How are translation norms negotiated? A case study of risk management in Chinese institutional translation
University of Melbourne
Translation norms are conventionally viewed as forces that regulate translatorial behavior. Yet little is known about how norms are validated, challenged or broken by human agents. This quasi-experimental study of Chinese institutional translation proposes a risk-management model that explains how norms are jointly negotiated among the agents embedded in different institutional milieus. It is argued that norms are validated by the translators who strategically manage and weigh various translation risks pertaining to both the start and target cultures.
Table of contents
- 2.Norm theory revisited
- 3.This study
- 4.Quantitative results
- 5.Qualitative results
- 5.1Question: “Have you ever received any clear guidance as to how to translate official documents?”
- 5.1.1Answer: “It’s my strategy. But not a written rule”
- 5.1.2Answer: “As a staff translator, I prefer a faithful translation”
- 5.1.3Answer: “It depends on what kind of faithfulness you want to pursue”
- 5.1.4Answer: “The translation should sound ‘formal’”
- 5.1.5Answer: “Different foreign-affairs offices do things differently”
- 5.2Question: “Have you considered who will read this?”
- 5.2.1Answer: “It depends on where you want to use the translation”
- 5.2.2Answer: “There are two sorts [of readers]”
- 5.2.3Answer: “It doesn’t matter whether the reader is male or female”
- 5.2.4Answer: “It depends on who I am going to work for”
- 5.2.5Answer: “‘Sounding local’ is not always positive”
- 5.2.6Answer: “Nobody would read it”
- 5.2.7Answer: “Interpreting is different”
- 5.3Question: “Do you tend to rewrite the start text? If not, why not?”
- 5.3.1Answer: “Trust me, there are many worse start texts than this”
- 5.3.2Answer: “The premier just wanted to amuse his audience”
- 5.3.3Answer: “I was asked to translate the title as ‘Governor’ rather than ‘Secretary of the Provincial Party Committee’”
- 5.3.4Answer: “I definitely won’t rewrite the text”
- 5.3.5Answer: “Literalism is a safer choice for staff translators”
- 5.1Question: “Have you ever received any clear guidance as to how to translate official documents?”
- 7.In conclusion
- Address for correspondence
Why do translators use certain solutions or conform to given behaviors? The tendency to produce certain shared patterns can be accounted for by translation norms (Chesterman 1993Chesterman, Andrew 1993 “From ‘Is’ to ‘Ought’: Laws, Norms and Strategies in Translation Studies.” Target 5 (1): 1–20. ; Toury 2012 2012 Descriptive Translation Studies – and Beyond (Benjamins Translation Library 100). Revised edition. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. ). Despite the pervasiveness of the concept of norms in Translation Studies, some fundamental issues are still open to question. First, what counts as evidence for the existence of norms and with what degree of methodological confidence can we test it (Chesterman 2006a 2006a “A Note on Norms and Evidence.” In Translation and Interpreting – Training and Research, edited by Jorma Tommola and Yves Gambier, 13–19. Turku: University of Turku.)? The question of validity is also raised by Toury (2012) 2012 Descriptive Translation Studies – and Beyond (Benjamins Translation Library 100). Revised edition. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. , who admits that since it would be unrealistic to expect absolute regularities, “how small a pattern would still count as a regularity is a moot question” (81). Second, although many relativists suggest that norms vary from period to period and are subject to social contexts (Chesterman 2001 2001 “Proposal for a Hieronymic Oath.” The Translator 7 (2): 139–154. ), what remains largely unknown is how norms are selected, obeyed and “excluded” (Hermans 1998 1998 “Some Concluding Comments on the Debates and the Responses.” Current Issues in Language and Society 5 (1–2): 135–142. , 136), especially when authorities or prestige are at stake. Some scholars point out that “no people” or individual factors are involved in the process of validating norms (see Pym 1998Pym, Anthony 1998 “Okay, So How Are Translation Norms Negotiated? A Question for Gideon Toury and Theo Hermans.” Current Issues in Language and Society 5 (1–2): 107–113. , 108; Meylaerts 2008Meylaerts, Reine 2008 “Translators and (Their) Norms: Towards a Sociological Construction of the Individual.” In Pym, Shlesinger, and Simeoni 2008, 91–102.). If we cannot answer questions like these satisfactorily, the notion of norms might become no more than an inspiring proposal.
This article presents the findings of a quasi-experimental study undertaken to investigate how norms are internalized and thus validated by translators, using the translation of Chinese political discourse as a case study.11.The concept of ‘political discourse’ in this study is circumscribed in a particular way: it is understood as a country’s official discourse (e.g., government reports, official speeches, publicity materials and state media commentaries) on its political agendas, produced for both domestic and international audiences. Rather than merely provide speculative explanations of regularities observed in texts, this study uses a mixed-methods approach to empirically investigate possible norms for the translators: it quantitatively examines the recurring patterns in the translators’ evaluations of different translation solutions, and it works from semi-structured interviews to qualitatively analyze the underlying rationale and shared values behind their justifications. This bottom-up method is close in spirit to Toury’s (1998) 1998 “A Handful of Paragraphs on ‘Translation’ and ‘Norms’.” Current Issues in Language and Society 5 (1–2): 10–32. careful distinction between norms and regularities: regularities can be identified in text data, whereas norms as “psycho-social entities” are not palpable and are “still to be extracted” (15), for example from the translator’s real-life practice and interactions with others.
Analysis of the actual arguments of the interviewed translators sheds light on socio-cultural factors that condition the formulation of norms. This study does not directly observe and describe the day-to-day routines of Chinese institutional translators. Rather, identification of what the translators deem to be ‘normal’ or ‘the right thing to do’ reveals how norms are operating and why prevailing norms may have come about. Either descriptively or prescriptively, what the Chinese translators want to say demonstrates what they think they should do or what a good translation should be like. As discussed below, the quantitative and qualitative analysis of their views illustrates how norms are simultaneously internalized and creatively managed according to translators’ perceptions of personal and professional risks. As Simeoni (1998)Simeoni, Daniel 1998 “The Pivotal Status of the Translator’s Habitus.” Target 10 (1): 1–39. , Hermans (1999) 1999 Translation in Systems: Descriptive and System-Oriented Approaches Explained. Manchester: St. Jerome. and others have argued, a conceptual approach that is sensitive to Bourdieu’s (1977)Bourdieu, Pierre 1977 Outline of a Theory of Practice. Translated by Richard Nice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. notion of habitus helps to clarify this interplay of influences.
In light of these dynamics, the article explores two main questions: (1) How are norms formulated and how do they operate in practice? (2) What are the determining forces in validating a prevailing norm when personal and professional compromises are necessary? I first provide an account of norm theory, focusing on its key contributions and also taking account of the areas that have not been fully explored. Following this, I explain how this study is carried out and present the quantitative and qualitative results of the quasi-experiment, with particular attention to the analysis of translators’ understandings of norms and strategies for managing them. A risk-management model is proposed as a tentative explanation for the interaction of different norm agents.
2.Norm theory revisited
Over the past few decades, scholarly work on translation norms has aroused a good deal of debate (see, among others, Shlesinger 1989Shlesinger, Miriam 1989 “Extending the Theory of Translation to Interpretation: Norms as a Case in Point.” Target 1 (1): 111–116. ; Harris 1990Harris, Brian 1990 “Norms in Interpretation.” Target 2 (1): 115–119. ; Hermans 1991Hermans, Theo 1991 “Translational Norms and Correct Translations.” In Translation Studies: The State of the Art, edited by Ton Naaijkens and Kitty M. van Leuven-Zwart, 155–169. Amsterdam: Rodopi.; Chesterman 1993Chesterman, Andrew 1993 “From ‘Is’ to ‘Ought’: Laws, Norms and Strategies in Translation Studies.” Target 5 (1): 1–20. , 2006a 2006a “A Note on Norms and Evidence.” In Translation and Interpreting – Training and Research, edited by Jorma Tommola and Yves Gambier, 13–19. Turku: University of Turku., 2016 2016 Memes of Translation: The Spread of Ideas in Translation Theory (Benjamins Translation Library 123). Revised edition. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. ; Toury 2012 2012 Descriptive Translation Studies – and Beyond (Benjamins Translation Library 100). Revised edition. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. ; Schäffner 1998Schäffner, Christina 1998 “The Concept of Norms in Translation Studies.” Current Issues in Language and Society 5 (1–2): 2–9., 2010Schäffner, Christina 2010 “Norms of Translation.” In Handbook of Translation Studies Vol. 1, edited by Yves Gambier and Luc van Doorslaer, 235–244. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. ; Sela-Sheffy 2005Sela-Sheffy, Rakefet 2005 “How to Be a (Recognized) Translator: Rethinking Habitus, Norms, and the Field of Translation.” Target 17 (1): 1–26. ). Considerable progress has been made under the auspices of corpus-based research, with numerous studies on recurring patterns (‘universals’) lending support to the existence of normative forces in translation (see Mauranen and Kujamäki 2004Mauranen, Anna, and Pekka Kujamäki eds. 2004 Translation Universals: Do They Exist? (Benjamins Translation Library 48). Amsterdam: John Benjamins. ; Laviosa 2008Laviosa, Sara 2008 “Description in the Translation Classroom: Universals as a Case in Point.” In Pym, Shlesinger, and Simeoni 2008, 119–132.). It has been said that Toury’s pioneering work on norms helped to prepare the ground for research into the social aspects of translation (Schäffner 2010Schäffner, Christina 2010 “Norms of Translation.” In Handbook of Translation Studies Vol. 1, edited by Yves Gambier and Luc van Doorslaer, 235–244. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. ). It expanded the concerns of contemporary Translation Studies beyond the narrow focus on textual relations, to contexts of all kinds (Chesterman 2006b 2006b “Questions in the Sociology of Translation.” In Translation Studies at the Interface of Disciplines (Benjamins Translation Library 68), edited by João F. Duarte, Alexandra A. Rosa, and Teresa Seruya, 9–27. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. ). Researchers have sought to define, categorize and explain how translation norms are produced from a sociological perspective, leading to “the growing sociological interest in translators and their agency, and issues of ideology, power, manipulation and responsibility” (Chesterman 2018 2018 “Translation Ethics.” In A History of Modern Translation Knowledge: Sources, Concepts, Effects (Benjamins Translation Library 142), edited by Lieven D’hulst and Yves Gambier, 443–448. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. , 444).
Before we proceed, let me present two main features inherent in existing research: norm theory has been descriptively formulated and target-oriented.
2.1Descriptive and explanatory
Most discussions of norms are carried out descriptively. For Toury (1980)Toury, Gideon 1980 In Search of a Theory of Translation. Tel Aviv: Porter Institute for Poetics and Semiotics., norms appear to be a descriptive category, in other words, “a category for descriptive analysis of translation phenomena” (57). This is in line with the development of Descriptive Translation Studies, which moves beyond prescribing what a translation should be like and attempts to describe what translations are like or could be like. The descriptivists thus examine textual relations in order to identify regularities and patterns that might serve as causal or explanatory claims about translators’ choices (e.g., Ben-Ari 1992Ben-Ari, Nitsa 1992 “Didactic and Pedagogic Tendencies in the Norms Dictating the Translation of Children’s Literature: The Case of Postwar German-Hebrew Translations.” Poetics Today 13 (1): 198–221. ). So we study prescriptive norms, descriptively.
However, the description of translation as a norm-governed behavior has been met with some reservations. The major methodological concern is that using explanatory narratives alone to establish a causal link between norms and regularities remains speculative guesswork to a greater or lesser extent (Chesterman 2006a 2006a “A Note on Norms and Evidence.” In Translation and Interpreting – Training and Research, edited by Jorma Tommola and Yves Gambier, 13–19. Turku: University of Turku.). “Most are based on textual evidence” and some of them are “supported by other conjectural knowledge,” as Hermans (1998 1998 “Some Concluding Comments on the Debates and the Responses.” Current Issues in Language and Society 5 (1–2): 135–142. , 136) puts it. Chesterman (2006a 2006a “A Note on Norms and Evidence.” In Translation and Interpreting – Training and Research, edited by Jorma Tommola and Yves Gambier, 13–19. Turku: University of Turku., 16) also points out that other factors such as “cognitive constraints, time and task constraints, or factors concerning the translator’s background knowledge and proficiency” may all potentially be the cause of an observed regularity. Insights into norms based on textual sources should therefore be complemented by extra-translation sources (see Chesterman 2006a 2006a “A Note on Norms and Evidence.” In Translation and Interpreting – Training and Research, edited by Jorma Tommola and Yves Gambier, 13–19. Turku: University of Turku.; Toury 2012 2012 Descriptive Translation Studies – and Beyond (Benjamins Translation Library 100). Revised edition. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. ) and by empirical data gathered in interviews with translators or observations of translation processes (Schäffner 2010Schäffner, Christina 2010 “Norms of Translation.” In Handbook of Translation Studies Vol. 1, edited by Yves Gambier and Luc van Doorslaer, 235–244. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. ).
A major unsolved difficulty in the descriptive paradigm is that it does not offer adequate explanations for how perceived dominant norms arose and how they are perhaps subject to change. In his critical review of the descriptive paradox, Chesterman (2006a) 2006a “A Note on Norms and Evidence.” In Translation and Interpreting – Training and Research, edited by Jorma Tommola and Yves Gambier, 13–19. Turku: University of Turku. proposes two senses of norms: one is descriptive and weakly explanatory, and the other is causal and more strongly explanatory. Of these two senses, Chesterman suggests that the norms that govern translational action deserve more consideration, since they foreground correlations and causal connections between linguistic features and sociocultural values. When Chesterman (2006a) 2006a “A Note on Norms and Evidence.” In Translation and Interpreting – Training and Research, edited by Jorma Tommola and Yves Gambier, 13–19. Turku: University of Turku. dwells upon causality, what he attempts to look for is a plausible link between observed regularities and evidence of normative forces. Still, it seems that not much scholarship has focused in the first place on exactly how a norm is formulated, developed, challenged and, perhaps, violated.
To sum up, within the descriptive paradigm norms provide some powerful guiding ideas to explain and predict translators’ behaviors. However, the impact of translators’ reactions upon established norms and thus the translators’ potential roles in challenging and breaking the norms have so far been paid relatively scant, uneven attention.
For descriptive studies, the research priority is target-oriented and this underlines the relevance of reception for Translation Studies (see Brems and Ramos Pinto 2013Brems, Elke, and Sara Ramos Pinto 2013 “Reception and Translation.” In Handbook of Translation Studies Vol. 4, edited by Yves Gambier and Luc van Doorslaer, 142–147. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. ).
Recall Toury’s (2012) 2012 Descriptive Translation Studies – and Beyond (Benjamins Translation Library 100). Revised edition. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. sociological position on norms: as a general idea shared by a community, norms are acquired during an individual’s socialization, functioning as a value judgment that guides decisions about what is right or wrong, adequate or not. Considering that it must be others who evaluate the behavior, Toury clearly states that his discussion about the role of norms is “within a target-oriented version of DTS [Descriptive Translation Studies]” (79). The target-culture expectations are pinned to Toury’s formulation: for him, translators “operate first and foremost in the interest of the culture into which they are translating” (6). At its core is clearly the argument that whether a translation is acceptable is determined by “the use of the target language” and “text norms or genre conventions” on the target side (Schäffner 2010Schäffner, Christina 2010 “Norms of Translation.” In Handbook of Translation Studies Vol. 1, edited by Yves Gambier and Luc van Doorslaer, 235–244. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. , 237).
Toury (2012 2012 Descriptive Translation Studies – and Beyond (Benjamins Translation Library 100). Revised edition. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. , 79) does postulate a type of norm that he calls the “initial norm,” which refers to a binary choice between two extreme orientations: orienting the translation strongly towards the start text, which leads to an adequate translation, or adhering to target-language norms, which gives rise to an acceptable translation (see Chesterman 2016 2016 Memes of Translation: The Spread of Ideas in Translation Theory (Benjamins Translation Library 123). Revised edition. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. , 61–62). Nevertheless, Toury (2012 2012 Descriptive Translation Studies – and Beyond (Benjamins Translation Library 100). Revised edition. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. , 80) also clarifies that shifts from the start text “are to be expected even in the most extreme adequacy-oriented translation,” making target-oriented patterns an inevitable “distinctive feature of translation.” In this sense, the focus on start-culture norms is somehow secondary.
Taking his cue from Toury, Chesterman (1993)Chesterman, Andrew 1993 “From ‘Is’ to ‘Ought’: Laws, Norms and Strategies in Translation Studies.” Target 5 (1): 1–20. categorizes norms as professional and expectancy norms. Professional norms are in effect process norms that govern the translation solutions chosen by competent translators, while expectancy norms are based on the expectations of the prospective target-culture readership. Chesterman (1993Chesterman, Andrew 1993 “From ‘Is’ to ‘Ought’: Laws, Norms and Strategies in Translation Studies.” Target 5 (1): 1–20. , 8) refers to Toury’s notion of acceptability to drive the target-oriented point home: since expectancy norms are regarded as “higher order norms,” in most cases, professional norms seem to be de facto dominated by expectancy norms on the reception side. In line with such target-oriented priorities, research on start-culture norms has generally received short shrift. For instance, in his study of norms in audiovisual translation, Karamitroglou (2000Karamitroglou, Fotios 2000 Towards a Methodology for the Investigation of Norms in Audiovisual Translation: The Choice between Subtitling and Revoicing in Greece. Amsterdam: Rodopi., 44) claims that start-pole evidence “bear[s] no relevance for the methodological study of translational norms” since the target norms are assumed to override the start-culture ones.
Part of the problem in target-focused norm theory is this: the dichotomy perpetuates a binary opposition in which the two kinds of norms are operating separately; there seems to be not much negotiation between the production and reception sides. However, if conflicts occur, does the target side always prevail? Toury (2012 2012 Descriptive Translation Studies – and Beyond (Benjamins Translation Library 100). Revised edition. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. , 86) himself was acutely aware that the role of “different agents in the overall dynamics of translational norms is still largely a matter of conjecture.” So how do different agents agree to arbitration in cases of dispute (if any kind of arbitration is available)? For Chesterman (1993Chesterman, Andrew 1993 “From ‘Is’ to ‘Ought’: Laws, Norms and Strategies in Translation Studies.” Target 5 (1): 1–20. , 9), expectancy norms are validated on the target side by “the receivers.” Note that although Chesterman uses the term “receivers,” the corresponding expectations ensue from a generalized assumption of what a translation ought to be like in a somehow homogeneous target system – for example, a definitively collective desire for “overt” or “covert” translation (see House 1981House, Juliane 1981 A Model for Translation Quality Assessment. Second edition. Tübingen: Narr.) in a given target-language community (see Chesterman 2016 2016 Memes of Translation: The Spread of Ideas in Translation Theory (Benjamins Translation Library 123). Revised edition. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. , 63). Underlying this claim is an implicit assumption that the “translation tradition in the target culture” (Chesterman 1993Chesterman, Andrew 1993 “From ‘Is’ to ‘Ought’: Laws, Norms and Strategies in Translation Studies.” Target 5 (1): 1–20. , 9) is a general consensus forged by the community. How different agents on the target side negotiate norms and what potential clashes might occur fall outside the main focus of Chesterman’s norm model.
2.3So where do ‘people’ come in?
The lack of ‘people’ in norm theory raises two problems.
First, why should norms have to be categorized in a binary way – that is, why should our attention only be given to one side (and usually the target one)? As Delabastita et al. (2003)Delabastita, Dirk, Christopher Taylor, David Katan, Peter Fawcett, Ian Mason, and Jorge Díaz Cintas 2003 “Book Reviews.” The Translator 9 (2): 333–366. point out, the blind spot at issue becomes whether it would ever be possible to study target-culture norms without reference to start-culture norms. Both kinds of norms should have their place; norms on both sides “may be mutually reinforcing” in some sense (Inghilleri 2003Inghilleri, Moira 2003 “Habitus, Field and Discourse: Interpreting as a Socially Situated Activity.” Target 15 (2): 243–268. , 253). Without adequate empirical evidence for the claim that the receptor system is salient enough to eclipse any other consideration, it is hard to envisage such a target-ruled regime.
Some empirical counter-evidence has been uncovered from translation and interpreting practices in institutional settings. An example of this is Koskinen’s (2008) 2008 Translating Institutions. An Ethnographic Study of EU Translation. Manchester: St. Jerome. ethnographic study of translation in the European Commission. As Koskinen puts it in her earlier work (Koskinen 2000Koskinen, Kaisa 2000 “Institutional Illusions: Translating in the EU Commission.” The Translator 6 (1): 49–65. ), institutional translation is partially characterized by “existential equivalence” (49), due to the fact that EU translations are produced for institutional needs rather than for the general public in a target culture. Similar evidence is also found in the domain of community interpreting, particularly in legal and healthcare settings where the start-side authority tends to be of more weight (see Bolden 2000Bolden, B. Galina 2000 “Toward Understanding Practices of Medical Interpreting: Interpreters’ Involvement in History Taking.” Discourse Studies 2 (4): 387–419. ; Anderson  2002Anderson, R. Bruce W. (1976) 2002 “Perspectives on the Role of Interpreter.” In The Interpreting Studies Reader, edited by Franz Pöchhacker and Miriam Shlesinger, 209–217. London: Routledge.; Pöllabauer 2004Pöllabauer, Sonja 2004 “Interpreting in Asylum Hearings: Issues of Role, Responsibility and Power.” Interpreting 6 (2): 143–180. ; Kolb and Pöchhacker 2008Kolb, Waltraud, and Franz Pöchhacker 2008 “Interpreting in Asylum Appeal Hearings: Roles and Norms Revisited.” In Interpreting in Legal Settings, edited by Debra Russell and Sandra Hale, 26–50. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press.). Such works draw attention to interpreters’ strategies that are directly influenced by the start-culture senders’ expectations (e.g., asylum officers or doctors) rather than by the target-culture receivers (e.g., refugees or patients). All these cases suggest that the belief in a dominant (target) side might be an ideal, not a factual, universal tendency.
The other concern is the deterministic view of human action that norm theory may imply. Since breaking norms leads to “penalties such as disqualiﬁcation, humiliation, ostracization or even incarceration,” as Sela-Sheffy (2005Sela-Sheffy, Rakefet 2005 “How to Be a (Recognized) Translator: Rethinking Habitus, Norms, and the Field of Translation.” Target 17 (1): 1–26. , 3) argues, the translator’s freedom of creativity is deemed “nil” (ibid.). If so, why are divergent translation behaviors found everywhere? One may also wonder why in some cases translators still intentionally break norms. Bourdieu’s (1977)Bourdieu, Pierre 1977 Outline of a Theory of Practice. Translated by Richard Nice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. key notion of ‘habitus’ has been used by translation scholars to overcome the danger of mechanistic determinism and finalism: an established norm should not merely be seen as an inevitable consequence of a set of conditions (see Hermans 1999 1999 Translation in Systems: Descriptive and System-Oriented Approaches Explained. Manchester: St. Jerome.). Simeoni (1998Simeoni, Daniel 1998 “The Pivotal Status of the Translator’s Habitus.” Target 10 (1): 1–39. , 26) calls for research on the translator’s habitus in order to find out more about how the human agents “play a role in the maintenance and perhaps the creation of norms.” Several like-minded researchers (see Gouanvic 1997Gouanvic, Jean-Marc 1997 “Translation and the Shape of Things to Come.” The Translator 3 (2): 125–152. ; Hermans 1999 1999 Translation in Systems: Descriptive and System-Oriented Approaches Explained. Manchester: St. Jerome.; Inghilleri 2003Inghilleri, Moira 2003 “Habitus, Field and Discourse: Interpreting as a Socially Situated Activity.” Target 15 (2): 243–268. ; Sela-Sheffy 2005Sela-Sheffy, Rakefet 2005 “How to Be a (Recognized) Translator: Rethinking Habitus, Norms, and the Field of Translation.” Target 17 (1): 1–26. ), albeit in different ways, have drawn on the sociological concept to articulate how translators (and interpreters in Inghilleri’s case) produce or adapt normative practices.
A good starting place to empirically humanize norm theory is the observable “facts of real life” (Toury 2012 2012 Descriptive Translation Studies – and Beyond (Benjamins Translation Library 100). Revised edition. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. , xi), in which norms are, indeed, negotiated by people in social confrontations (Pym 1998Pym, Anthony 1998 “Okay, So How Are Translation Norms Negotiated? A Question for Gideon Toury and Theo Hermans.” Current Issues in Language and Society 5 (1–2): 107–113. ). Rather than simply look at a translation tradition that leads to dominant norms as a homogeneous set, we need to consider how the expectations of different agents might clash with those of others and in what ways the potential competing norms can (or cannot) be brought into an agreement.
My contention here is that the target-oriented focus of norm theory is rather questionable with regard to its explanatory power in accounting for (new) empirical translation phenomena and practices. What happens after a norm is broken and how one norm takes precedence over others through negotiation by different parties require more systematic empirical investigation than it has hitherto received.
There are two reasons for using Chinese institutional translation as a case study to answer questions concerning how norms are validated and how they may change.
First, China’s current government-led international communication system provides plenty of new empirical evidence that norm authorities of various kinds are involved in the process of norm-formation. As the world’s second-largest economy, China is becoming more integrated with the rest of the world. Translation has played an explicit role in China’s international communication, in that the demand for national image-building overseas is high.
Against this backdrop, various authorities that impose translation norms have come into play. There has been a self-evident boom in the translation profession in the last decade, but despite the fact that the number of Chinese language service providers increased from 8,179 in 2002 to 320,874 in 2018, according to a report by the Translators Association of China (TAC) (2018)TAC (Translators Association of China) 2018 2018 China’s Language Service Industry Development Report. Beijing: TAC., qualified high-level language professionals are still perceived to be in short supply. This has given increased momentum to the professional training of translators and interpreters. A major attempt to nationally standardize university-level programs is the BTI (Bachelor of Translation and Interpreting) and MTI (Master of Translation and Interpreting) programs. By October 2018, 272 BTI and 249 MTI programs were in operation, with a total enrollment of 53,000 students and a graduate population of 30,000 (TAC 2018TAC (Translators Association of China) 2018 2018 China’s Language Service Industry Development Report. Beijing: TAC.). More than eighty new translation and interpreting textbooks have been published in the last decade. The China Accreditation Test for Translators and Interpreters (CATTI), a government-accredited system, has become another benchmark of professionalization since it was launched in 2003. In 2018, the CATTI tests were taken by approximately 200,000 people. Though various norm authorities (professionals, associations, trainers, textbooks, accreditation standards, etc.) have been involved, potential conflicts or disagreement among them remain largely unstudied.
Second, translation practices are “socially established,” in other words, “institutionalized” to some extent (Chesterman 2006b 2006b “Questions in the Sociology of Translation.” In Translation Studies at the Interface of Disciplines (Benjamins Translation Library 68), edited by João F. Duarte, Alexandra A. Rosa, and Teresa Seruya, 9–27. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. , 19). As a highly organized discourse, institutional translation seems to be an ideal setting in which we can test the interaction between hierarchical power structures of start-culture norms and potential target-oriented considerations. For instance, providing more than 20,000 official translations of Chinese political terminology in at least nine languages, the government-funded online Database of the Standardized Translations of Chinese Key Foreign-Affairs Terms shows that significant administrative resources are being invested in institutional translation services (China Academy of Translation, n.d.China Academy of Translation n.d. “Database of the Standardized Translations of Chinese Key Foreign-Affairs Terms [中国重要政治词汇对外翻译标准化专题库 zhong guo zhong yao zheng zhi ci hui dui wai fan yi biao zhun hua zhuan ti ku]”. Accessed January 3, 2020. https://library.unimelb.edu.au/recite/chicago-b/webpages-and-social-media). However, do trained translators always adopt the official translations without any hesitation? How might other factors affect translators’ decision-making? The complex interaction between various norm authorities is open to different kinds of analyses. Hermans (1998 1998 “Some Concluding Comments on the Debates and the Responses.” Current Issues in Language and Society 5 (1–2): 135–142. , 138) proposes that “how norms change and what variables enter into the process” are serious questions, but he suspects that the multiple variables (e.g., “political, economic, ideological, ethical, cultural, religious, whatever”) are not entirely predictable and are “too large” to study (ibid.). Considering the scope of China’s international communication, institutional translators indeed interact with these constraints that characterize their sociopolitical habitus. Professionals might find themselves in the middle of various conflicting agendas (see Inghilleri 2003Inghilleri, Moira 2003 “Habitus, Field and Discourse: Interpreting as a Socially Situated Activity.” Target 15 (2): 243–268. , especially 255). The issue at stake is how the agents validate and internalize the various influences.
In order to test the ways norms operate, are negotiated and are subject to change, I conducted a quasi-experiment to look for connections or correlations between different kinds of normative forces. Chesterman’s (2006a) 2006a “A Note on Norms and Evidence.” In Translation and Interpreting – Training and Research, edited by Jorma Tommola and Yves Gambier, 13–19. Turku: University of Turku. suggestions about how best to look for evidence of norms are adopted as a methodological framework. As Chesterman proposes, norms may come in three forms: (1) norm statements, as an official statement issued by a norm authority in an implicit or explicit way; (2) belief statements, referring to translators’ justifications of their solutions; and (3) explicit criticism, defining as norm-breaking those behaviors that do not conform to a given norm. In this study I examined the three forms in the following way. First, I elicited norm statements: I asked the institutional translators whether it was true that a given observed regularity (e.g., literalism) in Chinese official translation is an established norm. Second, I report the translators’ actual belief statements: By analyzing how the translators ranked translations and justified their choices, competing norms (e.g., faithfulness vs readability) are uncovered. Third, I test norm-breaking: given that literalism is the prevalent practice in Chinese institutional translation (see Xu 2014Xu, Mingqiang 2014 “Waixuan fanyi de fannao [The difficulties of translating Chinese political discourse].” Chinese Translators Journal 3: 11–12.), the translators’ attitudes towards different levels of intervention were evaluated in order to see whether norm-breaking might provoke criticism or sanction.
The quasi-experiment is divided into two parts: translation ranking tasks and follow-up interviews. Prior to the experiment, the participants (a group of fourteen Chinese translators; see Section 3.4) were asked to read a Plain Language Statement that explained the purpose of the study, how the collected information was to be used and the voluntary nature of participation. They then signed an ethics consent form agreeing to participate, in accordance with the principles of human research ethics and integrity at the University of Melbourne (Ethics Approval number 1750144.1).
The participants were asked to rank three Chinese-to-English translations in each task in terms of their adherence to expected working norms. In each ranking task, a Chinese start text was provided along with three English translations. The translations were designed to demonstrate different levels of translator intervention, from low to high: a low-intervention, word-for-word translation (coded as −INT), a medium-intervention translation that conforms to target conventions (coded as +INT) and a high-intervention, radical rewriting (coded as ++INT). The translators were asked, for each start text, to rank the three translations in order of preference. To analyze the ranking results, I use a three-point rating scale to measure the translators’ evaluation of the translations: the most preferred (3 points), the second preferred (2 points), and the least preferred (1 point).
After the participants had completed ranking the nine translations, I interviewed them, using semi-structured questions. The ranking tasks and interviews were conducted between February and June 2018 in three cities in China. Ten translators participated in semi-structured focus-group interviews and the other four translators were interviewed individually. During the interviews, I encouraged the participants to indicate what they liked or disliked in each alternative translation, focusing inter alia on how the translators responded to norm-specific opinion questions. Here I was more concerned with the extent to which normative forces might affect the translators’ responses to intervention and in what situations the translators might want to take the risk to challenge established norms. QSR International’s (2018)QSR International Pty Ltd (2018) NVivo (qualitative data analysis software) version 12. https://www.qsrinternational.com/nvivo/home NVivo 2 qualitative data analysis software was used to code the most important and commonly recurring patterns in the interviewees’ comments, in accordance with a multi-layer coding typology developed in a bottom-up fashion.
The participants completed the interviews in their L1 (Chinese) and all the spoken parts of the experiment sessions were audio-recorded and then transcribed. The transcripts that are quoted and analyzed in the study were translated into English by me. All interviewees were given coded names according to the sequence and the type of the interviews, gender and age. For example, a thirty-four-year-old female participant from the first focus-group interview was coded as “FG1F34” (Focus Group 1, Female, aged thirty-four). The conventions used in the analysis of the interview transcripts are adapted from Duflou (2016)Duflou, Veerle 2016 Be(com)ing a Conference Interpreter: An Ethnography of EU Interpreters as a Professional Community (Benjamins Translation Library 124). Amsterdam: John Benjamins. .
A mixed-methods approach is used to examine the possible correlation between norms and the translators’ tolerance of intervention: the quantitative results from respondents’ ranking tasks are qualitatively compared to their attitudes towards the presumed norms and norm-breaking.
The four start texts (STs, coded as ST1, ST2, ST3 and ST4) of approximately 150 words each were selected from the website and publications of the Chinese government as authentic examples of Chinese political discourse. ST1 is an excerpt from the keynote speech delivered by Chinese president Xi Jinping at the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party on October 18, 2017. ST2 was selected from president Xi’s speech at the opening ceremony of the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation on May 14, 2017. ST3 is a news report about Chinese premier Li Keqiang’s visit to an Australian Football League (AFL) match during his visit to Australia in March 2017, published on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China. ST4 is an excerpt from a policy report about the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA) released by the Ministry of Commerce of China in 2015.
The selected STs are deemed to typify the main linguistic and stylistic features of Chinese political discourse: standardized, culture-bound and ideologically laden (see Xu 2014Xu, Mingqiang 2014 “Waixuan fanyi de fannao [The difficulties of translating Chinese political discourse].” Chinese Translators Journal 3: 11–12.). The topics of the selected STs include politics, trade, cultural exchange and ideology, aiming to cover the main themes of this type of discourse. The authentic, official translations of the four STs have been produced and published by the Chinese government. In each task, the −INT translation is based on the authentic translations, slightly adapted. Only minor changes have been made due to the occasional need for grammatical correction. The +INT and ++INT translations in each task were produced by me.
Table 1 shows ST1 and its three alternative translations to illustrate how the translation materials were designed and presented.
zhong guo zheng fu tong chong tui jin “wu wei yi ti” zong ti bu ju, xie tiao tui jin “si ge quan mian” zhan lv bu ju, yi xin yi yi wei shi xian “liang ge yi bai nian” fen dou mu biao er nu li.
‘The Chinese government has coordinated and promoted the overall layout of the “Five in One,” coordinated and advanced the strategic layout of the “Four Comprehensive,” and worked hard to achieve the “two hundred years’ goal.”’
|M1−INT||The Chinese government has promoted the Five-sphere Integrated Plan, advanced the Four-pronged Comprehensive Strategy in a coordinated manner, and worked wholeheartedly to achieve the Two Centenary Goals.|
|M1+INT||The Chinese government has promoted its overall plan in five areas: economy, politics, culture, society and ecological environment. The government has thus implemented its strategic plan that outlines four goals: building a moderately prosperous society, deepening reform, striving to achieve the rule of law, and strengthening Party discipline. The government is committed to achieving its two key goals: creating a moderately prosperous society by 2021 and building China into a modernized socialist society by 2049.|
|M1++INT||The Chinese government has taken major steps to implement a strategic agenda that addresses the economic, political, social, cultural and environmental challenges it faces and champions prosperity and success for the Chinese people. The government has made great strides in past years and remains committed to policies that ensure the well-being of Chinese families and businesses for decades to come.|
The M1−INT is a literal translation of the Chinese ST1. Terms such as “five-sphere integrated plan” and “four-pronged comprehensive strategy” are official translations in the English version of the Chinese government report, which have also been documented in the Database of the Standardized Translations of Chinese Key Foreign-Affairs Terms. M1+INT explicitates the exact meaning of the policies and retains Communist ideology such as “strengthening Party discipline”; M1++INT is a radical rewriting, which summarizes the purposes of the policies and erases traces of Communist ideology.
The participants were purposefully selected from government foreign-affairs offices, the translation industry and higher education institutions. Ten of them are (or were) linked to university-level formal translator or interpreter training programs. Of the fourteen interviewees, all except one were female, and all were Chinese L1 speakers. Their ages varied from twenty-six to forty-three, but most of the interviewees were in their mid-thirties, with an average age of thirty-five. Half of them reported that they were interpreters but their main duties also included providing written translation services. The interviewees had a high level of education: twelve had a Master’s degree and two had a PhD. Half of them had had at least one year of overseas study experience. Each focus-group interview took approximately one and a half hours and the average length of individual interviews was 50 minutes.
This sample is suited to the aims of this study for two reasons: (1) since all the participants had extensive experience working with the Chinese government, they are representative of active agents engaging in the validation of translation norms, albeit in different ways and to different extents; and (2) since the participants had diverse professional identities they might have different attitudes towards norms, which may help manifest how normative forces operate at different levels.
In terms of professional identities, in the case of China, most in-house government translators and/or interpreters are employed as civil servants, but they are only responsible for part of institutional language services. The majority of written translation work is usually outsourced to translation companies. To enrich the data, I interviewed the manager of a translation company that had translated government reports for a local office in the previous few years. Further, for occasional government-organized conference interpreting tasks, local foreign-affairs offices normally recruit senior conference interpreters, many of whom are working as full-time university teachers. This group is also included in the sample. I am interested in whether these various professional identities attach different values to start-culture norms.
According to Chesterman (1993)Chesterman, Andrew 1993 “From ‘Is’ to ‘Ought’: Laws, Norms and Strategies in Translation Studies.” Target 5 (1): 1–20. , norm authorities, understood in a wide sense as ‘professionals’, include trainers, critics, and internal reviewers. Translation teachers are regarded as “implicit norm-authorities” who at least in part validate professional norms (9). We have seen that the number of translation programs and textbooks has increased dramatically in the past decade in China. Nevertheless, the link between prescriptively pedagogical values and translation practice has been given less prominent attention. If professional translators, in-house reviewers and translation teachers are all legitimate norm authorities, then which group is most influential in setting up norms? Investigating the interplay between different authorities may enable some understanding of how prevailing norms are adopted and adapted.
The quantitative analysis uses the results of the translation ranking task in an attempt to answer the question “Is there a dominant norm in Chinese institutional translation?” It does so by examining whether there exist observable behavioral tendencies or regularities at a general level.
For each task, participants were asked to rank the three translations in order of preference from most favorable (3 points) to least favorable (1 point). Figure 1 shows the total score of each translation for the four tasks.
Figure 2 shows how many times each translation was chosen as the participants’ most or least preferred translation in each task.
In general, a striking similarity is evident in the respondents’ most and least preferred translations. This suggests that the Chinese translators shared strong agreement on certain translation solutions. In terms of the degree of acceptance of a specific solution, the translators’ preferences varied depending on which start text they were evaluating. The findings show that in Tasks 1 and 3, a clear majority of the translators favored the translations with medium intervention (M1+INT and M2+INT), while in Tasks 2 and 4, the translations with low intervention (M2−INT and M4−INT) were the most preferred. One possible reason is that the subject matter of the texts affected the respondents’ judgments. This has been confirmed by cross-checking with the interview data, discussed in Section 5.3.2. As can been seen in Figure 2, although the participants’ attitudes towards translations with the minimal and medium intervention varied in accordance with different start texts, there was a consensus that the translations with the greatest intervention were the least acceptable in all tasks.
The quantitative data suggests that tendencies indeed exist; nevertheless, it would be naïve to argue that there has been one universal norm at work. First, the translators’ tolerance of intervention might vary according to the subject matter of the text. The varied nature of the responses indicates that we should take account of other factors beyond a single dominant norm, since different kinds of normative forces are involved. Second, there is no absolute consensus in each task, suggesting that potentially norms may influence institutional translators to different degrees.
Although the Chinese translator participants in this study did show a degree of consensus in their choices, they explained their own rules from various perspectives in the interviews. The proposed explanations may not necessarily be complete, or adequate, or even true, but to some extent they help show relations of generalization, causality or unification with the phenomena (see Chesterman 2007a 2007a “On the Idea of a Theory.” Across Languages and Cultures 8 (1): 1–16. ). Here the qualitative analysis is an explanation-seeking endeavor, aimed at interpreting the occurrence of facts by providing an underlying rationale for how various normative forces may affect the translator’s judgments.
The bottom-up qualitative analysis of the interviews in this section identifies some common threads in how the Chinese translators justify themselves when evaluating different degrees of intervention. Three lead-in questions preface each section as headings, involving three variables that act on the translators’ behavioral patterns: (1) (implicitly) normative principles, (2) the perceptions of the prospective readership, and (3) translation-specific risks.
5.1Question: “Have you ever received any clear guidance as to how to translate official documents?”
5.1.1Answer: “It’s my strategy. But not a written rule”
It is perhaps not surprising that no single overarching written norm was overtly claimed by the interviewees. For example, IN7F49, a freelancer and translation manager, when asked whether she received any explicit instructions from her government clients, indicated that specific translation guidance had rarely been given by the foreign-affairs office that her company worked for:
|IN7F49:||Not really ((hesitation)). Actually no. We learn from experience when we work with them.|
Rather than explicit written guidance, the translation traditions seem to be a rule of thumb. When asked if they would use an official or ‘authentic’ translation if available, most translators agreed that they would indeed adopt an existing official version, but they also admitted that there was no mandatory rule about that:
|FG1F34:||Yes, it’s my strategy. But I haven’t received any clear instruction saying I must use the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ translations.|
5.1.2Answer: “As a staff translator, I prefer a faithful translation”
Although the translators had only rarely received specific guidance on how to translate China’s political discourse, the idea of being ‘faithful’ was mentioned frequently, seemingly serving as a mental image of what a ‘good translation’ is in practice:
|IN7F49:||The first thing is faithfulness. As a translator, you can’t rewrite the original text. You are not entitled to do that.|
One conclusion to be drawn here is that the norm of ‘faithfulness’ seems to concern general professional ethics: as a translator, your role is restricted. At first glance, the insistence is a strong start-oriented defense: the original is something that is untouchable. Answers from other interviewees suggest that attempts to preserve a visible echo of the original also concern identity. The adherence to the default norm is largely motivated by the translator’s ideological stance:
|FG1F34:||What is the most important translation principle? It depends on what stance you take.|
|I:||How about speaking for the institutional translators?|
|FG1F34:||As an institutional translator, I prefer a faithful translation.|
This change of ‘stance’ is a sign of a hierarchy of norms: when translating Chinese political discourse, the identity of the institutional translator has priority over other ethical considerations, and this unsurprisingly results in restrictions on translatorial freedom. As institutional translators, the interviewees are subject to constraints imposed by internal rules and power relations. For them, it would be risky to intervene and give a new sense to the original.
5.1.3Answer: “It depends on what kind of faithfulness you want to pursue”
Most of the interviewees noted the value of ‘faithfulness’, but there was little agreement on how this fuzzy concept should be defined. Perhaps the concept itself is messy, mixed up with beliefs about formal correspondence, emphasis on functional equivalence, and insistence on the author’s intention – all these interpretations are competing for space and prestige. Some translators, but not all, were aware of the co-existence of contradictory definitions of the ‘faithfulness’ principle:
|I:||Do you think faithfulness is the most important principle for translating China’s political discourse?|
|FG1M41:||It actually depends on what kind of faithfulness you want to pursue. I think sending a message is more important. The meaning should be faithful. But that doesn’t mean you need to be faithful to all kinds of linguistic features in the original.|
Here communicative effects challenge the prevailing norm of faithfulness in a formal sense. The translator points out that the idea of calling a representation in toto true is itself questionable: the possibility of linguistic and cultural untranslatability should be considered. FG1M41 also suggests that, at the very least, norms should be sensitive to reception. In this view, a literal translation like M1−INT is inaccessible to foreign readers:
|FG1M41:||If you are going to translate word-for-word as [M1−INT], you are really expecting too much of foreign readers. I don’t think it’s possible for them to understand.|
In addition, IN7F49 recognized that faithfulness could be applied in a strict or loose sense, depending on the purpose of the start text – a view that recalls functional equivalence. For relatively low-sensitive topics, omission is fairly acceptable:
|IN7F49:||If the leader is talking about local cuisine or something like that, you can adapt it as you like. You don’t need to copy the Chinese syntax strictly. But if he’s talking about the government’s development strategy, you can’t omit anything. You need to be faithful to the original and translate what he exactly says.|
What can we conclude from these examples? First of all, most Chinese translators gloss ‘faithfulness’ as the dominant norm, as a part of ideological fidelity or translator ethics. Second, the nature of ‘faithfulness’ is far from clear, making the idea of ‘being faithful’ a matter of degree. This is not very surprising, owing to the pragmatic considerations associated with linguistic or cultural differences. In fact, rather than arbitrarily classifying faithfulness as falling into one camp or another (e.g., formal correspondence vs functional equivalence), we might also think of how the ambiguity of the norm allows translators to make interventions. When the Chinese translators justify solutions such as omission in opposition to literalism, the intrinsic ambiguity in the norm can account for functional appropriateness, expanding the concept to include the translator’s fidelity to communicative effects. In this sense, norms themselves are not something absolutely standard but are open to being interpreted by human agents.
5.1.4Answer: “The translation should sound ‘formal’”
Making a translation sound ‘formal’ is observed as another norm, evident in the translators’ stylistic preferences for neutralizing colloquial expressions:
|FG1F34:||[M3++INT] seems quite low [in style]. In the translation, he [the Chinese premier] doesn’t sound like a premier.|
|I:||What do you mean, he doesn’t sound like a premier?|
|FG1F34:||How could it be possible for a [Chinese] premier to say something like “wearing two scarves is a bit much”?|
|FG1M41:||It’s too colloquial.|
This argument sounds like Toury’s (2012) 2012 Descriptive Translation Studies – and Beyond (Benjamins Translation Library 100). Revised edition. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. “law of standardization.” In Toury’s definition, standardization exerts a stronger influence when the text is translated into a target culture where the translation (or translation in general) is of relatively minor importance (see Pym 2008a 2008a “On Toury’s Laws of How Translators Translate.” In Pym, Shlesinger, and Simeoni 2008, 311–328.). But do the Chinese translators really think the status of their translations is peripheral in the target culture? I suggest that the standardizing is possibly due to the “rhetorical salience threshold” postulated by Chesterman (2007b) 2007b “The Unbearable Lightness of English Words.” In Text, Processes, and Corpora: Research Inspired by Sonja Tirkkonen-Condit, edited by Riitta Jääskeläinen, Tiina Puurtinen, and Hilkka Stotesbury, 231–241. Joensuu: Joensuun yliopistopaino.: rhetorical adjustments are needed in order to “tone down” or “tone up” the target text to avoid undesired rhetorical effects perceived by the translator.
In the same vein, target-language proficiency is given weight, in the sense of the translation having to be “well-written English” (IN7F49). The translation company manager, reflecting on the feedback received from her government clients, argues that translators must pay careful attention to stylistic register:
|IN7F49:||I feel what they [a local foreign-affairs office] really care about is the language. They would say “don’t translate too vulgar” [太土 tai tu] ((laughter)).|
|I:||What do you mean by “vulgar” [太土 tai tu]?|
|IN7F49:||I think it means ‘Chinglish’. They want the translation to sound like well-written English.|
IN7F49 suggested that the requirement for language proficiency was a sign of the government’s target-side awareness; in other words, their awareness of the responses of the international readers:
|IN7F49:||Maybe English speakers can understand literal translations. They can understand what you’re talking about, but they won’t feel good about it. So the office wants the translation to sound ‘international’ [国际化 guo ji hua]. I feel they have quite high standards for the language of translations.|
The translators’ understanding of ‘being formal’ offers some interesting asides. One interviewee suggested that she would want Chinese political leaders’ translated speeches to sound more like Barack Obama than Donald Trump. The translator hence tended to omit traces of exoticism and to avoid ‘vulgar’ expressions, for fear that the target-language readers might not be able to cope or may not like the style.
On the one hand, the Chinese translators tend to ‘internationalize’ their outputs. The attempt to standardize the text is in line with the features of institutional translation identified by Schäffner, Tcaciuc, and Tesseur (2014Schäffner, Christina, Luciana Sabina Tcaciuc, and Wine Tesseur 2014 “Translation Practices in Political Institutions: A Comparison of National, Supranational, and Non-governmental Organizations.” Perspectives 22 (4): 493–510. , 494) as “collective, anonymous and standardized.” However, the demand for a formal (stylistically more polished) target text may not truly be an expectancy norm in Chesterman’s sense. The peculiar emphasis on stylistic preferences suggests that a given translation is presumed to have the same effect on all target-language readers: it is assumed that everybody agrees that the more formal the English the political leaders speak, the more respectable they will appear. But how valid is this assumption for all target cultures? Will American, British and Australian readers trust the Chinese premier less if he sounds ‘colloquial’? Since there is little empirical evidence for such a claim, attempts to level out the register might be rather futile. It seems that the Chinese translators are primarily governed by start-culture norms, while the expectations of the target-language readers hardly enter the picture.
5.1.5Answer: “Different foreign-affairs offices do things differently”
It seems that start-culture norms, and consequently the degrees of flexibility that the translators are granted vary significantly among different institutions. IN5F32 was working as a senior translator in the same local government’s foreign-affairs office that IN7F49 and her translation company were working with. During the interview, IN7F49 reiterated that the local foreign-affairs office paid serious attention to the readability and proficiency of their translations. In a later interview with IN5F32, I had the opportunity to ask whether a target-oriented attitude could lead to new norms for translating China’s political discourse:
|I:||[IN7F49] told me that they think the foreign-affairs office wants translations to sound intelligible, international and not Chinglish. She has the impression that the office is becoming more ‘flexible’: institutional translation no longer requires strict linguistic equivalence between the start and target texts. Is that true?|
|IN5F32:||I think it depends on who is working and communicating with them.|
IN5F32 explained that she was part of a group of translators at the foreign-affairs office who had a similar educational background and agreed “on the nature of translating.” This team was responsible for doing the majority of the in-house translation work and for proofreading large translation projects such as the annual government reports outsourced to translation companies:
|I:||So you are the one who liaises with the translation company?|
|IN5F32:||Not only me but I have four or five colleagues. I can say together we are doing 95% of the translation and interpreting for the foreign-affairs office. We have a similar educational background: most of us graduated from Beiwai, Guangwai or Shangwai [the top three translation programs in China]; we all did a Master’s in Translation and Interpreting. We have good academic records. Based on what we have learned from our teachers, we think the target readers and the purposes of translation are important. So when we work with translation companies, we pay attention to readability.|
However, IN5F32 suggested that, to her knowledge, different foreign-affairs offices had different norm priorities. Apart from the profiles of the translators, interpersonal factors at the management level also affect norms and sometimes might exert a decisive influence. In the case of the local office, the emphasis on communicative effects was attributed to the heads of the local government:
|IN5F32:||First, our office has a long tradition of valuing translation quality. I can tell you not every foreign-affairs office does. Second, the current mayor and other leaders speak very good English. The mayor reads The Wall Street Journal every day. And they like to check our translation work. This puts some pressure on us if we can’t do our job well.|
Rather than any actual demand made by the target-language readership, the translators’ motivation for coping with stylistic weaknesses is somehow determined by internal criticism on the start side. Recall Chesterman’s (2006a 2006a “A Note on Norms and Evidence.” In Translation and Interpreting – Training and Research, edited by Jorma Tommola and Yves Gambier, 13–19. Turku: University of Turku., 15) argument: “Norms are not personal.” However, the hierarchical relation of a norm authority implies that a higher-ranking individual’s personal preference can heavily influence a general translation practice. Here, pragmatism replaces dogmatic defenses of fidelity to the original as a new norm, thanks to the influence of an individual in management. Personal opinions feed into norms, reflecting them and affecting them. In this sense, norms can indeed be “personal” to a degree, and we see how norms are negotiated between agents: the translators can educate their clients (or vice versa); one might even suggest that more enlightened clients contribute to better translations and new norms (see Chesterman 1999 1999 “The Empirical Status of Prescriptivism.” Folia Translatologica 6: 9–19.).
This may also partly explain why the language quality of Chinese institutional translations varies between agencies: although the expectations of the foreign reader probably remain the same, the organizing codes of the institutional settings are different, and thus norms vary.
5.2Question: “Have you considered who will read this?”
In order to investigate to what extent target-oriented expectancy norms might affect the translators’ behaviors, I started by asking who the prospective readership could be and where they might be located.
5.2.1Answer: “It depends on where you want to use the translation”
It would be naïve to suggest that institutional translators have no awareness of reception at all. A target-oriented approach starts to appear when the Chinese translators take a utilitarian view of translation. One frequent question I was asked during these interviews was, “Where do you want to use this translation?” This implies that the translators have a mental image of possible prospective readers, stimulating a forward-looking orientation with respect to possible reception conditions.
This functionalist awareness might motivate the translators to adopt different solutions rather than to stay close to the start text. Hermans (1998) 1998 “Some Concluding Comments on the Debates and the Responses.” Current Issues in Language and Society 5 (1–2): 135–142. suggests that the translation system distinguishes between a valid or a non-valid representation of the start text. However, what regulates the Chinese translators here is not whether a faithful representation of the start text is possible, but whether it is necessary according to the translators’ perceptions of the target side. IN7F49 said that she would change the register of the original to suit the target conventions. For instance, she would translate the English phrase best wishes as 顺颂商祺 shun song shang qi, a classical Chinese idiom meaning ‘best wishes to someone’s business’ – “Our Chinese people are more formal,” the translator added. This kind of “minor change” (IN7F49) in the register was justified in order to create similar contextual effects on the part of the target-side addressees, minimizing any potential misunderstanding. In another example, IN7F49 argued that when encountering cultural differences, translators should take readers’ ‘feelings’ into consideration:
|IN7F49:||Westerners like to start with “I am excited about the project.” But that does not sound reliable or mature enough for our Chinese people. Why get so excited? So we translate it as something like ‘it is my great honor’ [我很荣幸 wo hen rong xing].|
It seems that the professionals indeed have an awareness of different readerships and their very different expectations about what a translation should be like. However, the issue of directionality may affect the translators’ predictions of communicative effects: both examples here were translated into the translator’s L1. There is little evidence that the translators would have the same confidence to outright adapt the original when the direction changes, even when they are aware of the importance of reception.
Now, if it is true that most translators more or less attach importance to the target side, who are the receivers that they are thinking about?
5.2.2Answer: “There are two sorts [of readers]”
In dealing with political jargon, FG2F35 roughly categorized the intended readers into two groups: the general target public and the readers who “already have some basic knowledge” of Chinese political discourse:
|FG2F35:||If I need to pick one between [M1+INT] and [M1++INT], I need to know who my readers are. There are two groups [of readers]. For example, if the readers already have some basic knowledge of what the ‘five-sphere integrated plan’ [五位一体 wu wei yi ti] is, I may go for [M1++INT]. But if I am translating the original for the general public, this may be the first time for them to hear the words, so I prefer [M1−INT], because that one gives more explanations.|
This is a simplified, idealized classification of two possible target-culture readerships: for “a general public,” literalism is less acceptable than if the translation is designed for experts (e.g., China watchers). Hence, explicitation seems to be considered as an efficient, cost-effective solution to offset the negative impact of literal translation: more explicit information may break contextual constraints in a general sense.
Let’s put the experts aside for a moment and ask what is considered a “general public”?
5.2.3Answer: “It doesn’t matter whether the reader is male or female”
When asked whether the translators had any socio-demographic profiles of the general readership in mind, most translators were confused and hesitated to answer:
|I:||Do you have an image in your mind about the target reader? For example, do you think the target reader is male? Where is the reader from?|
|FG1M41:||Because these texts are translated into English, the target readership must be the English-speaking population. Talking about gender and background… ((hesitation)) I don’t think that matters. If the readers do not specialize or have an interest in Chinese affairs, they won’t read it anyway and they can’t understand stuff like ‘five-sphere integrated plan’ or ‘four-pronged comprehensive strategy’, whatever their origins or gender.|
The gender question was designed to elicit whether the translators were aware that the target readership is not homogeneous and could have different expectations. Not very surprisingly, it seems that the internal diversity of the readership is not a major concern to the Chinese translators. Nevertheless, an interesting point is that, for the translators, the readers should bear the responsibility to have contextual knowledge to understand the translation. This can be linked to Schleiermacher’s two mutually exclusive translation methods. Schleiermacher argued that translators may either domesticate the foreign text or retain its foreignness by “leave[ing] the writer in peace, as much as possible, and mov[ing] the reader toward him” (translated in Lefevere 1992aLefevere, André ed. 1992a Translation, History, Culture: A Sourcebook. London: Routledge., 49). Schleiermacher clearly favors the second method, as he regards foreignization as a tool to educate and build up German culture. Make the reader work! In the eyes of the Chinese translators, if the receiver is considered as a kind of “stakeholder” (Pöchhacker 2016 2016 Introducing Interpreting Studies. Second edition. London: Routledge. , 178) in the communicative event, some basic motivation to comprehend the start culture is presupposed.
For the Chinese translators, the real or at least more accessible readers are not an abstract, imaginary general public but a visible group whom the translators can confidently recognize and effectively address. When asked, “Who are the important receivers for Chinese political discourse?” expert readers come to the surface:
|FG3F41:||Maybe foreign journalists.|
|FG3F42:||I think the readers are journalists, consular staff or anyone interested in China. Because if they don’t have an interest, they won’t go looking for these translations to read, right?|
In the end, a general readership may be no more than an illusion, since there has been no real attempt to identify their needs. The translators seem to be neither interested nor motivated to walk across the minefield: the general readers’ expectations of various kinds are deemed to be too complicated to be met by one translation, making the communicative effect difficult, if not impossible, to gauge.
5.2.4Answer: “It depends on who I am going to work for”
Another way of classifying the readership is into internal and external modalities. This leads to the distinction between start-language and target-language readers, which challenges the idea that an assumed ‘target reader’ is always from ‘the target culture’. That is, the addressees of the translated Chinese political discourse are not only external (e.g., target-language-speaking readers) but also internal (e.g., the Chinese government clients, professionals, and reviewers). Of these two, the internal readership sometimes overrides the translators’ attempts to conform to target-culture norms. For example, FG4F26 argues that the foreign reader who is directly addressed is not the most important receiver, let alone the only one – how her employer will receive and judge her translations is what ultimately counts, rather than any external readership per se:
|FG4F26:||My strategies depend on who I am going to work for. If I work for the Chinese government, I will translate proverbs faithfully because my boss wants me to retain the originally cultural features. But if I am working for foreign clients, they are more likely to want the information to be as simple as possible.|
For the translators, since their Chinese employer would usually give more weight to formal equivalence than to pragmatic considerations, any special effort beyond that internal expectation is usually deemed unnecessary, since little appreciable gain will result.
5.2.5Answer: “‘Sounding local’ is not always positive”
What happens if even the translators realize that their external readers might not fully understand the translation because of foreign elements? A striking response is that “it doesn’t matter.” Some translators argue that “sounding local,” in the sense of naturalizing the start language to target conventions, should not be a universal norm:
|FG1F34:||We have different cultures. If we completely adapt ourselves to Western culture, where is our selling point? Sometimes differences can be good. And ‘sounding local’ [地道 di dao] is not always positive. You don’t always need to do that.|
One explanation for the refusal to naturalize to target conventions lurks at the roots of institutional translation: losing start-culture identity is a serious risk. For example, one translator points out that there is no reason to naturalize the Chinese leader’s words to make him sound like his Western counterparts:
|FG1F34:||[The Chinese premier] Li Keqiang should be Li Keqiang himself. I don’t see the reason why his words need to be westernized.|
It would be unjustified to see the emphasis on constructing a national identity or retaining an original ideology merely as assuming cultural superiority. For the Chinese translators, since each culture has its personality and uniqueness, keeping those foreign references in place may help to attract interest, which also resonates with the agenda of the state’s international communication policy – to export Chinese culture to a wider readership. Seen in this light, the Chinese translators ostensibly have good reason to claim that target-culture traditions are secondary and that the start culture’s own voices are primary; in fact, this priority leads to the optimistic and ambitious view that translations can have effects on a wider target culture via “individual cognitive, emotional or aesthetic reactions” (Chesterman 2002 2002 “Semiotic Modalities in Translation Causality.” Across Languages and Cultures 3 (2): 145–158. , 151).
More than a few scholars might applaud this position for giving more power to translation and the profession (see Chesterman and Baker 2008Chesterman, Andrew, and Mona Baker 2008 “Ethics of Renarration: An Interview with Mona Baker.” Cultus 1 (1): 10–33.; Dam and Zethsen 2009Dam, Helle V., and Karen Korning Zethsen eds. 2009 Translation Studies: Focus on the Translator. Thematic section of Hermes: Journal of Language and Communication Studies 42: 7–166.). Nevertheless, if there is no empirical evidence to show that the exposure to others as others is well-received by the target-side readers, this argument would probably be mere wishful thinking.
5.2.6Answer: “Nobody would read it”
One of my assumptions was corroborated by the interviewees: not every institutional translation has or needs to have a real reader. When evaluating Task 3, FG3F41 argued that M3−INT seems to be a typical, official translation published on the Chinese government website. As an answer to the question, “Why are there so many literal translations around?”, the lack of real readership provides a causal explanation. The translators further suggest that the high number of translations published on the government website underscores that “nobody will read it” (FG3F41). Rather than address the need for any real target reader or real use, sometimes the institutional translations are translated for the sake of being translated, functioning as symbolic rather than pragmatic practices:
|FG3F41:||Putting it on the website of the Chinese Foreign Affairs Department merely means nobody will read it.|
|FG3F42:||And that’s why they don’t care about the translation quality.|
|I:||So why did the government translate these texts into English?|
|FG3F41:||I think mainly because we need to make them available, in theory.|
Apart from the possible lack of a real readership, the nature of institutional translation makes it hard to give the target culture priority over authoritative identity:
|FG2F43:||But we still need to consider the [translation] policy and disciplines, right?|
|FG2F35:||Absolutely. So… ((hesitation)) There’s really a contradiction out there. If the translation is for the government’s foreign publicity [外宣 wai xuan], our ideology must be highlighted. To be honest, whether the foreign readers like it or not, this is the way we’re doing things.|
This makes some sense. For institutional translators, it is not always the target-language reader’s views that prevail or even matter; the authorities cannot be wrong. As Koskinen (2000Koskinen, Kaisa 2000 “Institutional Illusions: Translating in the EU Commission.” The Translator 6 (1): 49–65. , 51) ironically remarks on the European Commission translation services, “[s]ometimes the primary function of the translation of a particular official document is simply to be there, to exist.” The institutional component seems to be particularly marked in this “existential equivalence” (ibid.); it raises the question of whether the apparently poor-quality literalist translations can really be separated, not just from conceptual debate about the virtues of foreignization, but also from the conspicuous absence of any real target-culture demand. If the external, target-language reader does not matter, whether the translation should adhere to target conventions is a moot point.
5.2.7Answer: “Interpreting is different”
Different translation modes seem to affect the ways the prevailing norm is validated. Before evaluating the tasks, many participants asked whether the texts were written translations or transcripts of (conference) interpreting. These interviewees self-reported that they work in both modes. Interestingly enough, the professionals clearly distinguished between what ‘interpreting’ pursues and what a ‘written translation’ is for:
|FG2F32:||If I am doing conference interpreting, I will translate it another way. It will not be the same as what I translate for the government’s international communication, [because] the requirements are different.|
In their view, the norms that regulate interpreting are different from those governing written translations. In this (over)simplified dichotomy, a communicative function is important for interpreting, but written translation should be rendered as closely to the original as possible.
There are at least three reasons why different norm priorities are given to written translation and interpreting. First, the reliance on linguistic faithfulness could be loosened in interpreting settings, given that the time constraints on working memory make a full representation less possible and it allows limited capacity for many explanations (see Gile 2009 2009 Basic Concepts and Models for Interpreter and Translator Training (Benjamins Translation Library 8). Revised edition. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. , especially 42).
Second, in most cases, the conference interpreter’s audience is more visible (remote interpreting is an exception). Compared to their translator counterparts, interpreters tend to have a clearer picture of who their ‘here and now’ receivers could be and what they would expect:
|FG2F32:||If people come to a conference, they should have some basic knowledge about the topic. The audience is not the general public. For example, if president Xi is giving a speech at a conference on the Belt and Road Initiative in Beijing, of course, the audience, who I suppose are foreign politicians, must know something about our Chinese culture.|
That is, the audience attending an interpreted event is more likely to be a uniform group, in the sense of being motivated by similar purposes. The identifiable profile of the audience resonates with what Pöchhacker (1995Pöchhacker, Franz 1995 “Simultaneous Interpreting: A Functionalist Perspective.” Hermes: Journal of Linguistics 14: 31–53., 49) calls the “cultural common ground” that is shared by the participants in (conference) interpreting settings. In terms of the pre-familiarity with the subject matter of the communicative event, the interpreting audience is by nature more homogeneous; there are fewer cultural barriers actually separating them. This might make it easier for interpreters to adapt the message to the receivers’ comprehension levels and expectations.
Third, some clues may be found in the pedagogical ideology of interpreting. More than a few interviewees used the term 脱去语言外壳 tuo qu yu yan wai ke ‘deverbalization’ to justify their preference for freer renderings in interpreting transcripts. For them, a literal, somewhat unnatural written translation is taken as normal, while an interpreting performance is expected to be fluent and must make sense. The emphasis on decoding rather than transcoding harks back to Seleskovitch, who advocated that conveying intended meaning (or vouloir dire) rather than linguistic features should be the main component of the interpreter’s work (cited in Pöchhacker 2016 2016 Introducing Interpreting Studies. Second edition. London: Routledge. , 59). For trained interpreters, communicative success is determined by target-side response. Thus, in order to produce acceptable target-language utterances, some deviation from linguistic equivalence is inevitable, and “ﬁltering” to enhance the communicative impact of the text is necessary (Gile 1992Gile, Daniel 1992 “Basic Theoretical Components in Interpreter and Translator Training.” In Teaching Translation and Interpreting: Training Talent and Experience. Papers from the First Language International Conference, Elsinore, Denmark, 1991, edited by Cay Dollerup and Anne Loddegaard, 185–194. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. , 189). In this sense, interpreters tend to give priority to the needs of their audience rather than to the strict form of the original. Here we see that trainers (and textbooks, perhaps) are indeed powerful norm authorities, as they not only issue norms but also provide professionals with a metalanguage to justify their solutions in their real-life work.
However, a prescriptive idealization of target-oriented norms is not rare in translator training, especially within Skopos theory. So why do interpreters still appear to be relatively free from the constraints of the start text? Here the causality of norms works from the other direction: the professionals consciously or unconsciously choose the norms in terms of how well they are compatible with their interests, in other words, legitimizing the translators’ solutions and reducing the actual risks involved.
5.3Question: “Do you tend to rewrite the start text? If not, why not?”
In this section, I venture some predictive hypotheses concerning the reasons behind norm-breaking. If the notion of ‘faithfulness’ is the most frequently mentioned norm for translating Chinese political discourse, any significant translator intervention can be regarded as an indicator of norm-breaking. It is a little too easy to assume that institutional translation means total literalism and institutional translators always tend to translate with minimal intervention, as the quantitative results show that not every −INT translation wins out in the ranking tasks (see Section 4). So, under what conditions do translators tend to challenge the dominant norm of faithfulness? What would be the potential rewards to be gained from intervention? To answer these questions, we need to consider what serves as a reward (or punishment) for norm-breaking.
5.3.1Answer: “Trust me, there are many worse start texts than this”
When do translators willingly intervene in the start text? One immediate answer is, “when the original is bad.” The Chinese translators do not shirk from criticizing the quality of the Chinese start text. ST3 describes Chinese premier Li insisting on wearing two football scarves, one for each of the opposing Australian football teams. The Chinese text indicates that the premier “said with humor” when explaining his purpose that, even though the weather was hot, he wanted to show his support for both sides by still wearing two scarves. When asked which translation made them think that the premier had a better sense of humor, none of the participants even thought that the start-text joke was funny. Some translators pointed out that the start text was poorly written. The political joke was not successful even in the original, leaving translators little scope to render it literally:
|I:||Which translation do you think makes the premier have a sense of humor?|
|FG3F42:||A sense of humor?!|
|FG3F41:||I don’t see any humor at all ((laughs)).|
|FG3F42:||Me neither. How can these translations be humorous?|
|I:||But the Chinese start text says, “the premier said with humor” [总理幽默地说 zong li you mo de shuo].|
|FG3F41:||Yes, that’s what it said. But I still feel it’s not funny.|
|FG3F42:||The Chinese original is so awkward.|
Aside from politicians’ occasionally unfunny jokes, as IN7F49 pointed out, Chinese political discourse is conventionally imbued with linguistic and semantic ambiguity, making its meaning sometimes hard to grasp. IN7F49 said that she was familiar with this dilemma:
|IN7F49:||Yes. We have translated this kind of text a lot. Trust me – there are many worse start texts than this [ST4]. At least the paragraph has been divided into three sentences. Many Chinese texts we have to translate are full of run-on sentences. No full stop at all. You need to figure out how to cut it up.|
The axiomatic superiority of the start text is here shaken by an awareness of its own deficient quality, leaving room for the translator to justify the ‘necessity’ of their norm-breaking.
5.3.2Answer: “The premier just wanted to amuse his audience”
A second parameter is the intended function of the start text. When reflecting on how to translate premier Li’s greeting to a full-stadium Australian audience, the translators believe that some freedom of choice should be allowed. The underlying idea is that, since image building is the main impetus for this cultural diplomacy, the communicative effect should have more weight:
|IN7F49:||The premier was telling a joke. In such a casual situation, he just wanted to amuse the audience. So I think ‘may the best team win’ sounds more appropriate. It’s what people in the stadium expected.|
For the translators, breaking with start-text faithfulness sometimes has a problem-solving function if there is no symmetry between linguistic forms. If an adaptation is deemed compatible with the communicative intention of the start text, the attempt to intervene is generally seen as acceptable.
Nevertheless, it appears to be unreasonable to speak about great freedom in highly sensitive texts. The translators tend to justify intervention in terms of cultural and linguistic relativity, basically when they are aware that a given stylistic feature (e.g., tautology) may have different effects on the readers in another culture. However, once a given formal feature is linked to the start-side ideological agenda, intervention suddenly becomes a ‘no-go’ zone. When asked whether the translation of a Chinese leader’s speech was allowed to be adapted to local cultural conventions, IN7F49 said that if the speech was about Communist ideology, the answer should be ‘no’:
|IN7F49:||It depends on topics. If it’s a matter of [political] principles, I mean, if the start text is talking about our state policy or other politically sensitive issues, you need to follow the original as closely as possible. But if it’s not a serious topic, a more important thing is to convey the message.|
For IN7F49, risks have a hierarchy of sorts: for a lower-risk culture-specific topic, communicative effects have priority over literalism; for translations of ideology-bound content, the virtues of linguistic loyalty are strongly highlighted, shunning any attempts to intervene.
This observation brings us back to the dichotomy of foreignization and domestication. Target-language readers are presumed to be fascinated at seeing a new culture, but any attempt to highlight a foreign ideology could scare them away. In this sense, neither foreignization nor domestication is the prevailing norm; they are both legitimate risk-management strategies, and their status largely depends on how many rewards might be granted by the most important receiver perceived (e.g., the institutional employers in this case). For the translators, if there are no substantial rewards, then there is little reason to take risks.
Another impetus for breaking norms could lie in national image-building as one purpose of the translation. This too is functional. When literalism is equated with negative effects on the national image, the translators are more confident about legitimizing intervention:
|FG1F34:||[M1−INT] is very difficult to understand and it doesn’t make sense at all. People who read these vague slogans will think China likes playing a political bluffing game.|
As mentioned, the translators make a conscious effort to faithfully and truly retain the original ideology in high-risk texts, like a good mirror. On the other hand, in some cases, the norm authority seems to grant translators some freedom to play down ideological differences for the sake of a better national image. When evaluating M3−INT, many translators disliked the literal ‘Chinglish’ translation because it made the Chinese premier sound aloof:
|FG1M41:||[M3−INT] is too literal. I have to say it’s too ‘Chinglish’.|
|FG1F34:||There is a lack of a human element [人性 ren xing] in the translation.|
|FG1M41:||Yes. It sounds strange. It might build a wall between the target reader and the story.|
|FG1F34:||It makes the premier seem insincere.|
FG3F42 suggested that the local government she worked with somehow did not want to remind foreign investors that they were doing business with a country with a strikingly different ideology. FG3F42’s government client, fearing that the interpreting audience might react negatively to ideological alterity, gave her a clear (but oral) instruction to “weaken the Communist Party’s color” by not interpreting the leaders’ Communist Party titles when introducing them to foreign investors:
|FG3F42:||I’ve come across this kind of situation several times. If the meetings were about economic cooperation, the staff from the foreign-affairs office would ask me to interpret the title of the leader as ‘Governor’ rather than ‘Secretary of the Provincial Party Committee’.|
This is somewhat paradoxical, though, as it seems that the authority makes a distinction between pragmatic expediency and a lasting written record: they are aware that ideological alterity may have a negative impact on the target-culture side, so when engaging with the ‘on site’ investors, they eliminate or minimize the ideological element for immediate use, whereas the Communist values are left unchanged in written translations, where future checks are hard to control.
5.3.4Answer: “I definitely won’t rewrite the text”
We might safely conclude that intervention takes place when translating Chinese political discourse, albeit in a varied and limited sense. But do the translators appreciate being granted creative license? Not much, it seems. To talk about what affects the translators’ motivation to break norms is to consider where the limits of translator intervention lie. I suggest that the translator’s primary concern is the translation-specific risk of losing credibility (see Pym 2008b 2008b “On Omission in Simultaneous Interpreting: Risk Analysis of a Hidden Effort.” In Efforts and Models in Interpreting and Translation Research: A Tribute to Daniel Gile (Benjamins Translation Library 80), edited by Gyde Hansen, Andrew Chesterman, and Heidrun Gerzymisch-Arbogast, 83–105. Amsterdam: John Benjamins., 2015 2015 “Translating as Risk Management.” Journal of Pragmatics 85: 67–80. ). This can be interpreted in two senses: professional and personal.
The first kind of risk, professional credibility, concerns all legitimate matters pertaining to a prescriptive statement of what a ‘translation’ is. Some translators refuse high-level intervention since they think the result would no longer be a ‘translation’ but a ‘rewriting’:
|FG1M41:||I don’t like [M1++INT] because it’s a rewriting. I definitely won’t do that.|
This high intervention lays itself open to the translator’s criticism, as it seems to extend the boundaries of ‘what-is-a-translation’ too far. So what could go wrong if a text is translated too freely, or too creatively? Along this path, we find the traditional focus of loss and betrayal: translated texts are secondary and the originals are primary. The opposition to intervention in the rewriting sense also seems to mean that the translators want to trim the edges of a translation, frame it and give it neat and clear borders, so that nothing except original messages remains within its margins.
Contemporary scholars in Translation Studies have proposed various ways to define translation in terms of different epistemological stances (see Chesterman and Arrojo 2000Chesterman, Andrew, and Rosemary Arrojo 2000 “Shared Ground in Translation Studies.” Target 12 (1): 151–160. ). The notion of equivalence is pervasive, whereas Lefevere argues that translation is indeed a kind of rewriting, highlighting translation’s similarity with anthologizing, paraphrasing and summarizing (see Lefevere 1992b 1992b Translation, Rewriting and the Manipulation of Literary Fame. London: Routledge.). The Chinese case seems to suggest that a more conservative view is prevalent among practitioners. The notion of what Newmark (1988Newmark, Peter 1988 A Textbook of Translation. Hemel Hempstead: Prentice Hall., 204) called the “authoritative text” that “[translators] have no right to improve” is still fairly influential.
Apart from fidelity to the start text, what else could be sacrificed when translator intervention goes too far? For FG1F34, the answer is “our collective voice”:
|FG1F34:||There is too much work here. The translator was too creative. They are explaining in their own way. If the translation is for China’s international communication, we need to use our collective voice to send our image to the general foreign public. In this case, a rewriting is reckless.|
The behavior of institutional translator is constrained and regulated. This resonates with the definition of institutional translation offered by Schäffner, Tcaciuc, and Tesseur (2014Schäffner, Christina, Luciana Sabina Tcaciuc, and Wine Tesseur 2014 “Translation Practices in Political Institutions: A Comparison of National, Supranational, and Non-governmental Organizations.” Perspectives 22 (4): 493–510. , 494) as a “collective [and] anonymous” activity. In the case of institutional settings, translators’ individual styles are both practically unnecessary and politically risky. Any high-degree intervention is perceived to be unrewarding, rendering further efforts to make translations more creative simply not worth the time.
5.3.5Answer: “Literalism is a safer choice for staff translators”
The second kind of risk concerns the translator’s personal credibility. An example is omission. As might be imagined, since anyone on the start-culture side could compare the original with the translation and note the absence, the translators have to make an extra effort to justify the necessity of their intervention:
|FG3F41:||I remember an example of Qian Qichen, the former Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs. He once quoted a classical idiom ‘a mountain is not famous for its height but for the gods who live on it’ [山不再高，有仙则灵 shan bu zai gao, you xian ze ling]. His interpreter didn’t translate word-for-word but tried to summarize the meaning. But Qian was not happy about the omission. He knew some English. He expected to hear the English words mountain and gods in the rendering. So I think a safe way for our staff translators is to translate literally.|
Given that the potential risks of losing the start-side trust are more palpable, low intervention is usually perceived by the translators as the ‘safest’ choice. This recalls Toury’s (2012 2012 Descriptive Translation Studies – and Beyond (Benjamins Translation Library 100). Revised edition. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. , 285) formulation of “environmental feedback”: the feedback the translators receive is not only from the target recipients but also from those on the start culture. This kind of feedback is “normative in its very essence” (Toury 1998 1998 “A Handful of Paragraphs on ‘Translation’ and ‘Norms’.” Current Issues in Language and Society 5 (1–2): 10–32. , 26). The elaborate result of such a personalized social and cultural experience is the translator’s habitus (see Simeoni 1998Simeoni, Daniel 1998 “The Pivotal Status of the Translator’s Habitus.” Target 10 (1): 1–39. ). The norms that are embodied explicitly or implicitly prescribe what is supposed to be done and what is ‘improper’ behavior that should be avoided. In other words, the decisive factor for breaking or adhering to certain norms is the translator’s habitual risk management. The translator adheres to a prevailing norm because that is what others typically do, and hence it is a safe choice; the motivation underlying a translator’s choice of norm-breaking derives a real risk (or a reward) perceived in a given situation.
At the most general level, norms operate through the process of being selected and thus validated by different agents. The argument here is threefold: (1) a prevailing norm is not a given, but needs to be validated and is subject to change; (2) norms are validated through negotiation between hierarchical norm authorities; and (3) the negotiation itself can be viewed as a matter of compromise, in which different agents deal with competing norms by managing various risks. Put simply, there is a constant interplay between norms and people, with the causality working in both directions.
The first point to be made, of course, is that the behavior of the translators in this study is not governed by a single norm; competing norms indeed co-exist. At first sight, the frequently mentioned notion of ‘faithfulness’ seems to serve as a prevailing norm for translations of Chinese political discourse. This is evident in the relatively high acceptance of literalism in the ranking tasks and is highlighted in the interviews. However, there is little indication that this norm statement is either explicit or definitive: both literalism and functional equivalence can be placed under the umbrella of ‘faithfulness’. Some translators praise the principle in the sense of maintaining linguistic equivalence, while others use the same term to describe the relationship between the translation and its communicative effect. Both senses can be validated by the translators in terms of different start-text types (e.g., culture-specific vs ideology-bound texts) and working modes (e.g., written translation vs interpreting). In this sense, the borders between established norms and norm-breaking are blurred.
Such ambiguity inherent to the norm statement can be a merit. It is the reason why there appear to be translation norms but no strict laws like those enforced by a parliament that everyone has to follow (see Chesterman 2016 2016 Memes of Translation: The Spread of Ideas in Translation Theory (Benjamins Translation Library 123). Revised edition. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. , especially 133). Norms are always open to interpretation; this makes room for the translator respondents in this study to justify themselves in a given situation without being criticized for acting against common practice.
The norm-agent causality works in both directions in the sense that norms not only regulate behaviors, but the translators are also found to intentionally select the norm that best suits their interests. The translators’ justification is observed in two ways. First, they invoke role models, as evident in expressions like “One famous translator A used to do X” and “The official translation is Y,” to rationalise their choices or criticism of behaviors. The statements about role models tell us something about what we could call the translator’s ‘perceived’ habitus and attitudes to norms (see Chesterman 2006b 2006b “Questions in the Sociology of Translation.” In Translation Studies at the Interface of Disciplines (Benjamins Translation Library 68), edited by João F. Duarte, Alexandra A. Rosa, and Teresa Seruya, 9–27. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. ). Second, the trained practitioners in this study are found to frequently refer to specific translation and interpreting theories, such as Skopos theory and the Paris School’s notion of deverbalization, to validate their target-oriented solutions.
It should be noted that these norm authorities in the form of translation (and interpreting) theories are chosen, not given. Good theories are useful instruments; less useful ones are discarded (see Chesterman 2007a 2007a “On the Idea of a Theory.” Across Languages and Cultures 8 (1): 1–16. ). Thanks to the various (sometimes conflicting) theoretical ideas proposed in Translation Studies, the translators can purposefully select the references that meet their needs. Normative statements themselves might be prescriptive, but the ways in which the translators in real-life situations validate them are not.
So what makes the translator select a certain norm to apply, or exclude another by breaking it? I suggest that we correlate norm-conforming and norm-breaking with the translator’s risk management, which can be shown in three aspects.
The first is precisely here: the status of the target reader. In the case of Chinese institutional translation, the illusory nature of a target-culture readership means that the translation risks primarily concern the start culture. Start-culture norms are thus given more weight. For the Chinese translators, the profiles of real external target-culture readers are obscure. The translators are aware of the English-speaking general public but the expectations of this audience are too heterogeneous to be met by a one-size-fits-all translation. On the other hand, although the target-language experts (e.g., foreign journalists) are recognized to be important addressees, if the audience has their agenda for reading the translations, it seems to be the reader’s responsibility to make sense of literalism or cultural relativity. As the only active readership at stake is largely within the start-culture camp (e.g., the internal reviewers, translation editors, colleagues, and start-text writers and/or speakers), it is unrealistic to expect that the translators will pay much attention to target norms.
Although the Chinese translators make valid points about why the start-culture norms prevail over target ones, it should be noted that what produces the start-text priority is usually the lack of feedback on the communicative effects of their start-oriented strategies. True, the Chinese translators can argue that resistance to target conventions and maintenance of foreignness may attract interest in the target community, but we need more empirical investigation of whether such strategies are effective. More empirical research is needed to investigate how translations are received by real target readerships. The potential communicative risks caused by literalism might also make Chinese norm authorities go beyond the cozy confines of start-norm priority. Indeed, often strongly associated with cognitive methods, a good number of reception studies have provided rich insights for the exploration of how readers respond to different translator interventions (see Kruger 2012Kruger, Haidee 2012 Postcolonial Polysystems: The Production and Reception of Translated Children’s Literature in South Africa (Benjamins Translation Library 105). Amsterdam: John Benjamins. ; Di Giovanni and Gambier 2018Di Giovanni, Elena, and Yves Gambier eds. 2018 Reception Studies and Audiovisual Translation (Benjamins Translation Library 141). Amsterdam: John Benjamins. ; Walker 2018Walker, Callum 2018 “A Cognitive Perspective on Equivalent Effect: Using Eye Tracking to Measure Equivalence in Source Text and Target Text Cognitive Effects on Readers.” Perspectives 27 (1): 124–143. ).
Second, subject matter. For a less sensitive topic, if the translator believes that a word-for-word translation might risk losing communicative effect, literalism could give way to a degree of intervention. When translating ideologically sensitive content, start-text equivalence equates to the translator’s political fidelity, and the fear of being criticized for losing loyalty blocks any motivation for departing from the original, even when the professionals are aware that comprehensibility is sacrificed.
Third, different modes. While the translator of written texts has to make the original meaning transparent to future readers, an interpreter more readily assumes responsibility for on-site listeners’ immediate understanding. That is, as the typical risk for an interpreter is an immediate communicative failure, ‘making sense’ is likely to be far more important than it is in the case of a written translation. This explains why the practitioners frequently asked whether they were evaluating a written translation or a transcript of interpreting: although the start text remains the same, the risks are different, and thus the norms they choose to obey change.
In my view, the reasons why translators select or break certain norms are more sophisticated than a simple binary decision between start-culture and target-culture norms. What enables the translators to make a guided choice is how they predict and manage translation risks in the negotiation with different participants (e.g., speaker, direct addressee, overhearer and eavesdropper) on both sides (on audience design, see Bell 1984Bell, Allan 1984 “Language Style as Audience Design.” Language in Society 13 (2): 145–204. , especially 159; Mason 2000Mason, Ian 2000 “Audience Design in Translating.” The Translator 6 (1): 1–22. ). The more translation-specific risks are uncovered, the more we can generalize away from any particular behavior pattern, and the further we “shift along the continuum from the descriptive end towards the explanatory end” (Chesterman 2008 2008 “On Explanation.” In Pym, Shlesinger, and Simeoni 2008, 363–379., 377).
Moving beyond the conceptual limits of viewing norms as prescriptive or descriptive forces, this quasi-experimental study has investigated how norms are negotiated and validated by different human agents. A risk-management model has been tentatively provided on the basis of empirical results to explain why one norm prevails over another in different situations.
To conclude, what is the ultimate goal of studying norms? It is not to prove, falsify or even produce more prescriptive guidance, I suppose. It is worth setting the goal more broadly than the pioneering formulation that looks for plausible links between textual regularities and normative forces, with more explicit inclusion of the causal conditions under which norms are set, challenged, and changed by people. This study is thus an attempt to provide a starting point and some future possibilities for empirically studying how norms are internalized in the behavior of flesh-and-blood translators. The multiple ways that norms are negotiated can be considered as a mirror reflection of translation: in this complex regulated activity, we are dealing with a question of uncertainty, in which disagreements and clashing perceptions of different agents are addressed by managing various risks. The conflict resolutions in the context of norms might deserve some more attention, as these issues have obvious relevance for translator status, translation policy and translation traditions, all of which impinge on the translator’s habitual practice.
It is hoped that this endeavor can enable us to venture beyond the coteries of norm theory, extending to ‘Translator Studies’ (see Chesterman 2009 2009 The Name and Nature of Translator Studies.” Hermes: Journal of Linguistics 42: 13–22.) that primarily and explicitly focuses on how human agents behave in any yet-to-be-studied translational phenomena.
I would like to acknowledge my appreciation for the enlightening and valuable comments received from the anonymous reviewers and the editors. Their intellectual generosity and support knew no bounds. I owe particular gratitude to all interviewed translators for their contribution: this study could not have been undertaken without the willingness of these Chinese colleagues to kindly share their experiences and some insightful translation solutions with me.
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