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Ideology and Translation
Posted on Saturday, September 15 @ 02:45:51 EDT
Topic: Lingustics

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For years translations were considered as derivatives, copies, and translators as mechanical devices replacing linguistic codes (equivalents) from one language into another, and the translator's autonomy was always questioned (and is still being questioned) by those who thought of him/her 'as a monkey, with no choice save to make the same grimaces as his master' (Leppihalme, 1997: 19), until recent years when, under the influence of poststructuralism and functionalism, the focus of attention has been shifted to the issue of translator's agency and subjectivity, and the notions of originality and (absolute) equivalence and also author's superiority over translator have been severely questioned. Bassnett (1996) stresses the need for reassessing the role of the translator by analyzing his/her intervention in the process of linguistic transfer, when she argues 'Once considered a subservient, transparent filter through which a text could and should pass without adulteration, the translation can now be seen as a process in which intervention is crucial' (p. 22). Awareness of complexity of translation process and avoidance of the simplistic view of regarding translation as mere process of transferring words from one text to another, Бlvarez & Vidal (1996) claim, will result in realizing the importance of the ideology underlying a translation. They argue that behind every one of the translator's selections, as what to add, what to leave out, which words to choose and how to place them, 'there is a voluntary act that reveals his history and the socio-political milieu that surrounds him; in other words, his own culture [and ideology]'. (Бlvarez & Vidal, 1996: 5).

The exercise of ideology in translation is as old as the history of translation itself. According to Fawcett (1998), 'throughout the centuries, individuals and institutions applied their particular beliefs to the production of certain effect in translation' (p. 107). He claims that 'an ideological approach to translation can be found in some of the earliest examples of translation known to us' (p. 106). Nevertheless, the linguistics-oriented approaches to translation studies have failed to address the concept of ideology through years of their prevalence, because such approaches are limited to their scientific models for research and the empirical data they collect, so that 'they remain reluctant to take into account the social values [and ideologies] that enter into translating as well as the study of it' (Venuti, 1998a: 1). The deficiency of old linguistics-based approaches - which 'are mainly descriptive studies focusing on textual forms' (Calzada-Pйrez, 2003: 8) - in accounting for social values in translation and other aspects of language use resulted in developing a new trend of research called Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) 'whose primary aim is to expose the ideological forces that underlie communicative exchanges [like translating]' (Calzada-Pйrez, 2003: 2). According to CDA advocates, all language use, including translation, is ideological and this means that translation is always a site for ideological encounters (p. 2). Similarly, Schдffner (2003) claims that all translations are ideological since 'the choice of a source text and the use to which the subsequent target text is put are determined by the interests, aims, and objectives of social agents' (p. 23). She evidently opts for van Dijk's definition for ideology as 'basic systems of shared social representations that may control more specific group beliefs' (van Dijk, 1996: 7). However, there are a profusion of diverse definitions of ideology defining the term from different perspectives - amongst them is van Dijk's definition - some of which are deemed necessary to be overviewed here.

Definitions of Ideology

The term 'ideology' has been always accompanied by its political connotation as it is evident in its dictionary definition as 'a system of ideas and ideals, especially one which forms the basis of economic or political theory and policy' (The New Oxford Dictionary of English). Translation scholars who slant in favor of the political definitions of ideology mainly believe that translating itself is a political act as Tahir-Gьrзaglar (2003: 113) argues, 'Translation is political because, both as activity and product, it displays process of negotiation among different agents. On micro-level, these agents are translators, authors, critics, publishers, editors, and readers'. Under the influence of Marx who defines ideology as action without knowledge (false consciousness), ideology is sometimes defined in its negative political sense as 'a system of wrong, false, distorted or otherwise misguided beliefs' (van Dijk, qtd in Calzada-Pйrez, 2003: 3). In its more constructive sense, Marxists like Lenin define Socialist ideology as 'a force that encourages revolutionary consciousness and fosters progress' (Calzada-Pйrez, 2003: 4). According to Calzada-Pйrez (ibid.), recent definitions of ideology are linked with the concepts of power relations and domination, as she quotes from Eagleton: '[Ideology is] ideas and beliefs which help to legitimate the interest of a ruling group or class by distortion or dissimulation'. This view, in fact, forms the basis of post-colonial thinking which 'highlights the power relations which inform contemporary cultural exchanges' (Simon, 1996: 136). However, Calzada-Pйrez (2003) argues that sometimes ideology is viewed in more positive sense 'as a vehicle to promote or legitimate interests of a particular social group (rather than a means to destroy contenders)' (p. 5).Scholars in the field of language-related, cultural and translation studies, however, often tend to extend the concept of ideology beyond political sphere and define it in a rather politically neutralized sense as 'a set of ideas, which organize our lives and help us understand the relation to our environment' (Calzada-Pйrez, 2003: 5). In most parts of the current paper, nevertheless, the writer opts for the definition proposed by van Dijk (1996: 7) for ideology as a framework that is 'assumed to specifically organize and monitor one form of socially shared mental representation, in other words, the organized evaluative beliefs-traditionally called 'attitudes'-shared by social groups'.

Position of ideology

The ideology of translation could be traced in both process and product of translation which are, however, closely interdependent. The ideology of a translation, according to Tymoczko (2003), will be a combination of the content of the source text and the various speech acts represented in the source text relevant to the source context, layered together with the representation of the content, its relevance to the receptor audience, and the various speech acts of the translation itself addressing the target context, as well as resonance and discrepancies between these two 'utterances'. However, she further explains that 'the ideology of translation resides not simply in the text translated, but in the voicing and stance of the translator, and in its relevance to the receiving audience' (pp. 182-83). Schдffner (2003) explains:

  • Ideological aspect can [.] be determined within a text itself, both at the lexical level (reflected, for example, in the deliberate choice or avoidance of a particular word [.]) and the grammatical level (for example, use of passive structures to avoid an expression of agency). Ideological aspects can be more or less obvious in texts, depending on the topic of a text, its genre and communicative purposes. (p. 23)
Ideological aspects can also be examined in the process of text production (translating) and the role of the translator as a target text producer as well as a source text interpreter. These aspects along with two major influencing schools of post-structuralism and functionalism will be further explained in details in the following paragraphs.

Ideology and the translator as a reader of the source text: Poststructuralism

According to Venuti (1992: 6), poststructuralist thinkers like Derrida and de Man, mainly under the influence of Benjamin's works, explode the binary opposition between original and translation which causes translators to be invisible. Before the emergence of poststructuralism, structuralists like Saussure, defined language as the scientifically examinable world of symbols constituting the linguistic system and social structure within which the individual is socially shaped. The structuralists believed that 'language is constructed as a system of signs, each sign being the result of conventional relation between word and meaning, between a signifier (a sound or sound-image) and a signified (the referent, or concept represented by the signifier)' (Roman, 2002: 309). Later, Barthes, an early poststructuralist, claimed that 'signifiers and singnifieds are not fixed, unchangeable, but, on the contrary, can make the sign itself signifying more complex mythical signs as intricate signifiers of the order of myth' (Roman, 2002: 310). This shift of idea from structuralism toward poststructuralism resulted in extreme revisions in different domains of language, for example, developing of 'the death of author' thinking which later found its way into Translation Studies. From instability of the signifiers and signifieds, Barthes concludes that reading texts in terms of authorial intention or what we think the author meant by such and such a statement, and referring the source of meaning and authority of a text back to its author (as the creator of that text) is no more acceptable (Royle, 2003: 7). Barthes argues that 'since writers only write within a system of language in which particularized authors are born and shaped, texts cannot be thought of in terms of their author's intentions, but only in relationship with other texts: in intertextuality' (Roman, 2002: 311). In the absence of the author, Barthes explains, the readers (a translator could be one of them) interpret texts by setting them against their backdrop of known words and phrases, existing statements, familiar conventions, anterior texts, or, in other words, their general knowledge which is ideological; and the meaning of a text becomes what individual readers extract from it, not what a supreme Author put in. (Hermans, 1999: 69) ' "The birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author", Barthes bravely declares' (ibid).

Derrida, another poststructuralist, draws attention from the signifieds to the chain of signifiers, as Roman (2002) explains:

  • Derrida takes the structure of sign from Saussure, but transforms it into a fluid entity, whereby meaning and writing consist solely in signifiers. Signifiers refer only to each other and meaning becomes unstable since any deferral to yet another signifier implies a difference in an endless chain of signification. This is the meaning of the French term diffйrence (from the French verb diffйrer, with its polysemantics of to differ and to delay), or Diffйrance, a neologism created by Derrida particularly to express the indeterminacy of meaning. (p. 311)
According to Venuti (1992), poststructuralist thinkers believe that the original is itself a translation, an incomplete process of translating a signifying chain into univocal signified, and this process is both displayed and further complicated when it is translated by another signifying chain in a different language. The originality of the foreign text is thus compromised by the poststructuralist concept of textuality. Neither the foreign nor the translation is an original semantic unity; both are derivative, consisting of diverse linguistic and cultural materials, making meaning plural and differential (p. 7). In the same way, neither the author nor the translator as a reader of source text possesses the authorial power to definitely determine the meaning; and the 'authority' will always remain collective due to endless circle of signification.Poststructuralist textuality redefines the notion of equivalence in translation by assuming from the outset that the differential plurality in every text precludes a simple correspondence of meaning, and a ratio of loss and gain inextricably occurs during translation process (Venuti, 1992: 7-8). Similarly, Carbonell (1996) points out that, since the nature of the context of signification in both the source and target cultures is heterogeneous, meaning changes unavoidably in the process of translation and there will be always possibility of contradiction between the author's intentions and the translator's (p. 98). But why have such relativism and perspectivism result not in a state of complete anarchy and unintelligibility? According to Toury (2000), 'Cognition itself is influenced, probably even modified by socio-cultural factors' (p. 119). A translator, just like an author, is not simply a 'person' but a socially and historically constituted subject. As mentioned earlier, translators interpret texts by setting them against their backdrop of known words and phrases, existing statements, familiar conventions, anterior texts, or, in other words, their general knowledge which is ideological. This knowledge allows them to interpret the text and at the same time limits the range of their interpretation as Robinson aptly notices:

  • Translators [.] are those people who let their knowledge govern their behavior. And that knowledge is ideological. It is controlled by ideological norms. If you want to become a translator you must submit to the translator's submissive role, submit to being possessed by what ideological norms inform you.
(qtd. in Calzada-Pйrez, 2003: 7)

What brings de facto the individual interpretations close together is the likeness of the intertextual and ideological configurations the individuals are located in. Translators are hardly (maybe never) aware of ideological factors governing their process of the source text interpretation

Toury (1999: 18) admits the difficulties of determining the role of socio-cultural factors which unconsciously affect the translator's behavior:

  • One thing I would not venture to do [.] is tackle the intriguing question of how, and to what extent, the environment affects the workings of the brain, or how the cognitive is influenced by the socio-cultural, even though this would surely make an invaluable contribution to our understanding of translation.
Nevertheless, sometimes it becomes extremely difficult for a translation scholar to justify whether the ideological discrepancies observed between the source text and the target text are results of the translator's subconscious ideological interpretation or of his/her intentional ideological intervention which will be discussed in the following paragraphs.

Ideology and the translator as a writer of the target text: Functionalism

While one of the pivotal achievements of the poststructuralist approaches is dethroning the author and his/her authorial intention by emphasizing the role of the translator as an autonomous reader of the source text, functionalist approaches try to dethrone the source text itself by emphasizing the role of the translator as a creator of the target text and giving priority to purpose (skopos) of producing target text.

According to Schдffner (1996), 'Functionalist approach is a kind of cover term for the research of scholars who argue that the purpose of the TT is the most important criterion in any translation' (p. 2). Functionalism is a major shift from 'linguistic equivalence' to 'functional appropriateness'. From the perspective of functional approaches to translation (particularly, under the influence of Holz-Mдnttдri's theory of 'translational action'), translation is viewed as a communicative act. In this view, translation is conceived primarily 'as a process of intercultural communication, whose end product is a text which is capable of functioning appropriately in specific situations and context of use' (Schдffner, 1998a: 3).

The principles of translational (translatorial) action theory then founded the basis of Vermeer's Skopos theory. 'Skopos is a technical term for the aim or purpose of a translation' (Vermeer, 2000: 221). Skopostheorists assert that any action has an aim, a purpose. From their standpoint, translation is considered not as a process of transcoding (the position usually adopted by earlier non-functionalist approaches), but as a form of human action which has its own purpose basically decided on by the translator (Schдffner, 1998b: 235; Hцnig, 1998: 9). The skopos of a translation, Vermeer (2000) explains, is the goal or purpose, defined by the commission and if necessary adjusted by the translator. He defines commission as 'the instruction, given by oneself or by someone else, to carry out a given action [which could be translation]' (p. 229).

A text in skopostheorist approach is regarded as an offer of information from its producer to a recipient. Translation is then a secondary offer of information about information originally offered in another language within another culture (Schдffner, 1998b: 236). The translator, as an expert in translational action, must interpret ST information 'by selecting those features which most closely correspond to the requirements of the target situation (Shuttleworth & Cowie, 1997: 156). From this point of view, the translation process is not (necessarily) determined retrospectively by the source text, its effects on its addressees, or the intention of its author, but prospectively by the skopos of the target text as determined by the target recipient's requirements (which are, however, discerned and decided on by the translator himself/ herself). The translation then is 'the production of a functionally appropriate target text based on an existing source text [or what Neubert calls 'source-text induced target-text production'], and the relationship between the two texts is specified according to the skopos of the translation' (Schдffner, 1998b: 236).

Focusing on the purpose of translation as the most decisive factor in translation action, skopos theory emphasizes the role of the translator as an expert in translational action and regards the source text no longer as the 'sacred original' from which the skopos (purpose) of the translation is deduced, but as a mere offer of information whose role in the action is to be decided by the translator, depending on the expectations and needs of the target readers (Hцnig, 1998: 9). Schдffner (1998b) explains 'The translator offers information about certain aspects of the source-text-in-situation, according to the target text skopos specified by the initiator' (p. 236). Skopos theory and functionalism focus on the translator, giving him/her more freedom and at the same time more responsibility, as Hцnig (1998) asserts:

  • [The translator] may be held responsible for the result of his/her translational acts by recipients and clients. In order to act responsibly, however, translators must be allowed the freedom to decide in co-operation with their clients what is in their best interests.(p. 10)
An awareness of the requirements of the skopos, Vermeer maintains, 'expands the possibilities of translation, increases the range of possible translation strategies, and releases the translator from the corset of an enforced - and hence often meaningless - literalness' (qtd. in Shuttleworth & Cowie, 1997: 156). The translator thus becomes a target-text author freed from the 'limitations and restrictions imposed by a narrowly defined concept of loyalty to the source text alone' (Schдffner, 1998b: 238). Hцnig (1998: 14) usefully contrasts the characteristics of functional approaches vs. non-functional approaches as follows:

Is loyal to his client must be visible Faithful to the author should be invisible
 Translation processes should be 
Target text oriented Source text oriented
 Aim of translation is 
Communicative acceptability Linguistic equivalence
 Translation tools taken from 
Psycho-, sociolinguistics, text linguistics (supporting decisions) Contrastive linguistics lexical semantics(applying rules)
Building bridge Crossing river

Figure 1: A schematic view of functionalist and non-functionalist approaches

As it is evident in Hцnig's schematic view, 'visibility' of the translator is a key concept in functional approaches. According to Hцnig (1998: 12-13), in functionalism the translator inevitably has to be visible, since functional approaches do not establish rules but support decision-making strategies and the translator has to make critical decisions as to how define the translation skopos and which strategies can best meet the target recipient's requirements; s/he should be visible, making his/her decisions transparent to his/her client and accepting the responsibility of his/her choices. A visible translator has to accept the consequences of his/her translational decisions, as Toury (1999) declares, 'it is always the translator herself or himself, as an autonomous individual, who decides how to behave, be that decision fully conscious or not. Whatever the degree of awareness, it is s/he who will also have to bear the consequences' (p. 19).

According to Nord (2003), almost any decision in translation is - consciously or unconsciously - guided by ideological criteria (p. 111). Ideological factors are very decisive in defining the translation skopos (target-text intended purpose) and selecting the functionally appropriate strategies by the translator, based on the expectations of the translation clients. These factors which affect and regulate the translator's behavior are further investigated in the following section under the title of 'norms'.


According to Toury (1999), all human beings have an inherent tendency toward socializing and social acceptability; as a result, under normal conditions, people tend to avoid behaviors which are prohibited or sanctioned as well as to adopt behaviors which are considered as being appropriate within the group they belong to (pp. 15-19). There is a socially shared knowledge between members of every community as to what is considered correct or appropriate as a communicative behavior. This knowledge exists in the form of norms. They serve consciously as a pattern of behavior, and 'they also regulate expectations concerning both behavior itself and the products of this behavior' (Schдffner, 1999: 5). Toury (1999) defines norm in terms of 'the translation of general values or ideas shared by a group-as to what is conventionally right and wrong, adequate and inadequate-into performance instructions appropriate for and applicable to particular situations' (p. 14). Taking into consideration the definition of ideology by van Dijk (1996) as 'the organized evaluative beliefs shared by social groups', norms-as defined by Toury (1999)-seem to have much in common with ideology; in other words, norms can be understood as ideological realization of the concept of appropriateness and correctness.

Decision-making is a key concept in the discussion of norms. Norms exist 'only in situations which allow for alternative kind of behavior, involving the need to select among these, with the additional condition that selection be non-random' (Toury, 1999: 15). This selection, according to Toury (1999), could be posited between two constraining extremes of 'relatively absolute rules on one hand, and pure idiosyncrasies on the other' (p. 16).

Toury applies the norms concept to translation studies presuming that translating involves playing a social role subject to several types of socio-cultural constraints of varying degree. He, consequently, argues that the acquisition of a set of norms for determining the suitability of translational behavior, and for maneuvering between all factors which may constrain it, is a prerequisite for becoming a translator within a cultural environment (Toury, 2000: 198).

Toury (2000) claims that norms govern every level of decision-making in the translating process from choice of text to translate to the very final choices of translation strategies of action. He, consequently, introduces three kinds of norm: 1) initial norm; 2) preliminary norms; and 3) operational norms.

Initial norm governs the translator's overall decisions to adhere 'either to the original text, with the norms it has realized, or to the norms active in the target culture, or in that section of it which would host the end product' (Toury, 2000: 201). Toury (2000), however, denies the necessity of full conformity between an overall decision made and every single decision be made in the lower-levels of translation process; and, consequently, denies the existence of absolute regularity in translational behaviors (p. 201). The options which are made available to the translator by Toury's initial norm are very similar to those which Venuti (1998b: 240) talks about in his foreignizing and domesticating strategies of translation.

Preliminary norms govern the decisions to be made concerning translation policy and directness. According to Toury (2000: 202), 'translation policy refers to those factors that govern the choice of text types; or individual texts, to be imported through translation into a particular culture/language at a particular point in time'. He further explains that 'considerations concerning directness of translation involve the threshold of tolerance for translating from languages other than the ultimate source language' (p. 202).

Operational norms direct the actual decisions made during the act of translation and are subdivided into matricial and textual-linguistic norms. Matricial norms govern the segmentation and distribution of textual materials in the target text. Textual-linguistic norms 'govern the selection of material to formulate the target text in, or replace the original textual and linguistic material with' (Toury, 2000: 202-3).

It should be noted that, according to Toury (2000), 'There is no necessary identity between the norms themselves and any formulation of them in language (p. 200). He believes that the observed regularities in translational behaviors are not themselves the norms; they are rather 'external evidence' which reflect the existence of norms (Toury, 1999: 15). Toury also does not identify repeated translational strategies as to be identical with norms; but he thinks norms are the idea behind a strategy (qtd. in Schдffner, 1999: 84). Therefore, Baker's interpretation of norms as 'regularities of translational behavior within a specific socio-cultural situation' (Baker, 1998: 163) or 'strategies of translation which are repeatedly opted for, in preference to other available strategies, in a given culture or textual system' (qtd. in Shuttleworth & Cowie, 1997: 114) seems to be an oversimplification of this concept.

Chesterman (1993) looks at the concept of norms from a different perspective. Whereas Toury does not pay too much heed to the role of the readership and their feedback in norm construction, Chesterman (1993: 8) puts distinction between expectancy norms, which are the expectations of the target readership and the client etc., and the professional norms which explain the translator's tendency to observe these expectancy norms.

According to Toury (2000), norms themselves actually are not observable. He declares that what are actually available for observation are rather norm-governed instances of behavior or the products of such behavior (p. 206). Toury introduces two major sources for reconstruction of translational norms:

  • 1. Textual: the translated text themselves, for all kinds of norms, as well as analytical inventories of translation (i.e., 'virtual texts'), for various preliminary norms;
  • 2. Extratextual: semi-theoretical or critical formulations, such as perspective 'theories' of translation, statements made by translators, editors, publishers, and other persons involved in or connected with the activity, critical appraisals of individual translations, or the activity of a translator or 'school' of translators, and so forth. (Toury, 2000: 207)
Likewise, Baker (1998: 164) introduces studying of a 'corpus of authentic translations' as a means for identifying regular instances of translational behavior which are represented in that corpus by the translator, and, thus, for identifying the translational norms.

Concluding Point

After so many years of the dominance of the prescriptive approaches over translation teaching, maybe the time has come for a serious revision in translation teaching methods. Translation teaching should no longer be seen as a set of rules and instructions prescribed by translation teachers to the students as to what strategies will lead to a 'good' or 'correct' translation and what to a 'wrong' and 'incorrect' one. Understanding the importance of decision-making in translation, the translation teachers should try to describe the actual translational decisions made by actual translators under different socio-cultural and ideological settings in real life and real situations, and explain the perlocutionary consequences resulted from adoption of such decisions to the students. They should allow the students to select voluntarily between different options they have at hand, reminding them that they will be responsible for the selections they make. Translation teachers should make it clear to the students that every translation has its own aim determined by its translator, and that they could freely choose the options that best serve their intended aim of translation.

By Behrouz Karoubi, University Lecturer at Islamic Azad University, Arak, Iran

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