Research Articles and Papers

Ideology and Position of the Translator

Maria Tymoczko

Professor at University of Massachusetts Amherst

Source: Maria Calzada Perez (ed.) (2003) Apropos of Ideology - Translation Studies on Ideology - Ideologies in Translation Studies, Manchester: St Jerome, pp. 181-201.

The Writer’s profile:

Maria Tymoczko has an international reputation in three fields: Translation Studies; Celtic medieval literature; and Irish Studies, with a specialty in literature in both Irish and English, including James Joyce. She is one of the leading theorists in Translation Studies, setting new directions for the field.

Complexity of Ideology of Translation

She sites Holems and Lefevere and explains that translation is a text about a text or, to put it another way, a form of metastatement, a statement about the source text that constitutes an interpretation of the source text. She further explains that source text only partially determines a translation's ideology.

To describe her observation Maria borrows an idea from Speech theory, Austin and explains that even in a simplified model, the ideology of a translation will be an amalgam of the content of the source text and the various speech acts instantiated 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 resonances and discrepancies between these two 'utterances'.

She further explains that the ideology of a 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.

Importance of ‘place’

She further emphasizes that ideology of translation is further influenced by 'place' of enunciation. For her, ‘place' is an ideological positioning as well as a geographical or temporal one. These aspects of a translation are motivated and determined by the translator's cultural and ideological affiliations as much as or even more than by the temporal and spatial location that the translator speaks from.

To underline the importance of ‘Place’ ( positing of translator) she sites examples of Friedrich Schleiermacher who stated that "just as a man must decide to belong to one country, just so [a translator] must adhere to one language", affiliating himself thus with one particular culture, assumed by Schleiermacher to be the translator's native land. Similarly she sites examples of recent descriptive approach where Gideon Toury took up questions pertaining to the position of translation and translators, stating categorically that translated texts are 'facts' of one language and one textual tradition only, namely the target culture's (1980:82-83), and that translators are 'persons-in-the-culture' of the target system (1995:40).

Space in between

She further links ‘place’ with translation / translator being discussed and characterized as a place or a space in between other spaces, and questions this idea by explaining that theoreticians have failed to recognize the fact that it is not only in between but it is ‘elsewhere’ as well, as a translator may speak from - an elsewhere that is somehow different from either the source culture or the receptor culture that the translator mediates between — as well as the culture the translator lives in - an elsewhere. To explain this she sites examples of Sherry Simon (Gender in Translation (1996) where she speaks (1996:162), "the blurred edge where original and copy, first and second languages, come to meet. The space 'between' becomes a powerful and difficult place for the writer to occupy". She compares the domain of translation to the domain of a person with multiple cultural affiliations: "the space which Bhabha works in is the liminary terrain of the translational, that hybrid space which stands between the certainties of national cultures but does not participate in them" (1996:153).

Maria explores the rationale behind use of spatial metaphor ‘between’ in terms of hylogenic cause, actual physical location of the translator-interpreter, historical evolution of the meaning as well as practice of translatio from its Latin meaning ‘carrying across’ to ‘lead across' and so on till post-structuralists proposed idea of open positions in ‘between’ as alternatives to the oppositional structures and polar opposites of the structuralists.

Translator works in a system that involves both ST and TL, not in between

Maria further demonstrates that the translator does not operate between languages, but he or she operates either in one language or another, or more properly in a system inclusive of both SL and TL, a system that encompasses both. She sites examples of contemporary systems theorists (cf. Luhmann 1995) as well as mathematician Kurt Godel refutes the idea of using in between and argues further, “To insist upon a between existing with respect to languages is to abandon what the modern age has agreed upon with respect to systems”, and observes the following 

1.       The idea of a space between is a western capitalist paradigm where translator remains an isolated individual worker who independently acts as mediator of languages. 

2.       The same model does not fit into many parts of the world including China. For example, in China throughout time for that matter, where teams of translators have traditionally worked together, with each member of the team operating primarily within a single linguistic and cultural framework. In the latter paradigm of translation practice, the first stage of translation is performed by a person with primary knowledge of and even loyalties to the source language and culture, followed by a polishing stage undertaken by someone with clear loyalties to the receptor language and culture (for example, a native in the receiving language often with minimal or no knowledge of the source language), with the whole process under the eye of an ideological supervisor. 

3.       Still inmost of the developing countries - namely oral interpretation - can hardly be modeled as occurring in a space between, where space is understood in terms of culture rather than the physical location of the interpreter. 

4.       Moreover, the concept of the translator as occupying a space between hardly fits with historical research in translation studies, nor does it fit with materialist analyses of translation. Over and over again descriptive studies of translation have demonstrated the connection of all facets of translation - from text choice to translation strategy to publication - with ideology, and they have established how translations are grounded in the politics of particular places and times. Rather than being outside cultural systems, descriptive and historical research on translation indicates that translation is parti pris and that translators are engaged, actively involved, and affiliated with cultural movements. ( for example lefevere explains this). 

5.       Culture is heterogeneous, therefore, creating space in between as only solution to depart from dominant culture is affirmation (implicitly or explicitly) of the view that culture is a homogeneous construct. Sherry Simon's definition of 'the translational' as "that hybrid space which stands between the certainties of national cultures but does not participate in them" (1996:153, my emphasis) stands as an example of the dubious implications of translation as a space between. Simon's trope depends on national cultures being monolithic, homogeneous, and characterized by 'certainties'. 

6.       One can, choose to reject above views and assert that the only discourses of a culture that count are dominant discourses, but to do so would put one very much out of the mainline of current explorations of culture as a varied and heterogeneous construct. 

7.       Such a position would clearly not be a step forward for translation theory. It is important therefore to look at the logical implications of vocabulary before it is adopted, interrogating in this regard the ideological discourse of translation as a space between. 

8.       From the point of view of the ideology of translation, the discourse of translation as a space between is problematic because it is misleading about the nature of engagement per se. Whether translation is initiated for political purposes from a source culture, from a receptor culture, or from some other third culture, translation as a successful means of engagement and social change - like most political actions - requires affiliation and collective action. The discourse of a space between obscures the necessity of such collective work. 

Maria further questions Anthony Pym’s diagram – where translator is shown between two over lapping circles - that depicts translator in between two linguistic and cultural systems as mediator, and she further suggests that these circles be presented as two small circles enclosed within a larger one. Still both these schema will be incomplete as human cultures and languages are open systems and representing them with closed circles could mean inadequate representations of these highly complex systems.

Thus we notice that Maria explains the importance of space/position of the translator in shaping translation ideology, but the concept of space in between which has become quite popular while dealing with cross cultural turns in translation studies gets a solid rebuttal, thus opens a new vistas of study in translation studies. 

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