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Abstract Corino

From the picture to the story: aspects of intersemiotic translation, a case study comparing German learners of Italian and Italian native speakers.

What happens when we have to interpret a text made of drawings instead of words? When we face what Eco (2003) – following Peirce and Jakobson- defines as an intersemiotic translation? Do cultural models and genre influence the description and the reading of the pictures?

This paper intends to analyze different aspects of intersemiotic translation, pointing out the differences in approaching descriptions between German learners of Italian L2 and Italian native speakers.

Our research starts from the comparison between the data collected in VINCA, a corpus of written Italian, and VALICO, a corpus of Italian as a foreign language . It is the case of two paired corpora based on the same stimuli: three comic strips, expressly created to elicit narrative skills, nomination of objects and word formation (following the example of Berman and Slobin 1994)…

Comparing results of narrators coming from different languages - and therefore from different cultural models and different narrative frames – we noticed how their backgrounds influence the interpretation of the pictures. Nevertheless a common cultural background (as for Italian and German native speakers) does not always necessarily implies the same narration models and techniques and the same perception of the story plot.

Thus we are going to study the relationship between the comic strip and the corresponding written texts, pointing out the differences in lexical and syntactic bonds, paying attention to the elements of the picture that have been nominated, in which way and in which order.

The first results of our research show the tendency both for Italian and for German students to introduce implicit information and inference actions in the gutter between the drawings to complete the closure of the strip. A considerable number of intersemiotic translations refers to possible imaginary worlds, different from the one suggested by the comics.

Keeping in mind the difficulties of telling a story in a foreign language and the related avoidance strategies, we think that the comparison between German learners of Italian and Italian native speakers can turn out to be fruitful and produce interesting results, revealing cognitive-linguistic approaches to description and narration.

The analysis of variables such as the coherence of the story, the references to literature, comics and films, allow us to identify important differences connected to the age of the authors, their sex, apart from their origin.

Italian students (especially at the high school, less at university) seem to produce extremely inventive texts, rich in details, but they lack coherence, especially when they stray from the comic strip. On the contrary German students prove to produce more structured narrative sequences, although they do not fully describe the details and their imperfect language proficiency often causes cohesion gaps.

Further differences are to be found in the point of view expressed by the choice of the narrator, according to the author’s sex it changes, gives different interpretation to the story and focuses precise details rather than others.



Berman R.A., Slobin D.I. (1994) Relating Events in Narrative, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Hillsdale.

Eco U. (2003) Dire quasi la stessa cosa, Bompiani, Milano.

McCloud S. (1996) Understanding Comics, Edizioni Studio 901- Vittorio Pavesio Productions, Torino.

Petöfi J.S (2004) Scrittura e interpretazione, Carocci, Roma.

Sperber D., Wilson D. (1986) Relevance, Communication and Cognition, Blackwell, Oxford.

Weber H.J. (1989) Elements of Text-Based and Image-Based Connectedness in Comic Stories, and Some Analogies to Cinema and Written Text, in Conte M-E, Petöfi J.S, Söze E, (eds.) Text and Discourse Connectedness, John Benjamin, Amsterdam/Philadelphia