Article: What arguments are there to justify rejecting “fluency” in translations and adopting instead a “foreignising” translation strategy? Discuss with reference to the work of Venuti and/or Berman.
Thread poster: Staff Staff
Local time: 18:57
Jul 21, 2009

This topic is for discussion of the translation article "What arguments are there to justify rejecting “fluency” in translations and adopting instead a “foreignising” translation strategy? Discuss with reference to the work of Venuti and/or Berman.".


Greg Hunt  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:57
Spanish to English
+ ...
Who is a translation for? Oct 26, 2010

Good article and it's often the case that the theory of translation clashes somewhat with the practice of it. There are many examples of this, but I think your article raises an interesting point about what the objective of translation should be.

If loss is unavoidable when translating, and surely it is, we have to decide what needs to be retained in order to capture the essence of the original and what is less important. What is important is debatable, but two things which must guide us in deciding are: what type of text the original is and what the potential readers expect from the translation.

In technical texts, say a health and safety document, what the source text refers to is primary and other considerations, such as the phonological and prosodic features and the feelings evoked by the text, secondary. Such texts are usually emotionally neutral and largely absent of original metaphors: the point is for instructions and guidelines to be followed and descriptions clearly understood; semantics takes centre stage and stylistics stays out of the spotlight. Translations of such texts will generally have the same purposes in mind. Accuracy of reference is what matters here, while maintaining the same register, and it is likely that attempts to recreate phonological and prosodic features at the expense of the semantics could lead to serious errors, except perhaps for safety slogans and so forth. The readership will want to understand and stay safe, not be moved or entertained.

For the translation of literature, this is not the case: no-one’s safety is likely to depend on strict adherence to the semantics (apart from the translator’s perhaps if the author takes exception). So, the translator will have to make s judgement call about what is most important in terms of communicating what the author intended (a kind of mind-reading) and also what the reader will value most. It may well be the case that, for poetry, a foreignisation strategy is desirable, particularly if phonological or other formal elements of the source text are central to what is being communicated. This is what Umberto Eco advocates in Experiences in Translation. However, it is rare for the semantics to be unimportant and so they cannot be ignored. If translation is an art, more than a scientific activity (a debate for a different day), then the translation of poetry is surely the most artistic and the least scientific of all its different kinds, as perhaps only another poet can strike anything close to the right balance.

The conclusion that this leads us to is that translations of poetry, and other literature in which idiosyncratic features of a language play a particularly important role, are always likely to be less successful than those of other types of text, in terms of accurately representing what the author wanted to communicate, simply because they have to be, by their very nature, impressionistic interpretations of that text. In many ways a different work of art is created, taking only its inspiration from the original.

I agree with the writer that Zukofsky’s translation of Catullus is not a felicitous one. Although the sense of the original words may still be there, it is so obscure that only a small erudite elite can enjoy such a translation, which contrasts with the original, known for its racy style. It makes one think that this group of presumably intelligent people, as well as the rest of us, might well do better to take some language lessons and enjoy the original text, rather than decipher an obscure translated version.

The key reason why working translators pay little heed to the exhortations of much of the theoretical literature is that translations are usually commodities to be bought and sold: therefore they need to be commercially useful. The target audience is the key to how commercially useful they are. In some cases, the target audience may well be a small erudite elite, but usually this is not the case. As a general rule, the more accessible a translation is, the more useful readers are likely to find it.

Before any rotten tomatoes are thrown, I am not saying that a translation should be made as accessible as possible to the audience, as this may well strip the text of much of its value. There was a discussion here about a revision of the Spanish translations of Ernest Hemingway’s books and what to do about some of the American author’s apparently inaccurate representations of bullfighting, bearing in mind that a typical Spanish reader would be more likely pick up on such errors. In my opinion, the typical Spanish reader will probably be more interested in Hemingway’s viewpoint on bullfighting rather than objectively accurate descriptions and so any “correction” would be inappropriate. This is foreignisation and I think it is the right course to follow here. Again, the reasons why the readers would bother with the translation (and therefore how commercially useful it is) are what matters.

Ultimately, we have a wide range of possibilities and the translator’s job is to find a middle way, ensuring that accessibility does not strip a text of much of its interest while ensuring that retaining the foreign aspects of a text does not lead to unwarranted obscurity. Translations outside university departments need to be useful to a third party in some way, which may mean making them accessible. Most translators need the money that their translations earn them and translators who sacrifice the commercial usefulness of their translations for the sake of “higher” ideals will quickly find that these ideals do not pay off the mortgage.


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Article: What arguments are there to justify rejecting “fluency” in translations and adopting instead a “foreignising” translation strategy? Discuss with reference to the work of Venuti and/or Berman.

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