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Chapter · January 2011

DOI: 10.1075/hts.2.pse1


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Carol O'Sullivan
University of Bristol


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This is a pre-publication, unformatted version of this article from the
Handbook of Translation Studies, vol. 2 (2011), ed. Yves Gambier & Luc
van Doorslaer, pp.123-125. The published version (DOI:
10.1075/hts.2.pse1) can be found at


Carol O'Sullivan
University of Portsmouth

Pseudotranslations, or 'texts which resemble translations', have referred to a number of

different phenomena over the decades. Pseudotranslations may generally be defined as "texts
which have been presented as translations with no corresponding source texts in other
languages ever having existed – hence no factual 'transfer operations' and translation
relationships" (Toury 1995: 40). In this definition, Toury follows Anton Popovič, who
included in his 1976 taxonomy of translation types 'fictitious translation' (1976: 20) whereby
an author 'may publish his original work as a fictitious translation in order to win a wide
public, thus making use of the readers' expectations'. Pseudotranslations tell us, inevitably,
much more about the patterns of the receiving culture than about the patterns (faked, imitated
or pastiched) of the putative source culture. It is for this reason, and for the questions they
raise about the permeability of systems, that pseudotranslations constitute an attractive object
of study for Descriptive Translation Studies*-oriented research and research grounded in
Polysystem Theory*; they tell us "about the notions shared by the members of a community,
not only as to the status of translated texts, but also as to their most conspicuous
characteristics" (Toury 1995: 46).
Pseudotranslation functions as a way of importing texts not otherwise acceptable as
'original' writing into a literary system. These texts may be unacceptable as originals either
because the material does not conform to existing norms or because the writer of the
pseudotranslation lacks sufficient cultural capital to have traction in the target culture.
Pseudotranslations may be accompanied by more or less extensive metatextual apparatus
destined to consolidate their status as translations, as in the case of Papa Hamlet, a German
work initially presented and received in 1889 as a translation from Norwegian (Toury 1984).
Such texts can have considerable literary influence, as in the case of James MacPherson's late-
eighteenth-century 'translations' of the Scots Gaelic poet Ossian which had an enormous
influence on Romantic literature (Lefevere 2000). They may also exert linguistic influence,
helping to extend the expressive capacities of a minority 'target' language (cf. Naudé 2008).
Pseudotranslational practices extend beyond literary innovation or forgery to
encompass explorations of style and norms (Bassnett 1998; Lefevere 2000). They offer
writers a way of adopting an alternative writing voice, as in the case of the 'Greek fisherman'
Andreas Karavis, the alternative persona of Canadian poet David Solway. They may supply a
space for play, as in the case of the 'Roman' poet Quintilius, really Irwin Peter Russell (1921-
2003), whose poems cross over into pastiche, containing many hints and clues to readers of
their real nature. Pseudotranslation may constitute a narrative strategy for fiction (du Pont
2005) as in Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote or James Kelman's Translated Accounts. In
1979 György Radó used the term to refer to adaptations, poetic rewritings and travesties,
rewritings too loose to retain their translational relationship with a source text: in other words,
what we would now call 'adaptations', but this definition has not found favour with critics.
Pseudotranslational practices are common in cinema. Scripts for multilingual films are
often written in a single language and relevant segments are then translated into the putative
source language(s) or even improvised during shooting. In the final film, the heterolingual
dialogue becomes what Anthony Pym, drawing on Toury, calls a ‘pseudo-original’, or a
'translated text falsely presented and received as original' (Pym 1998: 60). The subtitles,
which appear to be a translation, may in fact be the original script; in other words,
pseudosubtitles (e.g. Dances With Wolves). Such practices illustrate the complexity
surrounding practices of pseudotranslation and suggest that pseudotranslation may not be
reducible to an absence of translation.
Pseudotranslation raises a number of ethical questions. If the precision of its
adherence to an original text is the condition of translation, as opposed to imitation or
adaptation, then pseudotranslation has the potential to destabilise the basis on which
translation theory is built. For Emily Apter, its may be 'the premier illustration of translational
ontology, insofar as it reveals the extent to which all translations are unreliable transmitters of
the original' (2005: 160). This tension underlies the unease of readers when a writer succeeds
in 'passing' (ibid.: 167). Ultimately, for Apter, pseudotranslation marks an ethical shift from
source-text oriented critical thinking to translation 'in its most scandalous form, […] as a
technology of literary replication that engineers textual afterlife without recourse to a genetic
origin' (ibid.: 171).
Pseudotranslation may also refer to a simulation practice common in Localization* involving
the replacement of strings within digital content with target-language strings.

Apter, Emily. 2005. “Translation with No Original; Scandals of Textual Reproduction.” In
Nation, Language, and the Ethics of Translation, Sandra Bermann and Michael Wood (eds.)
159-174. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Bassnett, Susan. 1998. "When is a translation not a translation?" In Constructing Cultures:
Essays on Literary Translation, Susan Bassnett and André Lefevere, 25-40. Clevedon:
Multilingual Matters
Lefevere André. 2000. "Pseudotranslations." In Encyclopedia of Literary Translation into
English, Olive Classe (ed.), vol.2, 1122-1123. London/Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn
Naudé, Jacobus A. 2008. The role of pseudo-translations in early Afrikaans travel writing.
Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies 26(1): 97-106.
Du Pont, Olaf. 2005. Robert Graves’s Claudian novels: A case of pseudotranslation. Target
17(2): 327-347
Pym, Anthony. 1998. Method in Translation History. Manchester: St. Jerome
Toury, Gideon. 1984. Translation, literary translation and pseudotranslation. Comparative
Criticism 6: 73-85
Toury, Gideon. 1995. Descriptive Translation Studies. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John

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