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Translation theory

Translating cultures. Translating Iran.

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Domestication and foreignization strategies in the translation of Iranian short stories

Content Introduction Main body Why Iran? Why Jalal al-Ahmad? Why cultural translation? Translation and gender Domestication Foreignization Conclusion

Abstract. When faced with a novel or a short story, when dealing with cultural norms which are part of the source text but which do not exist in the target one, the translator realizes the role that culture plays in the translation process. An approach is needed to help the translator convey these cultural values to the target language, to preserve their meaning and help their understanding. By using the methods of domestication and foreignization, discussed by Venuti (1995), this process of transformation and acceptance becomes easier both for the translator and for the reader. Key words: culture, domestication, foreignization, Venuti, Jalal al-Ahmad

Translation theory


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Translation involves crossing boundaries- disciplinary, linguistic, cultural, even physical. It requires not only linguistic comprehension and knowledge of two or more languages (often called source and target languages) but as well understanding and appreciation of the cultures expressed through and embedded in these languages. Culture has for a very long time been underestimated and not much attention has been paid to its important role and its influence on the translation process. Probably the first ones to point out the inevitable interaction between translation and culture are Susan Bassnett and Andr Lefevere (1990:45), as well as the translation theorist Lawrence Venuti who insists that the scope of
translation studies needs to be broadened to take account of the value-driven nature of the sociocultural framework(Venuti, 1995).

By discussing the English translation of three short stories from the Iranian writer Jalal alAhmad, this paper aims at showing the important role that culture plays in translation, the constrains that it imposes on translators and the necessity of preserving its authenticity in order to ensure a genuine dialogue between nations and individuals. The theoretical work of Venuti and his translation strategies of domestication and foreignization will be used in order to criticize or justify the choices made by the various translators of the given Iranian short stories.

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Main body Why Iran?

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When translating literary works that belong to cultures and languages considerably different from what we geographically and culturally define as the West, the cultural barrier that the translator is confronted with becomes indispensably and instantly recognised. Such is the case with Iran and its ancient culture and customs interwoven in its literature masterpieces and expressed through the euphonious and powerfully emotive Persian language. But to what an extent are the linguistic richness and its emotional impact preserved and by which means are they conveyed in the target language? This issue becomes even more obvious when dealing with literary works of fiction, short stories and novels, which are, metaphorically speaking, a window to distant and unknown worlds, a stage where mysterious people from different cultural background act obeying customs

incomprehensible to us the observers, the readers. An example of such literary pieces is the stories and essays of the Iranian writer Jalal al-Ahmad.

Why Jalal al-Ahmad? A son of a Shiite clergy man, Jalal al-Ahmad breaks with his religious family in his students years. In 1946 he graduates from Teachers College and becomes a teacher and later pursues academic studies at Tehran University and receives an MA in Persian literature. From 1945 to 1968 he writes novels, essays, travelogues and ethnographic monographs. The subjects of his works are mainly cultural, social and political issues, symbolic representations and sarcastic expressions. In his works he pays attention to the superstitious beliefs of the

Translation theory

common people. Thus, on one hand, he is a significant writer, depicting a portray of the traditional Iranian society and culture, and on the other, his work is a significant example of that how essential the cultural issue is in the translation process and in what way, by using

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what strategies, a successful translation, one which preserves these cultural values, is to be achieved. The stories that will be discussed in this paper and their respective English translations are taken from the book Iranian Society, An anthology of Writings by Jalal al-e Ahmad, compiled and edited by Michael C. Hillmann. The stories and translators names are as follows: The Unwanted Woman Zan-e Ziyadi, translation by Leonard Bogle, The University of Texas at Austin; Sehtar, translation by Terence Odlin, The University of Texas at Austin; The Sin Gonah, translation by Raymond Cowart, The University of Texas at Austin. Stories of that kind - rich in cultural representations and descriptions - establish the interaction between cultures and their translations foster the understanding of the foreign culture with its peculiarities. Due to their complexity and the important role they play in drawing societies closer, their translation needs to be fulfilled by following different strategies and taking into consideration different rules than the ones used for technical, scientific or journalistic texts, for example.

Why cultural translation?

Drawing upon the notions of the polysystem theorists like Itamar Even-Zohar, Andr Lefevere (a twentieth century translation theorist) theorized translation as a form of rewriting produced and read with a set of ideological and political constraints within the target language cultural system.

Hristina Racheva 536917 Together with Susan Bassnett he considers that "neither the word, nor the text, but the culture becomes the operational unit of translation". In their Translation, History and Culture (Bassnett and Lefevere 1990: 4) they dismiss the painstaking comparisons between originals and translations which do not consider the text in its cultural environment. Instead, Bassnett and Lefevere go beyond language and focus on the interaction between translation and culture, on the way in which culture impacts and constrains the translation.

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Translation and gender

The interest of cultural studies in translation inevitably took translation studies away from purely linguistic analysis and brought it into contact with other disciplines. My translation practice is a political activity aimed at making language speak for women. So my signature on a translation means: this translation has used every translation strategy to make the feminine visible in language. (Lothbinire-Harwood, 1991) These are the words of the Canadian translator Lotbinire-Harwood. Feminist translation seems to have developed as a method of translating the focus on and critique of patriarchal language by feminist writers in Quebec and has as well been defined by some Canadian translators as an antitraditional, aggressive and creative approach to translation (Flotow, 1991). Feminist translations have been criticized for unveiling what the writer had deliberately concealed or left implicit. However, by mentioning the feminist approach to translation, the paper does not aim at thoroughly exhausting the topic but only at pointing out a remarkable phenomenon observed in the translation of The Unwanted Woman. The translation is done by a male translator and yet the sings of a feminist translation could be observed.

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How is it possible for someone not to realize that her [ones] very existence is the cause of so much suffering? How is it possible for someone not to feel that she [one] is unwanted?

The Persian noun [ adam] means man and it would have been a perfectly adequate translation if the English pronoun one had been used. It would have remained neutral, i.e. it would have acquired neither feminine, nor masculine shade of meaning. Nevertheless, the translator chooses the

feminine pronoun she and her when translating these sentences and therefore emphasizes on the female character in the story and in particular on the emotional trial she is going through. A reason for that could be the Jalal al-Ahmads focus on poorer and more misfortunate people from the society and in particular on women.

According to Venutis theory every translator should look at the translation process through the prism of culture which refracts the source language cultural norms and it is the translators task to convey them, preserving their meaning and their foreignness, to the target-language text. Every step in the translation processfrom the selection of foreign texts to the implementation of translation strategies to the editing, reviewing, and reading of translationsis mediated by the diverse cultural values that circulate in the target language (Venuti, 1995).

Hristina Racheva 536917 He estimates that the theory and practice of English-language translation has been dominated by submission, by fluent domestication. He strictly criticized the translators who in order to minimize the foreignness of the target text reduce the foreign cultural norms to target-language cultural values. It has to be acknowledged that the translators of the discussed translations have skillfully avoided the assimilation of the source culture into the target culture. And yet, there are few examples which show that they have failed to preserve the foreignness of the original - few religious terms have been fully assimilated by the source text and their value as universally established and commonly used Islamic terms has been reduced. Let us take as an example the story The Sin narrated through the thoughts of a thirteen-year old girl from a religious family.

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These were the assistants in my fathers mosque and the other disciples who returned with him.

The Persian word [ muezzin] which is from an Arabic origin, designates the person at a mosque who leads the call to prayer. Thus, an adequate word which would cover the same meaning and would preserve the functions of the person implied in the word muezzin does not exist in English. Therefore, the word assistant chosen by the translator does not imply the information on the religious duties of the person and his position in the religious hierarchy that are suggested in the word muezzin. A way to handle this situation would be to keep the word in its transliterated form, muezzin, and then to provide an explanatory footnote, giving the meaning that the word implies.

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Here is another example from the same story, once again related to the religious issue.

He sat on his usual place on the floor next to the preachers chair.

In this case the translator has not only assimilated the original word but has actually given a different meaning to it. The verbal noun [ rouze khan] designates a person who reads a special prayer on a particular religious holiday. Thus, the word preacher does not correspond in meaning and in the persons functions to the original term. Moreover, since these two terms refer to different religions and different religious practices they could not be used as interchangeable. Besides, in a previous sentence the translator has already faced the challenge of translating the word ( a translation which will be examined further on in the paper) and has decided to keep it in its transliterated form rowzeh. Thus, a way to translate would be by saying the reader of the rowzeh prayer. But the process of domestication does not include only linguistic and cultural assimilation. When discussing the domestication strategy and the damages it causes on the source text and respectively on the culture interwoven in it, Venuti (1995) refers to the British translator J. M. Cohen who defines the domestication as the risk of reducing individual authors styles and national tricks of speech to a plain prose uniformity (Cohen 1962: 35). When comparing the English translation of The Sin to the original text in Persian, one can see why Cohen has expressed his fear of obliterating speech and expression peculiarities typical to a particular nation or culture.

Hristina Racheva 536917 Everyone with knowledge in Persian language and comprehension of the Persian written style is accustomed to and constantly aware of the long sentence structure that exists in this language. Very often a sentence would span to three or four lines, hence forming a small paragraph on its own. Thus, reading a story abundant in numerous short sentences often consisting of no more than five or six words is immediately noticed by the reader. Here is an example from The Sin and the respective English translation which fails to adequately deliver its short sentence peculiarity. The three sentences in the Persian text have been merged into only one in English.

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. . .
Nor did he lower his head like all the others who acted as if they were ashamed to see the tears of someone else.

According to Venuti, the domesticating strategy, as shown in the above examples, violently erases the cultural values and thus creates a text which as if had been written in the target language and which follows the cultural norms of the target reader. He strongly advocates the foreignization strategy, considering it to be an ethnodeviant pressure on [target-language cultural] values to register the linguistic and cultural difference of the foreign text, sending the reader abroad. Thus an adequate translation would be the one that would highlight the foreignness of the source text and instead of allowing the dominant target culture to assimilate the differences of the source culture, it should rather signal these differences. (Venuti, 1990)

Hristina Racheva 536917 With the exception of the two above examples, by using different strategies, the translators of the given short stories have very well preserved the foreignness of the source culture, expressed for a larger part through the religious terms. Moreover, despite the fact that these translations have been done by different translators, they have all made similar decisions regarding these terms. It has to be pointed out that a glossary which starts with the following introductory/explanatory note has been placed at the end of the anthology: This glossary provides a brief explanation of selected names and places and attempts to define the most common use of each term or the meaning which the term has in this book. For further information consult the various references cited at the beginning of each selection [General Editors Note].(Hillmann, 1982) Therefore, the editor together with the translators, have decided to leave the foreign culture or religious related words in their transliterate form and give their explanation either at the introductory notes that precede every story or at the glossary at the end of the book. Here are some examples from The Sin and The Unwanted woman, respectively, in which the Persian word chador has not been translated nor has any English equivalent been appointed to it.

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She would always take our side and argue over the purchase of new chadors for us.

I thought maybe he would take my chador off too.


Hristina Racheva 536917 In this case, the reader is given the opportunity to interact with the foreign culture in its genuine form, or as Venuti says, to go abroad(1995). If the context is not enough to help the reader understand the meaning of the word, the glossary offers the following explanatory note: chador A shapeless garb made of different colour material worn by Iranian women to cover their body from the sight of strange men. Let us go back to the example mentioned earlier regarding the rowzeh and the practice of Islam. The Sin opens up with the following sentence:

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It was the night of our weekly rowzeh.

There are probably numerous reasons that convinced the translators to make this choice but I would consider the religious issue as the most considerable one. One reason for translating fiction, and short stories in particular, is to make a country, a nation, a culture, or an aspect of a culture, known to the people outside the territory to which the source text belongs. Very often religion is inseparable part of that culture and translating an Islamic term with a Christian one, for example, would not only absorb the foreign word into the target language but would moreover absorb the concept of it and would erase the differences that exist between them. Therefore, keeping the transliterated form of rowzeh and giving a glossary note on it would be the most adequate strategy for that sentence.


Translation theory rowzeh The recitation of verses concerning the martyrdom of the Shii imams, particularly Imam Hossein.

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In their efforts to preserve the foreignness of the source text and the cultural ideas it presents, many translators turn to adaptation or to clarification of unfamiliar cultural aspects or phenomena. This translation strategy is clearly visible in the following sentence from The Sin:

This sentence could literally be translated this way: Because the nights of the fourteenth were especially bright. But the translator prefers adding an extra explanation by giving reference to the Iranian lunar calendar: Because it was an especially bright night, the fourteenth of the lunar month. That way, not only has the foreignness been preserved, but it was presented in a way that would be more easily accepted and understood by the target text reader.


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Although Venuti advocates foreignizing translation, he is also aware of some of its contradictions, namely that it is a subjective and relative term that still involves some domestication because it translates a source text for a target culture and depends on dominant target-culture values to become visible when it departs from them. This, according to Venuti, means that the term may change meaning across time and location. What does not change, however, is that domestication and foreignization deal with the question of how much a translation assimilates a foreign text to the translating language and culture, and how much it rather signals the differences of that text. (1995: 29)


Translation theory References:

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Baker, Mona (ed.), Translation Studies: Volume 3, (Venuti, Lawrence, Translation as Cultural Politics: Regimes of domestication in English), New York, Routledge, 2009

Bassnett, S. (1980) Translation Studies, London and New York: Methuen.

Bassnett, S. and A. Lefevere (1990) Translation, History and Culture, London and New York: Pinter

Cohen, J.M. (1962) English Translators and Translations, London: Long-mans, Green & Co Flotow, Luise von, "Feminist Translation: Contexts, Practices and Theories", TTR : traduction, terminologie, rdaction, vol. 4, n 2, 1991, p. 69-84. Hillmann, M.C.(1982) Iranian Society, An Anthology of Writings by Jalal Al-e Ahmad, Mazda Publishers , USA Lefevere, A. (1992) Translation, Rewriting and the Manipulation of Literary Fame, London and New York: Routledge. Munday, Jeremy, Introducing Translation Studies, New York, Routledge, 2008

Venuti, L. (1995) The Translators Invisibility, A History of Translation, London and New York, Routledge


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