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37 - Toury and translation criticism

«The dream-process, therefore, takes the regressive course, and in so doing follows the attraction exerted on it by memory-groups, which are themselves present as visual cathexis, not as translations into the symbols of the later systems»1.

Toury, in a 1993 essay, describes two complementary translation strategies having consequences in translation criticism.

On one side we have source-oriented translations (prototext-oriented) having as their dominant target the translation of literary texts ("translation of texts which are literary themselves"), where the accent is on the word "translation" and not on the word "text". Toury, in fact, believes that if the absolute translation dominant is found in the prototext, a true, coherent and cohesive text is hardly created, owing to the philological needs of the original. This is the application of the principle of adequacy to literary translation.

On the other side there are target-oriented translations (metatext-oriented), having as a dominant target the creation of literary metatexts ("to establish target literary texts")2. In this second alternative, the texts created are literary, but are not the exact translations of the originals. This is the application of the principle of acceptability to literary translation.

André Lefevere, one of the fathers of translation studies, when discussing translation criticism emphasizes that the exchange of texts between languages and cultures aims to de-provincialize national cultures. This enriching function is more pronounced as the chosen strategy nears adequacy and veers from acceptability, thanks to the absorption of "borrowings, neologisms [...] metaphors, syntactic models" taken from the source language/culture: the translator, in a word, "becomes his national literature's 'antenna', picking up new and unfamiliar sounds. He is a literature's safeguard against parochialism and in-breeding"3.

Translation criticism, in Lefevere's opinion, is based on four parameters, to be located in the prototext-metatext comparative analysis in the form of equilibria:

  • equilibrium between utterance and situation; In other words, there are many ways to express or take for granted the outer situation one is referring to;
  • equilibrium between utterance/situation and the possibility of highlighting a word or word group; in other words, the many possibilities for emphasizing given parts of the utterance as far as both single words and construction are concerned;
  • equilibrium between literary langue [.] and literary parole; in other words, the many possibilities to fall back upon given literary devices diverging from the literary context or, on the contrary, converge with it;
  • equilibrium between what is said and what is implied4, i.e. equilibrium between what is explicated and what is left as an allusion, to be decoded by the reader's hermeneutical creativity5.

A scientist that certainly never dealt with (explicitly) translation criticism, who gave a precious contribution in such a field is Charles Sanders Peirce, particularly with the notion of "abduction".

Conjectures that are made possible by the abductive reasoning allow translation critics to formulate hypotheses that, although not very probable, have a strong creative impact and can then be checked in what remains of the text.



Abduction (Peirce)

hypothetical synthetic reasoning



all the beans in this bag are white

known constant



these beans are white

recording of a

not easily foreseeable


therefore, maybe:



these beans

come from that sack

antecedent, explains the



between result

and rule

Table 2.1. Abduction according to Peirce

This kind of reasoning, sometimes called also "retroduction", is aimed at retrogressively reconstruct the relationship existing between a rule and a result. Since a text never explicitly says everything, it takes for granted an often important part of the message. A text that explains everything would be redundant, which would make it uneconomical. In fact, the context in which an utterance takes place is often taken for granted.

When reading, we continually make conjectures about what the text leaves unsaid, by abduction we make hypotheses on the author that wrote it, on her writing strategy, on the setting, on the characters, on what brings them to behave in a certain way. They are temporary conjectures. If it is an open text, you never get to a conclusive end. As in the solving of a riddle, some possible solutions have repercussions on other parts of the whole interpretation, in some cases confirming them, in others denying them. Critical reading - text interpretation - is a game, an abductive game, that in the case of translation has somewhat complex features.

Semiosis (Peirce)



Anything perceptible: word, symptom, signal, dream, letter, sentence. A sign stands for the object, refers to the object. Without it, it is impossible to know the object.



What is referred to by the sign. It can be perceptible or imaginable. It determines the sign. It exists independent of the sign.



Sign, thought interpreting a previous sign. Any interpretant sheds new light on the object.

Table 2.Semiosis in Peirce

The applications of Peirce's notion of "abduction" to translation criticism can be viewed in these terms:

  • there is a first degree of abductive reconstruction, retroduction, applied to literary criticism (abduction about the author, attempts to infer the narrative strategy on the basis of the result: the literary text);
  • a second degree of abduction is represented by translation, operation in which it is necessary to make conjectures both on the author (see the first degree) and on the metatext reader, to elaborate a translation strategy that is used over (and sometimes instead of) the narrative strategy of the prototext;
  • the third degree or level of abduction applied to literature operates in the case of translation criticism. where on the basis of a second-level result (the translation of a prototext that in some cases is mere hypothesis) conjectures go further than the author (first degree) and metatext (second degree), also to the translator and translation strategy (third degree).


Bibliographical references

FREUD SIGMUND, L'interpretazione dei sogni, in Opere, vol. 3, Torino, Boringhieri, a cura di C. L. Musatti, 1966.

FREUD SIGMUND, The Interpretation Of Dreams, translated by A. A. Brill, London, G. Allen & Company, 1913.

LEFEVERE A. Translating Poetry. Seven Strategies and a Blueprint. Amsterdam, Van Gorcum, 1975, ISBN 90-232-1263-0.

PEIRCE, C. S. 1866-1913 The Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, vol. 1-6 edited by Charles Hartshorne and Paul Weiss, vol. 7-8 edited by Arthur W. Burks, Cambridge (Massachusetts), Harvard University Press, 1931-1935, 1958.

1 Freud 1900: 466.
2 Toury 1993: 17.
3 Lefevere 1975: 105.
4 Lefevere 1975: 111.
5 Lefevere 1975: 111-119