Norm-Focused and Culture-Related Inquiries in Translation Research

Selected Papers of the CETRA Research Summer School 2014

by Justyna Giczela-Pastwa (Volume editor) Uchenna Oyali (Volume editor)
Edited Collection 238 Pages
Series: Gdańsk Studies in Language, Volume 8


This volume collects selected papers written by young translation scholars who were CETRA 2014 participants. This book analyses the heterogeneity of translational norms, diversity of cultures and the challenges of intercultural transfer. The authors analyze a wide array of source texts, from the translations of contemporary prose and audiovisual products into Brazilian, Japanese and Swedish, to renderings of texts more distant in time, such as the Bible and «Golestân» written in medieval Persian. The book also concentrates on selected meta-level issues, such as the integrity of the discipline and its language, as well as the development of translation competence. The norm-focused and culture-related framework offers considerable research potential for Translation Studies.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of contents
  • Foreword (Arnt Lykke Jakobsen)
  • Revealing, reasonable, required: Norm-focused and culture-related research in Translation Studies (Justyna Giczela-Pastwa)
  • In search of area-related translational norms
  • A test case that speaks volumes: The translations of Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and the question of written vs. oral discourse in Brazil (Vanessa Lopes Lourenço Hanes)
  • Women’s language as a norm in Japanese translation (Hiroko Furukawa)
  • German translations from medieval Persian – The Rose Garden of Sa’di (Nina Zandjani)
  • ‘Voice’ in subtitling: Findings on individuality in subtitling from English to Swedish (Lars Jämterud)
  • Investigating translation competence in graduates of Jordanian universities (Ogareet Y. Khoury)
  • In search of cross-cultural distortions
  • A different Strindberg: The power of the Panopticon and the image of Strindberg in Married (1913) (Lars Liljegren)
  • A two-headed pagan god in the Christian holy of holies: The strategy and technique of creating the Igbo equivalent of the Christian God (Uchenna Oyali)
  • In search of meta-level regularities
  • Some reflections on the status of empirical data in Translation Process Research (Claudia Förster Hegrenæs)
  • Can’t see the wood for the trees: An overview of translation strategies from a ‘cultural’ perspective (José Jorge Amigo Extremera)
  • List of contributors
  • Author index
  • Subject index

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Arnt Lykke Jakobsen (CETRA Chair Professor 2014)
Copenhagen Business School, Denmark


With its wide appeal and broad outlook, the CETRA Summer School gives a unique picture of where Translation Studies will be going in the future. Every year some 25 PhD students with a passion for some aspect of Translation Studies get together in Leuven to present their work to peers and professors, listen to lectures and seminars, and get feedback in tutorials and from other CETRA participants. Many of them are on their way to taking up positions in research centres and university departments. They are the future of Translation Studies.

Participants come from all over the world and have been doing so for the past 26 years. In the course of two weeks they hone their ideas and build important new professional alliances and friendships. In the inspiring academic atmosphere they themselves help create collaboratively, they exchange and develop research ideas and also generously share their many other creative talents, not shying away from expression in the demanding poetic form of the Clerihew. Future researchers of translation are obviously knowledgeable, curious, creative, good at collaborating and sharing, and brilliant at having fun together, across cultures.

As a researcher one feels hugely honoured at being appointed CETRA Chair Professor, but it is perhaps an even greater privilege to become part of CETRA and getting the chance to interact with enthusiastic representatives of the future of T&I research and to learn about what drives their interest in T&I and the directions it takes. The present volume, which is all their doing, is a tribute to themselves and a gift to everyone interested in translation and interpreting.

As clearly illustrated in this book, CETRA provides a platform for very diverse approaches to T&I research. This volume therefore gives a picture of the breadth of perspectives from which translation phenomena are currently studied. Here, translation and interpreting are studied from linguistic, communicative, and discourse-oriented perspectives. Multimedia translation, such as subtitling, operates under special constraints and so requires special attention. Others look at translation from ideological, gender-oriented, and/or cultural perspectives. These perspectives make us aware of the wonderful variety of human experience and societal norms that translation and interpreting mediate and make accessible to us – all the bridge-building activity across differences that T&I enable. Some contributors approach their topic from a diachronic rather than a synchronic ← 9 | 10 → perspective, thereby opening our minds to different norms and values around which humans have organised their lives and societies. In some, the main focus is on cognitive processing, e.g. on how interaction with computer systems may affect creativity, while in others it is on social and interactional phenomena. There is interest both in translation in an individual interpreter’s or translator’s head and in how translation often emerges as a result of collaboration between several agents with all the pressure from stakeholders potentially influencing the translation outcome. The effect that translation, e.g. of the Bible, can have on preserving a language, heightening its expressive power and status, is also studied and shows the power of translation to help build identity. Finally, some take a philosophical and/or semantic approach to the language of T&I, e.g. by examining what we mean when we use a concept like ‘culture’, or by inquiring into the epistemological basis of the data on which we base our research.

But this is not all, for it has only been possible to include about half of the papers presented in Leuven in 2014 in the present volume. Interest in translation universals was represented together with the perpetual fascination of unique items; these culture-specific expressions that so beautifully illustrate the impossibility of translating without cultural appropriation and at the same time represent an intriguing opportunity to improve our understanding of the ‘Other’. One participant was making a related case and arguing in her PhD that the tradition (in Britain) for translating global news in an acculturating manner frequently led to a blurring or even misrepresentation of the issues reported. Framing foreign matters in familiar language (‘domesticating’ the foreign) might be a convenient shortcut for a news translator, but could be viewed as morally problematic because it did not give readers a chance to fully understand the foreign situation reported. Adequate or full understanding could only be achieved by means of a foreignisation, i.e. via a more direct confrontation, also linguistically, with the foreignness of the issue reported.

Exploration of the huge variety of conditions under which T&I operates and has operated historically was strongly represented. One participant reported on translational agency, i.e. the roles of translators, editors, critics, patrons of the arts, politicians and literary and educational institutions, in relation to historical translations of the Decameron thereby creating entire historical socio-cultural portraits of different eras. Another reported on the effects of censorship on translational behaviour, how censorship can be shown to lead to self-censorship or to affect the strategies translators may adopt to circumvent censorship. One was investigating a different kind of censorship in connection with subtitles for taboo expressions occurring in film dialogue and was drawing on analysis of the entire polysystem of which subtitling is a part in her culture. Awareness of the role translation can ← 10 | 11 → play in giving members of minority cultures (e.g. in Western China) a voice was strong in several contributions, although many distances may have to be bridged to enable truly meaningful rendering of local Chinese literary dialects in a Western language. But human creativity is strong and supports our ability to make sense of uncouth expressions. One participant was making a case for visualisation as an aid to reading comprehension, both in general and for interpreting more specialised language, which might be helpful.

From the variety of studies represented at CETRA 2014 it is clear that Translation Studies does not have a unified method. Among the methods used, some were descriptive or critical socio-cultural and historical, some linguistic, including corpus linguistic, some involved concept analysis, data logging and analysis, some borrowed methods from experimental psychology, and some relied on ethnographic methods.

The lasting impression which emerges from an overview of the 2014 presentations is the strong concern with the power and all-pervasiveness of translation and interpreting, and together with this the fine awareness of the ethics involved in cross-linguistic and cross-cultural communication. Regardless of the method adopted, there is a sense of the importance of methodological stringency, which promises well for our discipline. And of course there is no single method for exploring translation. Translation, like love, is all around. We all live in translation, and translation, being language, is capable of mediating all human knowledge and experience. ← 11 | 12 →

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Justyna Giczela-Pastwa
University of Gdańsk, Poland

Revealing, reasonable, required: Norm-focused and culture-related research in Translation Studies

Starting from 1995, when Gideon Toury published his seminal book and defined translation as a norm-governed activity, the concept of normativization has inevitably dominated the research on all kinds of translational phenomena. However, as Toury emphasizes, the association of norms and translation could have been formed even earlier, because the fundamentals were easily to be found – as scholars such as Jiří Levý, James S. Holmes and Itamar Even-Zohar had partly spelled them out, being themselves preceded by others (2012: 61).1 The notion of norms seems, in this respect, similar to a few other concepts used in the humanities, such as genre or style: intuitively understood, although diversely defined and dependent on a number of variables, and still calling for further study.

The research potential offered by the norms framework seems limitless, similar to the factors under which agreement may be negotiated, reached and formulated within social entities. Toury observes after John Davis (1994) that sociability and consequential norm creation is inherent in human nature and as such pervades each type of human activity. Translation is not an exception: norms specify “what is prescribed and forbidden, as well as what is tolerated and permitted” (Toury 2012: 63) not only on the level of linguistic organization, but also in pragmatic and social dimensions. Thus, the descriptive-explanatory research into norms that are defined as the reflection of “values and ideas shared by a community” (Toury 2012: 63) may aim at discovering and elucidating more than only particular linguistic behaviour. As has been accurately observed by Christina Schäffner, too, the “concept of norms prepared the ground for opening translation research to […] wider social aspects” (2010: 243). Recently these social aspects have usually been discussed in the context of habitus understood as “a set of durable dispositions which incline agents to act in certain ways in a particular field […] acquired and shaped through a gradual process of inculcation in the course of individual ← 13 | 14 → social lives” (Schäffner 2010: 242). Despite the fact that this path of research has currently drawn mainly on the more specific and precise concepts of sociology, it is not entirely unjustifiable to claim that reference to rules, norms and idiosyncrasies (cf. Toury 2012: 65) has also inspired and validated investigation into the regularities in individual translators’ behaviour and thus has contributed to discovering more about social roles assumed in the process of translation and translators’ participation in the actual negotiation of socio-cultural conventions.

A research trend that seems dominant in the norm-related area consists in identifying microstructural shifts and their effect, observable on the macrostructural level of texts under analysis. The investigation may be carried out in accordance with various methodologies and with the use of different tools. Recently quantitative or mixed studies based on corpora have become more and more popular, although thoughtful (multiple) case studies may be equally informative and highly evaluated, and may substantially contribute to gaining insight into the phenomenon. It is hoped that the papers presented in this volume well illustrate the foregoing statement. No matter which tools are chosen and which methodological assumptions are made, this mode of exploration strives for discovering the particular norms translators abide by, hidden behind perceivable shifts at the level of register, style or even meaning.

Obviously, detecting regularities and deducing the existence of norms does not mean that there is no freedom of choice on the part of the translator (Toury 2012: 68). We can, in fact, discuss norms only in reference to situations in which it is possible to choose: “norms imply the need to select from among a series of alternatives, not necessarily a final one, with the additional proviso that the selection be non-random” (Toury 2012: 64). After all, final decisions are to be taken by individual translators. Both adherence to socio-cultural norms and their violation is meaningful (Toury 2012: 68) – it may be suggested that the selection reflects a translator’s style and makes their voice heard.

The topic of translator training naturally relates to the study of norms. Training institutions are supposed to make novices aware of specific modes of expected behaviour (cf. the crucial distinction between professional norms and expectancy norms in Chesterman 1997) and competent enough to professionally use (or reject) them. However, the degree of success achieved is not always satisfactory. The norms of “the hothouse of a training programme” and of the real translation market may differ (Toury 2012: 74), and so may the conceptualizations and evaluations of translation competence.

In very general terms, sociological approaches perceive sets of norms as the essence of a culture. While translating, however, for obvious reasons, translators deal with at least two sets of norms, those of the source culture and those of the ← 14 | 15 → target culture. As a result, building a bridge between them – finding a reasonable and acceptable compromise – may be extremely challenging, especially if there are additional constraints imposed on the translator, such as, for instance, applicable law. The complex, even contradictory relationship between source and target socio-cultural backgrounds, or insufficient familiarity and insight into them, pose a risk of distorting the source message. As translations should be “regarded as facts of the culture that would host them” (Toury 2012: 18), target-bound considerations naturally take priority over other concerns; however, it is not always possible to avoid the costs which such prioritization entails.

It might be argued that norms understood as shared ideas operate on a meta-level as well. As regards Translation Studies, they are directly influenced by and connected with particular research paradigms. The multiplicity of frameworks is likely to cause misinterpretation and disagreement, unless it is precisely elucidated how overlapping concepts are conceptualized and used in distinct approaches. Therefore, each attempt to trace the regularities on the meta-level is of value. Together, these efforts are conducive to inter-paradigm exchange and move the discipline towards highly desired consilience (cf. Chesterman 2005).


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2017 (March)
Translation strategies Descriptive Translation Studies Discourse and translation Ideology and translation CETRA Case studies
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2016. 238 pp., 5 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Justyna Giczela-Pastwa (Volume editor) Uchenna Oyali (Volume editor)

Justyna Giczela-Pastwa is a translation researcher and translator trainer, currently working as an Assistant Professor at the University of Gdańsk. She was previously employed as a Visiting Lecturer at City University London. She holds a PhD in Linguistics from the University of Gdańsk. Her academic interests include legal translation, terminology, phraseology and corpus-based translation studies. Uchenna Oyali received his MA degree in English Language from the University of Abuja, Nigeria, and an MA in Translation Studies from Aston University, Birmingham. He is currently a Junior Fellow at the Bayreuth International Graduate School of African Studies (BIGSAS), University of Bayreuth, and his research focuses on Bible translation into Igbo.


Title: Norm-Focused and Culture-Related Inquiries in Translation Research