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The paper was previously published in the conference volume of the international symposium "Challenges of European Integration", held by Dimitrie Cantemir University, Tg Mures, Risoprint Publishing House, Cluj-Napoca, Romania, 2008, ISBN 978-973-751-893-4, pg. 786-791

People have always been living in a world governed by changes, either self-imposed, as the direct or indirect result of evolution and progress or externally imposed, by different social, historical, cultural factors. Each of the cases implied people understanding the need of circulation, communication of ideas, information, knowledge from one culture to the other and back, i.e. synchronisation to the „atmosphere” of the epoch, from all points of view that actually make a difference.

We cannot launch ourselves into a discussion about the „spirit of the epoch” without underlining the importance of Lovinescu’s idea of applying the „masque of time” to the art pieces produced in a certain literary period. Thus, we are dealing with the notion „spirit of the epoch” Lovinescu made us aware of in his essays of literary criticism (Lovinescu: 1924-5). The Romanian critic pleaded for a process of quick elimination of the discrepancies existent at the cultural level along with the process of modernisation of the Romanian literature according to the „spirit of the epoch”. These actions are implied by the principle of synchronism in literature, which, practically means an increase in the process of changing of values, of elements that confer novelty and modernity to the literary phenomenon. Needless to say, this does not imply a servile imitation nor does it allow unselected borrowings to enter, but rapid integration of literature in a viable form, according to the evolution of the European art and culture.

Thus, we came to agree to the existence of the so-called „cultural universals” that enhance communication, change of ideas in order to achieve progress in all life domains. „Change of ideas, concentration of mutual efforts in different directions, communication among different peoples in different ways, all these mean a constant necessity of spiritual and material life, although cultural acts are not only achieved by means of continuity process alone, but also discontinuances which could be taken as creative at certain times. Yet, this breach is to be performed to existent models and not to a state of nothinghess.” rightfully considers Romul Munteanu (Munteanu: 1980).

Supporting this idea, the American sociolingvist and expert in cultural antropology Eugene Nida reminds us that the interlinguistic communication between people belonging to different or even to the same nation is always possible, but never perfect in a world of permanent changes: „multiple changes that appear in a culture lead to linguistic mutations, creating permanent modifications to the language according to the situation.” (Nida: 2004) We are invited in the area of those „cultural universals” we mentioned before, but also warned that communication is impossible if taken out of the context it rightfully belongs to. Thus, Nida points out that it is the context that transmits the message and clearifies the sense and the meaning, and not the word. „The fundamental unit of meaning is still the text, which is organised according to the cutlure it belongs to. Nevertheless, regardless of their culture, all texts are characterised from the point of view of spatial-temporal and logical relations existent among their component elements or of the existance of rhetorical procedures. Such considerations are extremely relevant for translations, as it is performed and established at the text level.” (Nida: idem)

Moreover, translation seems to be the only possible way to „unite” all cultures in order to create the cultural network, the cultural globalisation some people agree to while some others run away from. By this cultural (linguistical, literary) globalisation we mean the union of all the forms of culture that matter and that imprint their vlaues to the art of the people. The people of the globe will never be one and only, as the tower of Babel issue has its reasons, after all. But we believe that no particular culture of a particular people could be in the position to state that it is so self-sufficient that it can not benefit from any type of conntact to other cultures of other peoples. Art does not care what nationality the artist is, or what language the writers uses. Colours have no language but they speak loud enough to be heard. Music has no people but it is so visible for everyone to touch. More than that, we might dare say that those cultures with a very strong „sense of property”, where the linguistic etnocentrism is too powerful than to allow „incomings” has nothing but to lose out of the whole process.

Therefore, we strongly believe that „to translate means to circulate” (Crişan: 1979), and this is what our world really needs: the freedom to find the right ways to express itself, to understand and to be understood out there, by the Other. If done correctly, translation has this prerogative of being the way and the means to make it happen. We should not go further than the translation of the Bible. What would the world be today unless the Holy Book hadn’t been translated for everybody, in every language?

We touched the isuue of corectness in a translation; this is indeed quite a delicate problem, which stirred lots of opinions and counter-opinions. A clearly accepted fact would be that translation is a necessity and it is performed at the language level. Again, another accepted truth is that postulated by Paul Ricoeur, the French philosopher best known for combining phenomenological description with hermeneutic interpretation, according to which „languages do not constitute themselves into closed systems which exclude communication. If that were the case, there would be the same difference among the linguistic groups similar to the one existent among the living species, at the biological level. The fact that there is only one human speices is explained by the posibility to transfer sense, meaning from one language to the other, by means of the word, thus, by translation.” (Ricoeur, 2005)

An attempt to set the issue of correctness in translation ought to deal with the already over debated upon idea of fidelity vs. treason in the process of translation. Thus, the specialists run terms as „the ugly faithful” or „the beautiful unfaithful” when trying to show that there seem to be merely two ways to translate from one language to another: either close to the source text (ST) careful to catch the meaning and careing less for the actual form while translating into the target language (TL), that might have to suffer sometimes by appearing rather abrupt, or rough but correct, or keeping the meaning as much as possible, but paying increased care to the form. This has always been the translators’ dilemma, especially since there is no such thing as a standard version of a certain translation. „Lacking a standard able to absolutely certify the quality of a translation, the intense fight of equivalence in meaning will always continue, on behalf of an ideal of perfection, but also of a need to deepen the knowledge of the language of the Other and, on the other hand, to extend the horizon of our own language and thus to activate all its resources.” (Vazaca: 2008)

On the other hand, Constantin Lupeanu (Lupeanu: 1987) considers that translations have always enriched the national culture, but only those that respect the spirit and the breath of the original even if the translations are not perfectly achieved. Moreover, he also considers that “a less perfect, but true translation, which is able to transmit the strength of the original and to bring some novelty to our culture is preferred to a perfect but untrue book.”

As already stated before, translation has become a means of integration of a culture, under all its forms, language, literature, art, etc. in the world circuit of cultural values. This integration implies a certain ranging to the other cultures in the world wide network, a certain “imitation”, but in a careful way, of values that are pertinent enough to stand the aesthetic and time test and not harm the national identity of a certain people.

Ricoeur proposes models of integration that he believes are able to face identity and alterity. One of the Ricoeur’s models is precisely the one regarding the translation from one language to the other. “This model is considered to be perfectly adapted to the situation in Europe, which, from the linguistic point of view, shows not only a form of pluralism impossible to overpass but, in the same time desired to be preserved.” The essayist ensures us that no matter what, Europe will, inevitably, always remain polyglot and reminds us of the already extinguished danger of having a universal language, which used to be the case of Esperanto which is (acc. to Wikipedia) “the most widely spoken constructed international auxiliary language in the world. Its name derives from Doktoro Esperanto, the pseudonym under which L.L. Zamenhof published the first book detailing Esperanto, the Unua Libro, in 1887. The word esperanto means “one who hopes” in the language itself. Zamenhof's goal was to create an easy and flexible language that would serve as a universal second language to foster peace and international understanding. Esperanto has had continuous usage by a community estimated at between 100,000 and 2 million speakers for over a century. By most estimates, there are approximately one thousand native speakers. However, no country has adopted the language officially. Today, Esperanto is employed in world travel, correspondence, cultural exchange, conventions, literature, language instruction, television, and radio broadcasting. There is evidence that learning Esperanto may provide a good foundation for learning languages in general.”

Since it was proved that only one language, be it an artificially designed one, could not be imposed to all the speakers of all the peoples, the need of translation becomes, again, obvious. Therefore, in order to evolve, to communicate, to understand and to be understood, people can do nothing but relate to the Other, by means of translation. Each culture expresses (itself), it communicates (itself) in its native tongue, yet languages do not obey the physical borders of a nation, thus becoming open systems of multidirectional vectors, where translations play the part of an intermediator, enchancer „which means to truly live in the Other, in order to then be able to lead him towards yourself, as an invited guest.” (Ricoeur: idem)

Antoine Berman (Berman: 1984) sees translation as „an attempt of the foreigner”, a fundamental experience which defines our relation to the Other, the Foreigner. The natural reaction of the foreigner might be opposition, refusal, etnocentrism. Any culture, thus any language, might consider itself to be self-sufficient and tends to enslave, attach other cultures and languages. The attaching translation is the effect of this etnocentrist tendency, of the superiority complex towards the foreigner, the foreign language, the original text. Berman proposes a translation based not on a subordinate relation of the foreign language by the receiving language, but on a equality raport, “a dialog between the foreign language and native tongue.” (idem)

Ricoeur (Ricoeur: idem) also develops pertinent opinions regarding this linguistic etnocentrism when he makes us sensitive to the problem of opposition towards translation on the part of the reader. Ricoeur thinks that we ought not to disconsider this kind of opposition. The foreigner who intends to communicate aestheic value and meaning to a new language, for a new reader, considering himself as the mediator, might be taken as unnecessary, while his action futile, doomed to fail from the start. But, we believe that the reader needs to be educated towards a correct understanding of the phenomenon of translation, which equivalates a permanent enrichment of the language with new concepts, experiments: translations „enchance acts of searching of new concepts, of permanent exploration of semantic hues in order to serve the original text as true as possible.” (Munteanu: 1976)

The truth that lies behind all this debate is that translation is indeed a tool in the complex process of assimilation of information from another culture, of enrichment with aesthetic values belonging to different other literatures, of both-ways borrowings of linguistic treasures from the language of the Other. The only problem would, thus, be to be able to achieve translation properly, so as not to betray neither the giver nor the receiver.

We believe that the best way to conclude our essay is to cite Jose Ortega Y Gasset: „One cannot understand the wonderful reality of the language unless one agrees that language is, above all, composed of moments of silence. (...) Each language is made of different proportions of utterance and silence. Each people has to keep silent upon certain things in order to be able to express others. As, it would be impossible to say it all... . In the same time, one can only begin to imagine what a wonderful enterprise translation might be: performing all the reciprocal secrets that peoples and epochs have always saved ones from the others and that contribute so much to the hatred that exists among themsleves, in short, a daring attempt to unite people.”


-  Baker, M. (2002) In other words, London and NY: Routledge Publishing House

-  Bantaş,A.,Croitoru,E.,(1999) Didactica Traducerii, Bucureşti: Teora Publishing House

-  Bassnett S. (1996) Translation Studies, London and NY: Routledge Publishing House

-  Bell, R., (1996) Translation and Translating: Theory and Practice, London and New York: Longman Publishing House

-  Berman, A. (1992) The Experience of the Foreign, Albany: State Univeristy of NY Publishing House

-  Crisan, Ctin. (1979) A Traduce Înseamnă a Circula, în Luceafărul XXII/22/1979

-  Dumitru, R., (2002) Translation Theories and Practice, Iasi: Institutul European Publishing House

-  Eco, Umberto, (2002) În căutarea limbii perfecte, Iaşi: Polirom Publishing House

-  Munteanu R. (1980) Cultura Naţională şi Traducerile, în România Literară, XIII/25/1980

-  Nida, E. (2004) Traducerea Sensurilor, Iaşi: Institutul European Publishing House

-  Novăceanu, D.(1980) Frumoasele Infidele, în România Literară, XIII/23/1980

-  Ortega y Gasset, J., , The Misery and Splendour of Translation 1937 in Rainer Schulte and John Biguenet (eds.) An Anthology of Essays from Dryden to Derrida, (1992) Chicago/London: The University of Chicago Press

-  Ricoeur, P. (2004) Despre Traducere, Bucureşti: Polirom Publishing House

-  Steiner, G., (1983) După Babel. Aspecte ale Limbii şi Traducerii, Bucureşti: Univers Publishing House

-  Vazaca M. (2008) Preţul Dorinţei de a Traduce, în România Literară, nr. 8/2008


Internet resources


Published - October 2009

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