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Oct. 2009, Volume 7, No.10 (Serial No.

73) US-China Foreign Language, ISSN 1539-8080, USA

The reflection of translation study—Theory and practice

LIANG Zhi-min
(School of Foreign Languages, Huaiyin Normal University, Jiangsu 223300, China)

Abstract: The paper analyzes the definition of translation and discusses the criteria of translation in detail.
Meanwhile, the paper explores the style in literary translation with some typical examples to prove that in general
the style can be possibly transferred into another language.
Key words: translation; criteria of translation; style; literary translation

I. The nature of translation

Translation exists because men speak different languages. This truism is, in fact, founded on a situation, which
can be regarded as enigmatic and as posing problems of extreme psychological and socio-historical difficulty.
Various definitions have been given to translation that translation is a science; translation is an art; translation is a
craft; translation is a skill; translation is an operation; translation is a language activity and translation is communicating.
The first two are most important for they represent two schools—the school of science and the school of art.
The former maintains that translating should reproduce the message of the original by means of the transformation
of linguistic equivalence. It puts stress on the study of the process of translation, and the structures and forms of
language so as to reveal the objective laws inherent in translating. The latter school advocates recreating a literary
work by using expressions of another language. It emphasizes the effect of translation.
But in everyday life, we still often come across such a question: What is translation, a science, an art or a
skill? As far as the author is concerned, translation is a science, because it has its own laws and methods which
should be carried out systematically and at the same time, it has connections with a lot of other disciplines such as
linguistics, rhetoric, psychology, aesthetics, logic, communication science, anthropology, semiotics, etc.
And why we say it is an art? We know that the process of translation is actually a process of recreation and
reproduction. Translators must first understand the content and style of the original version thoroughly and
profoundly, and then creatively and accurately reproduce it with the aid of his outstanding art of translation.
Translation, just like creation, has its respective difficulties and prerequisites. To a certain extent, translation is
also a skill. Because its practical methods or processes can be taught and learned.
Translation studies do not have one single underlying theory which all the scholars working in the field
would accept. Instead, it comprises a large number of translation theories, which tend to be their quite divergent
source and often more traditional disciplines—with their different approaches and conceptual requirements,
sometimes even within one discipline—and which often come to rather different conclusions about the
phenomena investigated. Scholars studying translation mainly come from traditionally defined areas of thinking
about language and culture: Literary theory and criticism, rhetoric grammar, philosophy as well as computer and
communication science, anthropology, psychology and pedagogy—and of course translation and interpreting.
What all these people study is, to put it simply, what it is to translate.
While theories of translation belong to one subject of science. The finding of any science comes from

LIANG Zhi-min, female, M.A., lecturer of School of Foreign Languages, Huaiyin Normal University; research fields: applied
linguistics, translation theory and practice.

The reflection of translation study—Theory and practice

practice and the science of translation theory is of no exception. It is a kind of systematic theory aiming at
studying the activity of translation and setting up the objective law of the activity.
And it is a science connected with linguistics, rhetoric, psychology, aesthetics, logic, communication science,
anthropology, and semiotics, etc., just like what the author has mentioned in the above parts.
Though it cannot be considered as a direct component of linguistics, the activity of translation does have
some connection with languages. It is also an art of language just like creation. A theory of translation is in fact a
theory of language.
To sum up: A theory of translation, a theory of semantic transfer, must mean one of two things. It is either an
intentionally sharpened, hermeneutically oriented way of designating a working model of all meaningful
exchanges, of the totality of semantic communication (including Jakobson’s intersemiotic translation or
“transmutation”). Or it is a subsection of such a model with specific reference to interlingual exchanges, to the
emission and reception of significant messages between languages.

2. The principles/criteria of translation

Translation is desirable and possible. Its methods and criteria/principles need to be investigated in relation to
substantive, mainly “difficult” texts. These are the preliminaries. Theories of translation either assume or get them
out of the way briskly, with greater or lesser awareness of logical pitfalls. In the west, the theory of translation,
certainly since the 17th century, almost invariably divides the topic into three classes. The first comprises strict
literalism, the word-by-word matching of the interlingual dictionary, the foreign-language primer and the
interlinear crib. The second is the great central area of “translation” by means of faithful but autonomous
restatement. The translator closely reproduces the original but composes a text which is natured to his own tongue,
which can stand on its own. The third class is that of imitation, recreation, variation, and interpretative parallel. It
covers a large, diffuse area, extending from transpositions of the original into a more accessible idiom all the way
to the freest, perhaps only allusive or parodistic echoes.
The so-called principles and criteria of translation are actually the two sides of the same thing. The former
lays emphasis on the translator, who should follow them while translating, whereas the latter on the reader or critic,
who may use the criteria to evaluate a translation.
The characters “faithfulness, expressiveness and elegance” formulated by YAN Fu in his Introductory remarks
to his translation of Evolution and ethics are thought of and supported as the one and only maxim all translators
must observe in the long history of translation. YAN Fu’s concepts soon became guiding principles for Chinese
translators and translation theorists. Ever since, Chinese translation studies have largely been confined to a
discussion of “faithfulness”, “expressiveness” and “elegance”. Yet these principles have been challenged in the last
two decades. Translators generally accept “faithfulness” and “expressiveness”, and reject “elegance” as too
ambiguous. Some might ask: If the original is not elegant, can its translation be so? But we know, in the 19th
century, the Chinese suffered the western invasions. WANG Zuo-liang thought that YAN Fu’s “elegance” was like a
sugar coating on a bitter pill so that the patient—in this case Chinese society—would take it (XU, 2008, pp. 4-5).
And recently, some scholars have put forward “closeness” or “fitness”, trying to replace “elegance”
formulated by YAN Fu. To the author, “closeness” and “fitness” have the same meaning. But their contents have
been enlarged. “Elegance” is not always proper to some works, because works produced by different writers have
different styles at different ages. And sometimes, it is totally not proper. Just imagine a person who is illiterate, the
writer purposely uses some rude or vulgar words to modify or just to show his status or characters, can the
translator translate his words into elegant ones? While “closeness” and “fitness”, the proposition is more suitable.

The reflection of translation study—Theory and practice

They always exhibit in the style. If the translated version can really be close or fit to the original one, the style
problem must be solved properly. Hence, we come to the discussion of style.

3. Style and the rendering of style in the literary works

According to the revised edition of A dictionary of literary terms (Cuddon, 1979), style is “the characteristic
manner of expression in prose or verse; how a particular writer says things. The analysis and assessment of style
involves examination of a writer’s choice of words, his figures of speech, the devices (rhetorical and otherwise),
the shape of paragraphs indeed, of every conceivable aspect of his language and the way in which he uses it”.
Johnathan Swift gave a concise definition of style in Letter to a young Clergyman. He said, “Proper words in
proper places make the true definition of a style”1.
In the words of Theodore Savory (1957), “Style is the essential characteristic of every piece of writing, the
outcome of the writer’s personality and his emotions at the moment, and no single paragraph can be put together
with revealing in some degree the nature of its author”.
In short, style is the man as de Baffon put it. Here the style to the author mainly refers to the literary style.
Different people have different opinion on its translatability. Some consider that the original literary style
untranslatable while many think that it should be reproduced and that it is possible to reproduce it. The author is
fond of the latter for literary works are a kind of art created in language. What we demand of them is not merely
the recording of concepts and incidents. Besides these, they should possess artistic images, which are attractive to
the reader. Literary translation is to reproduce the original artistic images in another language so that the reader of
the translation may be inspired, moved and aesthetically entertained in the same way as one reads the original.
Naturally, such a translation is not purely a technical change in the form of language, but it requires that the
translators realize the author’s process of artistic creation, grasp the spirit of the original, find the most appropriate
confirmation in his own thought, feeling and experience, and reproduce fully and correctly the content and form
of the original in a literary language suited to the original style…. Since the main task of literary translation lies in
the faithful reproduction of the spirit and features of the original.
As for western translation theoreticians, there are a large number of well-known ones who firmly maintain
both the necessity and possibility of reproducing the original style. Alexander Fraser Tytler is the typical
representative. And the following examples from Chinese to English can help to prove their opinion.
Example 1:
“寻寻觅觅,冷冷清清,凄凄惨惨戚戚” (a famous sentence of LI Qing-zhao’s poem).
LIN Yu-tang, by using the alliteration, translated this sentence as “so dim, so dark, so dense, so dull, so damp,
so dank, so dead”. And the last word “dead” is the apt word added to clinch the point.
Example 2:
Of studies—Bacon
Studies serve for delight, for ornament and for ability. Their chief use for delight is in privateness and retiring;
for ornament, is in discourse; and for ability, is in the judgment and disposition of business.
If it is not known before, few people would recognize that it is a translated version. It is hard to find any trace

Retrieved from

The reflection of translation study—Theory and practice

of translating. The translator has achieved to agree with the writer spiritually, not only conform in form. So who
says that translation is impossible to achieve that?
As for the author, the meaning of style should contains not only the author’s writing style but also the culture
difference and the graceful bearing achieved by using so many different methods to produce, In short, in
translation it should resemble the source language in form and in spirit.

4. Conclusion
Although I’ve listed the above to prove that the style can be possibly transferred into another language, we
do have found that sometimes it is really hard or impossible for translators to reproduce the style of the source
language into the receptor language especially in translating poems or prose. There are so many differences
between the SL and TL such as the categories of the words, the sentence structures, grammars and habits, rhetoric
devices, and there are also so many different idioms or old sayings from which we can see the different ways of
thinking; different aspects of views; different customs, attitudes and beliefs; different social background; and
different ways of expression. In a word, language is closely related to people’s mentalities and thought patterns.
Being an intrinsic part of culture, language carries culture, mirrors culture, spreads culture and helps develop
culture. In translating, translators have to transfer all these information (combined as the style) into the target
language. Even the most excellent translated version cannot keep at the same level of the original version, usually
goes too far or is inferior to the original one or sometimes it is just impossible to transfer. Look at this poem
Loneliness by E. E. Cummings (WANG, 2007):


Of course it is a poem in different form according to the common sense, but till now, there is still no
satisfying Chinese version though a lot of people have tried.
All translators, especially literary translators are expected to uphold reproduction of the original style as their
common goal and strive for it all their lives.

Clay Dollerup. (Ed.). 2003. Perspectives: Studies in translatology. Beijing, Tsinghua University Press.
Cuddon J. A. (Ed.). 1979. A dictionary of literary terms (Rev. ed.). London: Andre Deutsch Limited.
FAN Zhong-ying. 1999. Practical course of translation. Beijing: Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press. (in Chinese)
George Steiner. 2001. After Babel: Aspects of language and translation. Shanghai: Shanghai Foreign Language Education Press.
GUO Jian-zhong. 1999. Culture and translation. Beijing: China Translation & Publishing Corporation. (in Chinese)
Theodore H. Savory. 1957. The Art of translation. London: Jonathan Cape Ltd.
WANG Hong-yang. 2007. A multimodal functional analysis of the poem “la” by E. E. Cummings. Foreign Language Education, 5.
(in Chinese)
XU Jian-pin. (Ed.). 2008. A practical course of translation for postgraduates (2nd ed.). Teacher’s Book. Beijing: China Renmin
University Press (in Chinese)
(Edited by Cathy, Nicole and Sunny)