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    On the Author’s Invisibility in Translation

    时间: 2007-12-15 栏目: 英语论文

    On the Author’s Invisibility in Translation

    Ⅰ. Introduction
    During the course of translating literary works, translators always make some amendments to the original, loss and gain, domestication and foreignization, etc, which cause the author of the source text invisible. This thesis attempts to find the causes of this phenomenon and analyze its manifestations.
    Lawrence Venuti describes the translator’s situation and activity in his masterpiece entitled The Translator’s Invisibility (1995). By the term “invisibility”, Venuti is referring to the reader’s response to translations, as well as the criteria by which translations are produced and evaluated (Venuti 1995:17).
    The author’s invisibility, as a phenomenon appears in translation field, always draw the attention from the researchers, and this subject is really worth of deep research. In this thesis, the author proposes several causes of the author’s invisibility, such as the constraint criteria, cultural sense, social evaluation, and historical limitations, etc, and illustrates its manifestations by deriving from their causes, including loss and gain, domestication and foreignization, etc.
    After all, this thesis on the author’s invisibility in translation merely offers a basic introduction of it, which still needs to be paid more attention and studied deeply to promote translation studies to a higher degree.
    Ⅱ. The Causes of the Author’s Invisibility
    2.1. From “Faithfulness”, “Expressiveness”, “Elegance” to the Invisibility
    It is known to all that Yan Fu is a famous translator, whose three-character translation criterion has been influencing Chinese translators, i.e. “Faithfulness”(信), “Expressiveness”(达), “Elegance”(雅). “Faithfulness” requires the target text being faithful to the original; however, it is impossible to completely achieve this, because no two languages in the world have exactly the same morpheme, to say nothing of the same form or image. Stubborn pursuit of “faithfulness” will ruin “expressiveness”, which is also called “smoothness” by other scholars.
    The relationship between “Faithfulness”, “Expressiveness”, and “Elegance” is to go forward gradually, so when translators get close to “faithfulness”, they are supposed to consider the other two criteria in order to polish their translations. Since there is no complete equivalence between the source and the target text, translators are more likely to amend, omit, or even add to the contents of the original to make the translations readable and acceptable (expressive or smooth). Therefore, the author’s invisibility comes out inevitably during the process of translation under such criteria.
    2.2. The Influence by Cultural Sense
    Culture is the wealth created by man and different cultures bear respective creators’ national, geographic and time’s characteristics, which call for the communication between various cultures. From this angle, different nations should learn from each other. As a matter of fact, translation’s purpose is not only to make the reader understand the source message, but also enrich the target culture’s language and helps the reader to know the culture of the foreign country.
    Language is a part of culture and is influenced and restricted by culture. The same word used in different cultural background may mean differently and different words may mean the same. Consequently, during the course of translation, whether the translator gets the correct meaning of the source text is to a great extent determined by his knowledge of the cultures of the languages he is handling, which then causes different interpretation between source and target text in certain places related to culture. It is these differences that make the source text invisible.
    Therefore, translators should not just concentrate on how to convey the message in one language by the means of another language but endeavor to display the differences of the two cultures’ modes of thinking and the habits of expressing feelings. Examples concerning this aspect can be easily picked up. For instance, it is sound to translate the English phrase “Blue Room” into “蓝屋”,“蓝房子” or “蓝色房间”, but these expressions fail to convey the cultural connotation of it. In fact, “Blue Room” is the room in which the President meets his friends and relatives. So it is more acceptable to translate it into “内客厅” or “白宫的内客厅”, which to some extent conveys its cultural connotation.
    Chinese translation theory emphasized too much its practical function. That’s why Yanfu’s three-character translation criterion, which serves this function, has prevailed more than one hundred years in China’s translation field. It is known to all that the natural relations among language, culture and translation can not be separated from culture. Yet in traditional translation studies, little attention is paid to cultural factors, which is inevitably not very scientific. What’s more, with the development of society and human civilization, language, culture and translation are all changing continuously. Thus, the target of translation research should be improved accordingly to meet the needs of our times.
    2.3. Other Causes
    Translation is a socio-cultural activity, which exerts influence on social and cultural factors and is in turn conditioned by the conditions in which it is conducted. Any translation is conducted with a certain intention, but if the translated works can’t pass the censorship of the publishers, they can’t get published; even if they get published, if they can’t attract the attention of target readers, they must fail to achieve its presumed aims. So the way the society evaluate translation becomes one of the decisive factors in the translator’ decision-making process.
    From the historical aspect, even in the same socio-cultural context, translators in different times still tend to adopt different strategies. The preference of translation strategies differs not only synchronically among different cultures, but also diachronically from period to period. With the rapid development of human society and the increase of international communication in various fields, people have been becoming more and more tolerant towards foreign cultures and their horizons have been increasingly broadened. As a matter of fact, people’s ideology has drastically changed. That is, socio-cultural environment has been greatly changed. Thus, some translated masterpieces can not suit modern socio-cultural context. The author’s invisibility may come out for the second time.
    Moreover, every translator has his individuality and style, which are to a great extent consistent. Different texts, once translated by the same translator, will have similarities in the rendering of words, syntax or cultural features. The consistent style of the translator may be found here and there in the translations on the part of the same translator. On the other hand, the same text, once translated by different translators, will present different styles. Translators in the same cultural and historical background will still show great differences in their translation due to their different life experience, individuality, and personal preference. These constraints also have influences on the translator’s decision-making process, which causes the author’s invisibility.
    Ⅲ. The Manifestations of the Invisibility
    Having the understanding of the outcome of invisibility will help us a lot to accept the following manifestations of it.
    3.1. Domestication and Foreignization   
    Domestication and foreignization, which are discussed by many scholars today can be traced back to Schleiermacher, who described domestication as a translation method that “leaves the reader in peace, as much as possible, and moves the author towards him”, and foreignization as a method that “the translator leaves the writer alone, as much as possible and moves the reader towards the writer”. (Jeremy Munday 2001:147)  As two translation methods, both of them are important. There is no thorough domestication and foreignization at all. Choice of them depends on the cross culture communication environments, types of the source texts, the purpose of translation and the readers, etc.
    A translator may choose domestication or foreignization. From Venuti’s viewpoints, the former centers around nationalism, converting outlook of values of source language to that of target language, just like inviting the author to the readers’ home; while the latter ventures to introduce the language and culture of the source language to the target readers, just like sending the target readers abroad. (Venuti 1995:20)
    In translation, domestication refers to the translator’s loyalty to the language conventions of the target language community, applying idiomatic expressions of the target readers. Venuti (1995) uses this term to describe the translation strategy in which a transparent, fluent style is adopted in order to minimize the strangeness of the foreign text for the target language readers. For instance, Lin Shu translated westerners’ anger into “拂袖而去”; Hawkes translated “谋事在人,成事在天” into “Man proposes, God disposes.”(Guo Jianzhong 2003: 277)
    Appropriate use of domestication can render the translated work idiomatic and vivid. Look at the following examples:
    They will be ice-skating in hell the day, when I vote the aid for them.
    要我投票赞成给他们援助, 除非太阳从西边出来。
    湘云笑道:“ 阿弥陀佛!刚刚的明白了.” (《红楼梦》)
    “Holy name!” said Xiangyun, “She understands.”
    In some proverbs, domestication is also more appropriate than foreignization. Let us compare the following versions:
    Praise is not pudding.
    1. 赞美不能当布丁吃。
    2. 赞美不能当饭吃。
    In the country of the blind the one-eyed man is king.
    1. 盲人国中,独眼称雄。
    2. 山中无老虎,猴子称霸王。
    3. 瘸子里面挑将军。
    To cry up wine and sell vinegar    挂羊头卖狗肉
    To live a dog’ s life             过牛马一样的生活
    Foreignization (or foreignizing translation ), opposite to domestication, is a term used by Venuti (1995 ) to designate the type of translation in which a target text is produced which deliberately breaks target conventions by retaining something of the foreignness of the original. “时间就是金钱” is foreignized from “Time is money”, a sentence from To Young Tradesman, an essay written by Benjamin Franklin in 1748, and has become a household motto. The Chinese learning that the phrase “wash hands” is the euphemism of “going to the toilet” in English, “洗手间” entered into Chinese as the euphemism of “厕所”.Many foreignized expressions have been widespread and become popular among the Chinese people.
    Which strategy is better, domestication or foreignization? There is no certain answer. It is decided upon by varieties of factors whether to choose domesticating or foreignizing strategy, namely, the intention of the translator, textual function, socio-cultural environment, historical limitations, the translator’s style, etc. The decision-making process of translation is conditional rather than unconditional.
    3.2. Loss and Gain
    Once the principle is accepted that sameness cannot exist between two languages, it becomes possible to approach the question of loss and gain in the translation process. Practically, omissions of the original, amendments and additions to the original are all very common. The translator just wants to make his version in line with literary tradition of the target language.
    3.2.1. Loss in Translation
    Loss is the omissions of certain words in the target text that for several reasons they should be omitted. Sometimes the meaning of these omitted words need not be shown in the target text, which doesn’t violate the interpretation of the translation.
    From the grammatical angle, there are instances easy to pick up.
    e.g.:  1.) But it’s the way I am, and try as I might, I haven’t been able to change it.
    但我就是这个脾气,(……)虽然几经努力,(……)却未能改变过来。(Loss of Personal Pronoun as Subject)
        2.) Everywhere you can find new types of men and objects in New China.
    新中国(……)处处可以看到新人、新事物。(Loss of the indefinite Subject)
    3.) He shrugged his shoulders, shook his head, cast up his eyes, but said nothing.
    他耸耸(……)肩,摇摇(……)头,(……)两眼看天,一句话不说。(Loss of Possessive Pronoun)
                              4.) He looked gloomy and troubled.
              他看上去有些忧愁(……)不安。(Loss of Conjunction)(Zhang Peiji 2002: 88-92)
    Rhetoric is another explanation for the appliance of loss. When some words or phrases are repeatedly shown in a sentence, properly omission can be made. For example, “University applicants who had worked at a job would receive preference over those who had not.” If this sentence is translated as “报考大学的人,有工作经验的,比没有工作经验的,优先录取”, it will seem wordy. However, after the omission, “报考大学的人,有工作经验的,优先录取” sounds more concise and explicit.(Zhang Peiji 2002: 96)
    3.2.2. Gain in Translation
    Gain is opposite to loss; it is the addition in the target language to be more faithful to the original and smooth its content. The added words are not arbitrarily chosen, but the invisible words in the meaning of the original. The instances for gain in translation can be found almost everywhere.
    e.g.: 1.) In the evening, after the banquets, the concerts and the table tennis exhibitions, he would work on the drafting of the final communiqué.
              晚上在参加宴会、出席音乐会、观看乒乓球表演之后,他还得起草最后公报。(Gain of Verb)
           2.) The plane twisted under me, trailing flame and smoke.
             (敌人的)飞机在下面螺旋下降,拖着浓烟烈焰掉了下去。(Gain of Adjective)
           3.) Day after day he came to his work —— sweeping, scrubbing, cleaning.
              他每天来干活——扫地,擦地板,收拾房间。(Gain of Noun)
           4.) Better be wise by the defeat of others than by your own.
             从别人的失败中吸取教训比从自己的失败中吸取教训更好。(The original sentence should be “It is better to be wise by the defeat of others than to be wise by the defeat of your own.”)(Zhang Peiji 2002: 58-71)
    3.3. Untranslatability in Translation
    As for this problem, we must make it clear that the matter of translatability and untranslatability is a theoretical problem, while translation activity is a practical activity. The theory of untranslatability does not mean that people should put an end to translation, and those who believe in translatability don’t necessarily translate well. Translatability and untranslatability is a dialectical unity, like the two sides of a coin. Translatability refers to the maximum possibility to deliver the original information when we translate the source language into the target language; untranslatability is a property of a text or an utterance for which no equivalent text or utterance can be found in another language.
    However it is defined, language is not separated from translation. As far as language itself is concerned, factors defying translation do exist. Differences between language systems exist objectively. At certain times, it is natural that one language is lacking in some expressions to indicate things of other peoples, because there is no call for these expressions in its own culture. Thus, the problem of untranslatability occurs. Today, no one thinks that the word “sofa” can’t be translated. But before the introduction of “沙发” into Chinese, “sofa” really defied translation. People often say that translation can introduce new expressions into the target language, which also evidences untranslatability from another angle. It is because language is open and dynamic that it can constantly assimilate new things and so develop continuously. “沙发”, once introduced into Chinese, would be censored by Chinese and then became established. This process is one in which the problem of untranslatability posed by “sofa” was conquered.
    The above is about the untranslatability of language. There are other factors that cause untranslatability, which are cultural factors. Works include not only contents common to human beings but also the things peculiar to a certain nationality. It is the proportions of the two components in a book that decide upon the degree of translatability and untranslatability. When a book is too much flavored with a certain national culture, translatability of it will be greatly lowered.
    From the above, we can see that translatability or untranslatability is finally decided upon by cultural factors (language belongs to culture). Acknowledging untranslatability doesn’t mean that we adopt a pessimistic attitude toward translation. On the contrary, only when translators realize untranslatability, can they be clearer about the burden over their shoulders—to break down the language barriers and advance cultural communication. This acknowledgement is of great help to resolve the contradiction. Now that cultural communication is a process, which can’t be accomplished once and for all, the same is true of the translation of the untranslatable factors. Take the translation of rhythmic poem for example. The translator needn’t rack his brains to render his versions in rhythm. The translator may render the original rhythmic poems into ones that have no rhythms, sometimes even into prose. Though many things get lost in this way, this means is useful when it is impossible to translate perfectly, for this shabby translation to some extent speeds up cultural communication.
    Ⅳ. Conclusion
    The practice of translation shows there must exist the invisibility between the translated article and the original one. “Faithfulness, expressiveness, and elegance” is just an ideal goal. Although there are many reasons that cause the invisibility, such as constraint criteria, social evaluation and historical limitation, etc, the most influenced one is the cultural differences.
    Translation is nothing easy at all, in order to fulfill the great task of cross-cultural communication, the translator has to consider many relevant factors thoughtfully before he begins to translate, and when translators begin with his translation, some “invisible” methods will be chosen, such as loss and gain, domestication and forergnization, etc. Having a thorough understanding of the outcome of invisibility and its manifestations will contribute a lot to the quality of the translation, as well as promoting the study of translation both theoretically and practically.


    Bassnett, Susan. Translation Studies. London: Routledge, 2002.
    Jeremy Munday. Introducing Translation Studies: Theory and Applications [M]. London: Routledge, 2001.
    Lefevere, Andre. Translation/History/Culture: A Sourcebook. London: Routledge, 1992.
    Lefevere, Andre. Translation, Rewriting and the Manipulation of Literary Fame. London: Routledge, 1992.
    Venuti, L. The Translator’s Invisibility —A History of Translation. Landon and New York: Routledge, 1995.
    杨柳. 论原作之隐形.《中国翻译》, 2001(2):47-51.
    张培基, 俞云根等.《英汉翻译教程》, 上海:上海外语教育出版社,2002.