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38 - Translation and theory of models

  As we have observed, there are various possible models of the translation process and each one tends to emphasize certain components to the detriment of others.

  In the first units of the course, we dealt with the translation process especially as a mental process, highlighting the implications involving the translator's psyche and the required mental processing.

  Subsequently, underlining the importance of culture in translation, we compared the world culture system, of semiosphere, to a gigantic intertext, inside which all texts are translations that do not necessarily have to be interlingual. No texts are "virgin" or "pure" because, within the complex system of mutual influences, writers - aware or unaware 1, willing or not - rely on a pre-existing cultural heritage.

  From this point of view, we can categorize a text according to whether or not it adds something to what has been written. In this latter case, we can single out various other possibilities:

  1. text that, without adding new concepts, address different categories of readers: for example, educational texts explaining to the general public concepts that were previously expounded in scientific texts (vulgarization, popularization, adaptation, education);
  2. texts that, without adding new concepts, address readers of different cultures/languages, to whom - otherwise - the prototexts would be inaccessible (interlingual translations, articles, items of encyclopedias);
  3. texts that, without adding new concepts, take the place of prototexts denying their existence, claiming to be prototexts (plagiarism, falsification).


However, in addition to these analytical approaches - and others that we have not mentioned here, such as the linguistic and the normative ones - it is also possible to consider translation itself as a model: the translated text represents, either explicitly or implicitly, a previous text2, or prototext. Like in the relationship between prototype and model, the product is not reversible in the relationship between prototext and prototext.

  In other words, if we translate a text into another language and then we ask someone to translate the translation back into the original language (inverse translation), we will not obtain, as a result, the prototext, the original. As we have stressed many times, this is due to the fact that the result of the translation process depends on the dominant chosen by the translator and on how the subdominants are collocated in hierarchic order. Consequently, as we clearly observed from Torop's oft quoted scheme, not only are there various adequate translations, but also there are various kinds of adequate translation of one same text. Moreover, neither within the field of didactics (where the existence of the translation normative model theoretically makes more sense) is it possible to determine which of the two adequate translations is "the best".

  Another element that, as Hermans stresses, the translation and model notions have in common is that, in order to be considered a translation, it is necessary for a social group to consider it such3.

  In other words, if I translated a sonnet by Shakespeare into Italian and passed it off as mine, until the day I were exposed, that sonnet might circulate as an original text, or prototext.

  The same goes for the inverse situation: if I published a book of my own poetry stating that it is an anthology of translations of contemporary poets from all over the world, the text might circulate as a metatext and everyone would consider it as an (interlingual) translation.

  Such difference becomes particularly important in those cultures in which a different status is attached to translated text with respect to the originals: conversely, there are, or there might be, cultures in which - once it is established that texts do not appear from thin air - all texts are equated with metatexts, with "translations" (were they interlingual translations or not).

  Another element that model and translation have in common is the fact that they are subject to certain rules. Even if we refuse the concept according to which translation cannot be taught as a set of rules, within a given culture there are, at any rate, some social norms, which - maybe unconsciously - induce translators to produce metatexts that are considered acceptable (in that culture).

  Here, the concept of model translation and the concept of cultural model intersect; the former may yield different concrete results according to the concrete culture in which it is materialized 4.

  If, for instance, an English translator decided to translate the famous Chekhov's play "The Cherry Orchard" as "The Morello Cherry Orchard" or "The Sour Cherry Orchard", on the basis of a more careful analysis of the original Vishnevyj sad, and considering the canonical English title to be quite aged and not a very suitable translation of the original, her choice would hardly be accepted by the English-speaking cultures. In this case we would have two possibilities: either has the translator enough social and economic influence so as to prove that her choice is adequate and to have the literary market accept it, or otherwise she would be forced to fall back on the accepted title.

  This brief overview of the models/translations relation served as an introduction for the subject of the next unit: translators in society.


Bibliographical references

BLOOM H. Poetry and Repression: Revisionism from Blake to Stevens. New Haven, Yale University Press, 1976. Traduzione italiana: L'angoscia dell'influenza. Una teoria della poesia, a cura di Mario Diacono, Milano, Feltrinelli, 1983. ISBN 88-07-10001-0.

HERMANS T. Models of translation. In Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies. London, Routledge, 1998, p. 154-157. ISBN 0-415-09380-5.

1 Bloom 1976.
2 Hermans 1998, p. 156.
3 Hermans 1998, p. 156.
4 Hermans 1998, p. 157.