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Translation and Text Transfer. An Essay on the Principles of Intercultural Communication

Translation and Text Transfer. An Essay on the Principles of Intercultural Communication

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Published by apym
Revised edition of the book published in 1992. It provides a technical description of translational discourse and its historical settings.
Revised edition of the book published in 1992. It provides a technical description of translational discourse and its historical settings.

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Published by: apym on Dec 19, 2009
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NE OF the recurrent shortcomings in general approaches to translation is
that we are all constantly prepared to say how translation works but we
rarely stop to ask what it might be working against. If, according to a not
uncommon Manichean vision, translation were all goodness and enlightenment,
what would then be the badness and ignorance it should oppose? And even if
translation were found to be less than ideal, where should we look to find the val-
ues it lacks? In short, what is the opposite of translation?
I have so far avoided this problem by associating minimal non-translation with
transliteration (the text is transferred but not visibly translated). But this is a facile
evasion of the issue since, as we have seen, the decision not to translate is still a
translational decision; it puts no illogical spanner into the works of translation as a
process; its minor elitism is entirely describable in terms of the basic principles of
translational quantities. Transliteration might be a degree of apparent non-
translation, but it is certainly not anti-translational.
A far more formidable opposite lies not within translation as such, but in the ne-
gation of transfer, in denial of the necessary precondition for any translational
situation. Maximum anti-translationality—a word not to be repeated—is surely to
be found somewhere in non-transfer, in the state of texts whose movements are so
restricted that they almost never become candidates for properly translational
treatment. Translators are most successfully thwarted by the material they cannot
get their hands on; translation can fail because some aspects of texts are difficult to
transfer to a Y situation and sometimes impossible to convey to the situation of
translational reception. The fundamental task of translators must thus be to work
against the bonds restricting the movements of texts; they must attempt to attain




some kind of maximum transcultural mobility towards a specific receiver. In short,
translation works against constraints on transfer.
Why should there be constraints on the transfer of texts? Quite simply be-
cause—reading “transfer” in its juridical sense—certain texts are felt to belong to
certain people or to certain situations, making the movement of those texts a ques-
tion of bestowing some kind of ownership or right to full textual meaningfulness.
Seen in this light, constraints on transfer can be thought of as bonds of belonging.
Here I am not particularly concerned with the mechanical reproduction of texts
or with the way a strictly legalistic sense of belonging might formalized in terms
of copyright laws and international publishers’ agreements. I am more interested in
the way texts themselves resist reproduction and transfer, undergoing a transfor-
mation of values when moved from their apparently rightful place. I am concerned
with the way texts themselves are felt to belong, whatever the influence of external

In English, this belonging can be thought of with or without a subjective com-
pliment; that is, in terms of specific direct ownership or in terms of a situational
adequacy analyzable as collective ownership. Texts can belong to someone, or
they might simply be felt to belong in a certain social place such that they do not
belong when they turn up elsewhere. Eliot’s search for “the right words in the right
order” can be seen as an idealization of situational belonging; the experience of
correcting students’ translations is sometimes counterproof of the same belonging,
since “the wrong words in the wrong order” often conform to every teachable rule
but are still felt to be out of place. We know that texts belong because sometimes
they simply do not belong.
How does belonging actually affect the transfer and translation of texts? Any
substantial response would have to consider and account for various modes of be-
longing itself. In what follows, I shall briefly look at the discursive function of
texts as they enter actions (forming explicit and implicit performatives); I shall
touch upon several notions of social embedding through contiguity, secrecy and
forgetting; and I shall openly recognize the powerful binding role of tongues. If it
can be shown that belonging in general is anti-translational, these various specific
modes of belonging should enable us to say something of interest about what kinds
of constraints translation has to negotiate. Awareness of these constraints should
then in turn provide some insight into the eminently pedagogical problem of why
certain aspects of translating are more difficult than others.



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