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SENTENTIA. European Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences

Translation studies: methodological and theoretical pursuits

Buzuk Liliya Gennadyevna

PhD in Philosophy

Docent, the department of Linguistics and Translation, Russian State Social University

129226, Russia, Moscow, Vilgelma Pika Street 4, building #1, office #4

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Abstract: Due to the global expansion of international connections in modern world, any person commanding a foreign language occasionally in one or another way acts as an interpreter. As a result, the popularity of involving the non-professional interpreters in translation process reduces the reputation of the interpreters, as well as the very quality of their work. The goal of this article consist in search for the answers regarding the issues that the modern translation studies are faced with: language problem, various translations or validity/invalidity of translation of the source, and absolute criterion for good translation, etc. This work is based on the writings of José Ortega y Gasset, Paul Ricœur, and Friedrich Schleiermacher. The results of this article could be useful for professional and amateur translators and interpreters, as they consist in clarification of the key goals of translation studies, determination of problems of text translations, determination of criteria for assessment of translation, as well as discovery of the translation methods of “rephrasing” and “retelling”, skillful application of which will allows increasing the qualification of the translator and avoid dangerous moments.


translation studies, linguistic hermeneutics, method of paraphrase, method of retelling, teaching methods, criteria for assessment of translation, interpreter, author, reader, language

At the present stage, in the context of globalization of many spheres of social life, is an unprecedented expansion of intercultural interaction. Knowledge of several languages from an intellectual hobby rapidly turns into a need. An increasing number of people have knowledge of two or more foreign languages and that raises issues that are also the subject of careful thought.

Translation and interpreting studies and the tasks involved.The rapid growth in the number of people studying foreign languages leads to losses of quality in language training. Modern methods of foreign language teaching are largely focused on improving oral speech in a very short space of time. In reality this leads to stereotyped memorization of certain phrases that allow a person not to get lost in a foreign country and carry on simple conversations on certain topics. The range of such foreign language knowledge is quite wide: from a conversation with gestures and "broken" pronunciation up to a fair knowledge of a foreign language. The existing misbelief, that a translator can be any person having knowledge of a foreign language and that the process of translation is very easy and simple, lowers the social and professional standing of the translation profession. Poor translation leads to the fact that the original text becomes incorrect in relation to the translated one. A poor translation harms international relations and reduces and damages communication between people. Therefore it’s necessary to agree with a famous Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset who said that "we need to revive the prestige of the interpreter, we need to consider it a mental work of the first order" [1, p. 352]. And this is the most important task of translation and interpreting studies. Translation and interpreting studies should help people to get professional skills and learn better linguistic abilities of language. Jose Ortega y Gasset was absolutely right when he called translation and interpreting studies the primary science with "a thin film cover draped over the world images". Modern science is impossible without language, because "to do science means to speak... that is why language is the primary science. Modern science lives in a constant dispute with the language..." [1, p. 346].

Language problems and different interpretations of texts. A well-known specialist in linguistics and study of language Paul Ricoeur drew attention to the facts of theoretical and methodological importance. Firstly, "language plays a leading role in the self-development of each language community. Language being a system of signs and their exchanges is social; it is the property of mankind like the ability to use various tools or to create social institutions, etc.". Secondly, the need for translation is due to the fact that people communicate in different national languages. There was a time when the predecessors of professional translators and interpreters were the travelers, merchants, ambassadors, spies, many of whom spoke two or more languages; at all times polyglots met. Thirdly, if translation is social and exists from ancient times, it’s possible to assume that every person has the ability to learn a foreign language and to participate in a translation process. Hence the importance of methodical culture of learning the knowledge of foreign language [2, p. 3]. It is obvious that the presence of many foreign languages does not bring benefit to mankind; it raises difficulties for communication and understanding between people. At the same time it stimulates the translation of the content of foreign language texts. There are two well-established methodological approaches to understanding the nature of translation as a linguistic phenomenon. In the narrow sense it is a translation of the verbal messages from one language to another, highlighting the language problem of "own - alien" relationships. In this context we are talking about finding alternative ways of linguistic unity, finding general linguistic structures which are initially common between languages. In the wide sense, translation is the comprehension and interpretation of a text within the framework of a mother-tongue according to the formula: "to understand means to translate". In this case the translation is aimed at finding the "ideal" language, at cleaning the text content from any defects and imperfections.

Possibility or impossibility of text translation. There are two opposite points of view. Some scientists like linguistic relativists say that "different languages are completely diverse and the translation from one language to another is completely impossible"[2, p. 5]. The essential untranslatability of the text is due to the mismatch between the linguistic levels-subsystems of different languages: the phonetic and articulatory levels, formed on the basis of the phonological system of the language (vowels, consonants, etc.); conceptual level of language, i.e. systems of concepts which are used for building its vocabulary (dictionaries, encyclopedias, etc.); the syntactic level, depending on the grammatical structure of the language. In addition, the ideological, the linguistic-cultural and the hermeneutic mentality of the native speakers of one language are absolutely alien and incomprehensible to the representatives of another language. Mutual lack of understanding between representatives of different languages and national cultures is a norm and theoretically makes translation impossible and methodological support unnecessary. Other scientists like "armchair formalists" talked about the existence of a translation practice, being a proof of the possibility of translation. If translation is real, then there are the general language structures, components of the primordial principle (proto-language) common to all languages that it is necessary either to find and restore or to build a new one in a logical way. The version of the proto-language was preached in the writings of the Gnostics, the Kabbalah, in the occult teachings of different persuasions, and has not lost its relevance even in our time.

Correctness or incorrectness of translation compared to the original text and absolute criteria for a good translation. Paul Ricoeur talked about the need to replace a linguistic alternative of translatability/untranslatability of the text, which leads nowhere, with "the practical dilemma of accuracy/inaccuracy to the source" [2, p. 6]. In other words, translation activity really exists, and scholastic arguments on the topic of its fundamental impossibility are simply inappropriate. It’s necessary to speak only about the accuracy of preserving the author's content in the text of the translation. Such an approach requires the definition of the "absolute criterion of a good translation". According to P. Ricoeur: "...a good translation can and should be aimed only at the relative equivalence of the source... and the only possible criticism of someone else's translation... is to submit his/her own translation equally doubtful in its success but as if the better or different one. And this is exactly what professional translators continually do. All great works of world culture known to us, are mostly re-translations which, in turn, can’t be considered unrivalled as well. This applies to the translations of the Bible, the works of Homer and Shakespeare and all the aforementioned authors as well as the works of philosophers from Plato to Nietzsche and Heidegger. Any attempt to bring together foreign language with a mother-tongue is a risk that turns this process into a grueling test; it is our eternal payment for the passion for translation..." [2, p.6]. J. Ortega y Gasset also noted the lack of samples in translation, saying that "... each work is unique, and the translation is merely a tool that brings us closer to him..., it follows that the same text admits multiple translations... When you compare the original work of Plato with its translation, even with the most recent one, you are stricken and irritated not by the fact of disappearance of the seductive sweetness of Plato's style in the translation but by the loss of three quarters of the subjects, the very subjects that operate in the philosopher’s statements, which he either barely outlines or lovingly writes. That is why he is so boring to the modern reader, and not because the translation affected his beauty of writing, as is commonly believed. How can his work be interesting if all the content was thrown from the text, leaving only a thin shell, disembodied and cold. And note that my words are not an empty assumption. It’s a well-known fact that only one translation of Plato’s works was really fruitful. And this translation is precisely the translation made by F. Schleiermacher, and in particular because he deliberately refused to make the beautiful translation and wanted to do approximately what I’m talking about...". From J. Ortega y Gasset’s point of view the translation is bound to "move you in a poor loser Plato, who twenty-four centuries ago in his own way tried to stay on the wave of life..." [1, p. 350-351]. Any mechanical translation of the author's text is impossible and meaningless. Translation is a special literary genre with its own norms and aims. Therefore, "a translation is not the work itself, it is the path that brings us closer to the original, but does not aspire to repeat it or replace it"[1, p. 349].

Methods of translation and interpreting. According to Friedrich Schleiermacher, one of the founders of "classical hermeneutics", translation is a process which the translator can implement in two opposite ways: either to bring the author to the reader’s language or to bring the reader to the author’s language. In the first case, when the author’s language is left alone and the text is maximally brought to the reader’s language, the content of the author’s text is not translated in the full sense of this word. A translator rather imitates the author's text, retelling its content, trying to convey to the reader, unfamiliar with a foreign language, the same images and impressions which he has got himself, getting acquainted with the work in a foreign language, replacing and displacing those issues that would be alien to the reader. In the second case, when the author’s language is brought to the reader, the translator tends to tear the modern reader from his/her well-established language skills and force them to move in the field of language skills of the author’s text. A translator speaks to the reader as to the scholar and contemporary of the author. Mix of these ways for a professional translator is unacceptable because it will inevitably result in the translation being a patchwork, a gap between the author of the text and the reader [3, p. 132-133].

Based on these approaches F. Schleiermacher stated two methods of translation: "paraphrase" and "retelling" ("free translation"). The method of "paraphrase" is used mostly in the scientific literature. The essence of the method lies in the fact that the translator is loyal to some parts of the original text, operates with the elements of both languages as if they were mathematical signs that are in a specific relation to each other. The method of "retelling" ("free translation") is used more in the arts. This method requires the translator not to neglect historical, national and religious differences in languages, their customs and education, and to strive that "the translation for the reader became possibly the same as the original work was to the initial reader" [3, p. 140], for that end it is necessary to sacrifice the accuracy of matching. In this regard the translator in the "retelling" gives the impression that the readers of contemporaries of the original had, abandoning the matching of its certain parts.

The reflections on theoretical and methodological basics of translation allow us to come to the following conclusions. Firstly, translation and interpretingstudies, actively involved in the study of language, are trying through linguistic culture and hermeneutics to discover ways to improve the process of mutual understanding of people during international communication. Work with foreign language texts is inherently the hermeneutic process, of which the main task is the understanding, preservation and accurate translation of the content of the author’s text. The activities of the author, translator and reader are essentially an interpretation associated with overcoming the contradictions between the original text and its translation. Enclosed within the boundaries of the language, in the mind of the author, translator and reader, the hermeneutic content of the author's text, having relative independence, may coincide entirely, partially or not coincide at all. Secondly, translation is a complex hermeneutic task that doubles (author-translator) and even triples (author-translator-reader) itself a hermeneutical process. The complexity of translation is due to the absence of "ideal" translations and the unattainability of such. We can only talk about the accuracy or inaccuracy of the translation to its original source, so translation is always a risky business, as a translator, acting as a co-author, is able to distort (to deteriorate or to improve) the content of the author’s text. Thirdly, the translator should be true to himself and no one else. His activities, along with the intellectual and theoretical problems, also have a distinct moral dimension. So the translator brings the reader to the author or the author to the reader, risking serving two masters and leading them into conscious misbeliefs. Compliance with ethical professional norms allows this kind of danger to be avoided.

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