Metalingual function of language is the ability of language to talk about its own features. Thus talking about phrasal verbs in English will be an instance of metalingual function. Metalingual function of language becomes relevant in translation when a particular word is used in a special sense, deliberately a word play is done or linguistic ambiguity is created.
The translator has to assume that second reader needs more information about that ‘grammatical peculiarity’ as compared to the first reader. So he has to decide whether the target (second) reader is a specialist of some SL knowledge or he does not know anything at all. Such decision will determine how to deal with the particular case, whether it be: (a) transcribed, (b) loan translated, (c) neologised, (d) defined in footnotes, (e) exemplified, (f) interlinearly translated to show the syntax, or (f) functionally translated.
If a word is used in SL in a special sense, the translator has several choices. He can translate the term in its obscure sense as translating ‘libertinage’ to ‘guilty of libertinage’. Or he can chose to use a more expressive term e.g. ‘freethinking in religious matters’. The choice will be dependent on his assessment of reader’s knowledge and interest. Thus he can choose to delete a special sense of a word, if it is of no interest to the reader. Alternative terms for same referent in the text can be deleted. Similarly, if TL synonyms are less frequent as compared to SL one, they can be dropped.
Translation of word play in literary and non-literary texts can be done in two ways. The reader will need all available and possible information in non-literary texts. Thus as Newmark (2001, p.105) notes, in translating a joke from German to English, the translator adds original German text in brackets. e.g.
‘Mr. and Mrs. X live in fairly grand style. Some people think that the husband has earned a lot and so has been able to lay by a bit (sich etwas zuruckgelegt ); others again think that the wife has lain back a bit (sich etwas zuruckgelegt ) and so has been able to earn a lot' (p.106)
As he notes that punning element is retained by reproducing German text to illustrate the rearrangement of ‘precisely same verbal material’. Thus the same punning effect, with slight changes of course, can be created in English. But this is not always possible as neatly as the example shows.
The second method to translate word play is to drop them altogether or replacing them with translator’s own examples. This method ‘substitutes translator’s insights for the authors’. Thus for the above example the translator could create a wholly new joke and replace with another one. Newmark (2001, p.107) notes that the first method is most important and correct one in cases where “words are as important as thought, and ‘dramatic illusion’ is less important”.
Proverbs in non-literary texts can be translated to their known equivalents in TL. Alternatively, the translator can translate the proverb from SL to TL and give its relevance to current text as an explanation; or he can simply absorb the proverb during the translation.
Word play in literary texts (i.e. plays and poems etc.) where ‘dramatic illusion’ is a must can be translated in different ways. Widely used method is that translator captures one of two senses of the word. As Newmark (2001, p.108) exemplifies the translation of Shakespeare’s play Helmet in Germen, where source has three puns and two sets of alliterations, but translator preserves only two puns and one set of alliteration.
If a literary text has double meaning within a lexical unit, firstly the translator tries to reproduce it with a word having same double meaning. At second attempt he will try to use a synonym with same double meaning. At a third attempt, he might decide to distribute two senses of words to two or more lexical units; or he can sacrifice one of two meanings.
While translating imaginative literature ‘loss of meaning comes from metaphorical properties rather than sound effects’. As Newmark is of the view that metaphors are rooted in particular environments. Thus literal and metaphorical meaning, at the same time, are difficult to transfer from SL to TL.
Imaginative literature develops events and people in symbolical character, which is done through more general words that denote them. As Newmark (p.109) describes, “connotation, metonymy, metaphor, word-play merge into each other”. A new ‘separate sense’ is developed for the words which becomes a pun on the primary sense of the word. It is upto the translator to select more general concrete sense or more culturally influenced sense, or combine them both.
Concluding his paper, Newmark (p.109) says that for translating metalanguage, there are alternative solutions. His view is that nothing is untranslatable, only a ‘supplementary gloss’ is often required. Metalanuage is often signalled by expressions like ‘so called’, ‘by definition’, ‘so to speak’ … (p.109). It is usually imaginative literature where force or the meaning may have to be sacrificed, otherwise metalangauge can be handled neatly.