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(This article is originally published in Translatio, Vol.26/2007 n°4,


This article aims at depicting how most of translation theories that seem to be fairly linguistic are deeply influenced by ideological motives lying behind them. Trying not to address any theory specifically, the current article approaches the translation theories in a holistic way from a different perspective. Throughout the article, it has been tried to put distinction between concepts of “good” (acceptable) and “successful” translations which are often inaccurately conflated with each other. The article ends with some assertions made in the final section on translation pedagogy.


If we delve into the translation theories through the history, we will see that every one of them promotes a specific ideology; therefore, we should admit that criticizing a translation theory inevitably entails criticizing the ideology beyond that theory.

If we were to sample the characteristics being considered as characteristics of good translation in most of the academic institutions of translation pedagogy, we would most probably find out that accuracy, adherence to the source text form and source author’s style and intention, in a word loyalty and faithfulness to ST and ST author are among the first and most important criteria often mentioned for evaluating a translation (and its translator). The above-mentioned criteria seem to be first and foremost moral values in the ideological system of those who believe in them; in other words, the ideology behind such kind of approach to translation could be called a “moralistic Ideology”.

Moralism in Translation Theories: A Question of Ownership

A moralistic approach towards translation introduces ST authors as the legitimate owner of their textual creations. In this view translator is seen as a person who trespass the exclusive realm of the original writers, trying to share in their power and property. The act of translation is considered to be unethical in a moralistic ideology, often stigmatized as in the “Penetration” stage of Steiner’s hermeneutics as an aggressive act comparable to robbery and plundering. If we see ideology “as a vehicle to promote or legitimate interests of a particular social group” (Calzada-Pérez, 2003:5), then a moralistic ideology in translation seeks to safeguard the interests of those in the author camp (as opposed to those in the translator camp). Those who are in the author camp know that retaining power in a discursive environment requires a complex set of practices which try to keep their own statements in circulation and other practices which try to fence them off from others and keep those other statements out of circulation (See Mills, 2003:54); therefore, they will establish a set of moral principles to safeguard their power against invaders (translators). The author camp considers translation as a potential property of the original text and is not keen on allowing the translators to possess this property free of charge. Those in the author camp expect the translators to compensate their unethical acts (the act of translating) by helping them to retain and increase their power through widening the borders of the source text circulation. Therefore, only those translations are permitted by the author camp that explicitly and clearly reveal their relationship with the source of power; i.e. the source text. That is why most of the times literalism and preserving formal correspondence in translation are equated to faithfulness, because in that case, the relationship between ST and TT is explicitly and easily observable, and the translation leads the reader toward the source of power. On the contrary, those translations which do not explicitly indicate their relationship with the original text and efface the trace of the author are labeled as unfaithful and unethical by the author camp. However, I must admit that on many occasions the authors will tolerate, even welcome, the translators’ manipulations, provided that, they serve “the best interest” of them:

Published - November 2008

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