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20 - The translation process - part 2

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  The translation process is characterized by an analysis stage and a synthesis stage. During analysis, the translator refers to the prototext in order to understand it as fully as possible. The synthesis stage is the one in which the prototext is projected onto the reader, better, onto the idea that the translator forms of who will be the standard reader of the metatext.

[...] the text postulates the reader's cooperation as a condition for its actualization. Or, better, we can say that a text is a product whose interpretive fate must be part of its generation mechanism: to generate a text means to enact a strategy enclosing the prediction of the other's moves - as, by the way, it happens in every strategy 1.

In other words, Eco tells us that, when we create a text (Eco does not speak about translation, but his points holds for us too) we foresee the reader's moves. We postulate, therefore, the existence of a Model Reader:

The Model Reader is a set of conditions of happiness, textually established, that must be satisfied for a text to be fully actualized in its potential contents 2.

This means that the translator, elaborating her translation strategy, projects the prototext onto her Model Reader, onto a type of reader that she infers from the relation between prototext and target culture. Noone of the real readers, or empirical readers, can therefore coincide completely with the Model Reader. And what Eco tells us is that is that, the more the empirical reader X is different from the postulated model, the less complete will be the actualization of the potential contents of the text, i.e. the less complete the text fruition or understanding will be.
  This is what happens during the synthesis stage of the translation process.
  As we will see better in the following parts of this course, we do not approve of or share in the opposition between "free" and "literal" translation be-cause we do not think that either of these two types of translation can be defined with scientific criteria. Much more interesting is, in our opinion, to concentrate on the dominant of the translation: the translation process can be centered on the analysis phase; in this case, the dominant of the translation is focused on the author of the prototext, and on the translator. The translation process can also be centered on the synthesis stage; in this case the translation dominant will be the focus on the Model Reader of the metatext 3. Of course, the dominant of the prototext and the dominant of the metatext may not always coincide.
  The two polarities toward which the translation process may be oriented are what Toury calls adequacy principle and acceptability principle. Adequacy is the measure of the adherence of the metatext to the prototext, from the translator's point of view, also considering her deontological principles. Acceptability is, on the other hand, seen in relation to the culture receiving the metatext, the target culture. An exaggeratedly "adequate" translation can be unacceptable, i.e. there may not be any concrete expressions of its Model Reader.
  This somewhat abstract argument needs some concrete examples if we do not want to loose the thread of what we are saying. One of the most translated books in the world, probably the most translated, is the Bible. The translations made before Martin Luther tend mostly toward the "adequacy" pole, for a very simple reason. The Bible is a sacred text for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. For this reason, the translators attributed a very high value not only to its contents, but to its form as well: to its sounds, even to the form of its signs; for this reason they tried to produce a version as close to the letter of the original as possible.
  Martin Luther realized that the German translation of the Bible was incomprehensible to most German speaking believers, and that this fact was causing a gap between the Church and its flock. Therefore, he proposed a more understandable version:

I wanted to speak German and not Latin or Greek, because I had the purpose of speaking German in my translation. [...] One should not ask the letters of the Latin language how one should speak in German, as these asses do; one should ask that of the mother in her home, of the kids in the street, of the common man in the marketplace, and one should watch each mouth to know how they speak and then translate consequently. Then they will understand and realize that we are speaking with them in German 4.

The Roman Catholic Church considered this operation sacrilegious, and was one of the causes of Luther's excommunication. This is how the Lutheran or Protestant religion began. Afterwards, however, the Roman Catholic Church also changed its position and proposed increasingly understandable texts to its believers in a form increasingly close to the "acceptability" pole.
  The Bible, however, is being translated even today, and sometimes the translations are very different from the most widespread versions, so different that some consider them too far from the "adequacy" principles. Here are some passages from Exodus in the King James version (left column) and in Young's literal version (right column):

1 Now these are the names of the children of Israel, which came into Egypt; every man and his household came with Jacob.
2 Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah,
3 Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin,
4 Dan, and Naphtali, Gad, and Asher.
5 And all the souls that came out of the loins of Jacob were seventy souls: for Joseph was in Egypt already.
6 And Joseph died, and all his brethren, and all that generation.
7 And the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them 5.
1 And these [are] the names of the sons of Israel who are coming into Egypt with Jacob; a man and his household have they come;
2 Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah,
3 Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin,
4 Dan, and Naphtali, Gad, and Asher.
5 And all the persons coming out of the thigh of Jacob are seventy persons; as to Joseph, he was in Egypt.
6 And Joseph dieth, and all his brethren, and all that generation;
7 and the sons of Israel have been fruitful, and they teem, and multiply, and are very very mighty, and the land is filled with them 6.

As you can see, Young's version is closer to "adequacy", to the point that some phrases contain no verb (indicated in square brackets), and sometimes phrases are difficult to understand from a grammatical point of view. With this example of the concrete difference between the acceptability principle and the "adequacy" principle, we hope to ease the comprehension of the ideological choices translators and publishers make that have so much influence on the form of translated text.

Bibliographical references

ECO U. Lector in fabula. La cooperazione interpretativa nei testi narrativi. Milano, Bompiani, 1991. ISBN 88-452-1221-1.English edition: The role of the reader: explorations in the semiotics of texts. Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1979

LUTHER M. Sendbrief vom Dolmetschen, 1530.

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.

TOURY G. In Search of a Theory of Translation, Tel Aviv, The Porter Insistute for Poetics and Semiotics, 1980.

1 Eco 1991, p. 54. Author's emphasis.
2 Eco 1991, p. 62. Author's emphasis.
3 Torop 2000, p. 200 - 201.
4 Martin Luther 1530, p. 106.
5 The Bible Gateway http://bible.gospelcom.net/
6 The Bible Gateway http://bible.gospelcom.net/