Exploring literary translation practice: A focus on ethos

Peter Flynn
Lessius Hogeschool, Antwerp

This article discusses findings from an ethnographic study of literary translation practice in the Netherlands and Belgium. The article focuses on one aspect of translation practice, namely translatorial ethos. It is argued that the forms of translatorial ethos visible in the data are complex in that they have a bearing both on textual and institutional practice and relations at one and the same time. More specifically, it is also argued that these complex professional stances and positionings need to be taken into account if we are to gain a better understanding of translational norms (Toury 1995, 2000 and Chesterman 1993) or translational habitus (Simeoni 1998). Furthermore, it is argued in a more general sense that linguistic ethnography can provide clear indications of patterns of translational practice and therefore forms a useful means of inquiry in the context of translation studies.

Table of contents

The findings discussed in this article were taken from a doctoral dissertation on translation practice entitled a linguistic ethnography of literary translation: Irish poems and Dutch-speaking translators (Flynn 2006). The purpose of the dissertation was to demonstrate the situated nature of translation practice and how it impacts on translation products. It involved conducting an ethnographic inquiry among Dutch-speaking literary translators in Belgium and the Netherlands, particularly those who have translated Irish literature, which formed part of the research focus. In approaching literary translation, the writer was aware of the highly pertinent distinctions Toury makes in his discussion of the difference between ‘Translation of Literary Texts’ and ‘Literary Translation’ (Toury 1995: 166–180). It is stressed [ p. 22 ]here that literary translation is understood as a process and the object is to explore further certain elements highlighted by Toury when he states that

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