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Cultural Approach to Translation Theory


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Peter Hodges photoIn 1990 André Lefevere and Susan Bassnett move theory beyond linguistic studies and ST/TT comparisons to examine the way culture effects translation. Translation, History and Culture takes into account the influence of the publishing industry on ideology, discusses feminist writing, examines translation in the context of colonization, and sees translation as rewriting.

André Lefevere originally worked on the linguistic approach to translation studies, and with Raymond van den Broeck co-authored Invitation to Translation Studies in 1979. André Lefevere’s new approach to theory evolved out of polysystems and the Manipulation School, and was expressed in Translation, Rewriting and the Manipulation of Literary Fame (1992). He examines factors that determine the acceptance or rejection of texts, moving away from universal norms to culturally dependent ones. The first factor that determines the success, or otherwise, of a text are the professionals within the system. These may be reviewers, critics, teachers or even other translators. The second factor that may determine acceptance are other people or institutions, such as publishers, academic journals and educational institutions. The third factor is the dominant poetics, which may include genres and the relationship between literature and the social system. Therefore, some literature will be more readily accepted because it is operating within a system that recognizes it, which is very reminiscent of polysystems. Lefevere says that the power of rewriting can be seen in the example of the Greek classics that have been rewritten over and over to conform to the dominant poetics. He believes that ideological considerations imposed by patronage outweigh the linguistic ones when determining the translation strategy. This represents a major evolution in Lefevere’s philosophy, as shown in the following by van den Broeck:

“It is therefore right to say with Lefevere that a translation can only be complete if and when both the communicative value and the time-place-tradition elements of the source text have been replaced by their nearest possible equivalents in the target text.” (Broeck, 1979: 39).

In the 1990s, another approach to theory developed out of the possible consequences of the translation of Third World literature into English.  This was called the Postcolonial Movement. Spivak in “The Politics of Translation” (1993) claims that translation subverts Third World culture, by eliminating the identity of politically less powerful peoples. In a language context, this gives rise to the dominance of English.

Niranjana’s Siting Translation: History, Post-structuralism, and the Colonial Context (1992) claims that the image of the colonized created stereotypes that made the subjugation process easier. This leads to a criticism of translation studies itself because of its Western orientation.  She calls for the translator to retain the ST idiosyncrasies that may seem difficult for a TT reader to understand.

Douglas Robinson’s Translation and Empire: Postcolonial Theories Explained (1997) uses metaphors of imperial themes to discuss the translation process, questions historical accuracy of translated literature, and agrees that colonized cultures may have been misrepresented because the sense-for-sense approach is the dominant theory of the West.

Susan Bassnett and Harish Trivedi in Postcolonial Translation: Theory and Practice (1999) see translation as an unequal struggle between various smaller languages and English. Chapter One, Maria Tymoczko’s article “Post-colonial Writing and Literary Translation” (19-40) discuses paratextual commentary (introductions, footnotes, glossaries – p.22), explanations in post-colonial literature woven into TT to explain cultural differences (25 & 27), proper nouns (30), while Peter Stockinger’s paper presented at the University of Beirut in 2003 claims that cultural absorption in translation extends to a generic form of English, which is neither British nor American.

Lawrence Venuti in The Scandals of Translation: Towards an Ethics of Difference (1998) deals with literary translation, and believes that translation studies needs to be broadened to take into account cultural issues. He questions the linguistic-oriented approach and scientific models (98; 21). He considers the role played by publishers and editors who choose the works, commission and pay the translators, and often dictate the translation method. He also says that agents, sales teams and reviewers play a huge role in determining whether a translation will be read. In The Translator’s Invisibility (1995) he discusses the current situation of English language translations, which aim for fluent translations and readability, so as to be accepted in the target culture. Venuti claims that translators “should reject the external reference imposed by capitalist society that requires the translator to create a fluent text for the target reader” (Robinson, 2002; 72), because “roughness in the project is not ‘bad translation’ … but part of the project” (Robinson, 2002; 151). Venuti says that the role of the translator in the publication is weak, and highlights the fact that the TT is shaped primarily by the editors.

Venuti proposes two types of translation strategy: domestication and foreignization. Domestication involves making the TT read as fluently as possible, and this involves careful text selection. Foreignization involves choosing a text that is obviously not of the target culture and rendering the linguistic and cultural differences in the translation. Back in 1813, Friedrich Schleiermacher agreed that this was the preferred method because it highlights the foreign culture and prevents it from being absorbed by the target culture (1813; 36-37).

Venuti’s premise can be investigated in a number of ways:

- linguistic comparison of ST and TT for signs of domestication or foreignization

- interviews with translators and examination of drafts

- interviews with publishes to determine instructions and guidelines

- compare the number of books sold to the number printed

- the visibility of the translator in the final product, through packaging, name on title page, translator preface, or notes

- analysis of reviews, which seem to prefer modern, fluent, idiomatic language (1995; 2-5).

Pym (1996; 165-177) questions whether the attitude towards translation will change if translators adopt a non-fluent TT approach. He calls for a compromise between ST requirements and TT expectations, and concedes that a point is reached where the translator must say “that’s good enough” (Robinson, 2002; 220).

Antoine Berman in L’épreuve de l’étranger: Culture et traduction dans l’Allemagne romantique (1984) sides with Venuti and Schleiermacher and claims that a foreign text should be received for exactly what it is. He identifies twelve “deforming” tendencies, which reduce variation, leading to TT conformity:

1) Rationalization, where syntax, punctuation and sentence structure are altered.

2) Clarification, where things are rendered clear in the TT that are not meant to be clear in the ST. This can be done through paraphrase or explanation.

3) Expansion, where the TT is longer than ST through overtranslation.

4) Ennoblement, where some translators try to improve on the original style.

5) Qualitative impoverishment, where words and expressions are replaced with TT equivalents.

6) Quantitative impoverishment, where different TT words are used to replace the same ST word - different signifiers are used for the same signified.

7) Destruction of rhythm, where the rhythm of a text can be changed by change in word order and punctuation.

8) Destruction of underlying networks of signification, where individual words may not seem important by themselves, but play a significant role on a different level within the text. They may form a contextual link.

9) Destruction of linguistic patterning, where the systems in the original are destroyed.

10) Destruction of vernacular networks, where local speech patterns are replaced.

11) Destruction of expressions or idioms, where they are replaced with TT equivalents, removing the TT from the cultural environment.

12) The effacement of the superimposition of languages, where different forms of ST language are translated in the same way.

The invisibility of the translator is a feature often discussed in terms of literary translation. Another way this manifests itself is in the fact that very few translators have written about their work (Munday, 2001; 152). Some of those who have done so often say that their work is intuitive, and that they must listen to their “ear” or hear the “voice” of the ST. John Felstiner and Suzanne Levine are two translators who have written about this. It is also discussed at length in an interview between Nicholas de Lange and Ros Schwartz on http://www.literarytranslation.com/workshops/inconversation, hosted by the British Council of Literary Translation.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bassnett, S. Translation Studies. London and New York: Routledge, 1991.

Bassnett, S. and Lefevere, A. Translation, History and Culture.  New York: Pinter, 1990.

Berman, A. L’épreuve de l’étranger: Culture et traduction dans l’Allemagne romantique. Paris: Gallimard, 1984.

De Lange, N. and Schwartz, R. In Conversation. “Improving the Original.”  www.literarytranslation.com/workshops/inconversation

Lefevere, A. Translation, Rewriting and the Manipulation of Literary Fame. London and New York: Routledge, 1992.

Lefevere, A, and Van den Broeck, R. “Invitation to Translation Studies.”  pp74-104. In Gentzler Contemporary Translation Theories. London and New York: Routledge, 1993.

Munday, J. Introducing Translation Studies. Theories and Applications. New York: Routledge, 2001.

Niranjana, T. Siting Translation: History, Post-structuralism, and the Colonial Context. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992.

Pym, A. “Venuti’s Invisibility.” Review of the Translator’s Invisibility.  1996.

Robinson, D. Becoming a Translator. London and New York: Routledge, 2002.

Robinson, D. Translation and Empire: Postcolonial Theories Explained. Manchester: St Jerome, 1997.

Schleiermacher, F. “On the Different Methods of Translating.” Berlin: 1813.

Spivak, G. “The Politics of Translation.” In Venuti (ed.) 2000, pp 397-416.

Stockinger, P. Semiotics of Cultures. Culture, Language and Translation.  Paris: ESCoM, 2003.

Tymoczko, Maria. “Post-colonial Writing and Literary Translation.”

Post-colonial Theory and Practice. Susan Bassnett and Harish Trivedi.  London and New York: Routledge, 1999.

Venuti, L. The Translator’s Invisibility: A History of Translation.  London and New York: Routledge, 1995.

Venuti, L. The Scandals of Translation: Towards an Ethics of Difference London and New York: Routledge, 1998.



Published - June 2010









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