Showing posts with label Translation theory. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Translation theory. Show all posts

Walter Benjamin THE TASK OF THE TRANSLATOR, An introduction to the translation of Baudelaire’s Tableaux Parisiens, Translated by Harry Zohn


Walter Benjamin THE TASK OF THE TRANSLATOR, An introduction to the translation of Baudelaire’s Tableaux Parisiens, Translated by Harry ZohnIN THE APPRECIATION of a work of art or an art form, consideration of the receiver never proves fruitful. Not only is any reference to a certain public or its representatives misleading, but even the concept of an “ideal” receiver is detrimental in the theoretical consideration of art, since all it posits is the existence and nature of man as such. Art, in the same way, posits man’s physical and spiritual existence, but in none of its works is it concerned with his response. No poem is intended for the reader, no picture for the beholder, no symphony for the listener.

Is a translation meant for readers who do not understand the original? This would seem to explain adequately the divergence of their standing in the realm of art. Moreover, it seems to be the only conceivable reason for saying “the same thing” repeatedly. For what does a literary work “say”? What does it communicate? It “tells” very little to those who understand it. Its essential quality is not statement or the imparting of information. Yet any translation which intends to perform a transmitting function cannot transmit anything but information— hence, something inessential. This is the hallmark of bad translations. But do we not generally regard as the essential substance of a literary work what it contains in addition to information—as even a poor translator will admit—the unfathomable, the mysterious, the “poetic,” something that a translator can reproduce only if he is also a poet? This, actually, is the cause of another characteristic of inferior translation, which consequently we may define as the inaccurate transmission of an inessential content. This will be true whenever a translation undertakes to serve the reader. However, if it were intended for the reader, the same would have to apply to the original. If the original does not exist for the reader’s sake, how could the translation be understood on the basis of this premise?

Translation is a mode. To comprehend it as mode one must go back to the original, for that contains the law governing the translation: its translatability. The question of whether a work is translatable has a dual meaning. Either: Will an adequate translator ever be found among the totality of its readers? Or, more pertinently: Does its nature lend itself to translation and, therefore, in view of the significance of the mode, call for it? In principle, the first question can be decided only contingently; the second, however, apodictically. Only superficial thinking will deny the independent meaning of the latter and declare both questions to be of equal significance…. It should be pointed out that certain correlative concepts retain their meaning, and possibly their foremost significance, if they are referred exclusively to man. One might, for example, speak of an unforgettable life or moment even if all men had forgotten it. If the nature of such a life or moment required that it be unforgotten, that predicate would not imply a falsehood but merely a claim not fulfilled by men, and probably also a reference to a realm in which it is fulfilled: God’s remembrance. Analogously, the translatability of linguistic creations ought to be considered even if men should prove unable to translate them. Given a strict concept of translation, would they not really be translatable to some degree? The question as to whether the translation of certain linguistic creations is called for ought to be posed in this sense. For this thought is valid here: If translation is a mode, translatability must be an essential feature of certain works.

Becoming a Translator, by Douglas Robinson

Becoming a Translator, by Douglas Robinson
The study of translation and the training of professional translators is without question an integral part of the explosion of both intercultural relations and the transmission of scientific and technological knowledge; the need for a new approach to the process of teaching and learning is certainly felt in translator and interpreter training programs around the world as well. How best to bring student translators up to speed, in the literal sense of helping them to learn and to translate rapidly and effectively? How best to get them both to retain the linguistic and cultural knowledge and to master the learning and translation skills they will need to be effective professionals?

At present the prevailing pedagogical assumptions in translator training programs are (1) that there is no substitute for practical experience — to learn how to translate one must translate, translate, translate — and (2) that there is no way to accelerate that process without damaging students' ability to detect errors in their own work. Faster is generally better in the professional world, where faster translators — provided that they continue to translate accurately — earn more money; but it is generally not considered better in the pedagogical world, where faster learners are thought to be necessarily careless, sloppy, or superficial.

This book is grounded in a simultaneous acceptance of assumption (1) and rejection of assumption (2). There is no substitute for practical experience, and translator training programs should continue to provide their students with as much of it as they can. But there are ways of accelerating that process that do not simply foster bad work habits.

The methodological shift involved is from a pedagogy that places primary emphasis on conscious analysis to a pedagogy that balances conscious analysis with subliminal discovery and assimilation. The more consciously, analytically, rationally, logically, systematically a subject is presented to students, and the more consciously and analytically they are expected to process the materials presented, the more slowly those materials are internalized.

And this is often a good thing. Professional translators need to be able to slow down to examine a problematic word or phrase or syntactic structure or cultural assumption painstakingly, with full analytical awareness of the problem and its possible solutions. Slow analysis is also a powerful source of new knowledge. Without the kinds of problems that slow the translation process down to a snail's pace, the translator would quickly fall into a rut.

The premise of this book is, however, that in the professional world slow, painstaking, analytical learning is the exception rather than the rule — and should be in the academic world of translator training as well. All humans learn better, faster, more effectively, more naturally, and more enjoy ably through rapid and holistic subliminal channels. Conscious, analytical learning is a useful check on more efficient learning channels; it is not, or at least it should not be, the only or even main channel through which material is presented.

This book, therefore, is set up to shuttle between the two extremes of subliminal or unconscious learning, the "natural" way people learn outside of class, and conscious, analytical learning, the "artificial" way people are traditionally taught in class. As teaching methods move away from traditional analytical modes, learning speeds up and becomes more enjoyable and more effective; as it approaches the subliminal extreme, students learn enormous quantities of material at up to ten times the speed of traditional methods while hardly even noticing that they're learning anything. Because learning is unconscious, it seems they haven't learned anything; to their surprise, however, they can perform complicated tasks much more rapidly and confidently and accurately than they ever believed possible.

Effective as these subliminal methods are, however, they are also somewhat mindless, in the sense of involving very little critical reflection, metathinking, testing of material against experience or reason. Translators need to be able to process linguistic materials quickly and efficiently; but they also need to be able to recognize problem areas and to slow down to solve them in complex analytical ways. The main reason for integrating conscious with subliminal teaching methods is that learners need to be able to test and challenge the materials and patterns that they sublimate so quickly and effectively. Translators need to be able to shuttle back and forth between rapid subliminal translating and slow, painstaking critical analysis — which means not only that they should be trained to do both, but that their training should embody the shuttle movement between the two, subliminal-becoming-analytical, analytical-becoming-subliminal. Translators need to be able not only to perform both subliminal speed-translating and conscious analytical problem-solving, but also to shift from one to the other when the situation requires it (and also to recognize when the situation does require it).

Hence the rather strange look of some of the chapters, and especially the exercises at the end of the chapters. Teachers and students accustomed to traditional analytical pedagogies will probably shy away at first from critical perspectives and hands-on exercises designed to develop subliminal skills. And this critical caution is a good thing: it is part of the shuttle movement from subliminal to conscious processing. The topics for discussion that precede the exercises at the end of every chapter are in fact designed to foster just this sort of critical skepticism about the claims made in the chapter. Students should be given a chance both to experience the power of subliminal learning and translating and to question the nature and impact of what they are experiencing. Subliminal functioning without critical self-awareness quickly becomes mind-numbing mechanical routine; analytical critiques without rich playful experience quickly become inert scholasticism.

The primary course for which this textbook is intended is the introduction to the theory and practice of translation. Such introductory courses are designed to give undergraduate (and, in some cases, graduate) students an overall view of what translators do and how translation is studied. To these ends the book is full of practical details regarding the professional activities of translators, and in Chapters
6—10 it offers ways of integrating a whole series of theoretical perspectives on translation, from psychological theories in Chapter 6 through terminological theories in Chapter 7, linguistic theories in Chapter 8, and social theories in Chapter 9 to cultural theories in Chapter 10.

In addition, however, the exercises are designed not only to teach about translation but to help students translate better as well; and the book might also be used as supplementary material in practical translation seminars. Since the book is not written for a specific language combination, the teacher will have to do some work to adapt the exercises to the specific language combination in which the students are working; while suggestions are given on how this might be done, it would be
impossible to anticipate the specific needs of individual students in countries around the world. If this requires more active and creative input from teachers, it also allows teachers more latitude to adapt the book's exercises to their students' needs.

Since most translators traditionally (myself included) were not trained for the job, and many still undergo no formal training even today, I have also set up the book for self-study. Readers not currently enrolled in, or employed to teach in, translator training programs can benefit from the book by reading the chapters and doing the exercises that do not require group work. Many of the exercises designed for group work can easily be adapted for individuals. The main thing is doing the exercises and not just thinking about them. Thought experiments work only when they are truly experiments and not just reflection upon what this or that experiment might be like.

Douglas Robinson (2002), Becoming a Translator: An Introduction to the Theory and Practice of Translation, Routledge: London and New York.

Degrees of Translation

One can divide translation topics into five broad categories:

  1. Transcultural translation.
  2. Information translation, or translation of facts.
  3. Social translation, or translation of social science texts.
  4. Literary translation.
  5. Poetry translation.

In respect of method, as I shall attempt to show, one category begins where the previous one finishes, and there is a gradation from 'detached' to 'close'.

1. In transcultural texts (which include dramatic adaptations, much publicity and propaganda, public notices) where equivalent effect is envisaged, source language cultural expressions and discourses are replaced by target language cultural expressions and discourses.

2. For information texts, the facts are all-important, which suggests that the words can be juggled around at the translator's will. However, if the text is well written, the descriptive and qualitative words that modify the facts, and the syntactical structures and word-order that indicate priorities and emphasis have to be respected. A sentence such as Grâce à cet ordinateur et son logiciel personnalisé, les médecins disposent désormais du premier fichier médical confidentiel could be translated as 'Doctors now have their first confidential medical files due to computers and personalised software' or 'The first confidential medical files are at every doctor's disposal thanks to computers and personalised software' but it would be much better left alone as 'Thanks (also) to the computer and personalised software, doctors now have their first confidential medical files'. If on the other hand, an information text is poorly written, the translator has to rewrite and restructure it. Mon propos ici vise à récuperer la parole qu'ils ontperdue . . . 'I intend here to redress their inability to express their views'. (Illustrations adapted from Beverly Adab's Annotated Texts for Translation: French-English.)

3. For social texts, where I include texts ranging from texts close to the sciences to texts about the arts and the humanities, psychological and cultural nuances cannot be regarded as less important than the facts. These are the texts which require, as their aim, a full denotative translation. A scrap example would be: L'apparence physique joue un rôle essentiel pour guider l'opinion que nous avons des individus que nous ne connaissons pas. Tous les racismes se nourissent d'ailleurs de ces formes primaires d'identification. 'Physical appearance has an essential role in guiding the opinion we have of individuals we don't know. Besides, all forms of racism feed on these simplistic means of identification.'

4. Literary translation. The translation is based on denotations, but these are dominated by connotations where they appear. There are other new important factors: the allegorical and symbolic nature of the language; sound (in general terms); personal and emotional language, the shapes of sentences and paragraphs; concision. Scrap example: Je désirais fortement de toucher terre et n 'y parvenais point, faute de savoir où la terre se trouvait. 'I longed to touch the earth and could not do so, because I did not know where the earth was'. (Le Défi, P. Sollers, translated by Jean Stewart. Penguin Short Stories, pp. 216-7).

Note that in literary and dramatic criticism texts, the full literary vocabulary may appear, but the other 'new' factors in literary texts such as sound, may be missing.

5. Poetry translation. Poetry calls on all the resources of language, and, in parallel, these become the factors that the translator of a poem has to consider and hierarchize or prioritize differently for each poem, depending on its specific nature. Thus metre, rhyme, rhythm, assonance, alliteration, onomatopoeia (all) relate to meaning, sound and form. The struggle to reconcile the semantic with the aesthetic (in a natural style as well as in sound and form) is at its most intense and can sometimes only be maintained for single lines.

Un brouillard sale etjaune inondait tout l'espace
Je suivais roidissant mes nerfs comme un héros
Et discutant avec mon âme déjà lasse
Le faubourg secoué par les lourds tombereaux.

Foul yellow mist had filled the whole of space:
Steeling my nerves to play a hero's part,
I coaxed my weary soul with me to pace
The backstreets shaken by each lumbering cart.

(Les sept vieillards. Charles Baudelaire; translated by Roy Campbell).

Note the brilliant correspondences here, also in sound: roidissant, 'steeling'; mon âme déjà lasse, 'my weary soul'; tombereaux, lumbering; cf.fourmillante cité, 'ant-seething city' in the first stanza. The poem is a wonderful translation, but close only by the standards of poetry translation.

Ironically, information texts, which least need close translation, can be translated most closely, particularly if they are not tied to the culture of the original text; poetry, which is so packed with meaning at the level of syntax, words and sound that it requires the closest translation, is in fact the loosest, usually owing to the conflicting demands of rhyme, metre and sense. (Relatively, it is easier to translate 'free' verse such as Celan's, but in comparison with prose literary translation, this too is more difficult.)

Peter Newmark (1998) More Paragraphs On Translation, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, pp. 137-139. 

Pragmatic equivalence

On the question of what kind of contrastive studies we need as a basis for the training of translators, I say: no linguistic contrastive system so far proposed will do. We need to get away from the linguistic organization and look at reality, precisely because that reality is encoded in situations and texts for the translator and not in languages. He is not concerned with what the language encoding is or ought not to be. The fact that he thinks he is and makes mistakes thereby is another matter. (Denison; twelfth and concluding discussion in Grähs et al., 1978: 348)

the text cannot be considered as a static specimen of language (an idea still dominant in practical translation classes), but essentially as the verbalized expression of an author’s intention as understood by the translator as reader, who then recreates this whole for another readership in another culture. (Snell-Hornby, 1988: 2)
[...] Here, we will be concerned with the way utterances are used in communicative situations and the way we interpret them in context. This is a highly complex but fascinating area of language study, known as pragmatics. Pragmatics is the study of language in use. It is the study of meaning, not as generated by the linguistic system but as conveyed and manipulated by participants in a communicative situation. Of the variety of notions that are central to this particular area of language study, I have chosen two which I believe to be particularly helpful in exploring the question of ‘making sense’ and in highlighting areas of difficulty in crosscultural communication. These are coherence and implicature. [...]

Mona Baker (1992) In Other Words: A Coursebook on Translation, Routledge: London and New York, pp. 217-218.

Textual equivalence: cohesion

Each language has its own patterns to convey the interrelationships of persons and events; in no language may these patterns be ignored, if the translation is to be understood by its readers. (Callow, 1974: 30)

The topic of cohesion . . . has always appeared to me the most useful constituent of discourse analysis or text linguistics applicable to translation. (Newmark, 1987: 295)
Cohesion is the network of lexical, grammatical, and other relations which provide links between various parts of a text. These relations or ties organize and, to some extent create a text, for instance by requiring the reader to interpret words and expressions by reference to other words and expressions in the surrounding sentences and paragraphs. Cohesion is a surface relation; it connects together the actual words and expressions that we can see or hear (cf. coherence, Chapter 7). This chapter draws heavily on the best known and most detailed model of cohesion available. This is the model outlined by Halliday and Hasan in Cohesion in English (1976). It is worth noting, however, that other models have been proposed by various linguists (see, for instance, Callow, 1974; Gutwinski, 1976; de Beaugrande and Dressler, 1981; Hoey, 1988, 1991).

Halliday and Hasan identify five main cohesive devices in English: reference, substitution, ellipsis, conjunction, and lexical cohesion. [...]

Mona Baker (1992) In Other Words: A Coursebook on Translation, Routledge: London and New York, p. 180.

Textual equivalence: thematic and information structures

a sentence is not autonomous, it does not exist for its own sake but as part of a situation and part of a text. And one of the most important functions of information dynamics is precisely to link a sentence to its environment in a manner which allows the information to flow through the text in the desired manner. (Enkvist, 1978a: 178)

A translator should be aware not only of cognitive meanings and basic syntactic structures in his text, but also of its information dynamics. Such an awareness does not necessarily imply theoretical sophistication in linguistics, or an ability to analyze sentences into themes, rhemes, and focally marked or unmarked elements. Here too a translator must rely on intuition and Sprachgefühl. But in situations where theory may be of help, even in defining problems rather than in solving them, it should not be avoided. (ibid.: 180)
We ended the last chapter with a brief discussion of word order and of text. It was suggested then that the linear arrangement of linguistic elements plays a role in organizing messages at text level. In this chapter, we resume our discussion of word order as a textual strategy (rather than a grammatical feature) and explore a number of ways in which its role in controlling information flow can be explained. 

To illustrate what is meant by ‘information flow’, consider some possible formulations of sentence (2) in the following extract from Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time (1988: 3).

(1) Ptolemy’ s model provided a reasonably accurate system for predicting the positions of heavenly bodies in the sky.

(2) a. But Ptolemy had to make an assumption that the moon followed a path that sometimes brought it twice as close to the earth as other times, in order to predict these positions correctly. 

(2) b. But an assumption that Ptolemy had to make in order to predict these positions correctly was that the moon followed a path that sometimes brought it twice as close to the earth as at other times. 

(2) c. But in order to predict these positions correctly, Ptolemy had to make an assumption that the moon followed a path that sometimes brought it twice as close to the earth as at other times.

(3) And that meant that the moon ought sometimes to appear twice as big as at other times! 

Clause as a message can be analysed in terms of two types of structure: (a) thematic structure (5.1.1) and (b) information structure (5.1.2). There are two main approaches to the analysis of clause as a message. The Hallidayan approach treats thematic and information structures as separate, though often overlapping features of discourse organization. The two structures are seen to be essentially distinct from each other. Linguists belonging to the Prague School by and large conflate the two structures and combine them in the same description (see section 5.2 below). The two approaches are often at odds with each other and can produce completely different analyses of the same clause. However, translators with different linguistic backgrounds should benefit from a brief exposure to both points of view. Here, as elsewhere, a translator would be well advised to use those explanations which are compatible with the languages that are of interest to him/her and ignore the rest.

Both approaches are outlined below, starting with a general overview which follows the Hallidayan or ‘separating’ approach. For a good overview of both positions, see Fries (1983), who refers to them as the ‘separating’ approach and the ‘combining’ approach.

Mona Baker (1992) In Other Words: A Coursebook on Translation, Routledge: London and New York, pp. 120-121.

Grammatical equivalence

Lexical resources are not the only factor which influences the way in which we analyse and report experience. Another powerful factor which determines the kind of distinctions we regularly make in reporting experience is the grammatical system of our language. In the course of reporting events, every language makes a different selection from a large set of possible distinctions in terms of notions such as time, number, gender, shape, visibility, person, proximity, animacy, and so on. There is no uniform or objective way of reporting events in all their detail, exactly as they happen in the real world; the structure of each language highlights, and to a large extent preselects, certain areas which are deemed to be fundamental to the reporting of any experience.

Grammar is the set of rules which determine the way in which units such as words and phrases can be combined in a language and the kind of information which has to be made regularly explicit in utterances. A language can, of course, express any kind of information its speakers need to express, but the grammatical system of a given language will determine the ease with which certain notions such as time reference or gender can be made explicit. Centuries ago, the Greeks and Romans assumed that notional categories such as time, number, and gender existed in the real world and must therefore be common to all languages. All languages, they thought, must express these ‘basic’ aspects of experience on a regular basis. With greater exposure to other languages, it later became apparent that these so-called ‘basic’ categories are not in fact universal, and that languages differ widely in the range of notions they choose to make explicit on a regular basis. In this chapter, we will take a brief look at the variety of grammatical categories which may or may not be expressed in different languages and the way this area of language structure affects decisions in the course of translation. But before we do so, it may be helpful to outline some of the main differences between lexical and grammatical categories.

Mona Baker (1992) In Other Words: A Coursebook on Translation, Routledge: London and New York, pp. 82-83.

Lexical meaning

every word (lexical unit) has . . . something that is individual, that makes it different from any other word. And it is just the lexical meaning which is the most outstanding individual property of the word. (Zgusta, 1971:67)

The lexical meaning of a word or lexical unit may be thought of as the specific value it has in a particular linguistic system and the ‘personality’ it acquires through usage within that system. It is rarely possible to analyse a word, pattern, or structure into distinct components of meaning; the way in which language works is much too complex to allow that. Nevertheless, it is sometimes useful to play down the complexities of language temporarily in order both to appreciate them and to be able to handle them better in the long run. With this aim in mind, we will now briefly discuss a model for analysing the components of lexical meaning. This model is largely derived from Cruse (1986), but the description of register (2.2.3 below) also draws on Halliday (1978). For alternative models of lexical meaning see Zgusta (1971: Chapter 1) and Leech (1974: Chapter 2). According to Cruse, we can distinguish four main types of meaning in words and utterances (utterances being stretches of written or spoken text): propositional meaning, expressive meaning, presupposed meaning, and evoked meaning

Mona Baker (1992) In Other Words: A Coursebook on Translation, Routledge: London and New York, pp. 12-13.

Equivalence above word level

It goes without saying that words rarely occur on their own; they almost always occur in the company of other words. But words are not strung together at random in any language; there are always restrictions on the way they can be combined to convey meaning. Restrictions which admit no exceptions, and particularly those which apply to classes of words rather than individual words, are usually written down in the form of rules. One of the rules of English, for example, is that a determiner cannot come after a noun. A sequence such as beautiful girl the is therefore inadmissible in English. Some restrictions are more likely to admit exceptions and apply to individual words rather than classes of words. These cannot be expressed in terms of rules, but they can nevertheless be identified as recurrent patterns in the language. In the following sections, we will concentrate on this type of lexical patterning. We will discuss, for instance, the ‘likelihood’ of certain words occurring with other words and the naturalness or typicality of the resulting combinations. In particular, we will address the difficulties encountered by translators as a result of differences in the lexical patterning of the source and target languages. Lexical patterning will be dealt with under two main headings: collocation and idioms and fixed expressions.

Mona Baker (1992) In Other Words: A Coursebook on Translation, Routledge: London and New York, pp. 46-47.

Is there a one-to-one relationship between word and meaning?

If you consider a word such as rebuild, you will note that there are two distinct elements of meaning in it: re and build, i.e. ‘to build again’. The same applies to disbelieve which may be paraphrased as ‘not to believe’. Elements of meaning which are represented by several orthographic words in one language, say English, may be represented by one orthographic word in another, and vice versa. For instance, tennis player is written as one word in Turkish: tenisçi; if it is cheap as one word in Japanese: yasukattara; but the verb type is rendered by three words in Spanish: pasar a maquina. This suggests that there is no one-to-one correspondence between orthographic words and elements of meaning within or across languages.

Mona Baker (1992) In Other Words: A Coursebook on Translation, Routledge: London and New York, p. 11.