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16 - Translation studies - part 1

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In the previous units, we saw how many processes are involved in the everyday activity we refer to as "translation", and how wide the continuum is of concepts we refer to as "translation": within this wider concept, interlingual translation is but one of its many expressions.

  Many people say that (interlingual) translation is one of the oldest activities in the world. The Bible is a good example of translation: in fact its oldest versions contain words in Aramaic, parts in Hebrew and, in what is often called the "New Testament", parts in Greek. In spite of that, until the 1980s there was no specific discipline dealing with translation and/or its problems.
  One could suppose that, just because translation has always existed, for centuries it simply went unobserved, as an element of the cultural landscape to be taken for granted, and, even though, from Cicero's day on, a number of writings were dedicated to that subject, nobody felt or expressed the need to create a specific discipline.
  On the other hand, many arts or sciences have dealt with translation in a more or less marginal way, from rhetoric to narratology to linguistics. Until recently, however, nobody thought that the landscape could be turned upside down, that a Ptolemaic revolution could be made, in order to place interlingual translation, which has always been in the position of a transitory and an unauthorized satellite of the other sciences holding a stronger position. Translation can be qualified as a system having the broader concept of (total) translation at its center, and the various types of translation in satellite positions: textual, metatextual, intratextual, extratestual translation.
  How this relatively new science is called? It has so many names that we need the help of translators in order to understand each other.
  English-speaking researchers call it "translation studies" or, familiarly, TS. In this way, they have coined a locution untranslatable into nearly any other language, untranslatable, at least, without creating an important loss. The main problem comes with the word "studies", which in languages other than English is not always translatable simply using the plural of a word translating "study". However, a science called "translation studies" is undoubtedly a scientific endeavor related to translation.
  Frenchmen use the term traductologie. Berman wrote in 1985:

The awareness of translation experiences, as distinct from all objectifying knowledge not within its framework (as dealt with by linguistics, compared literature, poetics) is what I call traductologie 1.

Some translation researchers and some translators, including those translating from French, think that "traductologie" is a swearword, not meaning literally that it is obscene, alluding instead to its disagreeable aesthetic taste. Not every translation researcher would be glad to print "traductologist" on her business card, even if we cannot deny that the construction of this word follows widely accepted criteria.
  Germans prefer another solution. Maybe at a first glance you could think it is a rather long word: they call this discipline Übersetzungwissenschaft, that is to say "translation science", stressing in a still stronger way that they believe in the scientific character of their endeavor, which is obviously welcome.
  Russians, offer another alternative, with a similar process of word composition, speak about perevodovédenie, which however does not mean exactly "translation science", because "science" - and "discipline" - is usually expressed by the word nauka. Védenie is something between competence and awareness. It has an old Indo-European root: in Sanskrit, we find the word vida, meaning "knowledge". Russians are lucky, because with the suffix -védenie they solve many terminology problems: literaturovédenie, for example, means "literary theory", "narratology", and many other similar disciplines.
  In Italy many terms are used: traduttologia, scienza della traduzione, teoria e storia della traduzione, an old and obsolete denomination implying a nonexisting distinction between translation theory and practice, recalling linguistics applied to translation problems.
  In this course, we will use both the terms: "translation studies" and "translation science".
  A Tartu University scholar, Peeter Torop, who inherited JUrij Lotman's place as a chief of the local Semiotics Department, in 1995 wrote a book entitled Total´nyj perevod [Total Translation], which is soon to be printed in English by the Guaraldi Logos publishers 2. We share Torop's general approach to the question of translation research. Let us explain what Torop means by "total", an adjective that might induce awe owing to its absolute value.
  In Torop's opinion, translation should be total for two reasons. First, by "translation" we mean not only interlingual translation, but metatextual, intratextual, intertextual, and extratextual translation as well. (We will see in the following units what we mean by these definitions.) We feel that the total approach to overall translation problems has a greater chance of obtaining scientific results because translation - as a process - is the same in all these instances. Differences concern only the initial product and the final result, which may or may not be texts. That is why the overall translation process is the core of our studies.
  The second reason to consider translation in a total sense is that, even if we value the various contributions made to translation studies ante litteram, or before the existence of this science, we wish to pursue the "search for a comprehensive methodology" 3, the creation of a translation science that can plunge its roots in previous studies.
  In doing so, we face an apparently insuperable obstacle: every science has its own terminology and, often, every author has idiosyncratic preferences for single words. The result is that two essays may deal with the same subject even if their superficial contents are very different one from another, and the subjects themselves are nominated in different ways: a sort of pre-translation-science Babel.
  We share the hope with Torop that the translation researchers will first translate the results of translation studies into one metalanguage, and then translate the different analysis methods into one unifying methodology. In other words, translation researchers should first methodologically translate the results of translation studies into a single language, so that we can use this basis to do research in a scientifically homogeneous context, preventing the risk of being misunderstood by colleagues and translators.

Bibliographical references

BERMAN A. et al. Les tours de Babel. Essais sur la traduction. Essays by Antoine Berman, Gérard Granel, Annick Jaulin, Georges Mailhos, Henry Meschonnic, Mosé, Friedrich Schleiermacher. Mauzevin, Trans-Europ-Repress, 1985. ISBN 2-905670-17-7.

TOROP P. La traduzione totale. Ed. by B. Osimo. Modena, Guaraldi Logos, 2000. ISBN 88-8049-195-4. Original edition in Russian: Total´nyj perevod. Tartu, Tartu Ülikooli Kirjastus [Tartu University Press], 1995. ISBN 9985-56-122-8.

1 Berman 1985, p. 38.
2 The Italian edition was published in November 2000 (ISBN 88-8049-195-4). The English edition should be printed by 2001.
3 Torop 2000, p. 24.