Jumat, 06 Maret 2009

Translation Criticism

Translation criticism is an essential link between translation theory and its practice; it is also an enjoyable and instructive exercise, particularly if you are criticising someone else's translation or, even better, two or more translations of the same text. (See Part II, especially Texts 14-13.) You soon become aware not only of the large `taste area', but that a text may be differently translated, depend­ing on the preferred method of the translator. For example:
Cette rue, cette place ressemblent d la rue, d la place d'alors: elles ne sont pas les memes, et, les autres, je puis avoir fimpression qu'elles existent encore.
(Jacques Borel, L'Adoration)
translated by N. Denny as
Those places look as they did then, but they are not the same; and as for the others, I have the feeling that they still exist.
The point here is not how good this is as a translation or why it was not more closely translated, perhaps into: `This street, this square are like the street, the square of those times; they are not the same, and as for those others, I may feel that they still exist . . .', but why Mr Denny wanted to make an emotional, dramatic utterance into a calm, natural statement. Thus there are various aspects of translation criticism: you can assess the translation by its standard of referential and pragmatic accuracy, but if this is inappropriate and rather futile, because there is so.much to `correct', you can consider why the translator has apparently transposed or changed the mood so drastically; whether any translator has the right to change en meme temps immobile et comme entre . . . dans une espece d'eternite to `unchanging and fixed in a sort of eternity'. How far is a translator entitled to get away from the words, to devote himself to the message, the sense, the spirit?
I think there are absolute values of accuracy and economy as well as relative values but these absolute values (like translation) must be continually reconsidered and rediscussed in various cultural contexts; they cannot be taken for granted. (This resembles the argument for God.) Up to now, translation has mainly followed the prevailing and sometimes the countervailing ideology of the time: thus classic­ism (balance, noble expression, Pope), romanticism (richness of folk language, local colour, Tieck, Schlegel), art for art's sake (re-creation, Dowson), scientific realism (transference, James Strachey) all to some extent find their reflection (Niederschlag) in translation. The challenge in translation criticism is to state your own principles categorically, but at the same time to elucidate the translator's principles, and even the principles he is reacting against (or following). In this sense, good translation criticism is historical, dialectical, Marxist. In proposing my own two translation methods, `semantic' and `communicative', I tend to think of the first as absolute, the second as relative, but I am (pathetically) aware that both methods are to some extent reactions to or against Nida, Nabokov, Rieu and others. Nevertheless I think there is a new element in translation now, as it becomes a profession. The introduction of a `scientific' method, the testing of any hypothesis or generalisation (itself arising from translation examples) by a series of further data or translation examples, tends not to eliminate but at least to reduce the range of choices, the extremes of ideology in translation. At the grossest level, the evidence of the `group loyalty factor' so brilliantly detected by Ivars Alksnis in several numbers of Paralleles (Geneva), showing the variations of nationalist and sex prejudice in a large number of published translations of novels, would, if it were widely disseminated, make the extremes of ideology, political and even literary, more difficult. Nida's 1964 title to this fine book Towards a Science of Translating was prophetic: translation (and translating) is not and never will be a science, but as the discipline that treats (behandelt) it advances, translation's scientific frame of' reference will be more generally acknowledged.
Translation criticism is an essential component in a translation course: firstly, because it painlessly improves your competence as a translator; secondly, because it expands your knowledge and understanding of your own and the foreign language, as well as perhaps of the topic; thirdly, because, in presenting you with options, it will help you to sort out your ideas about translation. As an academic discipline, translation criticism ought to be the keystone of any course in com­parative literature, or literature in translation, and a component of any professional translation course with the appropriate text-types (e.g., legal, engineering etc.) as an exercise for criticism and discussion.
A translation may be evaluated by various authorities (Instanzen): (a) the reviser employed by the firm or the translation company; (b) the head of section or of the company (this may be described as `Quality Control', if translations are sampled; the term is at present being overused and broadened); (c) the client; (d) the professional critic of a translation or the teacher marking one; and (e) finally by the readership of the published work. Ironically, as Nabokov pointed out, many reviewers of translated books neither know the original work nor the foreign language, and judge a translation on its smoothness, naturalness, easy flow, read­ability and absence of interference, which are often false standards. Why should
a translation not sometimes read like one, when the reader knows that is what it is? Here, however, I am assuming that the evaluation, whether in the form of a critique or a graded assessment, is done by way of a comparison between the original and the translation. What is required at the present time is a reconsideration of many of the translations that have most influenced indigenous cultures, of the kind that has been signally performed by Bruno Bettelheim in his criticism of the authorised English version of Freud's work.
I think any comprehensive criticism of a translation has to cover five topics: (I) a brief analysis of the SL text stressing its intention and its functional aspects; (2) the translator's interpretation of the SL text's purpose, his translation method and the translation's likely readership; (3) a selective but representative detailed com­parison of the translation with the original; (4) an evaluation of the translation-(a) in the translator's terms, (b) in the critic's terms; (5) where appropriate, an assessment of the likely place of the translation in the target language culture or discipline.
In your analysis of the SL text, you may include a statement of the author's purpose, that is, the attitude he takes towards the topic; characterisation of the readership; an indication of its category and type. You assess the quality of the language to determine the translator's degree of licence, assuming for example that he can reduce cliche to natural language in informative but not in authoritative texts. You briefly state the topic or themes, but do not precis the text and do not 'plot-monger' (painfully retell the plot).
I suggest you do not discuss the author's life, other works, or general background, unless they are referred to in the text - they may help you to under­stand the text, but they are not likely to affect how you appreciate or assess the translation.
The second topic, your attempt to see the text from the point of vi6w of this translator, is sometimes overlooked in translation criticism. You may decide that the translator has misinterpreted the author by omitting certain sections of the text - notoriously, the first English translation of Hitler's Mein Kampf by Captain E. S. Dugdale contained only about a third of the original, and omitted the most virulent anti-semitic passages. The translator may have decided to deliberately antiquate the narrative and/or the dialogue of his version, e.g., allora tornd - `Eftsoons hr turned', to moderate the figurative language of the original or to `liven up' simplr sentences with colloquial and idiomatic phrases: se tremper hktivement dans les eau.t baptismales europeennes d Strasbourg- `they are hastily initiated into the work of the Assembly at Strasbourg'. Normally all translations are under-translations, less particularised than the original, notably in its descriptive passages (elle est bien laido - `she is as ugly as sin') rather than its dramatic, and in its mental rather than it 4 physical passages; you have to establish whether the translator has attempted to counteract by over-translating, resulting usually in a text somewhat longer than tile original: Il etait bien charpente - `He was well built'. You have to assess to wha extent the text has been deculturalised, or transferred to the TL culture: 3'eu oil gentillesse, Luque avait ete entreprenant dans la voiture- `Whether to be friendly or bV design, Luque had not been idle in the car.' In interpreting the translator's intention and procedures, you are here not criticising them but attempting I understand why he has used these procedures. It is all too easy for a reviewer l ii pounce on a translation's howlers, listing them one after another, triumphantlV discovering faux amis, wayward and stretched synonyms (`wistful' translated as triste or nachdenklich), stiff and old-fashioned structures, which, in some situations, may be perfectly natural (`Thus, by the hand of God and man, has the city emerged largely unblemished' - official guide to York)*, anachronistic colloquialisms, literal translations of stock metaphors, and to ignore the fact that translators are vulnerable, that good translations can and do tolerate a number of errors, and that translators who translate in a stiff; old-fashioned, colloquial or racy style that does not square with the original may be doing so deliberately, however misguidedly. It so, it is your job as critic to suggest the reasons. (In a better world, these would be given in the translator's preface.) In any event, here you empathise with the translator, and you distinguish between incompetence (inadequate knowledge of SL and/or topic) and a translation method which may be too idiomatic or too academic for your own tastes but which appears consistent.

Thirdly, you consider how the translator has solved the particular problems of the SL text. You do not take the points successively; you group them selectively under general heads: the title; the structure, including the paragraphing and sentence connectives; shifts; metaphors; cultural words; translationese; proper names; neologisms; `untranslatable' words; ambiguity; level of language; and, where relevant, meta-language, puns, sound-effect.
This third section of your critique should consist of a discussion of trans­ lation problems and not quick recipes for a `correct' or a better translation. Why, for instance, did the translator within the context prefer `less intensely' to `less acutely' or `with less intensity' for vivre avec moins d'acuite? Why did he prefer `uncharted territory' to `terra ignota' for terra ignota? (Latin tags more familar to French than to English educated readers?) Why was `drastic statement' preferred to `severe judgment' for jugement severe? (It can be justified on the ground that French has no obvious one-to-one translations for `drastic' or `statement', and therefore the translator was merely exploiting French lexical gaps; further, jugement has a wider semantic range than `judgment', which would be rather heavy in this context.)
This third section is the heart of the critique; normally it has to be selective since, in principle, any passage that diverges from literal translation in grammar, lexis or `marked' word order (as well as any deliberate sound-effect) constitutes a problem, offers choices, requires you to justify your preferred solution. Why was Un historien contemporain ecrivait, il y a quelques annees, que . . . changed to `Some years ago it was remarked by a contemporary historian that . . .' instead of `A contemporary historian stated, a few years ago, that . . .'? Clearly `Some years ago' is a more natural, less marked, word order when placed at the head of the sentence rather than in parenthesis, but there seems no good reason for passivising the sentence and replacing ecrivait with `remarked'.
Fourthly, you assess the referential and pragmatic accuracy of the translation by the tianlator's standards. If the translation is not a clear version of the original, you consider first whether the essential `invariant' element of the text which consists usually (not always) of its facts or its ideas is adequately represented. However, if the purpose of the text is to sell something, to persuade, to prohibit, to express feeling through the facts and the ideas, to please or to instruct, then this purpose is the keystone of the invariance, which changes from text to text; and this is why any general theory of translation invariance is futile, and I am at least a little sceptical about making a rule of Tytler's `the complete transcript of the ideas of the original work precedes style and manner of writing' or Nida's `form is secondary to content' (though I accept that form in translation must be changed to accommodate meaning) given that the keystone of invariance may be expressed as much through words of quality (adjectives, concept-words, and degree) as through words of object and action.
After considering whether the translation is successful in its own terms, you evaluate it by your own standards of referential and pragmatic accuracy. You have to avoid criticising the translator for ignoring translation principles that were not established nor even imagined when he was translating. The main question here is the quality and extent of the semantic deficit in the translation, and whether it is inevitable or due to the translator's deficiencies. Further, you assess the translation also as piece of writing, independently of it’s original : if this an ‘anonymous’ non-individual text, informative or persuasive, you expect it to be written ill A natural manner - neat, elegant and agreeable. If the text is personal and auCltutl­tative, you have to assess how well the translator has captured the idiolect of' 1110 original, no matter whether it is cliched, natural or innovative.

Finally, in the case of a serious text, say a novel, a poem, or an important book, you assess the work's potential importance within the target language culture. Was it ill fact worth translating? What kind of influence will it have on the language, tllr literature, the ideas in its new milieu? These questions should, in my opinion, be answered in the translator's preface, but the tradition of the translator's anonymity dies hard. This is the translation critic's attempt to `place' the translation in Ila unfamiliar surroundings.

I close this chapter with some observations about the difficulties of assessing at translated text. The above scheme has illustrated two possible approaches, tltr functional and the analytical. The functional is a general approach, the attempt to assess whether the translator has achieved what he attempted to do and where lie fell short. This response is in terms of ideas. Details tend to get missed out. To some extent this is a subjective approach, the equivalent, in the case of a teachct' grading a script, of `impression marking', and therefore unreliable.
The analytical approach is detailed. As I see it, it rests on the assumption that a text can be assessed in sections and that just as a bad translation is easier to recognise than a good one, so a mistake is easier to identify than a correct or ;t
felicitous answer. I assume that all translation is partly science, partly craft, partly art, partly a matter of taste. Firstly, science. `Science' here is a matter of wrong rather than right, and there are two types of `scientific' mistakes, referential or linguistic. Referential mistakes are about facts, the real world, propositions not words. Statements like `water is air', `water is black', `water breathes', etc. are referential mistakes (though as metaphors they may be profoundly true).
Referen­tial mistakes exist in `fiction' (i.e., creative literature) only when it incorrectly depicts the real world now or in history. They reveal the ignorance of the translator, or worse, of the writer, which the translator has `copied'. Linguistic mistakes show the translator's ignorance of the foreign language: they may be grammatical or lexical, including words, collocations or idioms.
Referential and linguistic mistakes are marked (or regarded) negatively - a figure deducted from a total for a sentence or a paragraph, or as part of a total deficit. In the real world, referential errors are both more important and potentially more dangerous than linguistic errors, although both in the educational system (many teachers) and amongst laymen they are often ignored or excused -'after all, that's what the original says, the translator's job is to reproduce it faithfully'. This is misguided. A Dutch translator once told me he was paid three times his normal rate for a translation he never did - he simply pointed out to his client that the (financial) text was full of dangerous errors.
Secondly, translation is a craft or skill. The skill element is the ability to follow or deviate from the appropriate natural usage: pragmatic and persuasive in vocative texts, neat in informative texts, hugging the style of the original in expressive and authoritative texts-you have to distinguish `right' from odd usage, to gauge degrees of acceptability within a context. You can say `at present the railways are working on improving their computer links', and whilst you will never get that precise nuance of informality and continuous effort of `working on' in another language, you will get a servicable equivalent, `trying to improve'. However, mistakes of usage would be easily identified in a sentence such as 'contemporarily/for the nonce the railroads are operating/functioning/labouring on bettering/beautifying/embellishing their computer liaisons/relations.' These are mistakes of usage, due firstly to an inability to write well, secondly perhaps to misuse of dictionary, thirdly to disregard of faux amis (deceptive cognates), fourthly to persistent seeking of one-to-one equivalents; fifthly and mainly to lack of common sense. Where translationese is written by a native SL translator no one is surprised; where it is written by a native TL translator it sounds absurd but is just as common and is due to carelessness coupled with mesmerisation with SL words at the textual level. The idea that translators, particularly of non-iiterary texts (infor­mative texts), have to write well is far from generally accepted- many believe that, where facts are concerned, style takes second place. But the truth is, it is the style that ensures that the facts are effectively presented - bear in mind, when I think of style, I am not thinking of `beauty', I am thinking of the fight against expres­sions like the trade unionist's `at the end of the day' and the jargon-monger's `intentionality', `translationality' and `integrality'. There is a certain `plainness' (a unique, `untranslatable' word with an exceptionally wide semantic span: `honest, direct, smooth, simple, clear unadorned') about good usage which makes it difficult to regard it as a `plus' in translation. Whilst mistakes of truth and lan­guage are graver than mistakes of usage, it is skilled usage that ensures successful transmission.
Thus far I have described negative factors in assessing translation. The third area, translation as an art, is a positive factor. It is the `contextual re-creation' described by Jean Delisle, where, for the purpose of interpretation, the translator has to go beyond the text to the sub-text; i.e., what the writer means rather than what he says, or where, for purposes of explanation, he produces an economical exposition of a stretch of language. When fidglite aux diffrents bilans translates neatly as `adherence to the various schedules'; when Entgleisung, used figuratively, becomes `complication'; when, in a text on electrocardiograms, Artefakt is rightly translated by the technical term `artefact', i.e. an electrocardiogram wave that arises from sources other than that of the heart, e.g., a mechanical defect; when a translator brings out an inference or an implication a little more clearly than in the SL text (say the literal as well as the figurative significance of a metaphor); when participation has to be translated as the `involvement' of the endocrine system to indicate a verb-noun's or a gerund's missing case-partner (or `referring consultant' is le medecin-consultant adressant les sujets d la clinique); when a cultural word is neatly explained (`he enjoyed the bananas and meat in his tapadas snack'); when a sound-effect or a colloquialism in one part of a clause is compensated in another (pipe mise dons son nez, `pipe stuck in his mouth (or gob)') - these can be described as creative translation, a find, a happy or elegant solution. Creative translation usually has the following features: (a) a `surface' translation is not possible; (b) there are a variety of solutions, and ten good translators will produce this variety; (c) the translation is what the writer meant rather than what he wrote. The solution closest to the original is the best pragmatically, has to be weighed against referential accuracy, and there is no clearly superior version.
If a book on A. von Humboldt starts: Alexander von Humboldt - ja, warum denn?, a coarse translation would suggest `Why write a book about Alexander von Humboldt of all people?' But since the style is more refined, one might try: `It may' appear strange to be writing a book about Alexander von Humboldt', or simply: `Alexander von Humboldt. . . Yes, but why?' The first version is referentially, the second pragmatically closer. The third is brief and closest. This is creative trans­lation.
The fourth area of translation, that of taste, has to be accepted as a subjective factor. This area stretches from preferences between lexical synonyms to sentences or paragraphs that under- and over-translate in different places, e.g., for Sa compagne offrait l'image d'une figure admirablement harmonieuse one has a choice between `His companion's face presented a picture of admirable harmony' and `His companion's face was a picture of admirable harmony.' Inevitably, the critic has to allow for his own taste for or bias towards either `literal' or `free' translation. The taste area, on the fuzzy perimeter of translation (with science at its centre), renders the concept of an ideal, perfect or correct translation a nonsense, and is itself an essential concept; the consequence is that a sensitive evaluation of a translation is cautious and undogmatic-usually!
You will notice that in my analytical approach to translation criticism, the negative factors of mistakes of truth, language and usage tend to outweigh the positive factors of creative translation, the felicitous renderings that make a trans­lation not only accurate but effective, whether we are discussing an advertisement, or a short story. However, accuracy can also be assessed positively, with marks given for accurate renderings of sentences or paragraphs, and deducted for mis­takes; this is called `positive marking' and is becoming more favoured by examina­tion boards. Being the reverse of negative marking, it often achieves the same result. The paradox is that items of `creative translation' are likely to receive less credit in positive than in negative marking; since a competent translation of a sentence gets the maximum mark, nothing is left for a `happy' translation.


The question remains: What is a good translation? What fails? (And what is a bad translator sans emploi, as the great Louis Jouvet phrased it inimitably in Quai des Brumes?) What is a distinguished translation? `Often we cannot agree what a particular translation should be like. But can one teach what one does not know?' (Neubert, 1984, p. 69). Rhetorical questions such as: would you employ this man to do your translations? are useful only because they produce an immediate instinctive reaction.
Ultimately standards are relative, however much one tries to base them on criteria rather than norms. A good translation fulfils its intention; in an informative text, it conveys the facts acceptably; in a vocative text, its success is measurable, at least in theory, and therefore the effectiveness of an advertising agency translator can be shown by results; in an authoritative or an expressive text, form is almost as important as content, there is often a tension between the expressive and the aesthetic functions of language and therefore a merely `adequate' translation may be useful to explain what the text is about (cf. many Penguin Plain Prose trans­lations), but a good translation has to be `distinguished' and the translator excep­tionally sensitive; for me, the exemplar is Andreas Mayor's translation of Proust's Le Temps retrouve-`Time Regained'.
In principle, it should be easier to assess a translation than an original text, since it is an imitation. The difficulty lies not so much in knowing or recognising what a good translation is, as in generalising with trite definitions that are little short of truisms, since there are as many types of translations as there are of texts. But the fact that there is a small element of uncertainty and subjectivity in any judgment about a translation eliminates neither the necessity nor the usefulness of translation criticism, as an aid for raising translation standards and for reaching more agreement about the nature of translation.

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