Compensation and the Brief in a Non-Literary Translation: Theoretical Implications and Pedagogical Applications

Keith Harvey
School of Modern Languages and European Studies, University of East Anglia, Norwich

Compensation as a device for dealing with loss in translation is often discussed with regard to literary translation where stylistic effects are assumed to be of greater importance than in non-literary modes. This paper builds on previous work firstly by exploring in detail the problem of author intention that appears to underlie the notion of effect. The discussion then extends into non-literary modes of translation where the translation specifications known as the Brief determine to a large extent the decisions taken by the translator. The author argues that the Brief introduces a crucial aspect into the decision-making process that not only allows for the possibility of compensation in non-literary texts but also influences the scope and type of compensation that would be deemed appropriate. Detailed examples are provided by a French source text featuring the frequent use of metaphor. Alternative translations are suggested in relation to two possible Briefs, which are presented as pedagogical devices in a translation 'role play'.

Table of contents

In this paper I will argue that the decision to use the strategy of compensation in the translation of a non-literary text is not just the consequence of an act of source textual interpretation by the translator. Crucially, an appreciation of the elements of the translation Brief also needs to be built into our understanding of the translator's decision-making process, including at the stylistic level where compensation is often deemed to become an option. An article published in Le Monde Diplomatique, a French periodical specialised in the reporting and the analysis of international diplomacy and politics, will provide examples for the discussion. The textual/linguistic feature that will specifically be investigated in connection with compensation is the source text author's frequent and extended use of metaphor. The questions raised here have both practical and theoretical implications. In practical terms, it is hoped that the discussion will contribute to an understanding of the range of techniques available to students and teachers of translation. Indeed, much of my thinking on these questions was done as a direct consequence of the stimulation and exigencies of teaching French-English translation at undergraduate level. In Section 5, I will present material from a 'role play' used in a translation class. Several key theoretical issues are also involved, including: the role of the notion of 'authorial intention' in the translator's decision-making, the perennially problematic distinction between literary and nonliterary translation, and the influence of contextual (principally instrumental) constraints on text production.

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