Directionality in Translation Studies

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    رئيس الجمعية
    • May 2006
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    Directionality in Translation Studies

    Directionality in Translation Studies
    By Iman Poostdoozan,
    Islamic Azad University,
    Fars Science and Research Branch, Shiraz, Iran
    Focusing on the influence of directionality on interlingual translation processes, this article is aimed to introduce the notion of directionality and provide an overview of the literature on the translation phenomenon involving this matter.
    Key words
    Directionality, translation processes, L1 and L2 translation, mother tongue, other tongue, language of limited diffusion.

    “Directionality” refers to whether translation is carried out into one’s “mother tongue” (“native language”, “first language”) or out of it – into one’s “other tongue” (“foreign language”, “second language”). It is also possible for a translator to do his/her job from the first language into the third or from the third into the first or second.Although the two contrasting terms “mother tongue” and “other tongue” are more widespread in general use, they may be problematic in some ways, as pointed out by some authors.
    Prunc (2003, p. 82) states that the term “mother tongue” has usually belonged to systems which are determined by ideological features. A person’s “mother tongue”, in his opinion, is not always that person’s more developed and dominant language ability. The ties that link people to their mother tongues are, rather, “emotional, ethical and cultural” (2003, p. 83). Prunc (2000, p. 10) indicates that the language ability of bi- or multilingual persons can be expressed as a continuum that changes from time to time, and in which the primary place could be held by the first language as often as the second. He also believes that an individual’s language ability can be divided up among various languages on the basis of specific fields, and they can vary in the course of the individual’s socialization (Prunc, 2003, p. 83).
    In this respect, Pedersen (2000, p. 109) points out that “first language” does not necessarily mean chronologically first, but “the language that is most readily available” to a translator. This is especially the case of translators who have lived most of their lives in a country other than that in which they were born. In these cases the language which is chronologically their second language becomes their dominant language.
    Imagine the children of emigrants who have grown up in other linguistic environment of receiving countries. The language which is their “mother tongue” may in fact be considered as their second language in terms of actual level of competence. For example, second-generation Iranian emigrants to the United States of America may state that Persian is their “mother tongue,” while English is in fact their strongest language (“first language” in our sense). Their Persian language ability may have been compromised through years of living outside their L1 environment and, in fact, be restricted only to domestic contexts.
    One of the problems concerning the term “other tongue” is that it is sometimes used of any language a person has learnt or is learning after mastering his/her first language, regardless of their level of competence. Researchers, however, declare that if any term is used in Translation Studies it should refer to a language that has been mastered in a high level of competence; a language from and into which the translator is already working in the course of his/her professional translation career.
    Whether we choose the terms “mother tongue” vs. “other tongue” or “first language” vs. “second language”, we fail to take into account all the realities of the multilingual, multicultural world we live in. In this article, we will continue to use the terms “first language (L1)” and “second language (L2)” only with all the above observations in mind.
    Traditional view of Directionality
    The traditional view among translation theorists regarding directionality is likely best reflected in the following statement by Peter Newmark (1988, p. 3): “translat[ing] into your language of habitual use […] is the only way you can translate naturally, accurately and with maximum effectiveness”. Although Newmark admits that in practice translators “do translate out of their own language,” he dismisses the work by calling it “service” translation and by declaring that those translators who engage in this “contribute to many people’s hilarity in the process” (ibid.).
    In the past decades, Translation Studies have undergone a considerable shift away from traditional prescriptive attitudes, as represented by Newmark, toward more descriptive, empirically-oriented work. However, when it comes to directionality, some beliefs rooted in traditional prescriptivism seem to remain among researchers. The idea that “translating into one’s mother tongue generally yields better texts than translating out of it” (Marmaridou, 1996, p. 60) was taken for granted in a study conducted in 1996, in which qualities of particular language pairs, cultural settings or text types were not taken into account. Marmaridou (1996, p. 59) further claims, although with no evidence, that “a professional translator is usually asked to, and prefers to translate into his or her mother tongue”. For her, translation in to other tongue happens only in didactic and experimental settings (ibid.).
    Beeby (1998, p. 64) believes that Newmark’s opinion is “so widely held in Europe that the unmarked direction of translation is into the mother tongue”. This is probably true of major-language settings, especially in Western Europe. As Prunc (2003, p. 82) remarks, “the principle of mother tongue [translation] as a guarantee of translation quality is present in all Translation Studies literature as well as in professional norms of recruitment”.
    In reality, the opinion that translators should only translate into their mother tongue still seems to be widely accepted as one of the “golden rules” among the scholars who have written articles on “best practices” (e.g. Carpenter, 1999; Borges, 2005; Neilan, 2006). Even a quick glance at translation agencies on the web shows that many of them try to make their potential clients sure that their policy is to employ only mother-tongue translators.
    However, this issue differs simply in many other settings. In countries in which a “language of limited diffusion” is used – a language which is not widely used outside its primary linguistic community – L2 translation is taken for granted. If a client needs a translation from, say, Persian into major languages such as English or France, the question is not made in terms of who should do the translation but rather who can do it. Since the number of L1 Persian translators with perfect L2 English is by far more than the number of L1 English translators with perfect L2 Persian, clients are likely to use the services of an L1 Persian translator regardless of direction.

    Challenging the traditional view
    Over the past decade, an increasing number of scholars from settings that involve languages of limited diffusion have started to take a critical position toward the traditional view of directionality. Thus Campbell (1998, p. 4) describes L2 translation as “an activity as normal and possibly as widespread as translation into the first language”. According to Snell-Hornby (1997; cited in Kelly et al., 2003b, p. 26), “translation into English non-mother tongue is a fact of modern life”. Prunc (2003, p. 82) believes that “the fact that we do not have a single piece of empirical evidence to confirm the validity of this maxim turns the principle of mother tongue [translation] into an ideological construct”. Stewart (1999, p. 62) likewise points out that with “the vast array of resources offered by contemporary technology it seems outlandish and anachronistic to veto translation into the foreign language aprioristically”.
    In the realm of interpreting, traditional views are also changing. Interpreting scholars and teachers seem to be switching from saying work into L2 “should not be done” to looking for the ways in which interpreters could be trained to do it well (e.g. Minns, 2002; Hönig, 2002; Fernández, 2003; Donovan, 2003; Tolón, 2003; Padilla & Abril, 2003). Interestingly, one study investigating user expectations (Donovan, 2002) has found that the clients are likely “uninterested” in whether the interpreters are working into their mother tongue or out of it; in real, there was no clear correlation between client satisfaction and directionality.
    Campbell (1998, p. 4) declares that Translation Studies have implicitly assumed the existence of a perfect bilingual translator, without paying much attention to the translator as “a living being with a role and abilities that can be described and discussed”. Lorenzo (1999, p. 124) likewise points out that “until very recently, translation theory took a prescriptive stance based on an idealized construct of translation instead of observing the reality of the translator”. The point is further explained by Hansen et al. (1998, p. 59-60), who note that “it is difficult for researchers based in countries with major languages to accept how important translation into the foreign language is for a country like Denmark, whose language is virtually only mastered by its own inhabitants (population: 5.5 million)”. Ahlsvad (1978; cited in Campbell, 1998, p. 27), living in Finland, makes the similar point when saying that “it is impossible to find sufficient foreigners […] able to work as translators, and in any case, foreigners seldom acquire a good enough passive command of Finnish”. McAlester (1992, p. 292) also states that the “volume of work exceeds the number of available translators who are major language native speakers”. McAlester reaches a conclusion similar to Campbell’s, namely that the largest part of translation out of “minor” languages is inevitably carried out by native speakers of those languages (ibid.).
    Pokorn (2005, p. 37), the Slovene scholar, agrees that translation into L2 is “especially common in languages with restricted distribution” but also “in larger linguistic communities which are pushed into a peripheral position because of the global distribution of power and in major- language societies when communicating with ethnic minorities”. China and Australia are listed as respective examples. Like Lorenzo and others, Pokorn (2005, p. 37) criticizes traditional view to ignoring the practice of L2 translation and accepting what she describes as “predominantly Romantic assumption” that translators should work only into L1:
    This conviction of the linguistic and cultural inferiority of inverse translations in an opaque way ethnocentrically defends the superiority of post-Romantic West-European concepts concerning translation and translational practice, and thus consequently the a priori superiority of the translators and translational practice of major-language communities. (Pokorn, 2005, p. 37)
    Grosman (2000, p. 23) makes another important point when she says that a translation produced by a non- native speaker is expected to be
    subjected to the reading, correcting and approval by a native speaker […] while nobody demands that a target language speaker’s reading and comprehension of the source text be submitted to a similar testing and checking by a mother tongue speaker of the source text.
    She further explains that the reading of a target-language speaker is taken for granted, even though most target-language speakers of a major language such as English “command only a rather limited knowledge and understanding of [less widely disseminated] languages”. Then, she asks the following important questions:
    Are the native speakers [of a major language into which translation is done from a minor language] supposed to indulge in the luxury of doing whatever they may deem necessary to adapt their translation to the target culture just in the name of its successful functioning? Are the intentions of the source writer/speaker and the particularities of the [source] culture really of so little importance as to merit no more attention? Or do such attitudes perhaps reflect existing asymmetries in power relations between widely disseminated and less widely disseminated languages? (Grosman, 2000, p. 23-4)
    Campbell (1998, p. 22) also stresses the social and political asymmetry of source and target languages, relating it to “the phenomena of immigration, colonialism, international trade and geopolitics”. According to him, “in virtually any post-colonial society in the developing world, where a major European language still has a foothold, there will be people who regularly write and translate in that language as a second language” (1998, p. 12). This has led him to describe the translation into the second language as “inevitability” of most settings (1998, p. 22).
    But that is not all. Cronin (2003, p. 144-6) addresses the issue from a different angle when he stresses the dynamic aspect of the concept of “minority”:
    “Minority” is the expression of relation, not an essence. […] The majority status of a language is determined by political, economic and cultural forces that are rarely static. All languages, therefore, are potentially minority languages. […] The hegemony of English in the fastest-growing areas of technological development means that all other languages become in this context minority languages. Major languages have much to learn from minority languages.
    In this respect, a survey conducted among 100 translators in Spain in 1998 revealed that 84 of them worked out of their L1 “with certain regularity” (Roiss, 1998, p. 378; cited in Kelly et al., 2003c, p. 46). Although the sample might be considered small relative to the number of translators in Spain, the survey suggests that the situation may likely be the same even when it comes to languages that were traditionally considered “major” languages. This is further supported by the results of another study (Schmitt, 1990, p. 101; cited in Kiraly, 2000b, p. 117-8), carried out in Germany, in which the respondents reported doing half of their works into other tongues.

    Quality issues in L2 translation
    Does the practice of L2 translation, necessary in settings involving a language of limited diffusion, mean that the quality of translation into a major language will be compromised? This, of course, is a subject for studies involving quality assessment in the area of translation, without which a definite answer cannot be given. However, personal experience as a translator would suggest that this is not necessarily so. According to Gile (2005), the reason why L2 translation may be good enough could be that the direction of translation is not the only variable involved in the translation task. The level of L2 competence is certainly the most relevant factor in the overall picture. In minority-language settings, people usually invest considerable effort in learning foreign languages. Examples of translators who have mastered a major language to the level of native or near-native competence are far from rare. As mentioned by Grosman (2000, p. 23) above, L1 speakers of a major language rarely achieve near-native or native competence in a language of limited diffusion.
    Apart from linguistic competence, Gile (2005) stresses that motivation and professionalism also play an important role in this case. The type of text or interpreting situation is obviously another variable, as is the translators’ familiarity with the topic. Given the possibilities of speedy documentation and access to specific corpora offered by the Internet, as Prunc (2003, p. 84) also points out, L2 translators can produce quality translations if adequately trained. Gile (2005) likewise goes on to list the efficient use of electronic tools for translators among the variables that will jointly contribute to the final quality of the translation.
    We could add to the list the norms common in a given culture (when L2 translation is considered acceptable among professionals and users of the service), as well as the translators’ training and previous work experience (when it included translation into L2). Large monolingual corpora are also more readily available in major languages, which can facilitate translation into those languages even by L2 translators. It is not always clear, however, to what extent professional translators are make use of these resources.
    Most scholars dealing with the issue of directionality notice the relevance of the special position that English, as L2, holds as lingua franca of the globalizing world. According to McAlester (1992, p. 292-3), when it comes to English, many texts to be translated “are not directed towards a specific culture; rather they are intended for international consumption, to be read by Italians, Japanese and Arabs as much as by Britons and Americans”. In such cases, he believes, the requirement that the translator should have a native-speaker competence in the target language “loses its significance”. In his opinion, a translator who is not a native speaker of English may be in just as good, or even better position than a native speaker, to relate to an audience for whom English is also a second language.

    Directionality in empirical research into translation processes
    Most translators, translation teachers and translation scholars would probably agree with Campbell’s statement that “the business of translating into a second language is clearly very different from translating into the first language” (1998, p. 57). But how exactly is it different? Campbell attempts to summarize the important difference in the following way:
    The two activities are in a way mirror images. In translating from a second language, the main difficulty is in comprehending the source text; it is presumably much easier to marshal one’s first language resources to come up with a natural looking target text. In translating into a second language, comprehension of the source text is the easier aspect; the real difficulty is in producing a target text in a language in which composition does not come naturally. (Campbell, 1998, p. 57)
    This opinion sounds true, but it also raises a number of questions. Is it true for all language pairs and all types of text? Does it hold for all levels of L2 competence and translation ability? Do training or previous experience play any role? Are there other important differences between the two directions of translation? Is it even possible to separate the translation process into two distinct parts or phases, those of comprehension and production? Kussmaul (1997, p. 243), for example, points out that “the traditional notion that in the translation process we can distinguish two separate phases should […] be replaced by a model that leaves room for overlapping of the phases”.
    There are also other empirical studies which have focused on different features of the translation processes with regard to directionality. Lorenzo (1999, 2002), for example, observed “playing-it-safe” as opposed to “risk-taking” strategies, centering her investigation around the notion of uncertainty in translation out of one’s L1 (Danish). The main point of the discussion is that, the most essential difficulty for translators into L2 (in her case, Spanish), consists in evaluating the degree of acceptability of their own product (1999, p. 121). To fight the uncertainty inherent in this situation, translators use certain survival strategies, which she found to be mostly “goal-adjustment” or “playing-it-safe” strategies. The situation, in her opinion, has a lot to do with the traditional way in which translation has been taught in the service of learning foreign languages (1999, p. 124).
    In another study conducted in Denmark, although the issue of directionality was not the central concern, but the findings seem interesting. Investigating the effects of think-aloud protocols on translation processes, Jakobsen (2003, p. 72) included directionality as one of the variables “because it would be interesting to explore if verbalization (presumably mostly in L1) would affect L2 target text production differently from L1 target text production”. He found that translation from L1 to L2 was about 16 percent slower for both groups of subjects (professionals and nonprofessionals) than the other way round. Text segmentation also differed according to language direction. Subjects were found to have “segmented the target text more often (per 100 source text characters) when translating from L1 to L2 than when translating towards L1” (2003, p. 93). Jakobsen speculates that the delay was caused by a “conflict between thinking aloud in L1 and simultaneously producing text in L2” (2003, p. 78).
    In an earlier study, Krings (1986; cited in Kiraly, 1995, p. 46) found that “most of the basic strategy categories were the same in both language directions, but the order of application of the strategies depended to a great extent on language direction”.
    Hansen (e.g. 2006), Tirkkonen-Condit (e.g. 2000) and some other scholars have also conducted studies of translation processes involving both directions of translation, even though without making direct comparisons.
    More empirical researches into the issue of directionality are certainly needed if we are to construct more valid theoretical and pedagogical models. As Lorenzo (2002, p. 85) observes, the lack of recognition that L2 translation has had at the international level is mostly implicit and evident in the fact that the better part of research into translation deals with translation into the mother tongue. Hansen et al. (1998, p. 59) point out that “so much theoretical work was concerned with translation into the mother tongue […] that many researchers who have constructed models of translation on the basis of findings produced by studies of translation into the mother tongue took it for granted that these could be generalized to apply to translation into the foreign language too”. Campbell (1998, p. 1), however, declares that “the problems that arise when an individual translates into a second language do not fit easily into the framework established by orthodox translation studies, which tends to assume that all translators work into their first language”.

    Directionality in translator education
    One of the scholars who have tried to provide a framework for the teaching of L2 translation is Beeby Lonsdale (e.g. 1996). For her, one of the most important aspects of L2 translation (Spanish to English, in her case) is “genre literacy in the foreign language” (1996, p. 158). A serious aim of translator education should therefore be to develop the future translators’ awareness of genres and the distinctions between genres in different cultures. She further stresses the increasing importance of translation into English as an international language, with all the “hybrid” genres that arise from it, combining “the norms of the English language with local pragmatic strategies” (1996, p. 159).
    Rodríguez and Schnell (2003, p. 185) likewise emphasize the development of “textual competence”, which is defined as “the ability to generate coherent, grammatically correct texts that are stylistically and pragmatically adequate regarding the purpose of the translation and the addressee”. This competence, along with “documentary competence,” can “make up for the insufficiencies in linguistic and pragmatic-discursive competences” (2003, p. 180). According to these scholars, the level of development of the latter two competences is what constitutes “the fundamental difference” between L1 translation competence and L2 translation competence (ibid.). They also make some suggestions as to how textual and documentary competences might be developed, but unfortunately without citing any empirical studies to support their claims.
    Neunzig (2003) agrees with the importance of documentary competence in L2 translation and also makes a case for what he calls “intelligent use of documentation sources”. By this he means that the translation students should be advised to use the external resources, especially those made available by the new technologies, although with required caution and only after all the internal resources had been engaged. He stresses that L1 competence (the L2 translator’s strong point) should be used in the service of preparing the source text before even beginning the process of translation. This preparation means “anticipating the transference phase by means of a ‘intralingual translation,’ using the translation techniques, procedures and ‘tricks’ (generalization, omission, elision, paraphrase, and so on) in the language of the ST, to speed up and ensure the success of search in the target language, normally a source of errors [in L2 translation]” (2003, p. 196-7). Neunzig believes that L2 translation can thus be made just as good or even better than L1 translation in the case of texts in which “fluency and linguistic beauty is secondary”, such as “administrative, commercial, technical, business and legal texts” (2003, p. 192). He acknowledges, however, that he bases his “proposals for reflection” on his own experience rather than on systematic empirical studies.
    Snell-Hornby (2000, p. 37-8) points out that in the case of a world lingua franca (L2 English), the target readership may be difficult to define. She believes that we “cannot always speak of a ‘cultural transfer’ as between two clearly defined and homogeneous language communities, but often of an information or knowledge transfer within the framework of a ‘cultura franca’”. In this respect, the L2 translation class should not be “a kind of language exercise which aims at testing foreign language competence […] but part of the training for future professional life, and the texts and teaching methods should reflect this” (2000, p. 37). The types of text most likely to be translated into a lingua franca and most suitable for the learner are, in her opinion, informative texts “highly conventionalized both in verbal and nonverbal elements – such as instructions for use, public announcements or commercial correspondence” or scientific reports.
    Pedersen (2000, p. 113) agrees with the latter view, arguing for the use of authentic, non-literary materials in class, such as “museum catalogues, scholarly articles, textbooks, etc”. Mackenzie and Vienne (2000) likewise advise that the students should be given realistic tasks such as those involving technical documentation, informative texts and promotional material, in which they can succeed in producing acceptable target texts. According to these authors, conventional text types, for which students can find parallel texts, are especially recommended. The use of parallel texts should be favored over dictionaries, as the former “provide more information of the type the non-mother tongue translator is likely to need than dictionaries, such as collocations, context of use, register, etc” (2000, p. 126).
    Koberski (2000), on the other hand, deals with L2 translation of expressive texts, with special emphasis on the “implicit” in such texts. Reporting on an experiment involving students translating poems from their respective languages into L2 English, she focuses on the question of how to teach the students to “use their competence in uncovering the implicit in their mother tongue” (2000, p. 108).
    Goodwin and McLaren (2003, p. 248-50) tackle another important aspect of L2 translator education, namely, the system of evaluating L2 translation. They argue that the criteria used for the evaluation of this direction cannot be the same to those in L1 translation, and propose a system that focuses not only on the student’s errors but also on those problems that were successfully dealt with. Kiraly (2000a, 2000b), on the other hand, suggests a type of exam in which traditional individual translation tasks are complemented by a simulated professional translation by the entire group working collaboratively. The translations are then given to “an outside consultant, acting as the client, for assessment on the basis of suitability for publication” (2000b, p. 122).
    Based on the findings from an empirical study of pair translation processes, St. John makes a case for collaboration between students translating into L2 and native informants of that language. However, one of the main problems in many settings involving a language of limited diffusion may be the lack of available L1 users of major languages, making this recommendation hard to follow.

    To conclude this article, we can cite Campbell’s (1998, p. 11-12) statement, who makes a case for appropriate measures in education of future translators by saying that “the reality is that they [L1 and L2 translation] are different, and that such students need to be taught differently”. This statement gives us a good reason to study the features of translation processes in the two directions more closely and more systematically. In this respect, Lorenzo (2002, p. 88) points out that the distinguishing features of translation into L2 are not observable if we consider only the translation product (the target text), focusing on possible errors in the target language. Instead, she suggests research into translation processes as a way of investigating the specific features of L2 translation, with possible application to translator education.

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    د. أحـمـد اللَّيثـي
    رئيس الجمعية الدولية لمترجمي العربية
    تلك الدَّارُ الآخرةُ نجعلُها للذين لا يُريدون عُلُوًّا فى الأَرضِ ولا فَسادا والعاقبةُ للمتقين.

    فَعِشْ لِلْخَيْرِ، إِنَّ الْخَيْرَ أَبْقَى ... وَذِكْرُ اللهِ أَدْعَى بِانْشِغَالِـي