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38 - Levý, Holmes, Popovič

«But the absurdity of a dream is not to be translated by a simple no; it is intended to reproduce the tendency of the dream-thoughts to express laughter or derision simultaneously with the contradiction»1.

The Czech researcher Levý, too, has dealt with the question of translation criticism. One of the problems focused in his classic 1974 book concerns the difficulty implied in reconstructing prototexts starting backwards from the metatext and working back to an "original". A metatext's publication is produced by the intertwined work of translator, editors, proofreaders, and the fact that such interventions are not identifiable in a precise way creates problems when you want to evaluate a translator's poetics, her style, her preferences2. The difficulty is, moreover, connected to the possibility - greater than what you may think - that the translation is not direct but indirect, through an intermediate language3.

In Levý's opinion, another interference in translation criticism derives from the influences on the translator's work of the existing translations of the same texts. Inevitably a translator is influenced, more or less consciously, by such 'parallel' versions4.

Retrogressive reconstruction starting from the result (the translation) aims at reconstructing the method and view of the translator. The elements that count most in such analysis are the differences between prototext and metatext. For this reason

[...] translation analysis must start with the careful comparison against the original and almost with the statistical calculation of the differences in details [...] one part will characterize the relation between the style of the time and the individual style of the translator with the author's style, and the relation of the translational view to the objective idea of the work5.

Levý classifies, first the prototext-metatext differences: misunderstandings, mistakes in form and expression. Let us see how in subsequent researchers such an embryo will be further developed.

The existence of multiple versions of the same original determines a favorable condition for translation criticism. Once the function of a translated text in the receiving culture has been established, you can analyze how a given metatext accomplishes such a task. Levý considers translation a mass medium having a curious effect on entropy (level of disorder) of cultural systems. Translations increase the level of entropy in national cultural systems (improving the new elements), while reducing the global entropy (more homogeneously distributing the peculiar features of single cultures). Such a view might have had influences on the development of Lotman's semiosphere theory.

Another historical father of translation studies has made interesting statements on criticism: Holmes. His view of translation criticism is coherent with his mapping theory: the translator, having read the prototext, creates a mental map of the original, thanks to which he projects a mental map of the metatext on the plane of receiving culture from which his individual translation choices are made.

The translation critic, starting from prototext and metatext, must, first of all, reconstruct the mental maps of the translator, and then compare them to identify the translation strategy, by referring to their correlation. Here is Holmes's complex model6:



critic's map PROTOTEXT


translator's map PROTOTEXT


of correspondences

critic's correspondence rules


translator's correspondence rules



critic's map METATEXT


translator's map METATEXT




abstraction rules


derivation rules

comparison rules


Holmes's model of descriptive translation process

The translation critic's work methods in Holmes's opinion are two: the first one is based on the specific features of comparative analysis of a prototext/metatext pair and aims at identifying and classifying shifts. The second is based on a constant set of features that are controlled in all the prototext/metatext pairs, independent of the specific analysis.

Holmes thinks that the former approach has the disadvantage of leaving space to the critic's own natural personal analysis , that can mistakenly omit consideration of given features. The latter approach has the disadvantage of using a very intricate set of elements to analyze. even if not all proposed options are always consistent with the prototext/metatext pair under exam, which determines a cumbersome critical analysis. Holmes left us as a heritage the task of finding a repertoire of features to analyze that is complete for any type of text and can be shared by all translation researchers.

The Slovak researcher Popovič, another corner stone of translation studies, thinks that

the similarity of translation activity and other aspects of literary activity is very clear7

and produces the following model synthesizing all possible relations between prototext and metatext8:


relation mode

positive, favourable


text level





different text levels or elements

quotation epigraph allusion, direct or indirect text reproduction; mediated reading; title; note, résumé, pereskaz, interlinear translation

unconscious allusion;




editio purificata, parodist-interpretive quotation

critical allusion with no source indication

text as a whole

translation; "tendentious" rewriting; positive review; imitation

author's intention in writing the text; plagiarism translation pseudonym use; composition on the basis of a found manuscript; pseudotranslation

polemic translation, travesti, literary debate in verses; critical review; polemic

parody; contre feuilleton

The types of metatextual relation according to Popovič

Such a model has the advantage of giving the opportunity to analyze the prototext/metatext differences also in fields that are different from interlingual translation but similar, so much so as to be inserted in the following developments of translation studies, in views like total translation.

Popovič moreover seeks the causes of the absence of a translation criticism. He thinks that causes reside outside literature or criticism, and must be found above all in the cultural shape of society (role of the translated text in society, missing specific identity of translation etc.). The most widespread translation critic is the translator herself when she formulates the principles of her activity and when she comments the colleagues' work9. As compared to general criticism, translation criticism implies a few differences, however:

  • in the case of translation, the critic has two communication acts to deal with: prototext and metatext;
  • while the original-language work critic has to do with contemporary literary production and witnesses its origins and the readers' reactions, the translation critic can also have to work with the contemporary translation of a non contemporary work10.

Popovič considers also translation criticism (alas, widely diffused ) based on the mere analysis of the metatext and its comparison with receiving culture. It is a one-dimension, flat criticism, because the point of view is unbalanced toward one of the two poles of the translation pair.

Even the editor sometimes works with the translated text having no access to the original; his only criterium coincides with linguistic-stylistic norms of the receiving culture. The work is assessed both from the point of view of norms and canon of the receiving culture and from that of the reader's satisfaction11, and in so doing translation strategy may not be included and the translator's choices are more or less consciously overcome.


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.

HOLMES J. S., Translated! Papers on Literary Translation and Translation Studies (1971, 1976, 1977), Amsterdam, Rodopi, 1988, ISBN 90-6203-739-9.

HOLMES J. S. Describing literary translations: models and methods (1976), in Translated! Papers on Literary Translation and Translation Studies. Amsterdam, Rodopi, 1994, ISBN 90-6203-739-9, p. 81-91.

LEvÝ J. Aktual´nyе prоblеmy tеоrii hudоzеstvеnnоgо pеrеvоda, vol. 2, Moskva, 1967, p. 296-303.

LEVÝ J. Translation ad a decision process, in To Honor Roman Jakobson II, Den Haag, Mouton, p. 1171-1182.

LEVÝ J. Iskusstvo perevoda, translation from Czech by V. Rossel´s, Moskva, Progress, 1974.TOURY G. Descriptive Translation Studies and Beyond Amsterdam, Benjamins, 1995, ISBN 90-272-1606-1.EVEN-ZOHAR I. Le relazioni tra sistema primario e sistema secondario all'interno del polisistema letterario, in Strumenti critici, n. 26, 1975, p. 71-79. (original edition 1974.)

1 Freud 1900: 376.
2 Levý 1974: 217-218.
3 Levý 1974: 218.
4 Levý 1974: 221.
5 Levý 1974: 223.
6 Holmes 1994: 88.
7 Popovič 1980: 142.
8 Popovič 1980: 153.
9 Popovič 1980: 167.
10 Popovič 1980: 167.
11 Popovič 1980: 168.