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Cultural Constellation

by Georgios Floros
Associate Professor
University of Cyprus

is a term which describes a textual construct depicting all elements of a cultural system that are manifested in a text. A cultural constellation is thus the concretization, i.e. the macro-structural manifestation, of a cultural system in a given text.

Cultural constellations are the result of a holistic approach to text. They are obtained on the basis of a ‘top down’ holistic procedure according to which
  • different ‘areas of life’ (see also background knowledge) are systematically described as cultural systems (see also knowledge systems), which are then

  • checked against a given text in order to see which of their elements are manifested in it.

For an application to TRANSLATION see Floros 2001, 2002, and 2004.

Conceptual aspects of cultural constellations

IDEA : The idea behind retrieving cultural constellations in texts is that the elements of a culture do not appear in texts as isolated occurrences, nor as vague, fuzzy constructs (see Gestalt). Rather, cultural elements manifest themselves in discourse in the form of various groups of occurrences which are called cultural constellations; the elements of each such group are interrelated on the basis of being concretizations of the same area of life. Therefore, the description and translation of one cultural element is conditioned by its belonging to a certain, concrete constellation of cultural elements.

PRINCIPLE : The retrieval of cultural constellations does not succeed in a totally intuitive way. The reading of a text helps one evoke relevant areas of life addressed by it. This cultural content is then systematically described as a system, which, in turn, is concretized in a methodologically sound way. The underlying principle of cultural constellations is, therefore, the methodologically describable connection between SYSTEM-level (cultural knowledge) and TEXT-level (discourse in use) on the basis of an operational, functional understanding of culture.

DESCRIPTION : Cultural constellations can be described as belonging to certain kinds and types, as well as displaying a pre-defined set of characteristics:
Kinds of cultural constellations :
  • Overt cultural constellations: Those appearing within a text as manifestations of elements of cultural systems, as described above.

  • Covert cultural constellations: The sum of the elements of a cultural system that are NOT manifested in a text. These ‘hidden’ elements also play an important role in understanding the textual information, as they provide the wider context within which the manifested elements are functioning.
Types of cultural constellations :
  • Cultural constellations of form : Those concerning formal elements of a text, referring to how a text is written.

  • Cultural constellations of content : Those concerning the content of a text, referring to what a text contains in terms of cultural data.
Characteristics of cultural constellations :
  • Quantity : The quantity refers to the number of cultural constellations identified in a text. This number is always equal to the number of cultural systems evoked by the text. The quantity is particularly important for the specification of the cultural boundedness of a text.

  • Quality : This refers to whether the elements a constellation contains are implicit or explicit. It has to do with whether these elements can be identified immediately as cultural specifics or whether they first need the activation of background knowledge in order to be identified as cultural specifics.

  • Valency : This refers to the number of explicit and implicit elements a cultural constellation contains.

  • Diffusion : This refers to the way the elements of a cultural constellation are spread across the text, i.e. whether they are concentrated in one part of the text or across two or more parts, or even the whole text. Since constellations are connective constructs in texts, the diffusion of their elements is particularly important in terms of textual coherence (cf. Floros 2005).

HINTS: Cultural constellations are relevant for the HOLONTEX method.

LIT: Mudersbach 1991, 1992, and 2001, Gerzymisch 1999, 2013.