Logos Multilingual Portal

10 - Adaptation - first part

«Los Stone no sólo asumían ser el modelo de los Alabaster, sino que querían encarnarlos [...]»1.

"The Stones not only assumed themselves to be the model of the Alabasters, but wanted to incarnate them [...]"2.

There are many misconceptions and generalizations surrounding the argument of translation and that smother it to the point of suffocation. In the absence of a science to guide translation, generations of battalions of free-wheeling amateurs have been blathering their opinions on translations, applying categories borrowed from other disciplines, preconceptions overheard in a hall and taken at once as inalienable axioms, and similar banalities. As we deal with the part of the translation process consisting in the production of the translated text or metatext, before taking spade in hand to begin excavating the foundations, we''ll do our best to eliminate some muddy waters that impede a clean start: adaptation, fidelity, literality, freedom.
  The notion of "adaptation" is traditionally played against the notion of "translation" when commenting on the origin of a text: "Is it a translation?" "No, it is an adaptation". In common speech, this answer usually means that the text did not (only) undergo interlingual translation, it was also willingly and explicitly manipulated, for example for one of the following reasons:
  1) the prototext was long in comparison to the space available for the metatext; the customer therefore has explicitly demanded a foreshortened translation, specifying the length of the desired metatext; one would think that this procedure is limited to technical and informational texts, but I can testify that it is also applied to literary texts;
  2) when the metatext target is a school-age public, the publisher takes up a social view (canon) of what is ''apt'' or ''inapt'' for a child, and prepares a censored adaptation in many possible ways: censorship of sexual references, censorship of (usually only physical) violence, censorship of words that are ''too difficult'' (i.e. to pronounce, understand, etc.), political censorship of the current regime, censorship of behaviors considered contrary to public moral, etc.
  3) ditto (re. censorship), even if the text is devoted to an adult public;
  4) cultural features of the metatext''s public differ to the point of demanding a major modification of the text contents so that it is better accepted in the reality in which it will be used; the latter point refers mainly to text of a practical character, instructions, functioning of machines or programs etc.
  All these types of adaptation are comprised justifiably within translations because, as these, they are characterized by the presence of a prototext or original, a metatext or translation, of a model of reader and a dominant with a hierarchy of subdominants.
  On the other hand, one can also say that any translation is an adaptation as well, although the various translation strategies comprehend adaptation in very different terms. The basis of the need for translation also alludes to the need for adaptation, for exportation-importation of one culture into another. The need can derive from problems of code comprehension, and such difficulty in understanding a code can be attributed to 1) a low or inexistent knowledge of the code (in interlingual translation), 2) to a different cultural placement albeit within the same natural code (for example in the popular version of a scientific text); but, apart from understanding problems, there can be the need to communicate in a different way from the one originally conceived, as in the case of the difference of semiotic code (for example in the film version of a novel), or of the difference in execution (actualization) of a same semiotic code (for example, the guitar transcription of a musical score originally written for harp).
  A principal difference between "translation" and "adaptation" does not exist. It can be useful to see, if by "translation" we mean an adaptation, in how many ways it is possible to view the adaptation of a written text, what should be adapted to what, who should adapt to whom and why. In the previous part of the course, dedicated to understanding, reading, interpretation, the ''adaptive'' aspect of translation was premature, because an aware or unaware interpretation by the translator occurs anyway, independent of the model of reader that she has in the drafting stage. Here, in the part of the course on text output, we come to the crux of the matter.
  Translator is the one that adapts herself in another''s place or, if you will, is the one who is hired to adapt herself. A translator is called when, in a cultural mediation process, one of the two parties has not enough energy, interest, or desire to adapt to the other one. In the case of the author of a written verbal text, the personal production of her work in many languages is seldom possible, especially in fiction. One of the best known cases, that of Vladìmir Nabókov, who translated his own works from English into Russian and vice versa, originated in the deep author''s dissatisfaction with translations made by others of his works, and in the need to see anyway his works translated.
  Much more frequent, for many reasons, are the cases of readers who learn other languages in order to read in the original authors that were never translated or were translated in a not altogether satisfactory way.
  When none of the aforementioned possibilities occurs, i.e. in most cases, we have a prototext and a potential reader, and an adaptation of one to the other is needed: either of the text to the reader, or of the reader to the text.
  What do we mean by adaptation of the reader to the text? All what is comprised in this category can generally be summarized in the notion of "metatext" or paratextual apparatus. A reader may be unable to understand some aspects of the text due to ignorance of some cultural features of the setting that originated that text. In this case, if we work on the reader rather than the text, one can prepare a second text, the metatext, in which information and interpretation keys of the most obscure elements are given. Let us take the example made by Dirk Delabastita in his fundamental book There''s a Double Tongue: that of the creaking shoes in Shakespeare''s King Lear.
  The unsaid part of Shakespeare''s texts is that, in the Elizabethan culture, it was very trendy to wear creaking shoes. What the modern reader could perceive as a defect is a sign the author gives him of the wearer''s sensitivity to distinguishing himself in the most up-to-date fashion (canon) of the day. In the case where the translation opts for an adaptation of the reader to the text, one can imagine a metatext (a footnote, a preface or similar) that informs the reader of this fact (as happens, among other, with the readers of this translation course).
  (Whenever one should choose to adapt the text to the reader, the text would be modified, and, instead of the creaking shoes, there could be an element that, to the modern model or reader, let him think of a dandy.)
  Adaptation of the reader to the text can mean - theoretically, anyway - many different strategies to provide the potential reader with information necessary to decode the text. Apagogetically, an interlingual translator who is charged with a version could, opting for the purely metatextual translation, abstain herself from any textual translation and prepare a handbook for the reader to understand the language of the original. As we see from this example, the availability of the model of reader, both in terms of desire and of time, bears a heavily on the choice of the translation strategy to be followed.


Bibliographical references

DELABASTITA D. There''s a Double Tongue. An Investigation into the Translation of Shakespeare Wordplay with Special Reference to Hamlet. Amsterdam-Atlanta (Georgia), Rodopi, 1993, ISBN 90-5183-495-0.

MARÍAS J. Negra espalda del tiempo, Punto de lectura, 2000 (original edition 1998), ISBN 84-663-0007-7.

MARÍAS J. Dark Back of Time, New York, New Directions, 2001 (translated by Esther Allen), ISBN 0-8112-1466-4.

1 Marías 2000, p. 134.
2 Marías 2001, p. 109.