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19 - The translation process - part 1

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  As we said at the end of the previous unit, the unifying element of any translation-science research must be the understanding and description of the translation process that is shared by all the types of translations we have described.

  Some researchers tend to distinguish neatly between:

  • product-analysis approaches, that concentrate on the translated text or metatext, and
  • process-analysis approaches, that concentrate on the process through which from the prototext the metatext is obtained.
According to one of the more important translation scientists, James S. Holmes (1924-1986), who laid the foundations for the new translation-studies discipline, this distinction is nearly impossible at a practical level and does not provide many results:

True, it is very useful to make a distinction between the product-oriented study of translations and the process-oriented study of translating. But this distinction cannot leave to scholar leave to ignore the self-evident fact that the one is the result of the other, and that the nature of the product cannot be understood without a comprehension of the nature of the process 1.

When we say that we want to pay much attention to the translation process in translation science, we have better view of it in a broad sense, i.e. not as something complementary to the translation product. The translation process is viewed as an interrelation between the original and the translated text.

  The translator reading the text she is about to translate does so projecting the potential metatexts into a virtual space within which the new text begins to take shape, first in terms of mental material (processing of material as perceived by the translator), then in terms of concrete insertion of such material in a rigid and conventional structure: the future metatext code (the language of the translated text). The human mind takes into exam - a very quick but not always thoroughly conscious way - the various potential possibilities to project the prototext into the metatext language and - with a procedure of choice that has much in common with the games theory 2 - opts for the optimal solution among the prefigured ones.

  This selection work is made more complicated by the awareness that often choices made have chain of consequences. To opt for one translating word instead of another precludes some semantic potentials while stressing other possible meanings, creates new intratextual and intertextual links while erasing other possible links. Every temporary choice should be weighed in view of the whole text, and there is never a "final" choice because the evolution of the prototext in relation to the global text is limitless.

  The text, as we saw, is a complex entity composed, among other things, of a system of intertextual and intratextual links. One of the aspects which the translator's attention should particularly focus upon is the distinction between standard and marked elements: the neutral/specific nature of an element is to be considered in the light of the cultural context (intertextual links) and of the single author's poetologic context (intratextual links). It is to be viewed in relation to the verbal units immediately preceding and following (co-text) the examined word.

The reader of a poem or the viewer of a painting has a vivid awareness of two orders: the traditional canon and the artistic novelty as a deviation from that canon. It is precisely against the background of the tradition that innovation is conceived. The Formalist studies brought to light that this simultaneous preservation of tradition and breaking away from tradition form the essence of every new work of art 3.

  Since there is never a real sign-sign equivalence on the linguistic plane or on the cultural plane, in her projective activity the translator is biased toward certain aspects of the prototext and pays less attention to other elements that she considers of secondary importance. At the basis of the translation activity there is "the choice of the element you consider foremost in the translated production" 4; in other words, the text is to be analyzed with criteria that should be as much objective as possible in order to isolate an element, a dominant, forming the main entity around which the identification of the whole text is built:

The dominant may be defined as the focusing component of a work of art: it rules, determines, and transforms the remaining components. It is the dominant which guarantees the integrity of the structure 5.

Not only literary works can undergo such analysis that determines translation choices: every text has its own dominant. What distinguishes a literary work is, in some cases, the aesthetic function of the dominant:

[...] a poetic work is defined as a verbal message whose aesthetic function is its dominant 6.

In the translation process, the dominant of a text must not be identified depending on the literary/non-literary nature of the prototext. Even if this aspect may appear fundamental in the analysis of the text apart from the translation, in the real translation process we need to concentrate on the complex interweaving of the relations between the role of the prototext in the source culture and language and the role of the metatext in the target culture and language 7.

  The theoretical model of the translation process, the core of translation science, should describe the various possibilities in the transfer of the dominant, i.e. the various theoretical possibilities to translate 8.

Bibliographical references

BRJUSOV V. Fialki v tigele [Violets in the crucible], in Sobranie sochinenij v semi tomah [Selected works in seven books], vol. 6, Moskvà 1975.

GORLÉE D. L. Semiotics and the Problem of Translation with Special Reference to the Semiotic of Charles S. Peirce. Alblasserdam, Offsetdrukkerij Kanters, 1993.

HOLMES J. S. Translated! Papers on Literary Translation and Translation Studies. Amsterdam, Rodopi, 1988. ISBN 90-6203-739-9.

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

1 Holmes 1988, p. 81.
2 Gorlée 1993.
3 JAkobsón 1987, p. 46.
4 Brjusov 1975, p. 106.
5 JAkobsón 1987, p. 41.
6 JAkobsón 1987, p. 43.
7 Torop 2000, p.197.
8 Torop 2000, p.197.