chapter  7
Towards a Decolonized Translation Practice
Pages 25

The overall picture that emerges from this study of the translation strategies employed in the transfer of sub-Saharan Francophone African novels into English is a dominance of strategies that tend to normalize the linguistically innovative features of the original texts, or, where these are retained to any significant degree, to render them less opaque – and more exotic – through the addition of paratextual material such as glossaries and introductory essays. Thus visible traces, whilst often retained, tend to be rendered more accessible to a Western readership through orthographical alteration, and are consistently marked apart from the main language of expression using typographical variation. Glosses, which are usually provided in footnotes in the original texts, are often moved into the body of the text, offering a smoother reading experience for the target audience. In some cases, glosses are expanded and others added. Tendencies towards domestication are also clearly evident in the translators’ approaches to relexification, with longer compounds, derivations and hypostasis being particularly likely to be rendered using standard English. Translators’ approaches to basilectal and mesolectal French as well as to onomastics and wordplay tend to be more diverse, with some features being eliminated and others replicated, with varying degrees of creativity and success. When these general findings are compared with the “system of textual deformation” (Berman 2000:286) outlined by Berman, it is clear that they confirm this system to a large extent, illustrating the tendencies of rationalization, clarification, ennoblement, homogenization, the destruction of vernacular networks, and the effacement of the superimposition of language that Berman argues to be characteristic of any translation. Other case studies of translations of postcolonial hybrid literature, such as those by Jacquemond, Steiner, Gullin and Soovik, mentioned in the Introduction, reveal similar tendencies. The tendency to clarify ambiguous or implicit material, for example, is argued by Jacquemond to be pervasive in translations from Egyptian into French; Jacquemond (1992:150) views this feature as “characteristic of the Orientalist ethos: it assumes that the Arabic text is not readable in translation unless its implicit meaning is made explicit by the translator, thus limiting further than necessary its possible readings and sometimes even misleading the reader”. Similar conclusions are reached by Steiner in her study of the German translation of Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions. Steiner’s study outlines the translation techniques used to render the mixing of English and Shona that is key to the original, both in terms of its language and in terms of its paratext (cover, title and epigraph). Her overall conclusion is that, in translation, “the novel is ‘naturalized’ to such an extent that the text hardly remains strange”, and that the “possibility of the text offering a ‘contact zone’ for the German reader is reduced” (Steiner 2006:154). Gullin’s analysis of the Swedish translation of Nadine Gordimer’s The House Gun is even more clearly comparable to my own analysis of Francophone African literature: drawing on Berman’s terminology, Gullin argues that the translation carries out “rationalization through changes in punctuation and syntax”, as well as providing examples of “clarification and expansion”, “popularization” and “effacement of the superimposition of

language”. Reading these changes from a postcolonial perspective, Gullin concludes that, through shifts of this kind,

Gordimer’s text is bereft of much of the linguistic complexity which is such a strong factor in her description of South African society. Gordimer uses the power of language to ‘write back’ – not from the periphery proper, but from a dissident position very near the centre. ... The Swedish translation ... writes back from a position close to the centre that Gordimer aims at distancing herself from. (2006:142)

Similar discoveries are made by Soovik in her study of the translation of Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things and Salman Rushdie’s The Moor’s Last Sigh into Estonian. In the case of the latter, for example, Soovik (2006:160) observes that “systematic standardization of verbs containing ‘ofy’ suffixes and atypical collocations occurs with no observable compensatory devices” and that in some cases lexical items deriving from Indian cultures are completely omitted in the translation, “result[ing] in a linguistically and culturally more homogenous text”. Soovik sums up the difference between the source texts and the translations as follows:

The hybrid source texts observed tend to give equal status to their heteroglot components, firstly, by abstaining from footnotes that would address a certain type of reader with presumed preliminary knowledge, and secondly, by avoiding the use of italics to signal the status of foreignness of non-English lexical items. The translations tend to increase the exoticization of the colonized by paratextual and partly also typographical means, while the canonical culture-specific elements of the colonial power are left unmarked. (ibid.:164)

What is interesting about Soovik’s analysis in comparison with my own and with those by Gullin and Steiner, is that Soovik interprets the domesticating approach used by the translators in both a negative and a positive light. Whilst agreeing that the domesticating approach tends to “erase the specificity of the counter-discursive source texts” (ibid.:164), she argues that “the homogenizing tendencies are in the service of maintaining the traditions of a minor literary language, cementing its status in a globalized world by clinging to the small culture’s accepted rules in a way not dissimilar from the persistence of the resilient non-English lexis in post-colonial texts” (ibid.). Soovik (ibid.:159) thus views the “preliminary norm in the Estonian quality-translation business, that of fluency”, as an important factor in the “conscious resistance to foreign influences”. If my own analysis confirms Venuti’s (1998:31) assertion that “translation practices in English cultures (amongst many others) have routinely aimed for their own concealment, at least since the seventeenth century”, the analyses by Gullin, Steiner and Soovik lend weight to the rather throw-away parentheses included by Venuti in this statement, “(amongst many others)”, indicating that the fluency aesthetic is a dominant norm governing translation practice into and out of many different languages and cultures. These case studies thus

also corroborate Even-Zohar’s (1990:50) observation that the “‘normal’ position assumed by translated literature tends to be the peripheral one”, ‘peripheral’ being associated with translation approaches that are “modelled according to norms already conventionally established by an already dominant type in the target literature” (ibid.:48). What is perhaps surprising, from the point of view of Even-Zohar’s hypothesis, is that the translations into Estonian described by Soovik do not form any exception to this tendency. The Estonian literary polysystem would almost certainly be characterized as still ‘in the process of being established’ and ‘weak’ in terms of its global status, and would therefore, according to Even-Zohar’s model, be expected to accord translation a more central position, allowing it to be a force for innovation and for “elaborating the new repertoire” (ibid.:47). The failure of translations into Estonian to conform to Even-Zohar’s model suggests that the model might usefully be revised to account more explicitly for the role played by language policies, particularly in the context of the perceived ‘threat’ of linguistic globalization.