Beyond Translation Theories

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Beyond Translation Theories

مُساهمة من طرف SADOUN في الأحد 5 أبريل 2009 - 18:52

Beyond Translation Theories
By Behrouz Karoubi,
University Lecturer at Islamic Azad University,
Arak, Iran

(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:

No author of a best-selling novel will object to the translation becoming bestseller, too. S/he will therefore not object to the translator using means which will make it appealing for the target culture readership. Loyalty, it seems acting in the best interest of one’s client which is more a matter of expediency than of ethical standards. (Christiane Nord, qtd. in Hönig, 1998, My emphasis)

The aforementioned situation is an obvious instance of discourse capitalism which has been vehemently criticized by the post-structuralists and post-colonialists who have strongly questioned the legitimacy of the source author’s ownership of the discourse s/he creates. Some of them, like Chamberlain (1998), use the metaphor of gender to criticize moralistic ideology in translation and compare the thirst of the author camp for power to the patterns of paternalism in the human societies. However, what is sharply criticized is the asymmetrical power relation between the original author and the translator and the way in which power is distributed between them which seems to be discriminately in favor of the former.

Certainly, translation is not meant merely to represent the author or resemble the relationship between ST and TT.In my belief,there is no such a thing as transferring or conveying something invariant from one language or culture into another during the process of translation. In fact, the things moralists claim are invariantly transferred from one language into another (meaning, message ... etc.) already exist potentially in the form of the target system inventory of non-verbalized items, and, inspired by the source text, translators are just selecting, highlighting, and, occasionally, modifying these items in the target text through verbalization for a specific purpose. In other words, the source text is like the sunshine that helps the plant of target literary system to grow. The produced target text may merely be analogous with the source text; that is, some similar pattern or some kind of (indirect) analogous relationship may be discovered between the two texts that depicts how the translator’s choices and decisions during translation are affected by the source text. Therefore, translating is not a derived activity but mostly a process of affectedness, and translation a somehow affected product. It is the translator who decides how and to what extent the translation should be affected by the source text. The source text serves merely as a raw ingredient exploited by the translator to create his/her own product which pursues its own purpose. “Translation” is just a pretext: a label that the translator tags on his/her product to meet his/her objectives; and at the same time, it is a confession: an admission that a source text has been used in creating this product.

The Question of Interest: Moral & Acceptable Translations vs. Successful Translation

There is no doubt about this that functionalist approaches provided the theoretical basis to unfetter translators from the chain of the source text and its author by shifting the attention from moral norms to social norms, but much caution should be exercised so that the functionalist ideology do not make the translator a slave again this time of the dominant social norms and do not force them to abide by the social norms blindly. An apparent tendency toward domesticating strategies in translation which is recently seen in many societies may be a result of the blind compliance with the dominant social norms. A functionalist approach often results in an acceptable translation but not necessarily a successful one, because it aims primarily to meet the expectations of the target audience and safeguard their interests. In other words, sometimes success in translation is achieved through violating the norms (be they moral or social) rather than observing them.

A translator who adopts a consequentialist ideology aims at producing a successful translation and morality and functional appropriateness do not matter to him unless when the success of his product depends on them. A successful translation is the one which fulfills the predetermined objectives set by the translator to be met. A consequentialist ideology requires the translator to be fully aware of his translational actions and the possible consequences of them. To this end, however, he should know the dominant moral and social norms and always be one step ahead of them. In the consequentialist ideology the focus of attention is not on the source text and its author (unlike the moralistic ideology), nor on requirements of the target audience (unlike the functionalist ideology), but on the translators themselves and their objectives to safeguard their interests. Such an approach allows the translators to violate the norms (be they moral or social) whenever it deemed necessary.

Ideological Norms and Translational Behavior: A Speculative Typology

With regard to the aforementioned discussion, it seems interesting to find out how ideological norms create variety in translational behavior of different translators. Regarding their state of consciousness, translators may show one of the following behaviors:

1. Normative behavior: A translator who has a normative behavior almost automatically and subconsciously performs translational actions that are often in conformity with the prevalent norms of his society. He is not aware of the consequences of his translational actions and just blindly follows the dominant norms.

2. Norm-governed behavior: A translator who has a norm-governed behavior is fully aware of the normative power of the norms, so that almost always consciously behaves in total compliance with the prevalent norms in order to dodge the possible punishments considered for violating them. The degree of conformity with the norms is considerably high, compared to a translator who has a normative behavior. You can rarely, if ever, find instances of violating the norms in the final production of a translator who has such kind of behavior.

3. Deliberate behavior: A translator who has a deliberate behavior, though completely aware of the norms and conventions, is bold enough to violate any norm, whenever necessary, to achieve his predetermined objectives; therefore, the instances of purposeful norm breaking may frequently be seen in his translation. It should anyhow be noted that the decisions made by such a translator in many instances may be in accordance with dominant norms and conventions, but they could not claimed to be normative or norm-governed, because these decisions are made consciously and at the same time deliberately, not randomly or by obligation.

On Translation Pedagogy: A Consequentialist Approach

Today, after so many years of the dominance of the prescriptive approaches over translation teaching, maybe the time has come for a serious revision in translation teaching methods. Translation teaching should no longer be seen as a set of rules and instructions prescribed by translation teachers to the students as to what strategies will lead to a ‘good’ or ‘correct’ translation and what to a ‘wrong’ and ‘incorrect’ one. Translation teachers have not to provide solution for translation problems but rather have to create the situation in which the students could solve the problems themselves. Understanding the importance of decision-making in translation, the translation teachers should try to describe the actual translational decisions made by actual translators under different socio-cultural and ideological settings in real life and real situations, and explain the perlocutionary consequences resulted from adoption of such decisions to the students. They are supposed to allow the students to select voluntarily between different options they have at hand, reminding them that they will be responsible for the selections they make. However, translation teachers should make it clear to the students that every translation has its own aim determined by its translator, and that they could freely choose the options that best serve their intended aim of translation. Shifting the students’ focus of attention on the process of translation, translation teachers could possibly reduce the students’ subconscious decisions to the minimum, and thus train translators who consciously make choice and consequently produce translations that are intended to pursue the specific objectives of their translators.


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تاريخ التسجيل : 03/04/2009
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