Polysystem theory: Its prospect as a framework for translation research

Nam Fung Chang

Abstract

This article deals with three interrelated issues: first the ‘cultural turn’ of Itamar Even-Zohar in contrast to the ‘cultural turn’ in Translation Studies, then the application of an augmented version of Polysystem theory in a short case study, and finally the question of objectivity and neutrality in descriptive polysystem studies. It is argued that Polysystem theory and other cultural theories of translation, be they descriptive or politically committed, can be mutually enriching rather than incompatible, and that, with some augmentation and further development, it may serve as an adequate framework for research into the ‘external politics’ of translation.

Keywords
Table of contents

Developed in the 1970s, Itamar Even-Zohar’s Polysystem hypothesis was originally designed as a theoretical framework for the descriptive study of literature and language in their cultural context. His theory has made a great impact on the discipline of Translation Studies, and a ‘school’ is said to have been formed under its influence. The attraction of his theory to some translation scholars presumably lies in the prospect that, as Even-Zohar states (1979:300), “the complicated questions of how literature correlates with language, society, economy, politics, ideology, etc., may here, with the PS theory, merit less simplistic and reductionist hypotheses than otherwise”. Facilitated by Polysystem theory, these scholars have taken a ‘cultural turn’ (Hermans 1999: 110), [ p. 318 ]focusing their attention on the ‘external politics’ of translation. Paradoxically, it is also a movement away from Polysystem theory on the part of a number of scholars, mainly because they find the theory inadequate as “a comprehensive theoretical and methodological framework that can encompass the social and ideological embedding and impact of translation” (Hermans 1996: 41).

Full-text access is restricted to subscribers. Log in to obtain additional credentials. For subscription information see Subscription & Price. Direct PDF access to this article can be purchased through our e-platform.

[ p. 331 ]References

Bassnett, Susan
1998 “The translation turn in cultural studies”. Susan Bassnett and André Lefevere, eds. Constructing cultures: Essays on literary translation. Clevedon: Multilingual matters 1998 123–140.Google Scholar
Chang Nam Fung
1997Yes prime manipulator: A descriptive study of a Chinese translation of British political humour. University of Warwick. [Unpublished PhD thesis.]Google Scholar
1998 “An applied discipline obsessed with loyalty: On the Chinese tradition of Translation Studies”. Journal of Translation Studies (Hong Kong) 2. 29–41. [in Chinese.]Google Scholar
2000 “Towards a Macro-polysystem hypothesis”. Perspectives: Studies in translatology 8:2. 109–123.   Crossref logoGoogle Scholar
Chong Yau-yuk
2000 “The limitations of Polysystem theory for the study of ideology in translation”. Translation quarterly (Hong Kong) 16–17. 125–139. [in Chinese.]Google Scholar
Even-Zohar, Itamar
1979 “Polysystem theory”. Poetics today 1:1–2. 287–310.   Crossref logoGoogle Scholar
1990Polysystem studies. [= Poetics today 11:1.]Google Scholar
1997a “Polysystem theory” (revised version). Web: http://​www​.tau​.ac​.il​/~itamarez.Google Scholar
1997b “Factors and dependencies in culture: A revised outline for polysystem culture research”. Canadian review of comparative literature 24:3. 15–34.Google Scholar
Hermans, Theo
1994 “Translation between poetics and ideology”. Translation and literature 3. 138–145.   Crossref logoGoogle Scholar
1996 “Norms and the determination of translation: A theoretical framework”. Roman Álvarez and M. Carmen-África Vidal, eds. Translation, power, subversion. Clevedon: Multilingual matters 1996 25–51.Google Scholar
1998 “Translation and normativity”. Schäffner 1998:51–72.   Crossref logoGoogle Scholar
1999Translation in systems: Descriptive and system-oriented approaches explained. Manchester: St. Jerome.Google Scholar
Lodge, David
1985Small world. Harmondsworth: Penguin.Google Scholar
1996Xiao shijie [Small world], tr.Luo Yirong, vetted by Wang Fengzhen, 2nd edn. Chongqing: Chongqing chubanshe.Google Scholar
1998Xiao shijie [Small world], tr.Zhao Guangyu, vetted byLuo Yirong. Beijing: Zuojia chubanshe.Google Scholar
Schäffner, Christina
ed. 1998Translation and norms. [= Current issues in language & society 5:1–2.]Google Scholar
Toury, Gideon
1995Descriptive Translation Studies and beyond. Amsterdam-Philadelphia: John Benjamins.   Crossref logoGoogle Scholar
1998 “A handful of paragraphs on ‘translation’ and ‘norms’”. Schäffner 1998: 10–12.   Crossref logoGoogle Scholar
Venuti, Lawrence
1995The translator’s invisibility: A history of translation. London and New York: Routledge.   Crossref logoGoogle Scholar
1997 “Unequal developments: Current trends in Translation Studies”. Comparative literature 49:4. 360–368.   Crossref logoGoogle Scholar
1998The scandals of translation: Towards an ethics of difference. London and New York: Routledge.   Crossref logoGoogle Scholar
[ p. 332 ]
2000 “Will translation theory be of use to translators?”, tr. Au Kim-lung Kenneth. Translation quarterly (Hong Kong) 16–17. 111–124. [in Chinese.]Google Scholar
Wang Xiaoyuan
2000 “Intervention in literary translation”. Translation quarterly (Hong Kong) 16–17. 25–40. [in Chinese.]Google Scholar