8 Pages, Grade: Excellent
Translation is a complex process that requires a translator to face many difficult decisions both conscious and unconscious. These decisions, which are based on and influenced by the translator’s values, preferences, skills and objectives, decide which aspects of a ST will be conveyed and in what manner. Consequently, these decisions determine how the target audience will receive and view the ST, which they might not even know to exist. It is only natural that translators seek appreciation for their work and want to impress the TT audience with a respectable final product, one that is not inferior to the original and will be met with the same enthusiasm as the ST. On the other hand, translators are limited in this respect because of their obligation to stay faithful to the ST and only convey what the original author intended to convey. It becomes therefore apparent that every translator serves two masters: The ST author and the TT recipient. Accordingly, there has always been a debate in the realm of translation studies which of these two masters wields more power and requires more respect. This debate, nowadays dominated by Lawrence Venuti’s concepts of ‘domestication’ and foreignization’, has been fought, albeit with changing concepts and names, since ancient times. In this essay, I will analyze which earlier theories Venuti’s concepts are built on, as well as what their main objectives are and to what extent these concepts can be useful for translators today.
Very early in the history of translation, the dichotomy of obligations (ST-oriented) and desires (TT-oriented) of translators led to the discussion of literal vs. free translation that has split the world of translation theory ever since. Cicero (as quoted in Munday 2008: 19, italics for emphasis) is an early example of the torn translator, who wants to deliver an impressive product: “And I did not translate them as an interpreter, but as an orator, keeping the same ideas and forms, or as one might say, the ‘figures’ of thought, but in language which conforms to our usage. And in so doing, I did not hold it necessary to render word for word, but I preserved the general style and force of the language.” Cicero was by no means an exception - many of his contemporaries deleted, replaced and altered culturally specific markers or added allusions to Roman culture and even concealed the name of the Greek author, passing the translation off as a Latin original (Baker 1998: 241).
Most early translation theorists preferred liberal over literal attempts at translation and, like Cicero, who wanted to preserve the ‘force of the language’, found an alienating effect to be undesirable. John Dryden, for example found that “since every language is so full of its own properties, that what is beautiful in one, is often barbarous, nay sometimes nonsense in another, it would be unreasonable to limit a translator to the narrow compass of his author’s words” (quoted in Venuti 2004: 41). Others, however, praised literal translation for its faithfulness to the ST and as the only way to convey exactly what the ST conveys. Too much interpretation, alteration and adaptation of the ST will serve an ill purpose and merely present the target audience with a ‘pre-digested’ and highly limited version of the ST. Translators often take the burden of interpreting the ST off the recipients’ shoulders. When these adaptations and interpretations turn out to be different from those of the audience, the consequences can sometimes be fatal, although fortunately very rarely as fatal as for William Tyndale and Etienne Dolet, who were both burnt at the stake in the 16th century for their translations (Munday 2008: 23).
The translator’s role as an intermediary as well as his/her degree of ‘visibility’ continued to be crucial aspects in translation theory. Friedrich Schleiermacher, who is often considered to have laid the foundations for the concepts of domestication and foreignization, brought the discussion to the next level. In his 1813 treatise Über die verschiedenen Methoden des Übersetzens (On the different methods of translating), Schleiermacher differentiated two ways of translating: “Either the translator leaves the author in peace as much as possible and moves the reader toward him; or he leaves the reader in peace as much as possible and moves the writer toward him” (Venuti 2004: 49). Schleiermacher saw these two possibilities as mutually exclusive and the translator had to settle for one of them because “these two paths are so very different from one another that one or the other must certainly be followed as strictly as possible, any attempt to combine them being certain to produce a highly unreliable result and to carry with it the danger that writer and reader might miss each other completely” (Venuti 2004: 49). Schleiermacher’s preferred strategy was to move the reader towards the writer by means of utilizing “an ‘alienating’ (as opposed to ‘naturalizing’) method of translation, orienting himself or herself by the language and content of the ST. He or she must valorize the foreign and transfer that into the TL” (Munday 2008: 29).
Schleiermacher was highly influential for translation theory in the 19th and 20th century. Antoine Berman, in the late 20th century, agreed that receiving the foreign elements of a ST as foreign, is in fact the “properly ethical aim” of translation although current translation practice represses the most individual essence of the ST, i.e. its foreignness, by means of “naturalization” (Venuti 2004: 277). The tendency and desire to naturalize the foreign is an integral aspect of any translator’s work, whether it is a conscious desire or not. Munday (2008: 147) notes that “Berman […] sees every translator as being inevitably and inherently exposed to these ethnocentric forces, which determine the ‘desire to translate’ as well as the form of the TT.” Munday further offers a concise description of Berman’s “twelve deforming tendencies”, which represent possible dangers and consequences of an overly naturalized/domesticated translation:
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