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Abstract

Most translation theorists today would like to see translation studies firmly established as an independent discipline which, although it draws on insights from other disciplines, should be subsumed under none, (Hatim and Mason, 1990; Snell-Hornby, 1988; Bassnett-McGuire, 1980). The discipline which the majority translation theorists draw on most heavily is linguistics — indeed many books on translation theory and/or practice take the form of expositions of their authors' favourite linguistic theories plus explanations of how translators can profitably draw on them — although most also acknowledge the need to incorporate insights from areas such as philosophy, sociology, psychology, anthropology, semiotics, etc, as well. Most translation theorists today would like to see translation studies firmly established as an independent discipline which, although it draws on insights from other disciplines, should be subsumed under none, (Hatim and Mason, 1990; Snell-Hornby, 1988; Bassnett-McGuire, 1980). The discipline which the majority translation theorists draw on most heavily is linguistics — indeed many books on translation theory and/or practice take the form of expositions of their authors' favourite linguistic theories plus explanations of how translators can profitably draw on them — although most also acknowledge the need to incorporate insights from areas such as philosophy, sociology, psychology, anthropology, semiotics, etc, as well.
THE RELEVANCE OF TRANSLATION STUDIES
Kirsten Malmkjar
The University of Cambridge
Most translation theorists today would like to see translation studies
firmly established as an independent discipline which, although it
draws on insights from other disciplines, should be subsumed under
none, (Hatim and Mason, 1990; Snell-Hornby, 1988;
Bassnett-McGuire, 1980). The discipline which the majority
translation theorists draw on most heavily is linguistics — indeed many
books on translation theory and/or practice take the form of
expositions of their authors' favourite linguistic theories plus
explanations of how translators can profitably draw on them —
although most also acknowledge the need to incorporate insights from
areas such as philosophy, sociology, psychology, anthropology,
semiotics, etc, as well.
Gutt (1991) perceives a possible conflict between the quest for
independent status and the perceived need to draw on other fields. He
suggests that the latter has resulted in the disintegration of translation
studies rather than its unification. There is, apparently, not a single
theory of translation, but many, and this multiplicity goes hand in
hand with an apparent inability on the part of translation theorists to
agree on what is to count as 'translation'. At a certain level of
theorising, this is probably unavoidable, (compare 'literary studies';
language studies; etc). It can also be fruitful in so far as it stimulates
debate. In addition, it is clearly possible to isolate a number of
phenomena around which discussion tends to centre, and this seems
to belie the idea that translation studies is unhealthily fragmented.
Indeed it is difficult to see how Gutt could have arrived at his thesis
Ilha do Desterro 28, 1992, pp 25-36
26 Kirsten Malmkjwr
that both 'the range of phenomena commonly considered as
translation' (p. 188) and 'the phenomena of translation' (p. 189) can
be accounted for by relevance theory (Sperber and Wilson 1986a;
1986b; 1987; Wilson and Sperber 1985; 1988a; 1988b), unless
these
phenomena had already been presented to him from within translation
studies. In contrast to the common quest for independent status for
translation studies, however, Gutt claims that, given relevance theory,
'there seems to be no need for a distinct general translation theory'
(Gutt, 1991, preface, p. viii).
I want to examine this claim, showing that although Gutt's
reformulation of some of the concerns of translation theorists in
relevance theoretic terms is wholly successful, and sometimes
clarifying, it does not in any way make the issues he addresses go
away. More importantly, I want to suggest that his dismissal of certain
topics is wholly unjustifiable.
It may be useful, at the outset, to summarise Gutt's (ibid, Ch. 2)
outline of relevance theory. In relevance theory, what someone means
is called their
informative intention. Their verbal expressions are
assigned
semantic representations
which are
assumption schemas
requiring enrichment before they become fully truth-conditional and
achieve a
propositional form.
This enrichment is provided by the use
of
context;
the subset of the hearer's assumptions about the world
which is used to interpret the utterance. This subset is selected on the
bases of (i) ease of accessibility, that is, the amount of
processing
effort
involved in the selection, and (ii) optimization of benefit from
the selection, that is, the number of
contextual effects resulting from
the interpretation of the utterance in the selected context. An
assumption's
relevance in a context is defined in terms of its
propensity for producing contextual effects in that context relative to
the amount of effort required to process it in that context. Hearers
interpret utterances on the assumption that the interpretation will yield
adequate contextual effects at minimum processing cost,
and the
principle of relevance
says that 'every act of ostensive
communication communicates the presumption of its own optimal
relevance' (Sperber and Wilson, 1986a, p. 158; quoted by Gutt,
p. 30).
What is said need not be, indeed rarely is, identical to the full
interpretation it causes a hearer to arrive at. Rather, what is said
frequently bears
interpretive resemblance
to the required
interpretation. Wilson and Sperber (1988a, p. 138; quoted by Gutt,
p. 34) define interpretive resemblance as follows:
The Relevance of Translation Studies
27
two propositional forms P and Q ...
interpretively resemble
one another in a context C to the extent that they share their
analytic and contextual implications in the context C.
(analytic implications follow from an utterance alone, without the use
of context; for example, 'Nils is Tom's brother' analytically implies
`Nils is a male sibling of Tom'). When two propositions share all their
implications, one is
a literal interpretation
of the other.
In order for the definition of interpretive resemblance given
above to be applied to the translation situation, it needs to be
reformulated to take account of cases where P and Q are utterances
processed in different contexts (p. 44):
Starting from the definition of interpretive resemblance
between propositional forms, the crucial point is the
sharing of analytic and/or contextual implications. Since
these implications are assumptions, we can say more
generally that interpretive resemblance is characterized by
the sharing of assumptions.
Considering further that the main purpose of
utterances is to convey the set of assumptions which the
communicator intends to convey, it seems reasonable to
define interpretive resemblance between utterances in
terms of assumptions shared between the intended
interpretations of these utterances. Since the set of
assumptions an utterance is intended to convey consists of
explicatures and/or implicatures, we can say that two
utterances ... interpretively resemble one another to the
extent that they share their explicatures and/or
implicatures.
(explicatures are analytic implications; implicatures are contextual
implications).
Given this theoretical framework, Gutt sets out to examine a
number of theories of translation (Chs 3 and 4), measuring their
success against what can be achieved by means of relevance theory.
He looks, first, at House's (1981) model for translation quality
assessment which operates with a notion of 'covert translation' as the
ideal case of translation. A covert translation is a translation which is
in no sense marked as such, and which enjoys the status of an original
in the target culture. Covert translations are the only translations
which are able to achieve functional equivalence with their originals,
and it is in terms of functional equivalence that House wishes to assess
28 Kirsten Malmkjwr
the quality of translations. Gutt maintains, however, that it is often
difficult to be precise about what function a particular text or text-part
fulfils; that the preservation of one particular function may make a
translation non-equivalent with the original with respect to other
functions; and that functional equivalence between an original and a
translation often requires the two texts to differ quite radically.
In the scheme proposed by Hiinig and KuBmaul (1984), to which
Gutt turns next, even a translation which only resembles its original
in terms of overall intentions (such as the intention to sell products —
the case is of an advertisement for the products of a particular
company, though not necessarily the same products in the target
culture as in the source culture) counts as a translation. As Gutt points
out, this makes it very difficult to be precise about what constitutes
translation as opposed to non-translation. This difficulty, he asserts,
can be explicated via a distinction between texts which are crucially
dependent for their content and, indeed, for their very existence, on
the prior existence of another text in another language, and texts in
the case of which the existence of source texts is incidental to their
content (pp. 55-6). In relevance theory, this difference is accounted
for in terms of the distinction between descriptive and interpretive
use: A text which is intended to achieve relevance in its own right is
an instance of descriptive use, while a text which is dependent on its
source text is intended to achieve relevance in virtue of interpretive
resemblance to it. Translation theory need only be concerned with
cases of interpretive resemblance, since only texts which are intended
to achieve relevance as representations of other texts should be
considered translations. Even if, for example, a manual in language
A has served as a shortcut for the production of a manual in language
B, the relevance of manual B depends on how well it enables someone
to operate, and not on its resemblance to manual A. The use of
translation in its production is incidental. So relevance theory
provides a particular angle on the problem — a useful way of
conceptualising the difference between two kinds of text. Note,
however, that the distinction itself might plausibly have been drawn
and had, indeed, already been drawn by Honig and KuBmaul (1984)
independently of the invocation of relevance theory. The fact that
Honig and KuBmaul chose to call both cases 'translations' may be
odd, but one need not be familiar with relevance theory to notice the
oddity.
In Chapter 4, Gutt discusses the concern of translators (Bible
translators in particular) with the impact of their work on the target
audience. This concern led to Nida's (1964) theory of dynamic
The Relevance of Translation Studies
29
equivalence. Dynamic equivalence is achieved when a reader of a
translation responds to it in substantially the same way as a reader of
the original responded to it. In order to achieve dynamic equivalence,
a translator must aim to reproduce the message of the original, not
only in terms of the information it contains, expressed in a way that
seems natural in the target language, but also in such a way that it will
seem relevant to the receptor and in such a way that the receptor will
feel able to act on it. By 'message' is meant (Nida and Taber, 1969,
p. 205) 'the total meaning or content of a discourse; the concepts and
feelings which the author intends the reader to understand and
perceive' (quoted by Gutt, 1991, p. 69). In relevance theoretic
parlance, this becomes (p. 69): 'the set of assumptions {I} the original
communicator intended to convey'. If an audience is to be able to
retrieve this set of assumptions, they need to use the contextual
information which the communicator intended them to use to make
the appropriate inferences on the basis of the interaction of the context
with the discourse. If they do not use the intended contextual
information, misunderstanding will ensue. But often an audience will
not have available to them the contextual information the original
writer intended them to use. Therefore the aim of providing the same
message, as defined by Nida and Taber (1969, p. 205) cannot provide
an adequate basis for a theory of translation, especially not when it is
combined with their emphasis on linguistic translation — translation
in which only linguistically implicit information in the original is
made explicit in the translation — as the only faithful type (similar
difficulties are found to pertain to the idiomatic approaches presented
by Beekman and Callow, 1974, and Larson, 1984).
Chapter 5 is devoted to showing how the relevance theoretic
view of translation as interlingual interpretive use can serve as a
framework for a theory of translation. Gutt begins by explicating what
is meant by saying that 'an utterance interpretively resembles an
original' (p. 100).
In interpretive use the principle of relevance comes across
as a presumption of optimal relevance: what the reporter
intended to convey is (a) presumed to interpretively
resemble the original ... and (b) the resemblance it shows
is to be consistent with the presumption of optimal
relevance, that is, is presumed to have adequate contextual
effects
without gratuitous processing effort. This notion of
optimal resemblance seems to capture well the idea of
faithfulness, and Sperber and Wilson have, in fact, stated
30 Kirsten Malmkjxr
that in interpretive use " ... the speaker guarantees that her
utterance is a faithful enough representation of the original:
that is, it resembles it closely enough in relevant respects"
(Wilson and Sperber, 1988a, p. 137).
The principle of relevance thus constrains a translation both in terms
of what it should convey and in terms of how this should be expressed
(pp. 101-2):
If we ask in what respects the intended interpretation of the
translation should resemble the original, the answer is: in
respects that make it adequately relevant to the audience —
that is, that offer adequate contextual effects; if we ask how
the translation should be expressed, the answer is: it should
be expressed in such a manner that it yields the intended
interpretation without putting the audience to unnecessary
processing effort.
Both constraints are context determined, since the principle of
relevance is context dependent. And (p. 102):
These conditions seem to provide exactly the guidance that
translators and translation theorists have been looking for:
they determine in what respects the translation should
resemble the original — only in those respects that can be
expected to make it adequately relevant to the receptor
language audience. They determine also that the translation
should be clear and natural in expression in the sense that
it should not be unnecessarily difficult to understand.
So the demand for naturalness of expression in translations
follows from relevance theory, and the notion of faithfulness can be
recast as a notion of optimal relevance (p. 101). This explain why
different types of text, or passages within them, demand faithfulness
with respect to different types of feature (as per Newmark, 1988,
p. 15). What is unclear is that the need for classifications of text types
and the kinds of feature which it is important to retain in them thereby
disappears. How can the fact that each of Newmark's rules 'is an
application of the principle of relevance to an audience with particular
kinds of interests' (Gutt, p. 115) possibly justify the claim that these
and other rules and principles of translation are unnecessary? It is fine
for a translator to know that it is important for him or her to employ
the principle of relevance in translating, but s/he can surely still
benefit from some guidance about what this principle might demand
The Relevance of Translation Studies
31
in the case of certain types of audience reading certain types of texts
for particular purposes. Gutt concedes that 'much of the literature on
translation is useful', but 'only in a limited way' (p. 118), as the
guidelines it offers are circumstance specific. But it is obvious that
what one gains from the principle of relevance in terms of generality
of application must be balanced against what one would lose in terms
of specificity if
nothing but
this principle were made available to
guide translators.
The type of translation accounted for by the notion of
interlingual interpretive use is called 'indirect translation', because it
does not focus on the way in which something was said, but rather on
what
was said, rather like indirect quotations do. The notion is close
to 'sense-for-sense' or `free' translation. It is defined in terms of
shared explicatures and implicatures. In Chapter 6, this kind of
translation is distinguished from 'direct translation', a notion derived
from the idea of direct quotation and close to 'literal' translation. For
the notion of direct speech quotation to make sense in cases of
interlingual communication, it is necessary to focus, not on the exact
words and structures used — as these must obviously be different in
different languages — but, rather on what Gutt terms 'communicative
clues' (p. 127). These are stylistic properties which guide readers to
the interpretation intended by the communicator, and it is commonly
accepted that different stylistic properties in different languages may
lead to similar interpretations. For example, theme is indicated in
English by position in the clause, whereas in Japanese it is indicated
by a particle. In 'direct translation', the preservation of all the
original's linguistic clues 'would make it possible for the receptors to
arrive at the intended interpretation of the original, provided they used
the contextual assumptions envisaged by the original author' (p. 128).
But, as Gutt shows in Chapter 7, since direct translation produces
complete interpretive resemblance between original and translation,
it is, in effect, the optimal case of interpretive use, and we have a
unified account of translation. Direct translation is defined
without
reliance on the notion of communicative clue; only the notion of
complete resemblance in the same context as that envisaged for the
original is used (p. 163). And in spite of having covered around 30
pages (pp. 129-159) with discussion of different kinds of
communicative clues (arising from: semantic representations;
Syntactic properties; phonetic properties; semantic constraints on
relevance; formulaic expressions; onomatopoeia; accent, dialect and
register; and sound-based poetic properties), Gutt is curiously reticent
32 Kirsten Malmkjter
in recommending the study of such clues to translators, saying only
that
(p.
164):
it may well be that the concept "communicative clue" will
prove of some value in the practice of translation: it might
help the translator identify and talk about features in the
source and target-language utterances that affect their
interpretation.
I would have expected it to be blatantly obvious to anyone
engaged in the teaching and practice of translation that stylistics is of
the utmost importance to the successful outcome of the enterprise —
although no-one would deny that it is not sufficient in itself to
guarantee such success.
A direct translation must be made with regard to the context of
the original, and it is the responsibility of the target audience to
familiarize themselves with the context assumed by the original
communicator, even if this may be difficult (p. 166). Of course,
footnotes, prefaces or introductions may help, but these are not part
of the translation proper. Gutt reports on many cases in which attempts
to lay bare the explicatures and implicatures of an original
within
its
translation have led to the sad consequence of preventing the audience
from deriving the full, usually indeterminate, range which the original
in fact offered. To demand that a translator provide all the background
information which was available to the intended readership of the
original text is as absurd as it would be to demand that each new
edition of Shakespeare, for example, be expanded to enable the
contemporary readership to understand it exactly as Shakespeare's
contemporaries did. Of course, such expansion is impossible since (a)
we don't
know
just how Shakespeare's assumed that his audience
would understand him and (b) no readership consists of individuals
with identical assumptions about the world to begin with, so it is
impossible to ensure that any extra information is required by and/or
sufficient for the whole readership.
Furthermore, as Gutt also points
out,
people tend to expect
translation to be direct. Therefore it is very important, if indirect
translation
is
used, to make this clear to the intended readership.
Finally, Gutt describes the translator's task as follows
(pp. 180-1):
The translator's responsibility begins with the formation of
his informative intention ... The translator needs to clarify
for himself whether his informative intention is, in fact,
The Relevance of Translation Studies
33
communicable, that is, whether he can reasonably expect
the audience to derive this interpretation in consistency
with the principle of relevance. Thus, the translator is
confronted not only with the question of
how
he should
communicate, but
what
he can reasonably expect to convey
by means of his translation.
The answer to this question will be determined by his
view of the cognitive environment of the target audience,
and it will affect some basic decisions. It will, for example,
have a bearing on whether he should engage in interpretive
use [translation,
KM]
at all or whether descriptive use
[non-translation,
KM]
would be more appropriate.
If the translator judges that it is 'relevant to the audience to recognize
that the receptor language text is presented in virtue of its resemblance
to an original in another language', i.e., if the translator decides to
translate, then,
he will have to consider further what degree of resemblance
he could aim for, being aware that communicability
requires that the receptor language text resemble the
original "closely enough in relevant respects" (Wilson and
Sperber 1988a, p. 137). To determine what is close enough
resemblance in relevant respects, the translator needs to
look at both the likely benefits, that is, the contextual
effects, and also at the processing effort involved for the
audience. Thus he will have to choose between indirect and
direct translation, and also decide whether resemblance in
linguistic properties should be included as well.
In other words, the translator has to decide whether a faithful or literal
translation would be too difficult for the audience, in which
case
s/he
might opt for a freer version or even an adaptation; and s/he has to
decide whether rhyme, rhythm, metre, syntactic choices, etc, have to
be reproduced.
Obviously, what Gutt achieves amounts largely to a
reformulation of some of the concerns of translation theorists in
relevance theoretic terms. Post-relevance- theory-translators have to
make the same decisions as pre-relevance-theory-translators had to
make. Some of the decisions
may
have been made easier because the
relevance theoretic formulation provides some degree of clarification
of the issues involved — though this 'contextual effect' has to be
bought at the expense of the processing effort required to learn
34 Kirsten Malmkjwr
relevance theory. But while thus handing translators and translation
theorists the relevance-theoretic tool with one hand, Gutt
unfortunately takes away with the other certain ancillary tools without
which I doubt the relevance theoretic framework can be set in motion.
I have already mentioned the obliteration of specific rules and
guidelines about text and reader types and purposes and translation
strategies suitable for them. This follows in fact from Gutt's quite
astonishing claim that the possibility of reformulating translation
theory in relevance theoretic terms makes it possible, and that it is
desirable, for the study of translation to shift away from its
preoccupation with translational behaviour and from the
descriptive-classificatory approach (p. 20).
The descriptive approach to translations, to which Gutt takes
particular exception, has, he claims, quoting Toury (1985, p. 20), tried
to establish large corpora of texts which are, in particular cultures,
considered translations, so that an underlying concept of translation
may be discovered. As Gutt points out, such an approach must either
be culture specific, or it must assume that a universal notion of
translation exists. Now, given Davidson's (1973) theory of radical
interpretation, which permits a universal notion of translation, the
descriptive approach might achieve the aim which Gutt highlights for
it. But even if this aim were unachievable, it is not clear that
descriptive translation studies ought to be dismissed on the grounds
that it cannot provide a theory of translation. That is not its sole aim
and function. As Lefevere (1981, p. 41) pointed out long ago, a
descriptive poetics of translation can provide practitioners with useful
technical hints, and teachers of comparative literature with guidelines
about what different existing translations offer.
The claim that translation theory and translation studies have
been made redundant by relevance theory is astonishing, not to say
perverse, since Gutt's declared aim is neither 'to give a systematic
account of what people do in translation nor to tell them what they
ought to do (p. 190). Does such liberalism need to extend to a ban on
anyone trying to offer specific advice? Where is the practising
translator to turn? Can translators be trained in relevance theory
alone?
Relevance theory has done linguistic theory a service in, so to
speak, drawing context inside the consciousness of speakers and
hearers. It provides field, tenor and mode with a cognitive boundary,
and makes specific allowance for prior knowledge: context is
whatever assumptions a new piece of information happens to call to
mind. Of course, we cannot know or predict exactly what assumptions
The Relevance of Translation Studies
35
these will be, but this does not interfere with the basic definition of
context: relevance theory tells us that it will be those assumptions,
although it does not tell us, and is not intended to be able to tell us,
what assumptions they are.
What is not obvious is that this is helpful for a translator. An
understanding of relevance theory will not by itself enable translators
to predict the relevance of any particular turn of phrase to those
individuals which they might see as the projected audience for their
translations.
Ergo,
translators cannot expect to be able to apply
relevance theory directly when translating. They must, therefore, be
permitted to have something else to apply, and it remains one of the
aims of translation studies and translation theory to provide them with
this.
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