Thursday, August 11, 2011

Peter Newmark: Footnote

The last post recommended Peter Newmark’s article The Curse of Dogma in Translation Theory highly and gave a reference for it, but the original was published back in 1991 so it may be hard to find. Now I’ve added a reference to the more recent online reprint, but it’s very expensive to view unless you can access it through a library. So it occurs to me that I should give you at least a taste of his thinking and his style.

The article in question makes a critical tour of the schools of theory that were fashionable among academics at the time and indeed still are. I mentioned that when I last met Peter we were listening to a conference paper by a speaker who was saying that translation not merely involves culture transfer, it is culture transfer. So here’s what Peter had to say about that, the third in his round-up of theories.
“3. Translation is basically cultural substitution, or culture switching. This notion ignores the universal features of life and their correspondences in languages, as well as elements of culture that are shared in experience or through communication across boundaries. Cultures exist, but they are not the whole truth. The cultural component of language, which is prominent in forms of address, in phaticisms, in standard metaphors, is being exaggerated by linguists and translation theorists at a time when it is in fact declining, when a great world ideology is collapsing…

A dogmatic adherence to the `equivalent effect' principle [that a translation should have the same effect on the reader as the original had on its readers]… leads implicitly to the idea that translation is essentially culture substitution... Caricaturing the position, national games , dishes, drinks,recreations, fashions (say slimness or fatness) would be regarded as equivalent or intertranslatable, if they aroused equivalent emotions. Hence Shakespeare's summer's day becomes Arabic oasis or palm tree, which is nonsense. The fact is that the translator only rarely uses cultural equivalents, which are always inaccurate. More commonly, she takes advantage of cultural overlap (a rose is a rose in many cultures and languages, including some where roses are only heard or read about), or she introduces (transfers) and glosses the source language cultural word, or she adjusts communication by using the expanding, intertranslatable universal language of science and technology, which is mainly non-cultural, of international organizations (the European Commission as a promoter of literal translation).

The force of simple words like matador, which means `killer' [as well as ‘bullfighter’] is nullified when they are transferred into another language. Transferring a word often has an anodyne or obscurantist effect, where literal translation shows up the stark truth.”
On other hand, he was not dogmatic himself. He was well aware that some degree of cultural adjustment is desirable when translating to Expert standards. For example:
“[The Leipzig translation professor] Neubert notes that German academic papers differ from their English counterparts in their greater degree of degressiveness (their notorious excursuses). He does not make the recommendation which I would prefer, that is to reduce if not eliminate the digressiveness. To take another example, most German and English medical papers are superbly structured, so there should be little textual interference in translating say from the Deutsche Medizinische Wochenschrift into the British Medical Journal or vice versa, but many French medical papers have to be restructured at the sentence, paragraph and even text level when translated.”
You don’t have to agree, but my point is – as I said last time – that he kept his feet on the ground of translation practice.

No comments:

Post a Comment