating): “We mustn’t consult the Latin text about how to speak German, as these donkeys do, but we must consult the mother at home, children in the street, and the ordinary man in the market-place, watch them mouth their words, and translate accordingly. That way they’ll understand, and see that they’re being spoken to in German.” (Luther 2017: 17) Intuitions concerning the linguistic worldview were expressed more extensively (though without the use of the actual term yet) in the mid-18th century by the German philosopher, theologian and orientalist Johann David Michaelis, and then, in the late 18th century, by the German philosopher Johann Georg Hamann and his follower, the German philosopher, theologian and literary critic Johann Gottfried Herder (Pieciul-Karmińska 2007: 11). Not only did Hamann believe that “the differences in languages parallel differences in ways of thought” but also that the ability to think depends on language and that, therefore, language probably evolved before thinking (Hamann in Underhill 2009: 59). In Herder’s view, language marks the boundaries of thinking: “[h]‌uman language carries its cognitive forms within itself; we think, especially abstractly, only in and with language” (Herder in Norton 1991: 117).


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2021 (August)
an ethnolinguistic approach to literary translation cognitive poetics language and culture in translation linguistic worldview in literary translation the metaphor of two icebergs as a translation model translation strategy iceberg model ethnolinguistics metaphor poetry Wisława Szymborska
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2021. 194 pp., 5 fig. b/w.

Biographical notes

Agnieszka Gicala (Author)

Agnieszka Gicala is a translation teacher at the Pedagogical University of Krakow, Poland, and a freelance translator. Her academic interests center around linguistic worldviews, ethnolinguistics, cognitive theories of metaphor and blending, and their application in translation, literary translation, and the language of religion.


Title: Translating a Worldview