It is widely acknowledged that Hatim and Mason have made a tremendous contribution to the field of Translation Studies (TS). Their approach manifests itself on the semiotic level of context and discourse and provides the translator with a theoretical framework of what is worth paying attention in the process of translating the text. The authors mainly enlarge upon the role of a sign in translation, referring to the significance of different cultural peculiarities of the source and target languages. The purpose of this research paper is to shed light on the essence of Hatim and Mason’s approach and its effectiveness in Translation Studies. Although Hatim and Mason fail to provide the translators with coherent definitions of their peculiar terms, the approach based on the semiotic level of context and discourse tends to be quite effective, owing to its insights into the possible ways of translating cultural realia with the help of signs.

Literature Review

Firstly, it is necessary to point out that the underlying research paper investigates the linguistic aspect of translation. Meaning the linguistic aspect, one should take into account that the main question in this context consists in the peculiarities of the linguistic interpretation of text and discourse that may be delineated with the help of semiotics, a linguistic science that is understood at the level of signs. In his article “On Linguistic Aspects of Translation,” Roman Jakobson (2000) admits that “any linguistic sign is its translation into some further, alternative sign” (p.127). It means that the interpretation of signs is crucial in the process of translation.


The semiotic level of context and discourse is a key concept that is used by Hatim and Mason (1990) in their studies directed towards a potential solution to the problem of translating the notions that are peculiar for a source text, but which may not be properly perceived by the speakers of the target language. Undoubtedly, the problem of perception is central in translation. Thus, Hatim and Mason (1990) aim at providing the approach that would address the above-mentioned issues and solve them as much as possible.

Evidently, Hatim and Mason’s contribution to translation, in general, can be observed in the authors’ works that imply theoretical and practical explanations of their approach. Due to this, it is reasonable to gain a few insights from their book Discourse and the Translator (1990) in order to understand the semiotic dimension of context that can be properly used by translators. Interestingly, Hatim and Mason’s (1990) book is invaluable for a translator who applies their approach, resorting to the semiotic level of context. The authors draw translators’ attention to many aspects of translation, regarding the context itself. However, the book is rather a compilation of the previous achievements of researchers. In the preface, the editor mentions that Hatim and Mason’s research is based on the “sterile debates about translation as process or translation as product” (Preface to Hatim and Mason, Candlin, p. 10). Therefore, it can be easily assumed that Hatim and Mason’s approach is a mirror of what has been already said about semiotics. However, the novelty of their approach consists in their application of semiotics to the field of Translation Studies and the assumption that discourse has tangible links with the process of translation.

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The Semiotic Dimension of Context and Discourse

In Hatim and Mason’s interpretation, the process of translation should be semiotics-conscious. The reason for such an interpretation is that all the languages differ in the perception and partition of reality, which means that the translator copes with both source and target languages, paying attention to the connotative and denotative peculiarities of each sign. Therefore, it is evident that a text should be considered as a semiotic entity that encompasses a variety of signs with their own meaning and form. Considering a semiotic entity as a unit of translation, one uses a discourse analysis in order to preserve the message of the original. According to Hatim and Mason (1990), “Translating can be now envisaged as the process which transforms one semiotic entity into another, under certain equivalence conditions to do with semiotic codes, pragmatic action and general communicative requirements” (p. 105).

As it is widely acknowledged that translation of the text is literally the translation of cultural codes of the target language, it is reasonable to shed light on the assumption that the translator deals with different intertextual references. Hatim and Mason propose to consider the intertextual references primarily as signs with three statuses: informational (form), pragmatic (function), and semiotic (the priority is given to a sign). The linguists suggest interpreting the intertextual reference as a sign and determine the peculiarities that should be reproduced in translation – shape, content, or both, in different ratios. The most important thing for a translator is to assess which aspects of the sign must be preserved and which are worth sacrificing in the process of transferring the sign in another language. In the process of translation, the hierarchy of priority must be opposed to the list of above statuses of the sign.

Firstly, the translator should interpret the intertextual reference as a semiotic unit of translation. An informational, denotative status should be further taken into account. The process of translation is considered completed when the sign is exposed to the most important procedure evaluation of its contribution to the target text semiotics.

Thus, the central thesis that Hatim and Mason put forward consists in the analysis of every intertextual reference and its peculiar contribution to the text. Evidently, the translator cannot transfer the intertextual reference into another language without being entirely familiarized with its connotation. To be more explicit, the sign, in Hatim and Mason’s opinion should be regarded as a part of the whole text, and every part should be taken into consideration. Pragmatics usually has priority over information, as it is the basis of

general semiotic sense of intertextual references. According to Vandepitte (2007), “thanks to these instruments, researchers are able to describe both explicit and implicit meanings, both semantically and pragmatically” (p. 197). Eventually, Hatim and Mason admit that it is a sign that is marked with a semiotic discursive history, including new meanings, which he acquires in the particular context.

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Semiotic Relations at the Level of Context

In order to shed light on the semiotic relations at the level of context, it is important to find out the basic meaning of semiotics and the value that it presupposes for Translation Studies in general. Resorting to a synthesis of ideas, Hatim and Mason mainly concentrate their attention on the syntactic, semantic, and pragmatic properties of the sign. Such relations constitute the basis of the analysis of a semiotic entity. The syntactic relations redirect the translator’s attention to the structural peculiarities of the sentences. A translator should be aware of the syntactical peculiarities of the target language in order to accomplish the task successfully. Semantic relations mainly concern the aspect of meaning, as the form of a sign in two different cultures may be different in meaning. The particular example that Hatim and Mason (1990) suggest that there is the difference in the meaning of a word “propaganda” in English and Russian languages. In turn, pragmatic relations “obtain between the sign and its users (senders or receivers)” (Hatim & Mason, 1990, p. 117). Interestingly, the translator cannot pay attention to one type of the above-mentioned relations as he should provide a synthesis of them, without excluding some of the components.

The Procedure of Translating a Semiotic Entity

As it has been already mentioned above, the semiotic entity is the unit of translation at the semiotic level of context and discourse. In addition to this, it is essential to bring into focus the peculiarities of semiotic translation and the procedure in particular. Hatim and Mason (1990) provide specific stages that translators should overcome while making semiotic translation, including the identification of a semiotic entity, the informational core that it presupposes, explication, and transformation. The linguists attach the highest importance to each stage, as they form the concept of a semiotic entity. For instance, the identification as the primary stage is marked with the determination of the key ideas of the entity and the entry into the context. The informational stage supplements the previous one, providing the translator with the understanding of denotative and connotative features of the underlying semiotic entity. In turn, the stage of explication consists in referring to synonymy, expansion, and paraphrase of a sign in order to preserve the function. The process of transformation anticipates the process of finding a missing meaning and messages that were left out in the process of translation.

The Effectiveness of Hatim and Mason’s Approach

A professional translator can be considered as an intermediary between two cultures. Due to this, he/she should possess excellent knowledge about the peculiarities of the cultures that contribute to the source and target languages. Hatim and Mason (1990) draw the reader’s attention to the fact that “signs refer to cultural structures” (p. 114). As an intermediary, the translator should find similarities in cultural and literary traditions of both languages that would result in carried interpenetration. Hatim and Mason (1990) argue that a translator, unlike an ordinary reader, should not rely on subjective associations, as he/she may distort the original version of the text at the level of context that, in turn, may lead to the violation of the author’s rights. Translation based on the analysis of semiotic entity is effective due to the reason that the translated version of the text preserves the main ideas and functions that the author used in the original work.

It is crucial to point out that a semiotic entity as a unit of translation relates to the original text in its connotative shades. It particularly means that “the emphasis is on the notion that meaning is not independent of context” (Canepari, 2011, p. 78). Therefore, the effectiveness of the discourse analysis and semiotics-conscious translation is evident. As it has been already mentioned above, the determination of signs means referrals to cultural structures. Apart from this factor, semiotics is a good tool that transcends the verbal language. In this context, one should also pay attention to the cultural phenomena that concern the translator’s insights to the plot structures and text typologies. In addition, Hatim and Mason (1990) take the stance that “basic mechanisms of signification are universal” (p. 115) with respect to the fact that semiotics discerns different patterns and aims at isolating universal mechanisms.


Evidently, Hatim and Mason’s approach to translation is accomplished at the semiotic level of context and discourse. The semiotic entity or the text is considered to be the unit of translation with respect to the signs that serve as the tools which constitute its form and meaning. The linguists draw the translators’ attention to this particular method of translation as it is quite effective in translating the texts pertaining to the cultures that are perceived differently. By means of interpreting the sign, it is possible to come up with a proper translation that would not violate the author’s rights. Interestingly, the effectiveness of this approach to translation is evident, as according to it, translators should concentrate on different peculiarities of the text. This approach manifests itself as a detailed inquiry into the original text and its transference to a different culture by means of the norms of the latter.  Therefore, the identification of signs in translation is of an exceeding importance, as it ensures the successfulness of the translation and results in a target product that preserves the message of the original at different levels.