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12 - Adaptation - third part

«Hay una buena palabra española para eso, usted la desconocerá, claro, y no resulta fácil de traducir ni de explicar, como todos los mejores vocablos»1.

"There is a very good Spanish word for this, of course you won''t know it and it isn''t easy to translate or explain, like all the best terms"2.

In the unit 18 of the first part we spoke of the notion of "semiosphere". Such a view is particularly helpful here for outlining the strategies of adaptation placing them along the "appropriation of the alien" versus "insertion of the alien in one''s own" continuum.
  Using a biological metaphor, every cell in the universe of signification, each subsystem in it, is characterized by a specific culture, a particular mode of perceiving reality. When speaking of a "cell", we use a very generic word; it can refer to the individual that, with her own inner language, is the only possible receiver of a very conspicuous set of communications having the individual herself as sender, but also embraces super-individual entities, from the couple to the family to the (religious, political, cultural, school, company etc.) community, to the regional group, the nation, the continent, etc.
  From within each cell, all that appears outside its limits is seen as "alien". There is a sort of living oxymoron within a culture because it is a "peripheral center" or a "central periphery", if you prefer: the translator is a carrier of the border culture. Without going into the linguistic translation details, by "translator" we mean, for the time being, any figure or entity having a vision beyond her own microsphere and who is interested and curious toward what lies beyond. Such a border culture induces people permeated by it to act toward a mediation, of a communication between the inside and the outside of the microsphere.
  Such mediation has many possibilities for its actualization, that can be placed along an axis at whose extremes are, on one end, the search for the alien element in the alien culture, to insert it in one''s own as intact as possible; and, on the other end, dilution, homogenization, disassembling, de-connotation of the alien element so as to insert it into one''s own culture without explicating such insertion, passing it off as its own, not as an alien, element.
  Sinthesizing, there are two attitudes: a centripetal one, tending to acknowledge the surrounding differences from alien systems and comparing them with the features of one''s own sphere; and a centrifugal one, tending to project regularities, categories, and parameters all around one''s system that are active in one''s own. The first attitude is constantly measuring the limits of its culture in an ongoing comparison with alien cultures: it is the awareness of the one''s own/alien dynamics. The second attitude, by contrast, is not curious toward diversity, is just anxious to apply its own categories to the alien culture - only as far as it is useful or even indispensable -, to homogenize differences to make it seem similar to what one is accustomed to: it is appropriation of alien culture.
  The alternative between the two attitudes is based on two kinds of factors: one of a social nature and another of individual nature. As far as power relationships between cultures are concerned (superindividual attitude), it is very interesting seeing what the Israeli semiotician Itamar Even Zohar3 has to tell us with his view of the "literary polysystem".
  Even-Zohar describes the whole universe of literature (meant in a very broad sense: we think directly of the universe of signification) as a polysystem, in a way not very different from what used by Lotman with the notion of "semiosphere". Within the polysystem, the interrelations between individual systems depend on their individual static or dynamic condition and on their central or peripheral position. The more peripheral a cultural system is in relation to the cultural "center", the less self-sufficient, the more receptive to new and innovational (dynamic) situations. The more central and stable a cultural system is, the less it searches for new elements outside itself, the weaker its dynamic impulse toward renewal (static).
  Even-Zohar indicates, within each cultural system, a subsystem consisting of the "translated literature". Since "translated literature" represents the introduction into a culture of alien elements of external systems, i.e. it represents a potential for innovation, in culturally central systems the subsystem of translated literature is peripheral, while in culturally peripheral systems the translated literature subsystem is central.
  It is sometimes possible that the position of a culture among others in terms of power relations influences the way in which the very idea of translational adaptation is intended. When an external culture is central, and is considered an important masterpattern, the texts coming from that culture tend to be translated preserving many elements that are typical of the original culture. Elements that, if difficult to understand for the receiving culture, are, however, a very interesting subject as parts of the external culture taken as a model by one''s own culture. On the contrary, when an external culture is peripheral, and one''s own culture is central, the attitude of the translational adaptation often maintains a very little interest in exotic details or features recalling the idea of distance to the reader: an adaptation homogenizing alien elements to one''s own culture is preferred, the alien is diluted and made unrecognizable, the good coming from without is appropriated without feeling any need to acknowledge its origin or the very fact of having imported it.
  So far we have seen the factors of social and international character influencing the relations of adaptation between cultures. There is, furthermore, a set of factors determining the adaptation strategy based on considerations of individual character by the translator (or publisher). In this we follow the trail of Toury''s works and, in particular, his distinction of categories of adequacy and acceptability.
  When a text must adapt to a culture, there is a clash of textual and linguistic structures. The linguistic system also being a way to catalogue reality, it is evident that there are culture-specific features of the linguistic systems. For this reason, there are two contrasting attitudes for adapting a text: the first sets the prototext and its maximum preservation during adaptation as the dominant, despite its potential usability, or non, in the target culture: this is the more philological attitude called "adequacy" by Toury. The second sets the target culture and the usability of the text within it as its dominant, therefore provides for exceptions to the philological reproduction of the prototext to the benefit of its better readability: it is the more pragmatic attitude called "acceptability" by Toury.
  Since 1989 Toury''s distinction is widely accepted between adequacy4 principle and acceptability principle ("If the principle or norm of adequacy is applied, a translator concentrates on the distinguishing features of the original text: its language, its style and its specific culture-bound elements. If the principle of acceptability prevails, the translator''s aim is to produce a comprehensible text in which language and style are fully in accordance with the target culture''s linguistic and literary conventions. The two principles do not exclude each other: a translator may pursue both norms at the same time"5
  Toury, in a subsequent essay (1993), illustrates the difference, within translation science, between two trends: The first, defined as "source-oriented" (prototext oriented), deals with the translation of literary texts («translation of texts which are literary themselves»). The second, defined as "target oriented" (metatext oriented), has the purpose of creating literary metatexts («to establish target literary texts»)6. The way in which Toury presents such distinction can look complex, owing maybe to the polemic style he chooses. To be explicit, in Toury''s opinion the first trend aims at the creation of translations that are not texts (just think, for example, at the interlinear translations helping the understanding of the original that, however, make no sense in themselves from a syntactic or stylistic point of view, i.e. are not texts in the etymological sense of the word). In his 1995 fundamental essay there is an implicit polemic with Popovic and his "creolization" view.


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.

EVEN-ZOHAR Polysystem Studies, in Poetics Today, 11, 1, Tel Aviv, The Porter Institute for Poetics and Semiotics, 1990, ISSN 0333-5372.

KOMISSAROV V. N. Teorija perevoda (lingvisticeskie aspekty). Moskvà, Vysšaja škola, 1990. ISBN 5-06-001057-0.

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.

TOROP P. Translation As A Working Principle Of Culture, 2001.

TOURY G. Descriptive Translation Studies and Beyond, Amsterdam-Philadelphia, Benjamins, 1995, ISBN 90-272-1606-1.

1 Marías 2000, p. 95.
2 Marías 2001, p. 78.
3 Even-Zohar 1990.
4 On this there is agreement between even the linguistic-oriented researchers: «Adekvatnyj perevod - perevod, obespečivajuš čij pragmatičeskie zadači perevodčeskogo akta na maksimal´no vozmožnom dlja dostiženija ètoj celi urovne ekvivalentnosti, ne dopuskaja norm i uzusa PJA [...]». Komissarov 1990, p. 246.
5 van Leuven-Zwart, p. 93.
6 Toury 1993, p. 17.