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Toury The Nature and Role of Norms in Translation

Summary by Adolfo Garca


Toury, Gideon (1995). Descriptive Translation Studies and Beyond. Amsterdam & Philadelphia:
John Benjamins.

Translatorship: Translation activities should be regarded as having cultural significance.

Consequently, translatorship amounts first and foremost to being able to play a social role, i.e., to
fulfill a function allotted by a community in a way which is deemed appropriate in its own terms of


In its socio-cultural dimension, translation can be described as subject to constraints of several

types and varying degree.
Cognition itself is influenced, probably even modified by socio-cultural factors.
The presence of different strategies and different products means that something has obviously
changed, and I very much doubt that it is the cognitive apparatus itself.
In terms of their potency, socio-cultural constraints make up a scale ranging from general,
relatively absolute rules and pure idiosyncrasies. In the middle we have intersubjective factors
known as norms.
Norms themselves form a continuum: Some are stronger (rule-like), others are weaker (almost
Along the temporal axis, each type of constraint may, and often does move into its neighbouring
domain(s) through processes of rise and decline.
Sociologists and social psychologists have long regarded norms as the translation of general
values or ideas shared by a community as to what is right and wrong, adequate and inadequate
into performance instructions appropriate for and applicable to particular situations.
Norms are acquired by the individual during his/her socialization.
They always imply sanctions: actual or potential, positive or negative.
Norms can be identified by spotting regularities of behavior.
The centrality of norms in the continuum: Norms are the key concept and focal point in any
attempt to account for the social relevance of activities, because their existence and the situations
they apply to are the main factors ensuring the establishment and retention of social order.


Translation invariably involves at least two languages and two cultural traditions, i.e., at least two
sets of norm-systems on each level.
Its value consists of two major elements: (1) as a text occupying a position in a culture or sector of
culture; (2) as a metatext, constituting a representation in the language/culture of another, preexisting form another language/culture.
Were it not because of the regulative capacity of norms, the tensions between the two sources of
constraints would have to be resolved on an entirely individual basis. But translation behavior
within a culture tends to manifest certain regularities.
Initial norm: Adequacy to source texts norms or acceptability in target culture.
Even the more adequacy-oriented translation involves shifts from the source text. These shifts are
norm-governed (specially the realization of so-called obligatory shifts).
The initiality of initial norms refers to logical, not chronological, order.

Toury The Nature and Role of Norms in Translation

Summary by Adolfo Garca

Actual translation decisions will necessarily involve some ad hoc combination of, or compromise
between, the two extremes implied by the initial norm.


Preliminary norms involve two main sets of considerations which are often interconnected.
(1) Translation policy refers to those factors that govern the choice of text-types, or even of
individual texts, to be imported through translation into a particular culture/language at a particular
point in time.
(2) Directness of translation: The threshold of tolerance for translating from languages other than
the ultimate source language: is indirect translation permitted at all?
Operational norms are those directing the decisions made during the act of translation itself. They
affect the matrix of the text (i.e., the modes of distributing linguistic material) as well as the textual
make-up and verbal formulation as such.
(1) Matricial norms may govern the very existence of target-language material intended as
substitute for the corresponding source-language material, its location and distribution in the text,
as well as the textual segmentation.
We are concerned here with proposing explanatory hypotheses.
(2) Textual-linguistic norms govern the selection of material to formulate the TT in, or replace the
original textual and linguistic material with. These may be general, and hence apply to translation
qua translation, or particular, applying to a specific text-type and/or mode of translation.
Preliminary norms have logical and chronological precedence over the operational norms.
Norms determine the type and extent of equivalence manifested by actual translation. The study
of norms thus constitutes a vital step towards establishing just how the functional-relational postulate
of equivalence has been realized.
Equivalence is seen as a historical construct, rather than an ahistorical, prescriptive one.


Significance is only attributed to a norm by the system in which it is embedded, and the systems
remain indifferent even if instances of external behavior appear the same.
Types of competing norms in society: mainstream, remnants of previous sets, and rudiments of
new ones hovering in the periphery.
If one is to draw justifiable conclusions, the only viable way seems to be to contextualize every
phenomenon, every item, every text, every act, on the way to allotting the different norms
themselves in their appropriate position and valence.
And the study calls for a historical axis, including both synchronic and diachronic studies.
Non-normal behavior is also possible.


We can observe only products, not norms.

Two ways to reconstruct norms:
(1) Textual: the translated texts themselves, for all kinds of norms, as well as analytical inventories
of translations (i.e., virtual texts), for various preliminary norms.
(2) Extratextual: semi-theoretical or critical formulations, such as prescriptive theories of
translation, statements made by translators, editors, publishers, and other persons involved in or
connected with the activity, critical appraisals of individual translations, or the activity of a translator
or school of translators, and so forth.

Toury The Nature and Role of Norms in Translation

Summary by Adolfo Garca

Texts are primary products of norm-regulated behavior. Normative pronouncements are merely
by-products of the existence and activity of norms (they emanate from interested parties, and are
likely to lean toward propaganda and persuasion).
All these observations are important for students.
How to conduct norm research: It is convenient to focus on isolated norms pertaining to welldefined behavioral dimensions, be they established from the STs perspective or from the TTs
vantage point. However, translation is intrinsically multidimensional.
Translator behavior is not fully systematic: There may be variation in norm subscription within
even the same project.

Gradual distinction between norms in terms of intensity:

(a) Basic (primary) norms, more or less mandatory for all instances of a certain behavior (and
hence their minimal common denominator).
(b) Secondary norms, or tendencies, determining favorable behavior. May be predominant in
certain parts of the group. They are common enough, but not mandatory.
(c) Tolerated (permitted) behavior: Possessing minimal intensity.

Importance for students.