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.

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.

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?


  • Translation involves the creation of values, linguistic and literary, religious and political, commercial and educational.
  • Value-creating process takes the form of an interpretation inscribed in a source text
  • The Bible, the Homeric epics, Dante’s Divine Comedy, etc.: diverse readerships in the receiving situation will seek to interpret it according to their own values => develop different retranslation strategies that inscribe competing interpretation.
  • A translation housed in social institutions contributes to the identity formation of the agents who function within it.
  • Retranslations are designed to form particular identities and to have particular institutional effects.
  • It can maintain and strengthen the authority of a social institution by reaffirming the institutionalized interpretation of a canonical text.
  • It can challenge that interpretation in an effort to change the institution or found a new one.  (KJV consolidated the authority of the Anglican Church during the early seventeenth century by drawing on Protestant versions of previous English translators).
  • A ST that is positioned in the margin of literary canons in the translating language may be retranslated in a bid to achieve canonicity through the inscription of a different interpretation.
  • Retranslations of marginal texts are likely to be motivated by a cultural political agenda in which an ideology guides the choice of an author or text and development of a retranslation strategy.
  • Translating is an intended action (“reflexive self-monitoring” – Anthony Giddens).
  • Gideon Toury: a translator evaluates their decisions according to “norms” or values in the translating culture.
  • Retranslation can also call attention to the overdetermining role of a commissioning, which may require the translator to work with a particular ST and discursive strategy to enforce a particular ideology.
  • Retranslators of canonical poets (Virgil and catullus, Baudelaire and Montale) justify their projects solely on the basis of the aesthetic values they perceive in the ST.
  • The translator’s agency centers on the construction of various intertextual relations, starting with the production of a text that relates to a ST.
  • Analogical/Metaphoric: for the chain of signifiers that constitutes the ST, the translator substitutes another signifying chain in the translating language on the basis of a semantic similarity that relies upon current definitions for source-language – Lexicographical.
  • Metonymic: a translation might focus on recreating specific parts of the ST which acquire significance and value in relation to literary trends and traditions in the translating culture.
  • A retranslation is sometimes accompanied by a more immediate form of intertextuality, paratexts, which signal its status as a retranslation and make explicit the competing the interpretation that the retranslation has tried to inscribe in the ST.
  • Translations are profoundly linked to their historical moment because they always reflect the cultural formation where they are produced, circulating in institutions….(?)
  • Retranslations are not merely historical in their affiliations with a specific moment, but also historiographical in their effort to signal and rationalize their differences from previous versions by employing various narrative genres, often a mixture of them.
  • May be conservative, premised on a satiric historical narrative.
  • The retranslator criticizes a previous version, but cast doubt on the notion of progress in translation and returns to a discursive strategy or interpretation that was developed in the past, while admiring its inadequacy.

What is a “relevant” translation?

  • The title remains forever untranslatable (as no one can decide the source language to which it is answerable).
  • A lot of confusions about the word “relevante” (does it speak one and the same language, in one and the same language, is it really one word, or does it constitute more than one word in one, etc.)
  • “Relevant”, as a translative body, it endures or exhibits translation as the memory or stigmata of suffering or as an aura or halo.
  • A relevant translation would be a “good” translation, a translation that inscribe in the receiving language the most relevant equivalent for an original.
  • The translation must be quantitatively equivalent to the original.
  • Translation is impossible but necessary.
    1. There is an oath with the risk of perjury.
    2. The theme of economy.
    3. There is an incalculable equivalence between the unique literalness of a proper body and the arbitrariness of a general, monetary or fiduciary sign.
    4. Jew Shylock’s forced conversation to Christianity.
  • Justifications for “relever”:
    1. an immediate guarantee in the play of the idiom.
    2. “relever” expresses elevation.
    3. give a philosophical meaning and coherence to the economy, accumulation, capitalization of good grounds.
  • Too wordy.

On Linguistic Aspects of Translation

  • Bertrand Russell: “no one can understand the word ‘cheese’ unless he has a nonlinguistic acquaintance with cheese.”
  • Jakobson: “The meaning of the words ‘cheese’, ‘apples’, ‘nectar’, ‘acquaintance’, ‘but’, ‘mere’, and of any word or phrase whatsoever is a linguistic (semiotic) fact.
  • An array of linguistic signs is needed to introduce an unfamiliar word, as pointing alone may lead up to misunderstandings.
  • Three kinds of translation:
    1. Intralingual translation (rewording): an interpretation of verbal signs by means of other signs of the same language (uses either another, more or less synonymous, word or resorts to a circumlocution).
    2. Interlingual translation (translation proper): an interpretation of verbal signs by means of some other languages (usually no full equivalence).
    3. Intersemiotic translation (transmutation): an interpretation of verbal signs by means of signs of nonverbal sign systems.
  • Any comparison of two languages implies an examination of their mutual translatability.
  • Differential bilingual grammars define what unifies and what differentiates the two languages in their selection and delimitation of grammatical concepts.
  • “Facts are unlike to speakers whose language background provides for unlike formulation of them”.
  • Whenever there is deficiency, terminology may be qualified and amplified by loan-words or loan-transactions, neologisms or semantic shifts, and by circumlocutions.
  • No lack of grammatical device in the language translated into makes impossible a literal translation of the entire conceptual information contained in the original.
  • It is more difficult to remain faithful to the original when we translate into a language provided with a certain grammatical category from a language devoid of such a category (“She has brothers” to “She has more than two” or “She has two brothers”, or leave the decision up to the readers.)
  •  Language is minimally dependent on the grammatical pattern.
  • The question of translation becomes more entangled and controversial.
  • Grammatical gender.
  • In poetry, verbal equations become a constructive principle of the text.
  • Phonemic is sensed as semantic relationship.
  • “Traduttore, traditore”.

Translation and the trials of the foreign

  • Translation is the “trial of the foreign”.
  • It establishes the relationship between the Self-Same and the Foreign by aiming to open up the foreign work to us in its utter foreignness.
  • It can reveal the foreign work’s most original kernel, its most deeply buried, most self-same, but most distant from itself.
  • For Holderlin, translating means “liberating the violence repressed in the work through a series of intensification in the translating language” (accentuating its strangeness).
  • Two methods of translations:
    • An aspect of the text (meaning, aesthetic value) remains identical: concerned with “works”, texts so bound to their language that the translating act inevitably becomes a manipulation of signifiers, where two languages enter into various forms and “couple”.
    • Treat the original as a projectile and the translating one as a target: performs a semantic transfer and deals with texts that entertain a relation of exteriority or instrumentality to their language.
  • This distinction separates “literary” translations from “non-literary” translations.
  • Analytic of translation: a detailed analysis of the deforming system, present as forces that cause translation to deviate from its essential aim.
  • It is therefore designed to discover the forces and to show where they are practiced (Bachelard – wanted to show how the materialist imagination confused and derailed the aim of the natural sciences).
    • It is provisional: requires the input of translators from other domains.
    • Negative analytic should be extended by a positive counterpart: an analysis which limits the deformation in an intuitive and unsystematic way. They will then enable a critique of translations that is neither simply descriptive nor simply normative.
  • Literary prose collects, reassembles, and intermingles the polylingual space of a community.
  • Masterworks of prose are characterized by “bad writing” and a certain “lack of control” in their texture.
  • Novels’ deformations are more accepted as it is considered a lower form of literature than poetry.
  • Twelve deforming tendencies:
    1. Rationalization.
      • Bears primarily on punctuation.
      • Recomposes sentences and the sequence of sentences, rearranging them according to discursive order.
      • Annihilates another element of prose: its drive toward concreteness – abstraction.
      • Reorders the sentence structure, and translates verbs into substantives, chooses the more general of two substantives.
      • Not total. Reserve the relations.
      • Change of sign, of status without changing form and meaning.
      • => deforms the original by reversing its basic tendency.
    2. Clarification.
      • A corollary of rationalization which concerns the level of “clarity” perceptible in words and their meanings.
      • Tends to impose the definite.
      • “The translation should be a little clearer than the original” (Galway Kinnell, cited by Gresset 1983:519)
      • The explicitation can be the manifestation of something that is not apparent, but concealed or repressed in the original.
    3. Expansion.
      • Translations tend to be longer than the original.
      • Translation is “inflationist”.
      • Can be qualified as empty.
    4. Ennoblement.
      • “Classic” translation.
      • “Poetization”, “rhetorization”.
      • Producing “elegant” sentences, utilizing ST as raw material.
      • Is only a “stylistic exercise” based on the original.
      • Good speaking in the original has nothing to do with the “rhetorical elegance” extolled by the rewriting that ennobles.
    5. Qualitative impoverishment.
      • Replacement of terms, expressions and figures in the original with terms, expressions and figures that lack their sonorous richness.
      • Surfaces of iconicity.
    6. Quantitative impoverishment.
      • Lexical loss.
      • Proliferation of signifiers and signifying chains.
      • Unfixed signifiers.
      • Expansion works to mask the quantitative loss.
    7. The destruction of rhythms.
      • Difficult for translation to destroy the rhythmic movement of novel.
      • Explains why a great but badly translated novel still “transports” us.
      • Easier to destroy poetry’s rhythms.
    8. The destruction of underlying networks of signification.
      • Certain signifiers correspond and link up, forming networks beneath the surface of the text itself.
      • After long intervals, certain words recur.
      • Words that form a network though far from each other.
      • If networks aren’t transmitted, a signifying process in the text is destroyed.
    9. The destruction of linguistic patternings.
      • Systematic nature goes beyond the level of signifiers, metaphors, etc.
      • When translated text is more homogeneous then the original, it is more incoherent and inconsistent.
      • Homogenization can no more conceal asystematicity than expansion can conceal quantitative impoverishment.
    10. The destruction of vernacular networks or their exoticization
      • All great prose is rooted in the vernacular language.
      • Polylogic aim of prose inevitably includes a plurality of vernacular elements.
      • The tendency toward concreteness in prose includes these elements – Vernacular language tends to be more physical, more iconic than “cultivated” language.
      • Prose often aims explicitly to recapture the orality of vernacular.
      •  A vernacular resists any direct translating into another vernacular.
    11. The destruction of expressions and idioms.
      • Prose abounds in images, expressions, figures, proverbs, etc. which derive in part from the vernacular – Most convey a meaning that readily finds a parallel image, expression, figure or proverb in other languages.
      • “Bedlam” example.
      • Replacing an idiom by its “equivalent” is an ethnocentrism.
      • The equivalents do not translate the proverb.
    12. The effacement of the superimposition of languages.
      • Involves the relation between dialect and a common language in the heart of a text.
      • Novels of Gadda and Gunter Grass.
      • Valle-Inclan’s Tirano Banderas.
      • The superimposition of languages is threatened by translation.
  • The tendencies are not ahistorical – refer back to the figure of translation based on Greek thought in the West, or Platonism.
  • The analytic of translation presupposes another figure of translating (literal translation).

On the different methods of translating

  • Translations can occur anywhere, even in the same language.
  • Interpretation: commonly understood to refer more to oral translation (business, etc.)
  • Translation: more on written work. (arts and sciences)
  • Impossible to interpret scientific or artistic stuff aloud.
  • Sometimes a perfect equivalence between two expressions cannot be found (even the most knowledgeable scholars in the languages themselves and the area of interest differ in terms of which word to use that is most fitting).
  •  A translator has to decide: to bring the author and the original reader together and meet in the middle; or to just give the reader the same understanding he (the translator) has, with his feelings mixed into the translation.
  • Paraphrase: mechanically sets out to overcome the irrationality of language. (sciences)
  • It treats the elements of the two languages as mathematical signs.
  • It seeks to mark psychologically the traces of the connections between thoughts – less apt to be considered a form of translation.
  • Imitation: surrenders to the irrationality of languages (fine arts).
  • “Translated work” is a copy of the original, differs significantly, but in the bounds permitted by the material.
  • Both of these will fail to satisfy a person filled with admiration for the original work, and who has in mind a stricter notion of translation.
  • If the translator decides to bring the writer and the reader together, he has to decide whether to bring the writer closer to the reader or to bring the reader closer to the writer; both of which have the danger of the writer and the reader missing each other completely.
  • When bring the reader closer to the author, the translator compensates for the reader’s inability to understand the original language, and does as much as he can to honor the original work while still exposes all the information needed for the reader.
  • When bring the author closer to the reader, mostly is when the author translates his own work into the targeted language, when he himself dips into the targeted culture, in order for his work to be understood by his targeted audience.
  • The translator has to decide the sort of understanding to imitate – there is a sort of understanding the translation may not imitate, another sort it cannot imitate.
  • May not imitate: Schoolboy understanding: bungling its way but distaste line after line, yet cannot grasp the content.
  • Cannot imitate: the understanding of someone fully immersed in the foreign state.
  • A writer may not be able to write the same philosophy in the target language he sets out in the source language.