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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 »  Articles Overview  »  Art of Translation and Interpreting  »  Translation Theory  »  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.

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.

By xxxVeritas LS | Published  07/16/2009 | Translation Theory | Recommendation:
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Quicklink: http://www.proz.com/doc/2507
The process of translation has two main aspects: linguistic and cultural. Departure from literal translation to varying degrees will always be necessary when confronted with aspects in the source text (ST) that do not correspond with the target culture, “General cultural differences are sometimes bigger obstacles to successful translation than linguistic differences.” (Hervey et al. 2000:24) The question arises of how to treat these ‘obstacles’: should we ‘naturalise’ the ST into the target culture, reducing the foreign elements; or respect the foreign elements, and actually make them a feature of the text?
Laurence Venuti, in his 1995 book entitled, ‘The translator’s invisibility’, introduced two types of translation strategy: domestication and foreignisation. Domestication involves translating in a natural, idiomatic style so that the target text (TT) is placed in a linguistic and cultural context that is familiar to the TT reader. It can be extreme, as in Hollywood remakes of European or Indian films; or more modest, by using idiomatic language and collocations. Domestication can be equated with the term ‘fluency’ in the title. Foreignisation, on the other hand, involves translating in a non-fluent style with features such as calque, to make visible the translator’s presence and the foreignness of the ST. (Munday 2001: 147) According to Agnieszka Szarkowska, the difference between these methods can be more tangibly exemplified when put into the context of film translation: dubbing is a form of domestication, and subtitling a form of foreignisation. Dubbing attempts to give the impression that the actors are talking in the target language (TL), whereas with subtitles, the viewers are constantly reminded of the film’s foreign origin. The relationship between domestication and foreignisation is not a dichotomy, but rather a continuum along which the methods are employed to different extents.
Venuti’s theory is heavily influenced by Friedrich Schleiermacher’s theory of ‘naturalisation’ and ‘alienation’. Schleiermacher said, “Either the translator leaves the writer alone as much as possible and moves the reader towards the writer [alienation], or he [sic] leaves the reader alone as much as possible and moves the writer towards the reader [naturalisation]”. (taken from Munday 2001:28) Schleiermacher preferred to bring the reader towards the writer, as does Venuti- he taught that foreignness must be valorised, and then carried over into the TT.
Domestication is the preferred method of translation, especially in regards to the English-speaking world, but what are the reasons behind this imbalance? Firstly, readers (I am using the term reader in place of the broader term audience, as my essay takes most of its examples from literary translation) expect all books in their language to be comfortable to read, whether they are translated or not. Furthermore, there is a tendency in the UK and USA to ‘cherry-pick’ works that can be easily assimilated in the target culture, and publishers/editors reinforce this trend, as they do not have a good knowledge of the source language (SL), and are therefore more likely to publish works that read ‘fluently’. (Munday 2001: 153-4) This not only falsely reinforces the efficacy of the domestication strategy, but is also, in my view, a form of bias or even censorship of the foreign.
Venuti’s tendency towards the foreignisation strategy is very ideological. He views domestication as performing ‘an ethnocentric reduction of the foreign text to [Anglo-American] target-language cultural values’ and foreignisation acting as ‘an ethnodeviant pressure on [target-language cultural] values to register the linguistic and cultural differences of the foreign text, sending the reader abroad’. (Venuti 1995: 20) He goes on to describe this ethnocentric nature of Anglo-American culture as ‘violent’ and ‘dominating’, and foreignisation as a tool to ‘restrain the ethnocentric violence of translation’ (ibid). Foreignisation, says Venuti, is essential if we are to cultivate a “heterogeneous discourse” (Venuti 1998:11) and variation in literary culture. These theories are politically motivated: Schleiermacher wished to resist France’s cultural domination and to promote German literature (Wikipedia), and Venuti seems to be driven by an anti-globalistic ideology.
Hatim and Mason see translation as having been damaged by the trend of domestication; “In Anglo-American translating over the last three centuries [it] has had a normalizing and neutralizing effect, depriving source text producers of their voice and re-expressing foreign cultural values in terms of what is familiar (and therefore unchallenging) to the dominant culture.” (Hatim and Mason 1997:145)
I would be most willing to adopt the foreignisation method when translating poetry, as it is as much reliant on its structure and phonetic features as it is on semantics. The Latin American translator Felstiner actually listened to his ST being recited as he held the stresses and emphases in such regard. (Felstiner 1980:51) Meaning is formed through metre (the rhythm of the verse), rhyme, and phonemic patterns. Other factors such as the actual shape of the poem when printed can contribute to its overall meaning. When translating through the domestication method, these elements cannot be transferred without a change in meaning. The following example is an extract from “Battaglia” by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, an early twentieth century futurist poet, known for his frenetic, unstructured from of poetry. (Anceschi & Antonielli 1953: 121)

macello
ferite
rifugio
oasi
umidità ventaglio freschezza

Macello, ferite, rifugio, oasi are all stressed on the penultimate syllable, on which the intonation rises. Marinetti’s poems come to life when read aloud, and so any change of this rhythm would severely compromise the poem’s identity.
But by translating a poem phonemically these features are preserved. The following example is a translation by Zukofsky of Poem 56 by Calullus. (Zukofsky 1991, no. 56) I have attached the full transcript on a separate sheet, together with a more domesticated translation by Martin, and here I will concentrate on the first two lines.

O rem ridiculum, Cato, et iocosam,
Dignamque auribus et tuo cachinno. (Catullus)
ride, quidquid amass, Cato, Catullum:
res est ridicula et nimis iocosa. (Catullus)

O ram ridicule home, Cato, the jokes some
Dig, now cool your ears so the two cock in – no. (Zukofsky)
Read: they quick, kid, almost as Cato, Catullus:
raciest ridicule it may not miss jokes. (Zukofsky)

Cato, it was absurd, just too amusing,
Fit for your ears & fit to make you cackle!
You’ll laugh if you love your Catullus; Cato:
it was absurd and really too amusing! (Martin)

Zukofsky has carefully transferred the phonetic structure of each line, but reshaped it into English words that conform to English syntax as much as possible. It is important to note that these words are not chosen randomly, but do correspond (however subtly) to their Italian colleagues and to the overall meaning. For example, ‘now cool your ears so the two cock in – no’ could be interpreted as an order to not ‘cool one’s ears’, to not resist hearing the joke. The meaning is not overt, but it is there – and poetry translated using the foreignisation method is not nonsense. Martin moves ‘Cato’ to the beginning of the line, thus disrupting the author’s desired rhythm, whereas there is no need for this change in Zukofsky’s translation. Of course, Italian and English have many common derivatives, so it is easier to find words that sound similar and have similar meanings. This would be much more difficult if translating between Japanese and Russian, for example. Perhaps this is the reason for which Venuti, an Italian-English translator, is such a strong proponent of the theory.
Venuti’s main influence, Berman “deplores the general tendency to negate the foreign in translation” and believes that “the proper ethical aim of the translating act is receiving the foreign as foreign”. He believes that there should be an upfront attitude to translated works, that they do have foreign origins, and we should be loyal to the ST and its author. Berman has formed 12 ‘deforming tendencies’ that tend to reduce variation in the ST, and prevent the foreignness from coming through. He calls this a ‘negative analytic’. (Munday 2001: 151)
One of these deforming tendencies is the destruction of rhythms, which can be saved through phonemic translation. I will now concentrate on another tendency that I believe foreignisation can remedy - qualitative impoverishment, when ST words are replaced by words with less meaning or are less sonorous. (Munday 2001: 150, no.5) In Italo Calvino’s Il barone rampante, Cosimo, a young boy who climbs into the trees and vows to never return to the ground, is caught in a struggle with a wild cat. He eventually kills the cat, which is his first real achievement in his new arboreal life. He declares to the girl next door, “Io ho vinto un gatto!” This is an Italian idiom, and is translated as “I’ve killed a cat!” When alone, “io ho vinto” means “I have won”, and so this utterance has a double meaning; that of killing the cat; and also of success, contrasted with the cat’s defeat. Berman, in his ‘positive analytic’, suggests a Saussurian approach, being aware of every word’s valeur. He calls it ‘literal translation’, but this mustn’t be confused with ‘word-for-word’ translation. I imagine that a literal translation of the previous phrase would be, “I’ve done it! I’ve killed a cat!”
In theory, the adoption of a foreignisation strategy is appealing. After all, translations are not originals and should not purport to be so: they are reconstructions of foreign works, and I agree that readers need to be made aware of this. But in my opinion, foreignisation is too extreme. It is based on the false premise that an ST’s foreign identity is to be held in higher regard than its actual meaning, and I cannot believe that Catullus would be satisfied with Zukofsky’s rendering of “O rem ridiculum” as “O ram ridicule home”. Whilst the case for foreignisation is stronger in regards to the translation of poetry, this is not the case for other genres. The problem here is not how to choose between foreignisation and domestication, as in many cases both are too extreme. In today’s society translation is undervalued, and translators want their roles to be recognized as essential to the writing process. Foreignisation is a way to do this, but this is at the expense of meaning in the ST.


[1] Berman is heavily influenced by Ferdinand de Saussure’s theory of the linguistic sign. Saussure taught that each unit of meaning in a language (most commonly, words) is composed of two inseparable aspects; a signified, the graphic or phonic image of the word; and a signifier, the range of meanings and connotations that the word inspires when it is heard or read. The meaning and identity of a linguistic sign is relational, it is dependent on its difference to other signs. He uses the term valeur (‘value’) to describe the amount of differences and similarities between the signified and all the other signifieds on the language. The valeur of an ST word will never be equivalent to that of its corresponding TT word, thus much meaning and connotation will be lost in translation.


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