Monday, December 9, 2013

Intro to Translation Studies: André Lefevere and Cultural Theories

As part of our series on Translation Studies (TS), we've looked at the foundations of the field, how it was subject to three important turns (linguistic, cultural, and sociological), and in our last post in the series we looked at the concept of dynamic equivalence, as popularised by Eugene Nida.

Today, we'll be delving into the second of the turns in TS, the cultural turn. As you will have seen in our previous post, dynamic equivalence was one of the first widely-accepted theories in TS to put the cultural aspect of translation to the forefront.

The city of Ghent, where Lefevere first studied his
undergraduate degree.
Following dynamic equivalence, the focal point of TS began to change, whereby culture took centre stage. Translation was no longer a transfer between texts, but a transfer between cultures. Perhaps the first noteworthy theorist to stake their claim as a cultural translation theorist was Itamar Even-Zohar with his polysystem theory. However, polysystem theory was focused solely within literature as a system of systems.

Belgian theorist André Lefevere built upon Even-Zohar's work viewing translation as far beyond linguistic transfer and seeing translation as not being trapped in texts, but as a means of adapting and retelling the source text (ST) or source medium.

Lefevere was also one of the first to take the focus of translation away from the source and put greater importance on the target as a product of the ideology, economics and status within the the target culture. He was not the first theorist to involve culture in the paradigm of TS, but he was one of the first to view culture seriously as an aspect of the translation act.

Though some modern-day scholars have argued the validity of both linguistic and cultural theories, scholars of the cultural turn were very quick to oppose the linguistic turn and dismiss its theories. The quality of translation could not be simply judged on how well equivalence is met between the source text (ST) and target (TT). During the turn, translation became considered as an act that takes place within a particular time in history, within a particular culture.