The Moving Text Translation Theory translation jobs
Home More Articles Join as a Member! Post Your Job - Free! All Translation Agencies

The Moving Text

Become a member of at just $12 per month (paid per year)


Texts of every kind are produced in the source language (SL) and they get translated into the target language (TL). If the process were as simple as that, Pym would not have written The Moving Text (further referred to as Text). The main point he makes about getting from SL to TL is that a team of experts needs to apply an intricate net of steps in order to achieve texts that will meet all the requirements of "cross-cultural text adaptation" (Pym 2001: 1), that is, 'localization'. The steps and components involved are 'distribution' (the concern where the text goes), the forming of 'locales' (the particular country/region and language), 'internationalization' (generalization of products), 'translation' (retrieving from 'equivalence'), quantitative changes, the calculation of transaction costs (the effort put into communication), 'segmentation' (shared professionalization) and 'humanization' (consideration of the future reader). Another aim is to demonstrate the fundamental differences between 'localization' and 'translation', or rather, to show that the latter is merely a subsection, however integral part of, the former. The book provides a very practical approach to many theoretical inventions.


Critical evaluation

1. Distribution

Translated texts often betray their being 'transported' from another language. Professionals can even determine the SL from the weird phrases, strange or wrong word orders and other problems. Pym comes up with not-so-funny examples from the computer world, mentioning that the computer industry is just one among the many areas where the TL texts are often incompatible with the reader, culture and language. If they were, we could call them 'localized' texts. Localization must be preceded by active 'distribution' rather than "passive reproduction or adaptation" (Text p. 5). Without material distribution—publicity, physical distribution chains, updating, and adaptation to locales—the TL texts remain functionless, which Pym proves very well. However, I miss one important point from Pym's arguments—while finding fault with the Le Monde advertisement he fails to mention that the ad must have been rendered to English by a non-native, as it is seen from the spelling errors for example. No wonder that the relevant EU policy is that the translators are allowed to translate texts into their mother tongue only. If this rule were complied with everywhere, many of the problems Pym discusses might be lessened if not eliminated. But mention is not made here. Even-Zohar's 'transfer' seems to correspond to Pym's 'distribution' like 'love' to 'hug'; the first being an abstract concept and the former a concrete chain of moves. This might be the reason for Pym's repudiation of 'transfer', however, if we think in terms of 'abstract' and 'concrete', we can say that 'transfer' and 'localization' being abstract concepts agree just like 'distribution' and 'importation' being concrete things. Pym—defying Even-Zohar—is right in claiming that the foreign cannot be wholly domesticated, that is, complete localization hardly ever exists. Zohar and Pym see the issues similarly though, Zohar speaks of 'polysystem' (Even-Zohar 1990), Pym of 'localization', both having translation as one part of the whole system. Whenever Pym writes about localizers/translators/language workers, the reader would like to know whether their native language is the TL or is not because whatever we call the processes and products the question stands or falls on this. Pym's treatment of intertextuality is strange: "A localized text is not called on to represent any previous text" (Text p. 5). "… fanfares of generalized intertextuality should be limited […]. If there is to have been some kind of transfer from one text to another, then the two texts must at some time have shared the same locale" (Text p. 20). To understand texts the readers relies on their world knowledge, which comes partly from other texts; i.e. no text can stand by its own. Some contradiction might be felt here: "the logic of separate locales and independent cultures is still strong, and that the excluded spaces are still vast" (Text p. 21); "there are no natural borders between languages" (Text p. 21). The first complies with the Whorfian tenets; the second relies on Saussure's diachronic approach, however, we should emphasize synchronicity in the discussed processes. Pym's 'locale' is a feasible term and proves to be somewhat more flexible than Zohar's 'transfer'. 'Transfer' involves the importation of culture items, whereas Pym insists that "cultures are usually thought to be larger than locales" (Text p. 23). Mention must be made though that both authors are right in claiming that what we are talking about is an extremely complicated system of linguistic and cultural transmissions. This complexity makes the reader a bit dubious about the effectiveness of the moves discussed. Also, Pym's examples are simply bad and even worse translations, and he is looking for the possible explanations for the failures. One can hardly agree with Pym's point that if a text cannot be fully localized, it should be left at that (Text p. 26). It is true that distribution may be less effective than the desired but nobody should be prevented from distributing/translating texts; it is always done with a well-grounded reason. He keeps repeating that localization is hardly ever complete, which is an acceptable fact—English-Italian example in the next chapter. The discussion of external/internal knowledge seems hypothetical and idealistic, since we have learnt that "removing all the trace of the foreign" (Text p. 28.) should be avoided.

2. Asymmetries of distribution

In his criticism of the LISA definitions he says "we have preferred to talk about 'texts' rather than 'products'" (Text p. 29.). But if the things defined come mainly from industries like e. g. localization, 'industry' and 'product' are a good match. 'Internationalization' as such may result in something of doubtful value; English-wise, the films he refers to (Text p. 33) are just awful. The reasons are understandable, but the linguistic purification 'internationalization' involves will impoverish the source languages (see the language of the above mentioned American films). This is the price that is paid for maintaining and helping the target cultures/languages. The examples (Text pp. 31-32.) are good to demonstrate 'internationalization', however, a real 'text' would be more difficult to handle. Having this model in mind ST—internationalization—TT1/TT2/TTn and that "…the role of the initial source will fade away" (Text p. 35.)—one raises at least two questions: 1. Why not write the original texts so that they would not need any standardization? 2. The more channels a text goes through the more fatal errors can and will occur. Practically, it seems impossible to retain the information with this much transformation. We are reminded that "initial drafts will go through committee processes" (Text p. 36.) the texts are "ideally translated"; the emphasis should be put on "ideally". The automatic translation system may work well between Romance languages, but the EU includes other languages as well (the English-Hungarian machine translations are just horrifying). The hitherto examples are from non-literary texts; one is curious to learn how this theory/model works with fiction. We are happy to learn that Pym does not enjoy the prophecy that "internalization would spell the death of cultural difference on many levels, unless we believe in 'glocalization' (the local embedded in the global). Even if we accept all this, what if the source text is from a minor language? Does the model work vice versa? And we should not forget that the hitherto attempts to create an international language—even though they were artificial languages—have failed. The asymmetry of distribution and incomplete localization is quite all right but I think as many technical terms ought to be localized as possible for the sake of the non-professional users (see example in Figure 9.). I just cannot imagine that e. g. 'browser' has no Italian equivalent. If we expect the users to pick up the English terms, why not wait until everybody learns English?

3. Equivalence, malgré tout

Translation is part of localization. True, but (good) translators and translation theorists all know that translation involves the transmission of the message retaining the source culture (and everything else) as much as needed and the conversion of the text to meet the requirements of the target language reader. This means that translation has always embedded exactly what Pym calls 'localization'. The hermeneutic circle—the question of part and whole—is revisited. And we need not get out of the circle. Good translators keep cooperating with the professionals if the text is of technical nature, and they are fiction writers and poets in the case of literary works. Localization is not achieved when the translator, thinking (s)he is omniscient, works in isolation. Doubts can be raised about this: "translation theory […] in tune with text linguistics, discourse analysis" and "translation […] returned to the narrow linguistic exercise" (Text p. 52.). Text and discourse analysis came about for the very reason that the linguists realized the importance of linking social studies and language, which means the widening and definitely not the narrowing of 'linguistic exercise'. Or this: "Translation is not text adaptation" (Text p. 54.); it is. "Internationalization" remains on a theoretical level, along with the "paratext"; they imply rules operating in a few cases only. Pym calls equivalence as a constraint; the reason is that he has local rather than global equivalence in mind. Also, a text is equivalent with the original (input), therefore not only is localization the two-edged sword.

4. How translations speak

Pym treats translation as an "asymmetric replacement of natural-language strings" (Text p. 67.). And localization can never be fully successful. Are not we talking about the same thing? Also, equivalence is achieved if the reception proves so. Mention must be made though that local equivalence is more frequently achieved than the global as my research in literary translations has shown (Kenesei 2004). In the sentence "A good/bad translation is one where we can/cannot see the translator" I presume the reverse order holds. To the requisition "Ask receivers if the translator can be 'seen'" I note that my findings have proved that 1. about half of the translators betray themselves and 2. the translator's mother tongue is not a decisive factor in the success of the translation. When the receivers treat a text as original can we say that 1. localization is successful and 2. it does not imply a second person? This is why I doubt that "translation turns the world of persons into a world of things" (Text p. 80).

5. Quantity speaks

As part of transliteration proper names are mentioned as untranslatable (Text p. 92.), however, if they are telling names (in fiction) they should be made clear in TT. That TT is longer than ST due to its more explicit nature might be true but the examples for the asymmetric distribution (salicyclic acid, sheep) are counterexamples. The comments are the reiterations of the old principle—text in context. When the output is much lengthier than the input we should simply accept the fact that cultural items are of unequal nature but here I would emphasize neutral inequality rather than difference in values. "Translators are not supposed to be authors" (Text p. 98.)—recalling the problem of 'localization within translation' OR 'translation within localization' I repeat: translators must cooperate with professionals (technical texts) or be authors themselves (fiction). "La Movida" illustrates one of the paraphrasing strategies to which translators turn as last resorts. We might call this non-equivalence, however, it is an indispensable tool. Deletion is not acceptable; paraphrase or generalization can be used instead. This chapter is devoted to the discussion of various strategies; Pym prefers to call them non-translational procedures; I insist that they are parts of translation and localization because they are employed to satisfy the receiver by making TT "appropriate" and "acceptable" (Toury 1980). It is understandable though that Pym fights against equivalence which may involve the peril of an atomic approach and he finds localization the way-out, rightly. Again, I equal localization with global/text-level/context-level equivalence (see the Hamlet translation in Quebec).

6. Belonging as resistance

"Translation, localization, globalization" at provides human and machine translation. What is the guarantee for a good rendering of ST to TT? Machine translations have a bad reputation for good reason. Human translation is done by a team of language workers. But as I have said translation is teamwork, involving either at least two persons or two professions in one. I wonder why Pym separates nature and culture; this world is governed by the same rules. However, memes represent an atomic view, which does not fit into the broad approach. If localization resists globalization, it is welcomed! Why talk about constraints on distribution when any stretch of language can be transformed in one way or another? Pym asserts that performatives become constatives through translation. 1. We do know that Austin, father of performatives, changed his views and declared that every utterance performs an action. 2. The audience is aware of the function of the translated stretch. Pym asks "what participation is left to the … actual receivers?" (Text p. 121.) There are as many interpretations as people (author, receivers) involved. Thus much is left to the receiver. The question is how big is the difference between the receptions of ST and TT? From the differences we can make inferences about how well the text has been distributed / localized / translated. "Localization is by no means an exclusively linguistic phenomenon" (Text p. 125.)—is this what we have learnt so far? As for the cultural embeddedness of texts, technical texts are the most neutral.

7. Transaction costs

The economic grounds for calculating the costs is convincing. From the definitions of "internationalization" we learn that it is basically the determination of general rules applicable for further movements. Is it true then that the more locales are to accessed internationalization is more complex? One might think that generalization is one act or step (bearing in mind the doubts about its highly theoretical nature).

8. Professionalization

Pym is looking for the "shared professionalization" which is very logical for (good) translators. One thing is true though—when the translator cooperates with a professional, it is either done on 1. a friendly basis (2. or like me and my engineer husband with technical translations), or 3. the money is shared, or 4. the professional does the text adaptation and the translator checks the linguistic errors. The first two are few, the third does not mean much profit for either party, but the fourth seems a feasible way. I do not find the situation Pym describes that disastrous—the party ordering the translation decides whether something valuable has been done or not, and goes on ordering further works or suspends the contact with the translator. Well, this is not the ideal situation, and Pym is rightfully trying to change it. Also, many companies employ their own translators who grow into the profession. There are editors who publish translated books and organize an efficient teamwork of translators and professionals. They work on segments but there are good databases and terminology sources.

9. Humanizing discourse

Localization seems to be very much humanizing discourse, language and other contacts. Internationalization, however, seems to be working the opposite direction. Standardization and simplification does not help to keep up diversity, which is against humanization. The non-linear nature of hyper-linked hypertexts need not be put in contradiction with text linguistics. There are no "stand-alone chunks" (Text p. 186.); it is CONTEXT that bears the omni-connecting power for both the electronic and traditional texts. Pym calls it "concept" (Text p. 187.), yes, concept is contextual, and context is conceptual, both fundamentally required by localization and translation within and vice versa. Technically, we can speak of non-linearity, but contexts and concepts ensure mental linearity.


Even-Zohar, I. "Polysystem Theory" Poetics Today 11:1, 1990, pp. 9-26.
Kenesei, A. (2004) "Emily Dickinson Interpreted Today in English and in Hungarian." IN: Modern Filológiai Közlemények V. 2. under publication
Toury, G. (1980) In Search of a Theory of Translation. Tel-Aviv: The Porter Institute for Poetics and Semiotics

About the reviewer Andrea Kenesei is a lecturer of linguistics. Her interests include pragmatics, discourse and text analysis, linguistic analysis of literature, translation and reader-response theories. She is working on her Ph.D. dissertation on "Frame-based reader-response of translated verse".

Submit your article!

Read more articles - free!

Read sense of life articles!

E-mail this article to your colleague!

Need more translation jobs? Click here!

Translation agencies are welcome to register here - Free!

Freelance translators are welcome to register here - Free!

Free Newsletter

Subscribe to our free newsletter to receive news from us:

Recommend This Article
Read More Articles
Search Article Index
Read Sense of Life Articles
Submit Your Article
Obtain Translation Jobs
Visit Language Job Board
Post Your Translation Job!
Register Translation Agency
Submit Your Resume
Find Freelance Translators
Buy Database of Translators
Buy Database of Agencies
Obtain Blacklisted Agencies
Advertise Here
Use Free Translators
Use Free Dictionaries
Use Free Glossaries
Use Free Software
Vote in Polls for Translators
Read Testimonials
Read More Testimonials
Read Even More Testimonials
Read Yet More Testimonials
And More Testimonials!
Admire God's Creations

christianity portal
translation jobs


Copyright © 2003-2024 by
Legal Disclaimer
Site Map