From ‘Is’ to ‘Ought’: Laws, Norms and Strategies in Translation Studies

Andrew Chesterman

Translation studies need to cater for both description and evaluation. This can be achieved via the study of translation norms. The norms governing translation are: (a) professional norms concerning the translation process (= norms of accountability, communication and target-source relation); and (b) expectancy norms concerning the form of the translation product, based on the expectations of the prospective readership. While general translation laws account for the behaviour of translators in general, normative laws describe the translation behaviour of a subset of translators, namely, competent professionals, who establish the norms. Normative laws originate in rational, normdirected strategies which are observed to be used by professionals. These laws are empirical, spatio-temporally falsifiable, probabilistic, predictive and explanatory.

Table of contents

Translation is increasingly seen as a process, a form of human behaviour. A theory of translation, therefore, should seek to establish the laws of this behaviour, as e.g. Toury has argued recently (1991; in press). "Law" in this sense may be glossed simply as "observable regularity". Such laws would be purely descriptive, giving an empirical account of actual translation behaviour. They would take the general form: Under conditions ABC, translators (tend to) do (or refrain from doing) X. I will refer to such laws as "general descriptive laws". This stress on a descriptive approach is no doubt partly due to the long tradition of confusion in translation studies, between descriptive and prescriptive aims.

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