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Why Foreignizing Translation Is Seldom Used in Anglo-American World in Information Age

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Abstract: this thesis mainly looks at the issue of foreignization and domestication of translation from a perspective of information transfer. In a literary translation process two kinds of information can be classified: direct information and aesthetic information. The reasons behind the dominant domestication method in the Anglo-American world are that the translators focus on the transfer of direct information not aesthetic information of the source text and that the reader doesn’t possess enough backup information to understand a translation of foreignization.

Foreign scholars’ explanation for the dominant domestication in Anglo-American translation culture.

Venuti sees domestication as dominating Anglo-American translation culture, so he bemoans the phenomenon of domestication since it involves ‘an ethno-centric reduction of the foreign text to Anglo-American cultural values’. This entails translating in a transparent, fluent, ‘invisible’ style in order to minimize the foreignness of the target text.

  Overseas scholars such as Venuti and Antoine Berman have summarized some of the reasons behind this generally domesticating translation method.

  One, every translator is inevitably and inherently exposed to these ethnocentric forces, which determine the desire to translate as well as the form of the TT.

  Two, the editor or the reviewer of a translation sees it as fit if the translation reads well in the target language because most of them don’t know the source language well.

  Three, publishers in the UK and USA tend to choose works that are easily assimilated into the target culture.

  Four, the Anglo-American publishing and culture is hegemonic, so it is domestication not foreignization that is favored.

  Those reasons are sound yet partial. I think there are other aspects of the problem that should be noticed, especially when we look at it from the perspective of the information transfer in the translation process.

Explanation for the dominant domestication in Anglo-American translation culture from a view of information transfer.

Before I state my reasons for the fact of the general use of domestication in Anglo-American translation culture, I must make it clear that my idea of translation is a kind of information transfer. And two kinds of information must be differentiated: one is direct information, and the other is indirect information. Direct information is the information that can be processed at the reception moment by a reader, especially the facts, the events. Indirect information is the kind that needs an encryption to release it from the direct information to be processed and the indirect information needs direct information as its carrier. Indirect information in literature is the aesthetic information hidden behind the direct information such as pronunciation, lexis, syntax, style and the rhetoric devices. Generally the direct information can be equated with the meanings of the text, while aesthetic information can be equated with the form and style of the text. So direct information is rather objective and logic, aesthetic information is rather subjective and rhetoric.

In information society, it is the direct information that matters most, not only because most texts except for literary ones don’t have much aesthetic information, but also because it can be easily seen and understood and can be sent to the computer for processing and storage. And it is easily counted according to its bytes. So usually in scientific translations and most commercialized translations, attention is only paid to the direct information, but there are two types of literary translation: direct information translation and aesthetic information translation. Comparatively speaking, the former is easier than the latter because pronunciation, lexis, syntax and style are not so easy to imitate without interfering with the target language and its reader, while surface meaning is easily to be transmitted, indirect information is to be appreciated.

Generally speaking, direct information translation transfers the foreign meaning or the content of the source text, because it transmits the foreign information new to the target reader. In literature like novels, it is the plot, the events or the facts that is transmitted.

The aesthetic information translation needs to transmit the pronunciation, lexis, syntax and style of the source text, which is usually presented by the form or construction of the text. All this form and construction will have a combined aesthetic impact on the reader.

Now that I have distinguished these two types of translation in literature translation, let me state my reasons why foreignization is seldom used in Anglo-American literary culture.

First, the foreignized translation gives the reader more information than a domesticated one. From the perspective of information theory, the amount of information is the information added at the reception moment, that is, only new information is useful information. Supposing the source text and the target text conveying the same information, the target readers get more information than the source text reader because the latter has more backup information about the text than the former, that is, more information is new to the target reader than to the source text reader. Reading the same book, the target reader always gets more information than the source text reader because of the language and culture differences. So the much more information needed to be accepted increases the difficulty of the reading and it has a high demand for the brain. So the translator usually uses some domesticating method to familiarize the foreign text to decrease the amount of information and the difficulty posed by the source text or to supply additional background information to make the understanding easier.

From a traditional view point, translation is always longer than the original, only domestication can shorten the length of a source text. Foreignization tends to increase the length of the notes if not the source text, because to present the difference of foreign language and culture requires many details to be rationalized and clarified, otherwise the reader is difficult to attain complete understanding of the translated text.

On the whole, we see that foreignization generally maintains direct information and aesthetic information, while domestication reduces foreign aesthetic information by providing direct information or supplying the reader with aesthetic information of the target culture.

In a time of information explosion, a lot of information needs to be processed so that it is the trend for the information to be short and to the point like the language of the newspaper. In information age, information is money and time is money. Reading a foreignized text requires more time than a domesticated one because the former is long and difficult. So the Anglo-American readers who read for fun don’t want a time-consuming translation. The domestication method is further strengthened by the fact that the first print-run for a literary translation in the UK or USA rarely exceeds 5000.

Let’s take a look at the translation of poetry. American poet Robert Frost once said,” Poetry is what gets lost in translation.” Although this saying is rather radical, it speaks some thing true about poetry. Poetry is a highly rhetoric literary style with much aesthetic information. In a poem, what it says is not so important as how it says. The form of a poem is of much importance to it. While the direct information in a poem can be understood without too much difficulty, its aesthetic information is hard to translate and thus “gets lost”. In China translations of English poems had for a long time taken the form of classic Chinese poems, actually losing most of the original aesthetic information of the poem.

Second, foreignization tends to increase the difficulty of understanding. Foreignized speech has to go through a relatively long period to be legalized in domestic culture, then to be popularized, because foreign sentence structure and discourse arrangement are so different from that of the target language. The reader has to decipher the meaning, the aesthetic information behind this special and uncommon kind of textual arrangement, which formerly was considered the translator’s job and usually neglected by the translator. For a target text reader who does not possess backup enough information needed to understand the text as much as the source text reader, the difficulty increases. The original aim of translation is to help the understanding and communication between different languages and cultures. One unsaid aim of translation is to save time and money, because people don’t need to study a foreign language, which costs a lot of time and money, before he can read a foreign text to get the information. And we should know that there are so many languages and so many famous works in those different languages for us to read but time is limited. We must rely on translation to get the information. The Anglo-American reader will wonder why the translation should read “badly” and why it should not reads smoothly and why not let the reader get the most of it happily and the publisher and translator get the most of it economically. This kind of view holds a particularly dominant place in the translation of bestsellers in which usually fluency is the key aim.

Some famous Chinese scholar says that “a good translation should lead the reader to the original text, to further read the original to gain a genuine understanding”, then what is the aim of translation? This view has never been echoed in the Anglo-American translation circles, because most of the readers will not agree.

But in an information society like ours, things begin to change with foreignized speech becoming more and more acceptable due to increased cultural exchange. In China, especially in Hong Kong and Taiwan, “ni qu guo tu shu guan.”(you have been to the library)is giving way to the new, foreignized saying “ni you qu tu shu guan.” In which “you” is a direct translation of “have”. While in American, direct translation “long time no see” with strong characteristics of Chinese (hao jiu bu jian) is popularized. This change will help establish the foreignization method of translation.

Third the time hasn’t come for the reader in Anglo-American society to accept foreignization. But it is soon to come.

From the above two reasons, we see that the backup information of the reader is the main hinder for the translation to solve. The ultimate problem of translation is that the different backup knowledge possessed by the different reader. However, as the globalization and information age set in, we see that the exchange between different parts of the world multiplies, which gradually increases the backup knowledge of the people of the whole world. People from different parts of the world know about each other better now than any time in the history. By and by when their information reaches a certain point, people will want a foreignized translation.

The trend of the foreignizing method replacing the domesticating method is a natural development because the readers demand to know the foreign as it is.

From a historical perspective, let’s take novels for example. Traditionally, what is important in a novel is its plot, its events and sequence. A novel in its origin and essence is just like a kind of story. So when doing translation of a novel, the key demand is to transfer the plot, the development of the facts. Its aesthetic value is largely neglected. As time goes by, we begin to realize that the important thing in novel is not just “what it says” but also “how it says”, because many novels do the narration in a modernized style which has add importance to the form of the novel. The method of narration got its importance.

In China, when western novels were introduced, even the direct foreign information can not be introduced in consideration of the reader’s objection or incredibility. Because at that time, Chinese people knew almost nothing about the western countries, the backup information needed to comprehend the information conveyed in the novels is too limited to allow full introduction of the story. So the plot, the characters’ action even their name is either revised or deleted to adapt it to the target culture. If the translator did not do it this way, the reader would be challenged, and his translation would not be welcomed, let alone getting accepted in the society. As time goes by, previous translations helped to increase the understanding of the source culture; full introduction of the foreign plot is achievable because of the increased understanding of the Chinese reader. By that time, direct information took the form of foreignization. And the next level is the foreignization of the aesthetic information, because in China today, millions and millions of people know something about English, the language and the society. Their backup information has increased many folds since the first translation. The readers demand a true presentation of the form and meaning of the whole work. Some classic works need a retranslation partly because the old translation does not transfer the information correctly and the reader finds it contradictory to what they know already. Translation promotes understanding of the readers while the readers with more backup information in turn demand more information. The readers are interactive with the translation, pushing the translation forward.

Apparently, we can easily find that there are three general levels in the translation of novels or literature.

1. Domestication of both direct information and aesthetic information. This kind of translation does not help the understanding of the foreign society by the target reader. It is the case with the translation in the 19th century when the translators do the translations to instruct the people. Those translators include Yan Fu, Su Mansu, to name a few, who did the revising rather freely without much consideration of the literary value. On the whole, it is a conservative method.

2. Foreignization of direct information and domestication of aesthetic information. The reader get some information but not much from this kind of translation. In China this kind of method has been dominant for a long time, it replaces the foreign language and literary style even the customs with Chinese equivalents. Lu Xun pointed out this erroneous inclination in the twenties and thirties of the 20th century.

3. Foreignization of both direct information and aesthetic information. This kind of translation is true to life and surely will endure because it conveys much of the information in the original work. Only by combining two languages and cultures, can the translation bring out new and foreign elements to the target readers. And the target culture and language will enter into a new area and discover new beauty. Professor Sun Zhili has been a major proponent of this innovative translation.

One aim of translation is to promote the understandings and to reduce the misapprehensions of the people on this planet across the gap of different languages and cultures. The trend of the development of translation is in favor of this change. Apparently, we are going into the third level in the translation development history. Although foreignization is not so perfect as to transfer all the aesthetic information, it can convey the information far better than domestication.

What happened in China may shed some light on the translation culture in Anglo-American world.

So I think the third reason why the Anglo-American society reader still prefers the domesticating reading is because their backup information to understand the foreign text is not as much as that of the other language speaking people. This situation may be caused by several factors, political or cultural or something else, but one reason is that their translation is by and large in the second phase of translation evolution. And also the domesticating method does not help the understanding of the foreign. The more they read the less they know the foreign elements. The less they know the foreign, the more they don’t want to read the foreignized works. Thus a vicious circle is not easy to break. With the Anglo-American society leading the information age, its reader will soon find that their translation lags behind the increasing understanding of the foreign language and culture. They will do something to change that. Things will surely change in the Anglo-American translating culture.

When their information about other culture and other parts of the world increases to a certain point, they will demand a truer presentation of the foreign elements and to get a all new view they have never before seen in their own language and culture. Then translation as a linguistic zone of contact between the foreign and translating cultures will realize itself through the foreignization. Their translation culture will surely go to the third level.

So my conclusion is that as the information age and globalization set in, the reader’s backup information or understanding about different cultures will increase, which will help the change of translation culture of the Anglo-American world.



[1] Munday,Jeremy.Introducing Translation Studies --Theories and Applications[M]. London and New York:Routledge,2001.

[2] D S Jones. Elementary Information Theory[M] Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1979.

[3] Lawrence Venuti. Ed. The Translation Studies Reader[A]. London and New York: Routledge,2000.

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