Sacrificing sense to sound: Mimetic Translation and Feminist Writing

  • Suzanne Jill Levine describes wordplay as: “Puns discover a coincidence, a potential affinity, a homonymy already latent in language. They place sound above meaning, and yet point to hidden semantic bonds between words”.
  • The complicity that wordplay creates between a willing reader and the text is extremely difficult to reproduce in translation.
  • “Wordplay tends to resist certain kinds of translation” (Dirk Delabastita, 1997: 8)
  • Alleged untranslatability of American feminist wordplay in German (Mary Daly’s Gyn/Ecology).
  • German had not yet developed the “neue Frauensprache” (new women’s language) that English had, and this made wordplay translation almost impossible.
  • On Bourjea’s view, Lispector’s writing is focused on sound, on the musicality of the words, their form, their juxtapositions.
  • “imitation phonetique”: a specific kind of mimesis in translation.
  • Nicole Brossard made extensive use of wordplay, inventing countless “jeux de maux/mots” to name and describe women’s difficult access to and position in conventional language.
  • Mimetic translation: considered the “most radical means of recuperating puns perdus and other dislocated diclocutions”.
  • Mimetic translation strategies allow readers to experience the foreign in their own languge.
  • It “calls into question the possibility that any one translation suffices, or is independent of other translations of the same original”.
  • Focuses on mimicking the sound and the formal, graphic aspects of the source text not its semantic meaning, and this makes the TT sound foreign, providing reader with the experience of the foreign in their own language and challenging them.
  • Nursery rhymes (Mots d’heures gousses, rames and “N’herures souris rames”: phonetic imitations of well-known children’s rhymes.
  • Room of One’s Own: includes a transcribed conversation in which these editors address the oral/aural aspects of contemporary women’s writing.


As Flotow suggested, it is possible, maybe even easy to implant feminist thoughts into a text when it originally wasn’t there. What can a translator do to make sure it doesn’t happen? That they are not reading way into the text?

Dis-Unity and Diversity

  • Feminist work in translation and translation studies not only extends the bounds once posted by gender difference and confronting assumptions that derived from them; it is beginning to explore “Polysexual” and “multigendered” approaches.
  • More is needed than just an appreciation of diversity.
  • Two aspects of feminist work in translation:
    1. Its current diversity and dis-unity.
    2. Factors underlying this state of affairs.
  • Non-reductive differentiation is doubly present in feminist approaches to translation studies.
  • Feminist thinkers acknowledge three factors in their work in order to avoid generalizations and the dissemination of culturally and politically questionable material about women or feminisms, and to thus negotiate the difficult ideological and cultural rifts that divide women:
    1. Identity politics
    2. Positionality
    3. Historical dimension.
  • Disunity in feminist work: undermining consensus.
    1. Mainstream “translatese” of third world material: “with-it translatese” misrepresents view of third world women’s texts.
    2. Elitist translation: these translations are addressed to a small academic elite that is already bilingual and can at most marvel at the linguistic virtuosity of both author and translator.
    3. Hypocritical translation: implanting feminist thought that may not exist in the ST.
  • Factors motivating “responsible and desirable” disunity.
    1. Identity politics: acknowledges the academic’s personal interests and needs.
    2. Positionality: further relativizes the situation by making identity relative to a constantly shifting context, to a situation that includes a network of elements involving others.
    3. Historical dimension of scholarly discourse: used by Alcoff to articulate a concept of gendered subjectivity.

The Difference that Translation Makes

  • Translating is a largely unreflective process.
  • Translating is unconscious for the translator.
  • Understand translation as a psychic process or as a hermeneutic process that occurs during analysis.
  • Allan Bass- linguistic error as a sign of unconscious motivation.
  • Differences cannot be eradicated because they are important for an understanding of the foreignness of a text.
  • Materiality of a word cannot be carried over into another language.
  • Translation creates another signifying chain designed to reproduce the source text but one that works in the translating culture and language.
  • False cognates represent a kind of verbal slip or misreading.
    • False cognate- word that closely resembles an SL word but has a very different meaning.
  • Name of the Father- Lacan.
    • Replaces Desire of the Mother.
    • Intervenes with the threat of castration.
  • Translator is positioned between The Name of the Father and the original composition and the Mother tongue and the translation produced in it.
  • Translators must have sufficient respect for linguistic and discursive structures.
  • Name of the Father intervenes to prevent the translator’s investment in the mother tongue from assimilating that text too closely and with too much distortion to the translating language and culture.
  • Translating process may reveal repressed desires
    • To assume position of authority in translation.
    • to emulate the source author’s status as creator.
    • to emulate canonical figure by producing a translation that implicity questions that status.
  • Omission is symptomatic of the translator’s unconscious desire to compete with foreign author.
  • Similarity
    • Resemblance between the source and translated texts
    • Resemblance between the translation and other values and practices in the receiving situation
      • Mutually undermining
      • Difference always precedes similarity
  • Question of gender identity and its bearing on the nature and significance of the effects.


Appiah suggests that thinking of the author’s intentions for the ST is not necessary, but if we don’t think of the intentions behind the text, how do we understand how it came about, what is is actually talking about, and so, how do we translate?

Thick translation

  • The natural thought of bringing translating and theorizing about meaning should be resisted.
  • What we translate are utterances, which are products of actions, which are undertaken for reasons.
  • Grice suggested that we could say what an assertoric utterance meant by identifying the belief that it was conventionally intended to produce.
  • Gricean mechanism: the act that achieves its purpose because its purpose is recognized.
  • Conversational maxims: understandings to the effect that we are trying to be helpful, trying to be both maximally and relevantly informative.
  • Literal intentions: intentions associated with the speech-acts in which they can occur.
  • If what language you speak determines what thoughts or intentions you can have, translation will be impossible.
  • Difference between direct and indirect speech-acts: whether the main point of the utterances is accounted for by the literal intentions. If not, then it is indirect.
  • Mutual recognition cancel literal intentions.
  • Meaning in the broadest sense is what is communicated by the Gricean mechanism.
  • We may choose to translate a term in a way that is unfaithful to the literal intentions because we are trying yo preserve formal features that seem more crucial.

“Colonization”, resistance and the uses of post colonial translation theory in twentieth-century in China

  • “Postcoloniality” seems suddenly to have been given a prominent part in research on translation in Third World countries.
  • The body of ideas associated with postcolonial translation theory, when shorn of its temporal-historical dimension becomes applicable to earlier eras in which, postcolonial translation practices were only nascent.
  • First position could be designated as an act of resistance: the call for using a “pure” Chinese language when translating.
  • New language emerging out of translations into Chinese:
    1. Insertion subjects where none is needed.
    2. Increasing use of conjunctions and other linking devices.
    3. Proliferating passive structures.
    4. Affix-like morphemes.
    5. Widespread use of lengthy modifiers.
  • Europeanization is fought against by numerous people – language colonization.
  • Alternative: the traditional vernacular used before the 20th century, resembling the spoken language of the past, used to serve “low-culture functions”.
  • Second position: a consequence of the recent introduction into Chinese critical and academic circles of new theories: postmodernism, postcolonialism, post-Enlightenment ideas, etc.
  • Shen Xiaolong: explain the peculiarities of the Chinese language:
    1. The preference for economy of expression.
    2. the aspiration toward achieving phonological harmony.
    3. close attention to balance between empty and concrete words.
    4. the tendency to use the various parts of speech freely, so long as what it said makes sense.
  • They reveal the extent to which Chinese can be said to favor “associative thinking”.
  • Third position?

Adaptation movie

This is a movie about a movie, or rather, the making of a movie. The ST is the book “The orchid thief”, and the TT is the movie Charlie Kaufman was trying to write the script for. The movie then became much more than just a simple book adaptation, as it ended up having a life of its own.

This movie shows that adaptations can sometimes elaborate on the actual ST it adapted from. If we think about it in terms of human and intelligent machines, the code acts as an adaptation of the human’s commands, sometimes elaborations are needed to clarify to make it easier for machines to understand. As when I write codes in a programming language, I am adapting a formula into the computer’s language, in which, I have to specifically write out certain things or the computer would not understand.

The adaptation I choose is “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn. There were specific differences from the book to the movie adaptation as there are certain things that wouldn’t be as suitable if done on film (as all of the flashbacks are the female character’s narratives, and it wouldn’t have been possible to put all that on film as time does not permit). Also for the interest of time, the details are really trimmed down at some parts. Overall, it is still considered a very faithful adaptation of the original novel.


What makes a good retranslation? Especially when the original translation is already a classic, and recognized globally. Is there another retranslation that can do what KJV did?