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Translation Techniques

By Toby Smollett and Kate Williams


Translators are constantly making conscious choices in their work. As we discussed in the previous issue, translation might even be considered adaptation, and can go as far as rewriting the original text to expose different messages and themes, or to put forward a political message. In this article, we discuss some theoretical translation techniques which translators may draw upon when making these choices, using examples which show these theories in action.

Domestication and Foreignization

Lawrence Venuti coined the terms "domestication" and "foreignization" in his book, The Translator’s Invisibility. In brief, a domestication changes cultural elements in the source text to assimilate to the target culture, creating a more comfortable reading experience in translation. Conversely, a foreignized translation retains these original cultural characteristics, and while this may require the reader to work harder to understand the text, it is a less intrusive method which provides an opportunity to learn about other cultures and perspectives.


In literary translation, the most common is foreignization, as faithfulness to the original text is highly valued and domestication risks belittling the source culture by “westernising” it. One example of foreignization is Takemori’s translation of the Japanese novel, Convenience Store Woman. In a 2018 interview, the translator discusses her choice of the somewhat archaic phrase “Thank you for your custom,” which the main character repeats frequently. Instead of seeking an alternative, she uses this phrase to “create a formulaic-sounding language to roughly approximate the manual-dictated customer service language (baito keigo as it’s known in Japanese) in which there is really no equivalent for in English.” While the wording of this sentence may sound unusual to a native English speaker, the translator emphasises a cultural feature through her choice of words.

Domestication is also used in some situations. In David Hawkes’ translation of the Chinese novel, Hou Lou Meng, he removes references to the colour red, a colour associated with violence and blood in the Western world, which the translator felt would hinder his ability to convey the original spirit of the novel. Therefore, red is frequently replaced with green in the translation, and even the title, which translates literally as "A Dream of Red Mansions," becomes The Story of the Stone in English.

Feminist Translation

Feminist translation is a translation practice that first emerged in Quebec, Canada, towards the end of the 1970s. According to Olga Castro and Emek Ergun, authors of the influential 2017 book, Feminist Translation Studies: Local and Transnational Perspectives, “Feminist translation could be defined as any conscious discursive intervention that seeks to contribute, through translation, to global social justice.” Feminist translation encompasses both the micro and macro processes, from ensuring that the choice of words is inclusive, especially when translating gendered languages such as French and Spanish, to highlighting broader political themes, such as making a conscious decision to translate certain texts in order to make them accessible to a new portion of the world’s readers.

One such example cited in Castro and Ergun’s book is Donne è bello, a collection of essays translated from English to Italian by the Milanese feminist group, the Anabasi. The collection includes Italian translations of American feminist texts from multiple different sources, strategically compiled in one volume curated for Italian readers. As a result, the Anabasi were able to transport feminist ideas from the US to Italy and present them in one accessible document, with the hope of inspiring more people to join their movement.


Skopos Theory

Skopos theory concerns itself with the concept of “skopos” in the act of translation. A Greek word first employed in a translating context by Hans Vermeer in an article in 1978 – who had been strongly influenced by the work of Katharina Reiss – it refers to the concept of the “purpose” which lies behind any exercise in translation. A manual for a tumble-dryer is translated with the communicative purpose of instructing the reader how to operate the machinery, for example.

This skopos of instruction therefore determines the decisions undertaken by the translator in the process of translation. As a translation tool, this is particularly helpful for the way it moved translation theory away from the existing paradigmatic binary of word-for-word translations vs. sense-for-sense translation.

Skopos theory lends itself to a variety of potential uses, both within the literary world and beyond, and its focus on communicative purpose has made it specifically relevant to Bible translation. The Bible has a variety of potential purposes with a wide range of audiences: the skopos of one translation of the Bible may aim to introduce its content to young children, while another may be intended for rigorous academic study. An approach in which the target text is determined by the skopos therefore allows for a more appropriate translation, if somewhat less loyal to the source text.



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