Translation: Introductory Concepts – Meaning, Equivalence, Strategy
Dr. Chris Wen-Chao Li
June 8, 2014 at City of Ten Thousand Buddhas
What is translation? How do we resolve differences regarding the translated product? Academics, translators, and clients all have different expectations of what a translation should be, and as a result, debates over the merits of translated work often get bogged down at a superficial level where convention and personal taste ultimately dominate the discussion.
In this talk we tackle this issue by presenting a tentative operational definition of translation, using which we examine the skopos – or purpose – of each translational task and evaluate its effect. We also tease out different layers of meaning active in the translation process and explore possible equivalence at multiple linguistic levels, leading to the recognition of translation as a multilayered task in which the choice of schema and strategy depends, to a large extent, on the effect we wish the text to have on the intended audience.
“Either the translator leaves the author in peace, as much as possible, and moves the reader towards him, or he leaves the reader in peace, as much as possible, and moves the author towards him”. These words of German theologian Frederick Schleiermacher (1768-1834) deftly capture the challenge of the literary translator as he seeks a balance between being faithfulness to the textual source and sounding natural to his audience, a dilemma that has been debated over the ages across different cultures and engendered such dichotomies as word-for-word vs sense-for-sense, literal vs free translation, formal vs dynamic equivalence (Nida 1964), semantic vs communicative translation (Newmark 1981), and domesticating vs foreignizing strategies (Venuti 1995).
In this talk we apply this debate to the translation of Chinese literary verse, and in so doing weigh the relative merits of preserving source language diction, imagery and allusions vs the requirements of target language idiomaticity, poetic form, and reader expectations, showing that the translation of literary texts involves choosing between a myriad of competing desiderata, the full preservation of which would be largely impossible. We also explore the notion of what it means to be “faithful” to the sense of the original text – a term which may have multiple interpretations from a literary theoretic perspective. Finally, we stress the ability to view the text through the lens of both source and target language audiences, and encourage the creation of multiple translatory versions to satisfy different the expectations of different readerships.