Translating Cultures. Translating Iran. Domestication and Foreignization

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Translation theory

Translating cultures. Translating Iran.

Hristina Racheva 536917

Domestication and foreignization strategies in the translation of Iranian short storiesContent Introduction Main body Why Iran? Why Jalal al-Ahmad? Why cultural translation? Translation and gender Domestication Foreignization Conclusion

Abstract. When faced with a novel or a short story, when dealing with cultural norms which are part of the source text but which do not exist in the target one, the translator realizes the role that culture plays in the translation process. An approach is needed to help the translator convey these cultural values to the target language, to preserve their meaning and help their understanding. By using the methods of domestication and foreignization, discussed by Venuti (1995), this process of transformation and acceptance becomes easier both for the translator and for the reader. Key words: culture, domestication, foreignization, Venuti, Jalal al-Ahmad


Translation theory


Hristina Racheva 536917

Translation involves crossing boundaries- disciplinary, linguistic, cultural, even physical. It requires not only linguistic comprehension and knowledge of two or more languages (often called source and target languages) but as well understanding and appreciation of the cultures expressed through and embedded in these languages. Culture has for a very long time been underestimated and not much attention has been paid to its important role and its influence on the translation process. Probably the first ones to point out the inevitable interaction between translation and culture are Susan Bassnett and Andr Lefevere (1990:45), as well as the translation theorist Lawrence Venuti who insists that the scope oftranslation studies needs to be broadened to take account of the value-driven nature of the sociocultural framework(Venuti, 1995).

By discussing the English translation of three short stories from the Iranian writer Jalal alAhmad, this paper aims at showing the important role that culture plays in translation, the constrains that it imposes on translators and the necessity of preserving its authenticity in order to ensure a genuine dialogue between nations and individuals. The theoretical work of Venuti and his translation strategies of domestication and foreignization will be used in order to criticize or justify the choices made by the various translators of the given Iranian short stories.


Translation theory

Main body Why Iran?

Hristina Racheva 536917

When translating literary works that belong to cultures and languages considerably different from what we geographically and culturally define as the West, the cultural barrier that the translator is confronted with becomes indispensably and instantly recognised. Such is the case with Iran and its ancient culture and customs interwoven in its literature masterpieces and expressed through the euphonious and powerfully emotive Persian language. But to what an extent are the linguistic richness and its emotional impact preserved and by which means are they conveyed in the target language? This issue becomes even more obvious when dealing with literary works of fiction, short stories and novels, which are, metaphorically speaking, a window to distant and unknown worlds, a stage where mysterious people from different cultural background act obeying customs

incomprehensible to us the observers, the readers. An example of such literary pieces is the stories and essays of the Iranian writer Jalal al-Ahmad.

Why Jalal al-Ahmad? A son of a Shiite clergy man, Jalal al-Ahmad breaks with his religious family in his students years. In 1946 he graduates from Teachers College and becomes a teacher and later pursues academic studies at Tehran University and receives an MA in Persian literature. From 1945 to 1968 he writes novels, essays, travelogues and ethnographic monographs. The subjects of his works are mainly cultural, social and political issues, symbolic representations and sarcastic expressions. In his works he pays attention to the superstitious beliefs of the


Translation theory

common people. Thus, on one hand, he is a significant writer, depicting a portray of the traditional Iranian society and culture, and on the other, his work is a significant example of that how essential the cultural issue is in the translation process and in what way, by using

Hristina Racheva 536917

what strategies, a successful translation, one which preserves these cultural values, is to be achieved. The stories that will be discussed in this paper and their respective English translations are taken from the book Iranian Society, An anthology of Writings by Jalal al-e Ahmad, compiled and edited by Michael C. Hillmann. The stories and translators names are as follows: The Unwanted Woman Zan-e Ziyadi, translation by Leonard Bogle, The University of Texas at Austin; Sehtar, translation by Terence Odlin, The University of Texas at Austin; The Sin Gonah, translation by Raymond Cowart, The University of Texas at Austin. Stories of that kind - rich in cultural representations and descriptions - establish the interaction between cultures and their translations foster the understanding of the foreign culture with its peculiarities. Due to their complexity and the important role they play in drawing societies closer, their translation needs to be fulfilled by following different strategies and taking into consideration different rules than the ones used for technical, scientific or journalistic texts, for example.

Why cultural translation?Drawing upon the notions of the polysystem theorists like Itamar Even-Zohar, Andr Lefevere (a twentieth century translation theorist) theorized translation as a form of rewriting produced and read with a set of ideological and political constraints within the target language cultural system.


Hristina Racheva 536917 Together with Susan Bassnett he considers that "neither the word, nor the text, but the culture becomes the operational unit of translation". In their Translation, History and Culture (Bassnett and Lefevere 1990: 4) they dismiss the painstaking comparisons between originals and translations which do not consider the text in its cultural environment. Instead, Bassnett and Lefevere go beyond language and focus on the interaction between translation and culture, on the way in which culture impacts and constrains the translation.

Translation theory

Translation and genderThe interest of cultural studies in translation inevitably took translation studies away from purely linguistic analysis and brought it into contact with other disciplines. My translation practice is a political activity aimed at making language speak for women. So my signature on a translation means: this translation has used every translation strategy to make the feminine visible in language. (Lothbinire-Harwood, 1991) These are the words of the Canadian translator Lotbinire-Harwood. Feminist translation seems to have developed as a method of translating the focus on and critique of patriarchal language by feminist writers in Quebec and has as well been defined by some Canadian translators as an antitraditional, aggressive and creative approach to translation (Flotow, 1991). Feminist translations have been criticized for unveiling what the writer had deliberately concealed or left implicit. However, by mentioning the feminist approach to translation, the paper does not aim at thoroughly exhausting the topic but only at pointing out a remarkable phenomenon observed in the translation of The Unwanted Woman. The translation is done by a male translator and yet the sings of a feminist translation could be observed.


Translation theory

Hristina Racheva 536917

How is it possible for someone not to realize that her [ones] very existence is the cause of so much suffering? How is it possible for someone not to feel that she [one] is unwanted?

The Persian noun [ adam] means man and it would have been a perfectly adequate translation if the English pronoun one had been used. It would have remained neutral, i.e. it would have acquired neither feminine, nor masculine shade of meaning. Nevertheless, the translator chooses the

feminine pronoun she and her when translating these sentences and therefore emphasizes on the female character in the story and in particular on the emotional trial she is going through. A reason for that could be the Jalal al-Ahmads focus on poorer and more misfortunate people from the society and in particular on women.

DomesticationAccording to Venutis theory every translator should look at the translation process through the prism of culture which refracts the source language cultural norms and it is the translators task to convey them, preserving their meaning and their foreignness, to the target-language text. Every step in the translation processfrom the selection of foreign texts to the implementation of translation strategies to the editing, reviewing, and reading of translationsis mediated by the diverse cultural values that circulate in the target language (Venuti, 1995).


Hristina Racheva 536917 He estimates that the theory and practice of English-language translation has been dominated by submission, by fluent domestication. He strictly criticized the translators who in order to minimize the foreignness of the target text reduce the foreign cultural norms to target-language cultural values. It has to be acknowledged that the translators of the discussed translations have skillfully avoided the assimilation of the source culture into the target culture. And yet, there are few examples which show that they have failed to preserve the