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Itamar Even- Zohar

The position of translated literature within the literary polysystem

According to Itamar Even- Zohar polysystem is an open system which consists of interrelated,
heterogeneous open systems. The translated literature is a particular literary system.
Translated works do correlate in at least two ways:

in the way their source texts are selected by the target literature;

in the way they adopt specific norms, behaviors, and policies.

Translated literature is not only an integral system within any literary polisystem, but also a most
active system within it.
Translated literature becomes central or peripheral. The first one is connected with innovatory or
primary repertoires; the second one is connected with conservatory or secondary repertoires.
In order to say that translated literature assumes a central position in the literary system, it should
participate actively in shaping the center of the polysystem.
There are three major conditions which give rise such a situation
1.When a polysystem has not yet been crystallized, that is to say, when a literature is young, in
the process of being established;
2.When a literature is either peripheral (within a large group of correlated literature) or weak, or
3.When there are turning points, crises, or literary vacuums in a literature.
When translated literature assumes a peripheral role, it has no influence on major processes, and is
modeled according to the norms already conventionally established by an already dominant type in
the target literature. So it becomes a major factor of conservatism.
Translated literature is not always wholly central or peripheral. Translations from Russian to
Hebrew assumed a central position, while translations from German, English, French assumed a
peripheral position.

Roman Jakobson
On linguistic aspects of translation
Roman Jakobson opens his seminal paper "On linguistic aspects of translation" by refuting an
argument made by Russell regarding the need to know a word's reference in order to know its
meaning. Jakobson argues that denotation does not necessarily entail or mandate reference, and that
we have the capacity to know and understand words even without having seen their reference in the
non-lingual world.
For Jakobson, the meaning of a lingual sign is its translation into another alternative sign (such as
translating "bachelor" into "unmarried man").
Jakobson notes three manners of interpreting a lingual sign:
Rewording: interpreting lingual signs by means of other signs from the same language;

Translation: interpreting lingual signs by means of signs from another language;

Transmutation: interpreting lingual signs by means of signs from non-lingual sign systems.

In the case of rewording, Jakobson reminds us the absolute synonymy is rare or non-existent. The
same thing goes for translation as well, with words rarely covering the same semantic denotation
and connotation in different languages. Obviously, this bears on the ability to exchange word for
word in the process of translation.
However, for Jakobson, translation is not about words but about entire utterances which are
transformed for the code of one language to be reconstructed through the code of a different
language. Translation involves therefore, for Jakobson, two equal utterances in two different codes.
Translation thus appears to be impossible but Jakobson points to simple fact that we nevertheless
use translation on a daily basis. We can always use meta-language to fill in for absent words, or
borrowing words from another language. Even if our translation is a bit cumbersome, there is
nothing about different languages that prevents communication.
Jakobson's point in "On Linguistic Aspects of Translation" is that a lack of semantic equivalences in
the target language does not prevent the transformation of conceptual information encoded in the
source language.
This becomes more complicated though when trying to transfer meaning to a language that has
different grammatical categories. Sex or duration aspects that exist in the grammar of one language
but not another might lead to the loss of information or a lack of it in order to choose the correct
grammatical form. This can only be compensated for by rich context.
Jakobson famously argues that "Languages differ essentially in what they must convey and not in
whatthey may convey". Each language requires different choices of grammatical features, resulting
in gaps between them. Poetry, according to Jakobson, is the foremost victim of this lingual
Hans J. Vermeer
Skopos and commission in translational action
Any action has an aim, a purpose. Skopos is the Greek word for purpose.
An action leads to a result, a new situation or event, and possibly to a new object.
A source text is usually composed originally for a situation in the source culture; hence its status as
source text, and hence the role of the translator in the process of intercultural communication.
Language is part of a culture. Merely trans-coding a source text, transposing it into another
language. The source text is oriented towards the source culture.
The target text (the translatum) is oriented towards the target culture. The target culture defines the
target text adequacy. It therefore follows that source and target texts may diverge from each other
quite considerably: the formulation of the content, the goals, etc.
A translatum may also have the same function (skopos) as its source text.
The translator judges the form and function of a source text and sees whether it can be compatible
to the skopos of the target text. The skopos is an exact imitation of the source text syntax.

The point is that one must know what one is doing, and what the consequences of such action are,
e.g. what the effect of a text created in this way will be in the target culture and how much the effect
will differ from that of the source text in the source culture.
The notion of skopos can be applied in 3 ways, and so have 3 senses: it may refer to:
The translation process, and hence the goal of this process;
The translation result, and hence the function of the traslatum;
The translation mode, and hence the intention of this mode.
Arguments against the skopos theory are:
1) Not all actions have an aim;
2) Not every translation can be assigned a purpose (not-goal oriented).
1) Not all actions have an aim:
Every work of art establishes its meaning aesthetically []. The aesthetic can of course serve
many different functions, but it may also be in itself the function of the work of art (Bush)
2) Not every translation can be assigned a purpose (not-goal oriented):
The claim that the translator does not have any specific goal, function or intention in mind:
he just translates what is in the source text;
The claim that a specific goal, function or intention would restrict the translation
possibilities, and hence limit the range of interpretation of the target text in comparison to
that of the source text;
The claim that the translator has not specific addressee or set of addressees in mind.
The skopos theory states that the translator should be aware that some goal exists, and that any
given goal is only one among many possible ones. A given source text does not have one correct or
best translation only. Translation, as it is an action, always presupposes a skopos and is directed by a
Every translation commission should explicitly or implicitly contain a statement of skopos. Every
translation presupposes a commission.
One translates is a result of either ones own initiative or someone elses: in both cases one acts in
accordance with a commission.
The realizability of commission depends on the circumstances of the target culture, not on those of
the source coulture.
So for the commission is important:
Conditions (deadline, fee);
Negotiation between the client and the translator;
The translator is the expert (reliable, feasibility, other experts);
By means of the commission the skopos is assigned.