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November 17, 2011 / ABC Translation Services

Is Translation a Rewriting of an Original Text?

Is Translation a Rewriting of an Original Text?

This article raises some interesting points. While it is discussing translations of literature and not business, government, legal or scientific documents (the bulk of our translation business), it is an interesting facet of this other branch of translations.

Lefevere (1992a: xi) describes translation “a rewriting of an original text.” This paper will reevaluate Lefevere’s concept of translation through examining my chosen texts. In order to demonstrate how the translator of the example text transports the source text messages in the target language, some excerpts will be analyzed using a Systemic Functional Linguistics (systemic linguistics) approach which provides “a semantic account of the grammatical structures of the language” (White, 2001: 3).
Tomoko Inaba photoWardhaugh (1986) states that the structure of a given language determines the way in which the speakers of that language view the world. Different languages reflect different values and cultures; therefore, in an attempt to mediate different languages, values or cultures, translations “nearly always contain attempts to naturalize the different culture to make it conform more to what the reader of the translation is used to” (Lefevere, 1999: 237). As a result, translations are rarely equivalent to the original. Bassnett (1980) further argues that translated texts are so far removed from the original that they need to be considered as independent products of literature.
Within the target-oriented approach to translation, which views translation as a cultural product of the target system, Toury (1995) focuses on the translated texts, their processes, features and functions, isolating them from their context and ideology, thereby not fully addressing the quality in translation. While Lefevere (1992a) also follows the view on translation as a cultural product of the target system, he addresses ideology and power which initiate the act of translation in his analysis.
Rewritings or translations reflect the rewriters’/ translators’ efforts in adapting the text to function in a given society in a given way.

According to Lefevere (1992a: vii), translation is produced on the basis of an original text with the intention of adapting the original to a certain ideology or poetics of a different audience, and it is an activity performed under constraints of patronage, poetics and ideology initiated by the target systems, as such it is an act of rewriting of an original text to conform to certain purposes instituted by the receiving system. He also points out that of the different forms of adaptations that writers commonly engage in, including: translation, criticism, commentary, historiography and anthologies,translation is the most obviously recognizable type of rewriting that is influential in projecting and disseminating the image of original writers and their works beyond the boundaries of their culture of origin (Lefevere, 1992a: 9).

This paper will examine Lefevere’s concept of translation as a form of rewriting of an original text through an analysis of my chosen texts. The excerpts will be studied by using a Systemic Functional Linguistics (systemic linguistics) approach which provides “a semantic account of the grammatical structures of the language” (White, 2001: 3) to demonstrate how the translator of the example text transports the source text (ST) messages into the target text. Neubert and Shreve (in Lantaigne, 2001: 26) present the concept of communicative equivalence as encompassing the underlying value and ideology of the text. The communicative functions and meanings reflected in the structure and patterns of the ST and the TT will be examined for this purpose. By comparing the meanings and functions embedded in both texts, issues such as ideology and power embedded in the example text will be addressed. Furthermore, their influence on the target audience as well as on the projection of the original writer and his or her work will be discussed.

Example texts of my choice

The ST is an excerpt of a leader article which was originally published on 12 February, 2006 in The Japan Times, an English daily newspaper published in Japan. The TT is the Japanese translation of the ST published in The Japan Times Editorials which is also edited by The Japan Times. Both the ST and TT are compiled in The Japan Times Editorials. The Japan Times Editorials is targeted at Japanese audience who are learning the English language and its aim is to assist them develop their reading comprehension skills in English.
The ST which will be analyzed in this paper is an article about the unexpected pregnancy of the 39-year-old princess who is the sister-in-law of Masako Owada, the 43-year-old Crown Princess of Japan. The backdrop to this news is that the current constitution of the target society only allows the imperial family’s male members to succeed the throne; however, since the Crown Prince and Princess’ only child is a girl, the government tried to pass a new law to allow the family’s female members to succeed the throne. Just as this new law was about to be enacted, the news of Princess Kiko’s (the Crown Princess’ sister-in-law) unexpected pregnancy was announced and immediately halted the enactment of the new law.
The reasons for choosing the example texts


The primary purpose of the TT is to provide an accurate or equivalent translation for the learners of English as a foreign language to assist comprehension of the original English text and to improve their reading skills in English. If the TT is deemed accurate or equivalent to the original, one may presume that the communicative functions and meanings are also identical and equivalent, and that the translator would not incorporate his or her ideology or poetics to manipulate the text to function in the receiving culture or society differently from those imparted in the ST.
However, when each clause was compared from the ST to its TT by applying the systemic linguistic approach, a number of refractions were identified as a result of adaptation to the target culture or society while also reflecting a certain ideology and constraints. There are some traces or indications of the translator’s deliberate manipulation of the text so that the TT functions in the target culture and society in a certain way.
Lefevere’s concept of translation as a form of rewriting is based on his studies of translations of literary works and their influences on social, cultural and literary development. Instead of a literary translation, this analysis will be based on findings from the translation of a newspaper leader article, which is written in regular everyday language; however, many features of Lefevere’s analysis on literary translation were also identified in the TT.

Translation and the images of the original work

The target audience which does not have direct access to the original text totally depends on the translation to gain an idea of the original work and its writer. According to Lefevere (1992a), rewriters create the images of a writer, work, period, genre, sometimes even a whole literature. He also stresses that a writer’s work gains exposure and achieves influence mainly through misunderstanding and misconceptions created by rewriters (Lefevere, 1999: 234). Translation is a text comprised of refractions and it manipulates messages to project a certain image in the service of certain ideological constraints. According to Lefevere, this fact is apparent in the passages where translators insert in their translations—”passages that are most emphatically not in the original” (1992a: 42).
Lefevere (1992a) also points out that ideology functions as a tremendous constraint in the act of translation. Ideology is not limited to the political sphere, it is “the grillwork of form, convention and belief which orders our actions” (Jameson in Lefevere, 1992a: 16). In the following sections, three categories of ideology which seem to construct the TT will be explained while referring to selected examples:
a) the translator’s ideology;
b) ideological constraint by power or patronage; and
c) ideological constraint initiated by the target audience.

Reflection of the translator’s ideology in the TT

First of all, I will discuss the translator’s ideology reflected in the TT below.
Example 1
ST: No wonder the Crown Princess gets depressed
TT: Kotaishihino soutsu jotaiwa murimonai
Back Translation of the TT (BT): The Crown Princess’ depression is understandable
Although the Process of the ST (“gets depressed”) is initiated by Crown Princess Masako and expresses a certain extent of responsibility on the Crown Princess’ part in her state of depression, the state of her depression becomes the Carrier followed by the Relational Process (“is”) and the Attribute (“understandable”) in the TT. The verbal group of the ST expresses a process in some internal reality and is accompanied by the Agent which carries a certain responsibility or dynamic involvement of the Agent, thereby denoting a certain level ofactiveness-a higher degree of agency as the outcome of the structural choice represented. On the other hand, the TT changes the function of the original Process and represents it as part of the nominal group instead. While the ST places stress or impact on the princess as the initiator of her depression, the TT simply depicts the state of her illness. Therefore, the TT is downgraded or downplayed through rank-shifting. By this, the activeness implied in the ST is lost.
As it is demonstrated in the above example, the translator uses almost all equivalents or synonyms in the TT but as he or she changes the Process of the clause, the TT makes a different statement to that of the original. The translator’s choice in the shift of Process is not due to linguistic or textual constraint, since the Japanese equivalent of the ST Process may function in the same way as in the English language. Therefore, it can be regarded that this shift or insertion of another meaning is due to the translator’s deliberate rewriting as it interferes with the original message and imposes modifications that are not textual or linguistic constraints.
The target clause places a greater stress on the message that the princess is not at all responsible for her depression and that her state is “understandable.” One possible reason for this refraction may be due to the translator’s own ideology or sentiments about the Crown Princess’ situation. The translator may be sympathetic to the princess about her unfortunate situation, which is caused by the tremendous pressure to give birth to a boy—a royal heir. Hence the translator may have made the TT more inexplicit than the ST and as a result, the TT expresses more favorable or sympathetic sentiments towards the princess. This refraction in the TT also allows the readers to project a slightly more favourable image about the princess’s mental condition. Therefore, it may be noted that the translator rewrites the original to elevate the image of the Crown Princess and to recreate the image of the original text.

Reflection of ideological constraints by power or patronage

According to Lefevere (1992a: vii), translation is an activity “carried out in the service of power”—a control factor or patronage which can be exerted by a person, groups of persons, a religious body, a political party, a social class, a royal court, publishers, and the media, including newspapers (ibid: 15). He further notes that such control factors often act as a force on the translators to produce translated texts which conform to their patron’s ideology (Lefevere, 1992b: 14). As a result, translators often resort to rewriting the original work. Moreover, Lefevere explains that patronage basically consists of three elements: an economic component on which the translator depends for his or her living; an element of status of which could lead to elevating the translator’s reputation; and an ideological component which confines the act of translating (1992a: 16).
The translator of the TT is anonymous and this fact suggests that he or she may be an employee of the publishing company; therefore the translator could have been under a constraint to produce a translation with the parameters set by his or her patron—The Japan Times which does not usually criticize the imperial family squarely. In other words, the translator might have been compelled to produce a translation that conforms to the patron’s ideology to secure his or her own economic income. Moreover, as The Japan Times is a well-known newspaper corporation with a good reputation in the target society, having the experience of translating for the corporation may allow the translator to elevate his or her reputation or status as a translator. In this respect, the translator is also under the constraint of producing a TT which conforms to the ideology of his or her patron.
One of the most influential components of patronage is ideology and translators are often under the constraint of a certain ideology of the patronage. The translator of the example text is under various constraints in the service of power initiated by his or her employer—The Japan TimesThe Japan Times (the patron) often takes a relatively conservative position in their opinions about the imperial family. Therefore, it seems only natural that the translator is under the constraint of making sure that the TT does not offend the imperial family in any way and of rewriting the original text to serve the conventions and ideology of the patron.
In the ST system, the aforementioned ST passage in Example 1 is a simple straightforward statement and does not imply anything negative about the princess’ situation; however, direct word-for-word translation of the passage into the target language may connote a slightly negative or insulting message about the princess, since it subtly suggests that the Princess is responsible for her illness. Hence the translator shifts the ST process of “gets depressed” to “depression” followed by the possessive noun “The Crown Princess.” The translator is thus able to avoid projecting a negative image about the Princess. In the service of maintaining the patron’s (The Japan Timespro-imperial family stance, it is observed that the translator deliberately tones down and eliminates the explicitness of the semantic meaning of the aforementioned ST passage in Example 1 in the course of his or her translation.

Reflection of ideological constraint initiated by the target audience

Venuti (1998: 81-82) explains that, when the translation is governed by a socially and culturally influential institution, it has a greater effect on the social mores and the identity-forming process of the target society. In other words, as the example TT is governed by a newspaper corporation which is influential in the identity-forming process of the target society, the translator of the TT is also part of the process. Hence he or she is under tremendous constraint of adapting or rewriting the original text to respond to the social mores as well as to the ideological norms of the receiving society.
Although the imperial family no longer holds political power in the target society, the majority of target readers still highly respect it as the country’s symbol in which the target system takes great pride. Moreover, Princess Masako is also highly regarded and respected amongst many target readers, since she is a Harvard- and Oxford-educated former diplomat who is suffering from accumulated stress and enormous pressure to produce a royal heir. On the account of the target audience’s respect for the imperial family and their sympathetic sentiments towards the princess, the translator may have deliberately rewritten or manipulated the ST in Example 1 and downgraded the explicitness of its message in order to avoid offending the target audience in any way. By this, the social mores of the receiving society is also respected and the translation allows the target audience to maintain its respect toward the imperial family.
In addition, the passage in Example 1 is the article’s opening passage on which the remaining messages hinge. The impact of the first opening sentence is great in any text. If the translator starts the TT with exactly the same message as the original, the majority of target audience who admire the imperial family or the Crown Princess may be offended or insulted, since the accurate or equivalent translation would subtly suggest that the Crown Princess is responsible for her state of depression. And as a result, the target audience might not want to continue reading the remaining statements of the text. It may also prompt the target audience to reject the whole text, and ultimately, the target audience may be critical of the original work or writer. In order to avoid such possible negative responses, the translator could haverewritten the original intentionally to allow the target readers accept the text as well as to project a positive image of the text and its original writer. Consequently, the target audience is able to concentrate on the tasks of learning English and developing its reading skills. In this respect, the translator’s rewriting may be instrumental in the intellectual advancement of the target readers.
From the preceding, it is apparent that “rewritings are inspired by ideological motivations, or produced under ideological constraints” (Lefevere, 1992a: 7). In the attempt to serve various ideological constraints, the translator inevitably leaves his or her marks in the translation. Through such manipulation of the original, the translator may be able to project a certain image of the original work and its writer.

Rewritings refract the interpersonal distance

Every clause is interpersonal in that all clauses act to position both writer/speaker or reader/listener in some way. In the TT, the translator employs the target language convention of using the honorifics to create a certain distance between the writer and the imperial family, thereby expressing a greater degree of respect for the family than the original text. The translator adapts the original text with an intention to project a certain image of the text and writer. In this section, I will discuss the interpersonal distance reflected in the TT in support of Lefevere’s view on translation as a form of rewriting.
When the speakers of the target language talk or write about/to individuals, they resort to various linguistic forms to create distance to express modesty, politeness and respect for those who are addressed or referred to. The use of such devices in writing or speaking is mandatory and it is the convention and part of aesthetics of the target culture. The level of honorifics to be expressed depends on the social status or reputation of, or respect for the subject.
Since the primary purpose of the TT is to provide Japanese equivalents to the target audience (learners of English as a foreign language) in order to help them improve their English reading skills, the honorific language such as sonkeigo, a form of speech or writing to emphasise respect; kenjogo, to express humbleness or modesty; and teineigo, to show politeness, are not major components of the TT. The limitation of applying the honorific protocols in the TT suggests that the translator may have intentionally limited their use, since they confuse the target readers in their tasks of learning English. However, there is one instance where the sonkeigo is inserted in the TT.
The sonkeigo is a form to express one’s respect and admiration for a social superior. In this form of writing or speaking, nouns and verbs are replaced by their polite equivalents which usually have no resemblance in their spelling (characters) or sound. The translator uses the sonkeigo when he or she translates a statement about Princess Kiko’s pregnancy as follows:
Example 2
ST: along comes an unexpected pregnancy to send everything back to square one.
TT: subetewo furidashini modosu yokisenu gokainin gaatta
BT: there came an unexpected (but auspicious) pregnancy to send everything back to square one
In the target language, the standard form of “pregnancy” is ninshin. However, this form is only appropriate when one refers to the state of pregnancy of one’s own family members or friends. And when it is used to state about the pregnancy of someone of a high social status, it is inappropriate. The above is a statement about “an unexpected pregnancy” of Princess Kiko, another member of the imperial family, hence ninshin is replaced by its polite equivalence—gokainin. By this modification, the TT politely connotes that her pregnancy is a happy and auspicious occasion, while also implying a sense of respect for Princess Kiko.
By applying the sonkeigo in the TT, the translator also succeeds in inferring that Princess Kiko is not at all to be blamed for the political commotion in halting the new law to allow a female member to succeed the throne. This manipulation could be a reflection of the translator’s ideology or that of the patron, or even due to the translator’s attempt in rendering the text to conform to the target audience’s favorable sentiments about the imperial family.
In the value system of the target culture, it is important to address people with an appropriate level of politeness. Politeness or respect is expressed more explicitly in the target culture than the culture of the source language. In the target culture, people always address those of a superior social status by their professional or social title instead of personal pronouns. The use of honorific title also creates interpersonal distance.
While the example ST refers to Princess Masako as “the Crown Princess,” “princess” or even “she” sometimes, the TT always refers to her with her formal honorific title: the Crown Princess. Through the repeated use of the princess’s higher honorific title, the TT expresses a greater sense of respect for her than does the ST. This may also be the reflection of a certain ideology; therefore it could be an indication of the translator’s manipulation of how the target audience reads the text and projects an image of the original text and its writer.
As has been illustrated in this paper, translation involves cultural and ideological transportation and that translations are often produced under various constraints to serve certain purposes as they are a constituent of a complex literary, social or cultural system. Translation therefore takes the form of rewriting that is carried out within the framework of the target language, culture and ideology in the service of a control factor wielded by the patron or the receiving system.
In this respect, the translator is a rewriter of the original text as he or she engages in the act of cultural and ideological transportation and distorts the ST to accommodate it into the TT. Although rewriters/translators are usually considered to be meticulous, hard-working, well-read and as honest as is humanly possible, complete equivalence between ST and TT may be impossible due to various constraints. Hence rewriters/translators are, in some respects, traitors,since to a certain extent they violate the original, which they must do to remain within the boundaries of the target culture (Lefevere, 1992a: 13).
Rewritings or translations are manipulation, since they reflect the rewriters’/translators’ efforts in adapting the text to function in a given society in a given way. Also, they may be controversial because they can create different values and practices. However, while their powercan be misused sometimes, in the case described herein the translator has employed his/her power positively in introducing the ST while preserving the target culture and public morals, especially with regards to their symbol and pride—the imperial family.
Venuti also acknowledges that translators have the power to influence society and literature, since translation has “far-reaching social effects” (1998: 81). Indeed, translators have the power to contribute to the preservation or enrichment of the target literature and society, as well as to the enhancement of trust, understanding and respect between different languages, cultures, and ideologies. Furthermore, they may play an invaluable role in bringing the world closer and in enhancing humanity’s identification with global citizenship.
Bassnett, S. (1980) Translation Studies, London: Routledge.
Lantaigne, G. (2001) ‘The Translator: Mediator or Initiator’, in Carmen Rosa Caldas-Coulthard and Carmen Millan Varela (eds) Socio-Translation, The University of Birmingham, 21-30.
Lefevere, A. (1992a) Translation, Rewriting, and the Manipulation of Literary Fame, London/New York: Routledge.
Lefevere, A. (1992b) Translation – History, Culture: A Sourcebook, New York: Routledge.
Lefevere, A. (1999) ‘Mother Courage’s Cucumbers: Text, System and Refraction in a Theory of Literature’, in Larence Venuti (ed) The Translation Studies Reader, London: Routledge.
Toury, G. (1995) Descriptive Translation Studies and Beyond, Amsterdam: John Benjamin.
Venuti, L. (1998) Scandals of Translation: Towards and Ethics of Difference, London: Routledge.
Wardhaugh, R. (1986) An Introduction to Sociolinguistics, London: Basil Backwell.
White, P. (2001) Functional Grammar, The University of Birmingham, Centre for English Language Studies
Published – July 2009
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