Pragmatic shifts in two translations of Fusheng Liuji : A descriptive study of request behaviour

Vincent X. Wang
The University of Macau

This study focuses on translation shifts in speech act realisation patterns in two English translations of the Chinese work Fusheng Liuji. It employs analytical tools from cross-cultural pragmatics to describe speech act behaviour in the original and its translations. Lin uses more translation shifts—including significant shifts in strategy use, and moderate shifts in information sequencing—than Pratt … Chiang, who mainly retain the original pragmatic features. Both the translators and the original author make frequent use of request formulae. The two translations also show marked shifts from lexical to syntactic modification of requests. The article further examines the translators’ approaches to translation in terms of their concept of translation and the historical and social contexts of their translations.

Table of contents

Translation shifts have long been a core issue in translation studies. Vinay and Darbelnet (1958/1995) used the term ‘transposition’ to refer to the phenomenon whereby a word from a given word class shifts to another class in the process of translation. Catford (1965) conducted a more systematic study of translation shifts, and proposed two types of shift—level and category shifts. Catford’s approach is based on Hallidayan systemic-functional grammar, and is intrinsically linguistics-oriented. He defines translation shifts as “departures from formal correspondence in the process of going from the SL to the TL,” and claims that formal equivalence is achievable only in rare cases, since “every language is formally sui generis and formal correspondence is, at best, a rough approximation” (1965: 36). [ p. 210 ]For Catford, translation shifts at various grammatical levels are unavoidable. Toury (1995) addresses the issues of translation norms and translation shifts in the context of descriptive translation studies. Norms refer to values and ideas shared by a community, that govern the ways in which language is used. For Toury, even the notion of equivalence is closely related to norms: “it is norms that determine the (type and extent of) equivalence manifested by actual translations” (1995: 61). Since the norms operating in the source-language (SL) and target-language (TL) communities do not coincide, a translator needs to negotiate the differences between these two distinct systems of norms and conventions—in other words, between two cultures (Pym 2004). The translator can either attach importance to source-language norms, which leads to an adequate translation; or subscribe to target-language norms, which facilitates acceptability in the target culture (Toury 1995: 57). The latter strategy tends to lead to translation shifts. Toury (1995) distinguishes between obligatory and non-obligatory shifts, and points out that nonobligatory shifts constitute the majority of shifts in human translation.

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