• 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.

Discussion question

Jakobson noted that there definitely is going to be harder to remain faithful to the original when ST and TT have different grammatical patterns (“She has brothers” example). The question now is: Do we result to expansion to keep the original meaning and risk losing the rhythm, or do we risk losing certain meaning to the text?

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”.

Trasnslated “Nhớ rừng” to English


Nhớ Rừng

(Lời con hổ ở vườn bách thú)

Gặm một khối căm hờn trong cũi sắt,

Ta nằm dài, trông ngày tháng dần qua,

Khinh lũ người kia ngạo mạn, ngẩn ngơ,

Giương mắt bé giễu oai linh rừng thẳm

Nay sa cơ bị nhục nhằn, tù hãm

Để làm trò lạ mắt, thứ đồ chơi

Chịu ngang bầy cùng bọn gấu dở hơi

Với cặp báo chuồng bên vô tư lự.


Ta mãi sống trong tình thương nỗi nhớ

Thuở tung hoành, hống hách những ngày xưa.

Nhớ cảnh sơn lâm, bóng cả, cây già

Với tiếng gió gào ngàn, với giọng nguồn hét núi,

Với khi thét khúc trường ca dữ dội

Ta bước chân lên, dống dạc, đường hoàng,

Lượn tấm thân như sóng cuộn nhịp nhàng,

Vờn bóng âm thầm, lá gai, cỏ sắc.

Trong hang tối, mắt thần khi đã quắc

Là khiến cho mọi vật đều im hơi.

Ta biết ta chúa tể cả muôn loài

Giữa chốn thảo hoa, không tên không tuổi.


Nào đâu những đêm vàng bên bờ suối,

Ta say mồi đứng uống ánh trăng tan?

Đâu những ngày mưa chuyển động bốn phương ngàn

Ta lặng ngắm giang san ta đổi mớỉ

Đâu những buổi bình minh cây xanh nắng gội

Tiếng chim ca giấc ngủ ta tưng bừng?

Đâu những chiều lênh láng máu sau rừng

Ta đợi chết mảnh mặt trời gay gắt

Để ta chiếm lấy riêng phần bí mật?

– Than ôi! Thời oanh liệt nay còn đâu!


Nay ta ôm niềm uất hận ngàn thâu

Ghét những cảnh không đời nào thay đổi,

Những cảnh sửa sang tầm thường, giả dối:

Hoa chăm, cỏ xén, lối phẳng, cây trồng;

Dải nước đen giả suối chẳng thông dòng

Lẩn lút bên những mô gò thấp kém;

Dăm vừng lá hiền lành không bí hiểm

Cũng học đòi bắt chước vẻ hoang vu

Của chốn ngàn năm cao cả, âm u.

Hỡi oai linh cảnh nước non hùng vĩ

Là nơi giống hùm thiêng ta ngự trị,

Nơi thênh thang ta vùng vẫy ngày xưa

Nơi ta không còn được thấy bao giờ!

Có biết chăng trong những ngày ngao ngán

Ta đang theo giấc mộng vàng to lớn

Để hồn ta phảng phất được gần ngươi

Hỡi cảnh rừng ghê gớm của ta ơi!


Yearning for the Jungle

(The voice of a tiger in captivity in a zoo)


In the iron cage my heart seething with anger,

I lie through long slow months,

Despising the gang of addle swaggerers

Who through tiny eyes dare to mock the jungle’s majesty.

Now fallen and captive, I swallow my pride

To be a curiosity, a toy,

An equal to the despicable bears,

To the pair of clueless leopards next door.


I drag a life filled with longing and love

For good old days of mighty dominion,

In the jungle amidst huge old shade trees,

Mighty howling winds, and thundering falls,

Roaring my epic and powerful roar,

I strutted in commanding steps sure and proud,

My rhythmic wave-like body strong and stout,

Stalking silent ‘mongst brambles and sharp grass.

In dark caves once I flashed my awesome eyes

All life lay quiet holding its hushed breath.

I basked in smugness, king of all creatures,

Roaming amidst the nameless plants and trees.


Now where are those moonlit nights by the stream

When hearty dinner done I savored the moonlight?

Where are those rainstorms that shook the jungle domain

When I quietly surveyed my revived kingdom?

Where are those daybreaks that bathed the lush trees

And birdsongs that riotously awakened me?

Where the blood-red rays that drowned the jungle

When I couldn’t wait for the hot sun to die

So I could seize its secret for myself.

— Oh, where have they all gone, those glory days?


I smother my deep perpetual anger

Hating the things that never ever change,

The spaces that were deceitfully built,

With tended blooms, mown grass, straight paths, grown trees,

A dark trickle that passed as forest streams

Lurking ‘mongst phony low-lying hillocks

With docile foliage shorn of mystery,

Faking so miserably the wilderness

And its eternal life’s solemnity.

O noble proud land of majesty

Where my valiant kind always holds firm sway,

The vast realm that I used to rule over,

Country that I will never see again!

Did you know in my days of dark despair

I still nurture lofty grandiose dreams

In my soul of being in your midst again,

O my dear old awesome jungle domain?


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).

Foreign to the reader?

Schleiermacher stresses a couple times that it is better for the translated text to feel a little foreign to the readers. With that said, do readers want the text to feel foreign, or do they want to read it in the knowledge of their own culture? (For example, when foreign language novels are translated into Vietnamese, cultural facts change to fit in better with the Vietnamese audience, even foreign names are spelt for the Vietnamese pronunciation).

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.