The adequate translation as a methodological tool: Dante’s onomastic wordplay in English

Edoardo Crisafulli

Abstract

This paper argues that the question of theoretical translatability is crucial both to source-oriented and target-oriented approaches. Reflecting on translatability requires a discussion of Toury’s notion of ‘adequate translation’, which has two senses: the general or ideal approximation to source-text norms, and the tertium comparationis represented by a source-text-oriented translation (i.e. showing how the original ‘can’ be translated). It is argued that both senses have heuristic value in Translation Studies. The explanatory power of target-orientedness is demonstrated by discussing the various strategies pursued by seven Anglo-American translators of Dante who either re-create or avoid rewriting grotesque onomastic wordplay in Inferno. Zero translation policy of Dante’s names is not considered to be evidence of their inherent ‘untranslatability’ since for an empiricist nothing is untranslatable. Evocative names may be translated in a creative way provided the rewriter is willing (or allowed) to be innovative.

Table of contents

In this paper I shall argue that the theoretical question of translatability lies at the core of both source-oriented and target-oriented approaches to Translation Studies. But what is meant by ‘translatability’? As Pym and Turk put it, in an excellent introduction to the subject, “translatability is mostly understood as the capacity for some kind of meaning to be transferred from one language to another without undergoing radical change” (1998: 273). This definition raises a number of thorny issues (what is the nature of textual meaning? How can meaning(s) be transferred from source text to target text without radical [ p. 2 ]change?), which could lead us into a very abstract realm. I contend that a productive (and positive) way of looking at the question of translatability is to consider Toury’s notion of ‘adequate translation’. Before doing this, I have to clarify my position.

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