Lexicon and rhetoric in Fet's translation of Goethe's Hermann und Dorothea


  • Emily Klenin University of California, Los Angeles




A. A. Fet's translation of J. W. Goethe's Hermann und Dorothea is an important early example of Fet's lifelong practice as a translator and attests to his well-known fidelity to his source texts. His strongest preference is to maintain the versification characteristics of his source, but the degree of his lexical-semantic fidelity is also very strong and far outranks fidelity on other levels (phonetic, grammatical). The poet evidently translated holistically within very small textual domains, within which he sometimes isolated pivots of core semantic information (which he located in translation as they were in the original), around which less important material was fitted, insofar as space permitted. In Fet's text, versification limitations sometimes led to lexical-semantic mismatches of semantic denotation, and these mismatches are characterized in the paper: they typically involve repetitions, repeated mentions, or known information, and the mismatch may entail full or partial loss or enrichment of the semantics of the original. In addition, conflicts sometimes arise between denotative requirements within the local domain and the cumulative (usually connotative) associations generated across the larger domain of the whole text. When such conflicts arise, Fet resolves them in favour of small-domain accuracy, resulting in semantic changes ('shifts') in the domain of the poetic text, which thereby loses some rhetorical or poetic force, relative to the original. Dissonance between large- and smalldomain semantics is often inevitable, because of the language-specific nature of connotation. To the extent that the semantics of Fet's translation are a consequence of his personal preferences, they may be viewed in the context of, first, his early school training (not far behind him when he translated Hermann und Dorothea) and, second, his status as both professional poet, writing in Russian, and educated native German-Russian bilingual.


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How to Cite

Klenin, E. (2012). Lexicon and rhetoric in Fet’s translation of Goethe’s Hermann und Dorothea. Sign Systems Studies, 40(1/2), 121–154. https://doi.org/10.12697/SSS.2012.1-2.07