How devoted can translators be?Revisiting the subservience hypothesis
Université de Montréal
In a seminal contribution published in Target in 1998, Daniel Simeoni argued for a habitus-governed model of explanation for translation and suggested that subservience might be a defining feature of this habitus, a primordial norm. The objective of the present article is twofold. First, it aims to recontextualize the ‘subservience hypothesis’ by shedding light on the empirical work underlining it. Second, following the approach developed in Simeoni (2001), the author tests again the hypothesis through textual analysis, by studying the early translation history into French of a textbook entitled Marketing Management by Philip Kotler. The author explores to what extent traces of the primordial norm, as defined by Simeoni (2001), can be found in the first four French editions of this scholarly text produced over the period (1967–1981), two of which were signed by a professional translator and the others by a marketing scholar.
In 1998, Target opened its tenth volume with an article entitled “The Pivotal Status of the Translator’s Habitus.” In this contribution, which has come to be regarded as a seminal one, Daniel Simeoni made two far-reaching claims. On the one hand, he argued for a habitus-governed model of explanation for translation practices. On the other, he suggested that subservience might be a defining feature of this translatorial habitus, a primordial norm in Western translation practices. The first proposition was acclaimed and appropriated by many scholars, as suggested by the amount of research, contributions and discussions that the concept of habitus has generated in Descriptive Translation Studies [DTS] over the past fifteen years. The second proposition met with several objections. While the first claim [ p. 64 ]introduced the idea of a translatorial agency (and, as such, appeared as a welcome move away from theoretical models of translation that were increasingly perceived as too deterministic), the second was seen as another way of reiterating “the idea of the tyranny of norms in translation” (Sela-Sheffy 2005, 3). Unlike the first one, the second proposition seemed at odds with a general trend that marked DTS at the time, a trend toward the highlighting and celebration of the active role that translators played, or could play, in literary, cultural, scientific or even political history. By emphasizing subservience, Simeoni suggested a different—somewhat less empowering—story, a story based on a different reading of translation history.
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