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To browse Academia. Skip to main content. By using our site, you agree to our collection of information through the use of cookies. To learn more, view our Privacy Policy. Log In Sign Up. Gianelly Chuquiruna. We wanted to draw attention to changes that we believed were increasingly underpinning research in translation studies, changes that signalled a shift from a more formalist approach to translation to one that laid greater emphasis on extra-textual factors.

Now, the questions have been changed. The object of study has been redefined; what is studied is text embedded within its network of both source and target cultural signs.

Looking back, our introduction appears both naive and simplistic, for translation studies developed so rapidly in the s and now occupies such a solid place in the academy that there is no longer any need for special pleading. Translation studies has become an accepted academic subject and books, journals and doctoral dissertations appear faster than one can read them all, and at the heart of most of the exciting new research are broad questions about ideology, ethics and culture.

Even in we were by no means the only translation scholars arguing the case for a cultural turn. The move to broaden the object of study beyond the immediate frame of the text had started long before, with the work of the Polysystems Group inspired by Itamar Even-Zohar , Gideon Toury and James Holmes In Germany, Canada, Brazil, France and India, arguments similar to ours were being presented, albeit from different perspectives, as translators and translation scholars set about the task of redefining the importance of translation in literary history, tracing the genealogy of translation in their own individual cultural contexts, and exploring more fully the ideological implications of translation and the power relationships that are involved as a text is transferred from one context to another.

Polysystems theory was primarily concerned with literary translation, but other translation scholars whose work included the non-literary were pursuing parallel paths. This is a far cry from source- focused theories of translation, and can also be said to reflect a cultural turn.

Those advocating functionalist approaches have been pioneers in both areas. Gentzler, 70 What is obvious now, with hindsight, is that the cultural turn was a massive intellectual phenomenon, and was by no means only happening in translation studies.

Across the humanities generally, cultural questions were assuming importance. Linguistics has undergone a cultural turn, with the rise of discourse analysis and, as Douglas Robinson has argued, a move away from constative towards performative linguistics.

The growth of interest in corpus linguistics, pioneered by Mona Baker, is arguably another manifestation of a cultural shift in linguistics. In literary studies, cultural questions took over long ago from formalist approaches to textual study. From post-structuralism onwards the tidal waves of new approaches to literature that swept through the last decades of the 20th century all had a cultural dimension: feminism, gender criti- cism, deconstruction, post-colonialism, hybridity theory.

Literary studies adopted methods from cultural studies, blurring the lines between what had once been distinct fields of investigation. History too underwent a similar shift, with more emphasis on cultural and social history, and the expansion of what had once been marginal areas such as the history of medicine, the history of the family and the history of science. Cultural geography led to a renaissance of geography as a subject.

As area studies grew in importance, modern language departments renamed themselves to emphasise the cultural approach. Classics discovered a new generation of students whose interest in the subject was fuelled by studying the rela- tionship between ancient cultures and contemporary ones.

Translation is the portal through which the past can be accessed. The cultural turn in translation studies, then, can be seen as part of a cultural turn that was taking place in the humanities generally in the late s and early s, and has altered the shape of many traditional subjects. In translation studies, polysystems theory had prepared the ground for a cultural turn since, despite its formalist origins, the issues that came to occupy a prominent position related principally to questions of literary history and the fortune of translated texts in the receiving culture.

As an example of parallel trends in the study of translation and the study of literature, we need only think of the way maps of literary history can be altered when a period is considered from an alternative point of reference. Feminist criticism questioned the dominance of male writers in the literary canon and effectively forced a reassessment of how that canon had been constructed. In consequence, if we consider the 18th century from a post-feminist perspective, it no longer appears as a century dominated by male writers, but rather as the age when women began to make a major contribution to intellectual life.

Similarly, if we look from a translation studies perspective at the 15th century in England ā€” which used to be regarded as something of a wasteland, with little of any significance being produced after the death of Chaucer in ā€” what we find is a period of intense translation activity of both secular and sacred texts.

The feminist reassessment of the 18th century in terms of rethinking the canon and the re-evaluation of literary production in the 15th century in terms of the importance of the translations undertaken are but two examples of how new information can change our historical perspective.

The works by women had simply become invisible, just as the importance of translation had been ignored. Reassessing these two periods of literary history involves rethinking our assumptions about what constitutes significant literature.

In both cases, a parallel process of questioning established norms has taken place, and this process can be considered a definite cultural turn. Central to polysystems theory as articulated by Even-Zohar was contestation of established literary canons. Having stated his belief in the fundamental importance of the role of trans- lations in a literary system, Even-Zohar then endeavoured to define the circumstances in which translations might assume particular importance.

Culture and Translation 17 He pointed out that, as literatures evolve, their need for translations fluctu- ates; hence a well-established literary system might translate less than one that is undergoing changes and upheaval. Macura, working in northern or central European literatures, for example. Literatures, such as Czech or Finnish, that evolved in the 19th century in the context of both a linguistic revival and a political struggle for national independence were greatly aided by translation.

In complete contrast, we have China, which for centuries translated very little since Chinese writers had no need of external influences. English literature offers yet another example: translation activity started to slow down in the 18th century, after several centuries that had seen the introduction of new poetic forms e. By the late 18th century the need for innovation from outside had diminished, and the wealth of writers producing texts in English resulted in a diminishing of translation.

This resulted in a decline in the status of translation, so that today translation into English is minimal and, as English continues to develop as a global lingua franca, there are no signs of translation regaining the importance it had in the age of Shakespeare or the age of Dryden. The historical situation, he suggested, would determine the quantity and type of translations that might be undertaken, and the status of those translations would be greater or lesser according to the position of the receiving culture.

So a work could be fundamentally important in the source culture, and could then be translated and have no impact at all in the receiving culture or, vice versa, a translation could alter the shape of the receiving literary system. The case of Jack London, a relatively minor American novelist who enjoys canonical status in Russia and other former Soviet countries, is an example of how translation can radically alter the fortunes of an individual writer. Another such case is provided by Clarice Lispector, the Brazilian novelist who was translated into French and English in the s by very able translators.

Lispector filled a particular need: she was female, Brazilian and beautifully translated, among others, by Giovanni Pontiero. As a result, her works were widely read and she came to occupy a more prominent position in Brazilian letters outside her own country than she had ever enjoyed at home in Brazil see Lispector, a, b.

A further example of the cultural turn in translation studies has been the expansion of research into norms governing translation strategies and techniques. Gideon Toury ; , Andrew Chesterman and Theo Hermans b in particular have sought to explore translational norms, in terms not only of textual conventions but also in terms of cultural expectations. Toury is explicit about the cultural importance of norms in translation: Translation activities should be regarded as having cultural signifi- cance.

The acquisi- tion of a set of norms for determining the suitability of that kind of behaviour and for manoeuvring between all the factors which may constrain it, is therefore a prerequisite for becoming a translator within a cultural environment. Toury, 83 More recently, there has been growing interest in examining norms of accountability operating in a particular context, as attention shifts again in translation studies towards greater emphasis on ethical issues in transla- tion.

We recognised the enormous amount of work being put into all aspects of translation, into translator training and translation theory, and we recognised also the different emphases that the growing number of translation studies scholars placed on the multiple aspects of translation.

More broadly, it will expose the relationship between the two cultural systems in which those texts are embedded. Cultural Capital and the Textual Grid As methodological instruments for engaging in this process, we proposed two critical tools deriving from the work of Pierre Bourdieu : the idea of cultural capital and the notion of the textual grid.

When Kemal Ataturk proposed a state-inspired process of Westernisation that would bring Turkey closer to Europe, a programme of translation of major Euro- pean literary works ensured that Turkish readers would have access to the cultural capital of the west. A decline in the study of a language such as Latin, for example, can have massive implica- tions for the value attributed to Latin literature and equally massive impli- cations for the role of translation, once that literature can be accessed by only a small minority of readers.

The value of the classics as cultural capital has changed dramatically in a few decades. The importance of the textual grid in the study and production of trans- lations is equally, or perhaps even more significant.

Other cultures such as Chinese and Japanese share less with others. But the textual grids seem to exist in all cultures in ways that pre-exist language. The grids are constructs, they reflect patterns of expectations that have been interiorised by members of a given culture.

The idea of textual grids is a helpful one for the analysis of translation. The problems become particularly apparent when translation takes place between Western and non-Western cultures.

Or do the grids always define the ways in which cultures will be able to understand each other? Are the grids, to put it in terms that may well be too strong, the prerequisite for all understanding or not? Lefevere, 77 Postcolonial translation theory is yet another example of how research in the field of translation has developed in parallel with research in literary and historical studies more generally.

In India, Canada and Brazil, to name but three centres of postcolonial translation activity, questions have been asked about the unequal power relationships that pertain when a text is translated from, say, Tamil or Kannada into English, the language of the colonising power. The very act of translation itself has been seen by some, most notably Tejaswini Niranjana , as an act of appropriation. Trans- lation, Niranjana argues, is a collusive activity that participates in the fixing of colonised cultures into a mould fashioned by the superior power.

Eric Cheyfitz similarly maintains that translation was a crucial compo- nent of European colonisation on the American continent. Cheyfitz and Niranjana focus attention on the inequality between literary and cultural systems which, in their view, transforms the activity of translation into an aggressive act.

Theirs is an extreme position, since the logical result of such an argument would be silence, for if translation by a dominant culture can never be legitimate, then translation becomes a form of cultural theft, a dishonest act that should not take place. Culture and Translation 21 Niranjana and Cheyfitz were writing in the early s, at a time when the emphasis in post-colonial thinking about translation, inspired by Edward Said , was on the inequality of power relationships, hence most of the early translators of non-Western texts were depicted as colo- nialist lapdogs.

Such a position has been challenged as more is discovered about the history of translation. So, for example, a great deal of translation in India is between Indian languages, or from English into Indian languages, and any assessment of the Indian picture needs to take this fact into account. Nor can all the Orientalist translators be condemned out of hand. Many of those early Orientalists, such as Sir William Jones , were motivated by a genuine passion for the works they translated, but the framework within which they wrote ensured that none of their translations entered the English mainstream.

To understand that framework we need to take account not only of socio-political factors, but also aesthetic, stylistic, ethical and linguistic factors. The resistance of English literature to new and unfamiliar forms and genres in the 19th century meant that none of the Orientalist translators, regardless of competence, were able to produce texts that had much impact on the receiving literary system.

The questions to ask are not only why this poem should have succeeded with English readers, but also why so many other transla- tions of non-Western texts should have failed; and to answer these ques- tions we need to engage with the broader cultural context in which translating was taking place and to consider norms, reader expectations, what was happening in English poetry at precisely the moment when the translation appeared and what strategies the translators were using to reach their readers.

It is also worth remembering that while 19th century English readers may have been resistant to poetry in translation, they devoured translated plays and novels, particularly by French and Russian writers.

And even if we acknowledge the weaknesses of the work of Sir William Jones and his peers, how can we explain the curious phenomenon that leads English language readers today to buy enthusiastically the works of Indian writers who use English Vikram Seth, Salman Rushdie or Arundhati Roy, for example , while leaving translations of excellent contemporary Indian writers languishing on the shelves?

To attempt an understanding of this phenomenon we have to go more deeply into how taste is constructed in a culture, how publishers market their authors in accordance with those changing patterns of preference and how one culture invents its myth of another. If we take the example of China as manifested in translation, we find an intriguing dichotomy. On the one hand, we have Cathay, the imaginary China created by early trans- lators such as Ezra Pound and Arthur Whaley through a style of poetic language that has itself become conventionalised.

So strong is that conven- tion that it even prevails in cinema, when Chinese films are dubbed into English. The myth of Cathay involves nostalgia, loss, passion and a high aesthetic sense, it is a fictional China from a distant, imaginary past created in a conventionalised poetic form, using an artificially-constructed language.

Yet on the other hand, despite enormous Western interest in the new China today, there is little interest in contemporary Chinese literature. The tough, neo-realist Chinese novelists of today are not finding a responsive audience in the West.

If this is indeed the case, then we need to understand how a mythical construct created through translation can acquire and retain so much power. Much remains to be done in studying processes of cultural interchange and understanding more about how different cultures construct their image of writers and of texts.


Translation, History & Culture

Become a member of TranslationDirectory. Translation, History and Culture takes into account the influence of the publishing industry on ideology, discusses feminist writing, examines translation in the context of colonization, and sees translation as rewriting. He examines factors that determine the acceptance or rejection of texts, moving away from universal norms to culturally dependent ones. The first factor that determines the success, or otherwise, of a text are the professionals within the system. These may be reviewers, critics, teachers or even other translators. The second factor that may determine acceptance are other people or institutions, such as publishers, academic journals and educational institutions.


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