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Translation Theory

MARIA TYMOCZKO

General Considerations About Theory


The current concept of theory in academic disciplines began to develop in tandem with the scientic revolution during the early modern period, with most parameters of the concept of theory having been worked out in the natural sciences. Thus, it is no surprise that the word theory is relatively new in English, rst attested in the last decade of the 16th century, nor is it a surprise that the word has held a variety of meanings during the last 400 years as the natural sciences themselves have shifted their understandings of the relationships binding theory, hypotheses, experiments, and data. It follows that in order to understand the concept of theory, it is more useful to see theory as a term of art or a technical term rather than a word whose meaning and usage are most apparent in ordinary language. As a result, investigating the use of theory in ordinary language as a means of understanding the concept of theorya common strategy in the philosophy of language since Wittgensteinfails in this instance. To delineate theory in applied linguistics, particularly with reference to a relatively new eld such as translation studies, it is essential to acknowledge the following: the concept of theory in any academic eld must be framed by the history and methods of the natural sciences, specically the relationship between theory and empirical practices in these elds. Thus, denition 4 of theory in the Compact Oxford English Dictionary (1971) (hereafter OED) is the relevant entry for understanding theory in translation studies and other areas of applied linguistics: a scheme or system of ideas or statements held as an explanation or account of a group of facts or phenomena; a hypothesis that has been conrmed or established by observation or experiment, and is propounded or accepted as accounting for the known facts; a statement of what are held to be the general laws, principles, or causes of something known or observed. Denition 4 is attested earlier than and contrasts with denition 6, the denition that the OED calls the loose or general sense: a hypothesis proposed as an explanation; hence, a mere hypothesis, a speculation, conjecture; an idea or set of ideas about something; an individual view or notion. Often applied linguists and translation studies scholars are not clear about these different meanings of the word theory, thus tenaciously seeing theory in arguments that are in fact merely individual views or notions and speculations. This is particularly a tendency of scholars with little training in the natural sciences who do not understand the reciprocal relationships that bind theory, the development and testing of hypotheses, experimental design and execution, the denition and collection and examination of data, and the consequent reexamination of theory on the basis of those investigationsin short experimental methods in general (see Tymoczko, 2007, pp. 14086). Translation studies emerged as an academic eld after World War II and many of the elds initial preoccupations and investigations were motivated by the use of translation during the war, particularly the role of translation in intelligence and propaganda. During World War II there were many people involved in coding and decoding all around the world and operatives were translating to and from more languages than had ever before been used concurrently for strategic purposes. Moreover, because the war had a global
The Encyclopedia of Applied Linguistics, Edited by Carol A. Chapelle. 2013 Blackwell Publishing Ltd. Published 2013 by Blackwell Publishing Ltd. DOI: 10.1002/9781405198431.wbeal1224

translation theory

scale and reached into normally isolated areas, an awareness of the range and diversity of the worlds languages and cultures came to the fore, even as translation among them was necessitated. This historical context for the development of translation studies explains why earlier generalizations about translation are not necessarily theoretical, both because they do not account for a sufciently broad range of cultural and linguistic data related to translation and because such statements (e.g., the discourses about translation in both Europe and China before World War II) were formulated without regard to the nature of theory in an academic discipline per se (see, e.g., the compendia in Robinson, 1997a, and Cheung, 2006a). As it has been constituted, translation studies has included the study of both written translation and interpreting; in what follows, therefore, the term translation refers to both the written and oral modes of transposition across languages and semiotic codes (see Jakobson, 1959). Since the 1950s a succession of schools of thought about translation has ensued, with most making some lasting contribution to translation theory dened in the sense of coordinated hypotheses that have been conrmed by observation and that account for the known phenomena. Many of these schools have published extensive numbers of case studies that have generated data with theoretical implications. Some of the most important approaches to translation studies that have left their mark on translation theory include linguistic approaches, functionalist approaches, systems approaches, cultural studies approaches, and more recently internationalist approaches (see Tymoczko, 2007, pp. 1553). None of these schools can be rigorously separated from the others; together they conrm the principles of translation theory outlined below.

Theoretical Principles Currently Accepted in Translation Studies


The following formulations summarize the durable theoretical principles of translation studies that have emerged since World War II. Note that there is a radical difference between outlining agreed tenets of translation theory and reviewing the history of attempts to theorize translation. This entry has the former as its goal rather than the latter, thus subsuming the contributions of some venerable schools of translation studies (e.g., skopos theory; see Nord, 1997) under a broader rubric. Note as well that in the following theoretical formulations, the term translation can refer to either process or product. This semantic overlap is a function of English rather than a universal; however that may be, both aspects of translation must be accounted for in translation theory (see Holmes, 1994, pp. 6780). 1. Translation involves negotiating fundamental linguistic and cultural anisomorphisms and asymmetries. Examples might include lexical asymmetries based on contrast, such as yes/no in English vs. oui/non/si in French versus a double lexical void in Old Irish which indicates assent and dissent by other means. Lexical asymmetries also are apparent in differences in semantic elds of corresponding words across two languages and in divergent patterns of semiosis. There are also morphological asymmetries such as the tense differences between languages that require distinguishing completed action from continuous or habitual action and those that do not, or distinctions in languages that mark gender or number and those that do not. Morphological asymmetries are often large when two languages come from different language families (such as Indo-European and Semitic languages). Syntax is also often highly variable between languages, particularly in translation across two language families, and idioms are by denition almost always asymmetrical across languages. Similarly, cultural asymmetries are inevitable between any language pair, however close, exemplied by differences in values that affect the understanding of concepts (e.g., individualism);

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2.

3.

4.

5.

differences in material culture such as variations in tools and technology; means of differentiating and organizing a society; or differences resulting from climate and the natural world, such as variations in ora, fauna, and the like (see Jakobson, 1959). During the process of translation, such anisomorphisms and asymmetries require that translators make decisions and choices about representations in the target text (TT) created by the translator. Anisomorphisms and asymmetries also require that a translator make choices about the interpretation of meaning: decisions about the meaning of the source text (ST) and choices about the construction of meaning in the TT. (See Vinay & Darbelnet, 1958/1995; Nida, 1964; Catford, 1965; Fawcett, 1997.) As we have seen, translation involves decisions and choices about meanings in the ST and constructions of meaning in the TT, where a text is understood as being either oral or written. Because meaning is language specic and meaning is conditioned by contextual relevance, translations and their source texts have different meanings. It is therefore misleading to say that the task of the translator is to preserve meaning or to create a text that has the same meaning as the source. (Classic discussions of this topic include Jakobson, 1959; Quine, 1959; Catford, 1965; a review of the issues is found in Tymoczko, 2007, pp. 265309.) Meaning in a ST or a TT extends far beyond semantic meaning. In translation a practitioner must pay particular attention to functional aspects of texts; the functionalist dimension of texts is central in every type of translating, from translation of sacred texts and advertisement localization to community and legal interpreting. Literary translators are called upon to be attentive to functionalist aspects implicit or explicit in form. The patronage and the material or physical basis of the production of an oral or written translation can also affect its meaning. (See Nida, 1964; Catford, 1965; Nord, 1997; Tymoczko, 2007, pp. 265309.) Because translation involves decisions, choices, and constructions related to meaning, there is no single correct way to translate. Translation equivalence is a posteriori in nature. The particular conguration of equivalence in a translation can be dened only by descriptive studies of the actual translation in relation to context. The a posteriori nature of translational equivalence, entailed by the processes and practices of translation, led Gideon Toury to propose the following a posteriori denition of a translation: any target language text which is presented or regarded as such within the target system itself, on whatever grounds (1982, p. 27; See 1980, pp. 14, 37, 435). (On the a posteriori denition of the status of a translation, see also the arguments in Hermans, 2007, pp. 125.) It follows from the theoretical principles elaborated thus far that translation equivalence is a form of similarity rather than identity. Like similarity in any domain (as cognitive scientists have demonstrated), the range of possible similarities that can be perceived and constructed in the process of translating is large and the possible ways of constructing similarity in the translation of any text are highly variable (see Broeck, 1978; Arduini & Hodgson, 2004; Tymoczko, 2004, and sources cited). Descriptive studies have shown that cultural norms and ideals about translation, which impact on notions of translation equivalence, have varied widely across time and space. An entailment of the decisions, choices, and constructions involved in translating is that translation is a metonymic process. Translations are partial representations of their source texts. Translators also introduce into their translations additional metonymies that have signicance related to the target languages and cultures. Such metonymies and partialities are not defects of translation; they enable translated texts to be received and understood by target audiences, to participate in discourses of the target culture, and to speak to the concerns of the audience. A translators choice of metonymies or partialities can have a variety of functions ranging from esthetics and

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representations of the target text to its ideology and political import. (See Levn, 1967; Holmes, 1994, pp. 3552; Tymoczko, 1999, pp. 4161; Tymoczko & Gentzler, 2002, pp. xviixviii.) A corollary of this principle is that the metonymic nature of translations guarantees the afterlife of source texts. Textual metonymies in translations deliver texts in terms that target audiences can relate to despite having other languages and traditions or living in other contexts, cultures, and time periods. Paradoxically, therefore, source texts are dependent for their continued survival on translations as much as translations are dependent for their existence on source texts. (On the afterlife of texts, see Benjamin, 1923/1969.) Translation equivalence can be stipulated explicitly or implicitly, as can any linguistic behavior including grammar or lexis. In the case of translation, equivalence can be stipulated or prescribed by general cultural norms or by a particular authority in a specic context, such as a business, a patron, a religious institution, or a government. For the development of translation theory and the understanding of translation behavior in general, however, descriptive approaches that move beyond culturally bound norms and prescriptions are essential. A broad sampling of translation processes and products must be investigated with reference to their specic contexts in time and space. (See Toury, 1980, 1982, 1991, 1995; Hermans, 1985.) Translation is a form of rewriting and as such has many commonalities with other forms of rewriting including versions of texts adapted to specic media (such as lm), versions adapted to specic audiences (such as children), editions, anthologies of texts, literary and textual histories, critical studies of texts, and so forth. Investigating the commonalities that translations share with rewritings illuminates both the processes and products of translation, and vice versa. The identication of translation as a form of refraction or rewriting is related to the metonymic nature of translation. (Foundational studies taking very different approaches to the question include Lefevere, 1982a, 1985, 1992; Holmes, 1994, pp. 2334; Vieira, 1994.) Because translation involves choices and because strategies of translation vary so widely, like other forms of cultural production, translations are best seen in the context of cultural systems. On the level of the texts themselves, translations and translation choices relate to cultural systems such as language, the repertory of text types, and poetics. Translations themselves form subsystems of textual systems notably literary systemsand collectively can be grouped by parameters such as function, audience, text type, formal effects, and patronage. Translations are in turn embedded in larger social and cultural systems, including economic, patronage, political, and ideological systems. To understand the metonymics of a translation and its function in a culture, it is useful to investigate its position using a systems analysis that takes in all these levels. (See Even-Zohar, 1978, 1990; Toury, 1980, 1995; Hermans, 1999.) Translations are an ideological and political form of cultural production. The second phase of descriptive studies has clearly documented the political nature of translation, ranging from postcolonial and feminist aspects of translation to translations that have gured actively in the service of ideological movements and political programs. Ideological effects are often particularly apparent in interpreting. Because translation is highly ideological and has an important role in shaping culture, societies often control or even limit translation through a variety of means ranging from prescriptive norms to censorship. (On these issues see Lefevere, 1982b; Venuti, 1992, 1995, 1998; Simon, 1996; Flotow, 1997; Robinson, 1997b; Bassnett & Trivedi, 1999; Tymoczko, 1999; Simon & St-Pierre, 2000; Davis, 2001; Merkle, 2002; Tymoczko & Gentzler, 2002; Calzada Prez, 2003; Baker, 2006; Tymoczko, 2010a.)

6.

7.

8.

9.

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10.

Translation is a cluster concept. Ideas about translation have varied widely across time, place, culture, and language. It is not possible to specify necessary and sufcient conditions that can be used to identify all instances of translation and that at the same time exclude all non-translations across time and space. Toury points to the nature of translation as a cluster concept in dening translation as a culturally bound practice that has an a posteriori nature, quoted above in principle 4. Because translation is an open practice and because new forms of translation can always be invented, translation is an open concept in terms of both its processes and its products (see Tymoczko, 2007, pp. 54106.) The nature of translation as a cluster concept is perhaps most clearly seen in the widely divergent conceptualizations of translation in the varied languages and cultures of the world and in the widely different documented histories of translation internationally. (Examples are found in Rose, 2000; Hung & Wakabayashi, 2005; Hermans, 2006.)

Conclusions Implied by These Theoretical Principles


Stated directly and simply as above, these basic theoretical principles of translation studies may seem to be a slender achievement for a eld that is half a century old. As with the principles of other established theories (such as the theory of gravity or germ theory), they may even seem obvious. Each principle, however, has a broad and deep reach. Taken together these theoretical assertions provide an integrated framework that serves to explain the data associated with observed translation products and processes. In some cases they also have predictive power. Because translation is an open concept issuing in an open set of examples, however, translation theory cannot aspire to being primarily or infallibly predictive. In the exposition of the principles above, there have been obvious crosscurrents. For example, the choices that translators must make in negotiating linguistic and cultural anisomorphisms and asymmetries are directly related to the metonymic aspect of translation and also to the ideological nature of translation as process and product. The metonymic aspect of a translation is also an entryway into understanding how a translation differs in meaning from the source text and how a translation can protably be approached from the point of view of systems analysis. In turn it is a short jump to seeing that similarity is the relationship binding source texts and their translations, with translational equivalence being an a posteriori notion. Finally the metonymic nature of translation is also a primary reason that translation is a cluster concept. These interlocking theoretical tenets also explain the vast divergence that many translations exhibit when compared with their source texts: choices about how to negotiate linguistic and cultural asymmetries, the construction of meanings in translation, the variant ways that different types of meaning can be privileged, and the nature of rewritings in general all contribute to signicant types of divergence in a target text. Such divergence is often notable, for example, in advertisements and media productions, and in interpreting. The theoretical principles elaborated here explain the popularity of the new term localization that has emerged in response to challenges posed by translating for the new media, differentiating new concepts of translation from old Eurocentric stereotypes of translation being primarily a form of carrying across (see Tymoczko, 2010b). The crosscurrents indicate that the division of translation theory into a denitive number of principles is essentially arbitrary: one might choose to divide some of the foregoing principles (e.g., designating Benjamins proposition about the role of translation in the afterlife of texts as a separate principle rather than a corollary) or to join others. Such decisions about segmentation of the theory are essentially trivial; what is much more important is to see that the principles form a dense and consistent conceptual web.

translation theory

The well-woven nature of these principles speaks to the strength of the theoretical framework that the eld of translation studies has begun to develop: it is an integrated framework in which the various principles intermesh and mutually support each other. Together they facilitate investigation of data, in part by allowing the development of hypotheses that serve to interrogate translation processes and products consistently across a broad range of contexts. The framework is also exible enough to accommodate discoveries associated with new data through reformulation or expansion of some of the principles of the theory. The principles are also amenable to being elaborated in greater delicacy in response to new data. Such expansion can be seen, for example, in the detailed investigations undertaken of the functional aspects of translation processes and products, discussed above in principle 3. Similarly detailed examinations of the role of norms in translation have been undertaken, thus extending the articulation of principles 46 (see, e.g., Hermans 1991, 1993, 1996). Moreover, this repertory of theoretical principles is open: it is likely that additional theoretical principles will emerge in translation studies in the near future and that they will be able to be incorporated into the existing framework. This is all to say that translation theory as it has been developed thus far sets a rm foundation for research on translation within the discipline of translation studies. It is comprehensive and adaptable enough to support the reciprocal relationships that bind theory, the development and testing of hypotheses, the denition and collection of data, the experimental methods of empirical research in general, and the recursive rethinking of theory required by the results of such research. The foundation seems broad enough, deep enough, and exible enough to be durable as the discipline of translation studies continues to grow. Whatever major shifts in translation theory might be projected, most of the foundational theoretical principles about translation discussed above will endure and be incorporated into future paradigms of translation theory (see Kuhn, 1962). Together these components of contemporary translation theory also have powerful implications. For example, if taken seriously, they make it impossible (or at least impracticable) to teach translation in a narrow, prescriptive manner or to inculcate rigid, automated behaviors in students, except when such prescriptions serve very local and limited norms. (Here it is necessary to distinguish the teaching of language competence from the teaching of translation per se.) Indeed the theoretical framework that has emerged in translation studies indicates that translation pedagogy must be extraordinarily open so as to prepare students for the actual challenges of translating metonymically, responding to context and shifting norms as time and culture themselves change. Similarly these theoretical principles indicate that ethical questions are central to the task of the translator and the role of translation in cultures. The choices that translators must make in adjudicating linguistic and cultural differences, the construction of meanings in target texts, the metonymic relationships between source and target texts, the nature of rewriting, and the ideological aspects of translation all indicate that there is a powerful ethical aspect to translation. Translators are important shapers of cultures, both source cultures through their representations and target cultures as well. In the limiting case the ethical responsibilities of translators extend globally, far beyond loyalty to their employers. This moral dimension to translation is seldom acknowledged in statements of professional ethics promulgated by professional associations of translators.

Difculties in Formulating Translation Theory


The formulation of a durable translation theory has been impeded by a number of factors. Most important has been lack of attention to a sufciently broad base of data from which theoretical conclusions can be drawn. General theoretical principles must accommodate data from the broadest possible range of cultures, must include data about the past as well

translation theory

as the present, and must apply to any arbitrary pair of languages. Because the data base upon which translation theory is formulated is so large, it is difcult to nd scholars or research groups who can muster a sufciently broad perspective to formulate durable theoretical proposals. Particularly pernicious is the tendency of scholars who promulgate theoretical assertions based on contemporary professional translation practices in a single culture area and who even set aside what they consider to be marginal cases in their own culturesfor example, community interpreting or translation in oral cultures both past and present. The question of incorporating a sufciently broad base of data in formulating translation theory is but one aspect of a larger problem in translation studies, namely widespread scholarly lack of expertise in the methods and practices of empirical research. In a great deal of research and writing on translation, inadequate understandings about the relationship of theory and hypothesis, methods of collecting and analyzing data, and appropriate procedures related to sampling and reproducibility of research have constituted barriers to the development of durable translation theory (Tymoczko, 2007, pp. 14086). The development of translation theory has also been hampered by Eurocentric dominance in the eld of translation studies. Translation has burgeoned in Eurocentric cultures since World War II, both as a consequence of the role that translation played in the war and as a result of the language policies of the European Union. The decision of the European Union to retain as ofcial languages all 23 ofcial languages of the member states of the EU has resulted in the European Commission being the largest employer of translators in the world. The Commission has rather strictly regulated translation policies and practices, however. As a consequence much of what has been written about translation in Europe during the past several decades has implicitly fallen within the framework of contemporary translation pragmatics in Europe and has addressed issues most pertinent to European languages and cultures. What has passed for theory in this context has inevitably tended toward a fairly narrow purview that rarely is applicable to an internationalist view of translation throughout history. The rise of English as the dominant global language has similarly tended to impede the development of translation theory applicable to a broad linguistic, cultural, and temporal foundation. Because English has increasingly become the dominant language of the discipline of translation studies, the vocabulary of English itself (see Lakoff & Johnson, 1980) issues in theoretical concepts and hypotheses that tend to be posed in terms of Eurocentric perspectives (see, e.g., Susam-Sarajeva, 2002; Cheung, 2006b; Lianeri, 2006). Misleading Eurocentric pretheoretical presuppositionsranging from the assumption that societies are normally monolingual or that translation is normally a procedure undertaken by a single individual (rather than a team) to the belief that the concept of translation itself can be dened by necessary and sufcient conditionsassumed by many writers using English and other European languages have also undermined attempts to theorize translation studies (Tymoczko, 2006). The problem is exacerbated by the spread of Eurocentric pragmatics and Eurocentric norms of translation within the economic climate of globalization; as a consequence of economic incentives, translation pedagogy internationally is often based on materials developed in Eurocentric contexts and written originally in English (Tymoczko, 2009, p. 405). Finally, current nationalism and ethnocentrism in general also work against the development of durable translation theory. What has been said above illustrates the problems of Eurocentrism, but similar problems are found in other parts of the world. For example, in China debate ensues about whether Chinese scholars should develop a theory of translation that is independent of Western inuences, based solely on Chinese translation traditions. Prima facie it should be obvious that it is not possible to develop a comprehensive and successful ethnocentric theory with respect to translation practices and products that are

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ipso facto cross-cultural. Whatever the geographic center of an ethnocentric approach to translation, such accounts can scarcely aspire to the status of being theory in the sense we began with: theory accounting for the known facts and being a statement of what are held to be the general laws, principles, or causes of the observed phenomena of translation across time and space. SEE ALSO: Functional Approaches to Translation; History of Interpreting; History of Translation; Theory of Interpreting; Translators Code of Ethics

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