Mapping Culture in Literary Translation

Ella Wehrmeyer

North-West University, Vanderbijlpark


Literary works function as snapshots of culture, whether authors create these intentionally or unconsciously. However, while models for identifying cultural features and strategies for translating them have been proposed (Aixela 1996; Pederson 2011), translation studies still lacks a holistic model for comparing cultural differences (shifts) between source text (ST) and target text (TT). There is a need, therefore, for an inclusive model, applicable to any pairing of source and target language(s) and their respective cultures, that incorporates individual cultural elements into a systematic framework, and which takes into account the multicultural transnationalism characteristic of the twenty-first century, the harmonising effects of globalisation and digitisation (which have brought greater knowledge of other cultures than ever before), and the growing internet ‘cloud’ culture. It also needs to give the meaningful space they deserve to indigenous cultures—especially those marginalised in favour of the dominant discourses of global power—in a way that avoids a Descartian ‘Us versus Them’ ethnocentric focus. To address these needs, this chapter proposes an inclusive, holistic multicultural translation model which allows for the analysis of texts that depict multiple cultures, whether real (e.g. in postcolonial literature) or fantastic (e.g. in folk tales or dystopian fiction).

Existing studies usually treat literary texts and their translations as depictions of single (dominant) cultures, even though Katan (2004/2014) notes that many sub-cultures exist even within monolingual nations. However, I propose that it is more appropriate to consider a literary text as an artefact that can reflect multiple cultures, i.e. as a linguistic-cultural constellation (LCC). The constellation may consist, metaphorically speaking, of a single star (in the case of a culturally homogenous text) or of numerous systems that exert influence on each other (in the case of texts depicting multilingual, culturally heterogeneous societies).

According to Cummings (2013), translators differ in their sensitivity towards, and application of, cultural elements. The new model offers

Mapping Culture in Literary Translation 111 translators a systematic, coherent structure for mapping cultural elements during translation. It also provides researchers with a means of analysing literary translations in order to explore their overall cultural orientation (Toury’s (2012) ‘initial norm’), the extent to which translators explicitly or subconsciously create or follow principles (norms) for translating cultural elements, and their consistency in adhering to these norms. The model is described, and its application is demonstrated, by means of two corpus-based comparisons: James Stuart’s (1929) compilation of the Zulu praise poem Izibonga zikaDingana with its English translation The praises of Dingaan (Rycroft and Ngcobo 1988), and Deon Meyer’s (2011) Afrikaans novel 7 Dae with its English translation Seven days by KL Seegers (Meyer 2012).

The Translation of Culture

Katan (2004/2014:26) defines culture as a “shared system for interpreting reality and organising experience ... a shared mental model or map of the world”. This in turn creates a habitus (Bourdieu 1990:53): a set of internalised structures and common schemas of perceptions and actions derived from core beliefs and values. Monocultural environments tend to be ethnocentric, so that cultural values are conflated with moral values (see Bennett 1993). For Katan (2004/2014), every culture has a dominant orientation held by those who have power and a variant orientation held by those who do not.

Theorists of the Cultural Turn (Bassnett and Lefevere 1990) propose adapting ST cultural elements in a way that the target audience understands, or replacing them with elements from the target culture. The options of exposing the reader to the source culture or of adapting a translation to fit the target culture originated with Schleiermacher (1813/2012). These ideas also underpin Toury’s (2012) initial norm of either faithfully adhering to the ST’s cultural framework and stylistics, or of orientating a translation towards those embraced by its intended readership. Toury (1980) proposed that the ST and TT can be compared based on deviations (shifts) from a hypothetical state of complete equivalence, which he termed the “ideal invariant”. Within a universalist framework, one should theoretically be able to match each ST component with a corresponding semantic unit in rhe target language. By adding the qualifier “ideal”, Toury realised that full equivalence is not always attainable. This is especially true of culture-specific items, where not all meaning can be carried across to the target culture, nor is it always desirable to do so. Hence, particularly in the translation of culture-specific items, Toury’s “ideal invariant” is a hypothetical construct not realised in the TT.

Venuti (1995/2008) combined Schleiermacher’s and Toury’s ideas into his dual concepts of ‘foreignisation’ (retaining ST cultural and linguistic elements notwithstanding their foreignness) and ‘domestication’

(replacing ST elements with elements indigenous to the target culture). Jean-Jacques Lecercle (1990/2016) coined the term remainder to summarise all the variations inserted into a translation such as dialects, jargons, clichés, slogans, archaisms, neologisms and stylistic innovations. Venuti (2004/2012) expanded Lecercle’s concept to his own concept of ‘domestic remainder’ to describe all linguistic, cultural, social and political domestic factors inserted into the TT, i.e. the invasion of the translation by the target language culture. Venuti contends that literary translation invariably introduces a domestic remainder: “the foreign text, then, is not so much communicated as inscribed with domestic intelligibilities and interests” (Venuti 2004/2012:11). Focusing on features of language use (e.g. dialects, slang, archaisms) rather than on culturespecific items, Venuti advocates resisting hegemonic target culture norms through foreignisation. While Venuti identified examples of the domestic remainder, he did not develop the concept into a holistic translation model. In attempting to define the remainder, Venuti (2004/2012) toyed with Toury’s notion of the ideal invariant, but drew no meaningful conclusions.

Venuti’s definitions drove translation studies forward, initiating studies that explored whether translators veered towards domestication or foreignisation. These studies confirm a general policy of foreignisation in translations from English (Inggs 2003; Brondsted and Dollerup 2004; Wehrmeyer 2010; Kruger 2012; Cummings 2013) and domestication in translations into English (Kruger 2012; Asman and Pedersen 2013) or other majority languages such as Dutch (Wouterse and Genegal 2018) or Portuguese (Nord 2003; Wyler 2003). This tendency—which I call the ‘hegemonic cultural norm’—can be explained using Even-Zohar’s (1990) laws of interference, which suggest that the more dominant culture is reflected in translations, regardless of language direction.

Katan (2004/2014) furthered translation research by introducing cultural models applied in the business world. These models propose that an internal cognitive core drives external behaviours and artefacts. Hafl’s (1976) model distinguishes between explicit cultural norms, less obvious conventions, and subconscious sociocultural and personal (ideological, emotional) associations with signs. Robinson (1988) distinguishes between external (e.g. rituals, artefacts) and internal (beliefs, values) cultural elements. Likewise, Hofstede’s (1991) model has an internal core (values) and external layers (practices), which he further differentiates as symbols, heroes and rituals (e.g. modes of address, shaking hands, conversation rituals). Brake et al. (2003) likens culture to an iceberg, distinguishing above-the-surface elements (e.g. laws, customs, rituals, gestures, costume) from beneath-the-surface “value orientations” that are either “formal” (e.g. rituals, customs, styles of discourse, dress) or “informal” (e.g. perceptions of an individual’s relationship to others, the environment, time and space). Hofstede (2011) further defines value systems in

Mapping Culture in Literary Translation 113 terms of five differentials: “power distance” (inequality in human relations); “uncertainty avoidance” (how a society copes with an unknown future); “individualism versus collectivism”; “masculinity versus femininity” (gender roles); and “indulgence versus restraint” (gratification versus sacrifice). Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner (2010) view culture in terms of an outer layer (artefacts and products), a middle layer (norms and values), and an inner core (implicit assumptions). Katan (2004/2014) himself adapts Dilts et al.’s (1980) model, proposing that a literary work’s cultural world incorporates its intellectual and physical setting (where and when), characters’ actions and behaviours (what), communication patterns (how), expressions of values and beliefs (why), and expression of identity through implicit shared beliefs (who).

In translation literature, theorists have focused largely on identifying translation strategies for specific cultural features. These include: proper names (Aixela 1996; Inggs 2003; Nord 2003; Wyler 2003; Brondsted and Dollerup 2004; Wehrmeyer 2010; Kruger 2012; Asman and Pedersen 2013; Cummings 2013); food and drink (Inggs 2003; Wehrmeyer 2010); gender roles (Sandford 2018); ideologies and social institutions (Cummings 2013; Baumgarten 2018); settings and dialects (Pan 2018; Wouterse and Genegel 2018); flora (Chan 2018); festivals and rituals (Naude and Miller-Naude 2018); religious and social customs and conventions (Wehrmeyer 2010; Choi 2018); intertextuality (Chan 2018); stylistics (Abdullatief 2018; Chan 2018); symbols and beliefs (Chan 2018); the individual’s relation to the physical environment (Chan 2018; Naude and Miller-Naude 2018); forms of address (Kruger 2012); and illustrations (Nord 2003). Of these, only Chan (2018) and Naude and Miller-Naude (2018) attempt to build up a holistic image of the ST, but confine their analysis to short excerpts, whereas Inggs (2003) and Wehrmeyer (2010) study whole works, but confine their analyses to isolated cultural features.

By contrast, translators claim to adopt a top-down approach when translating cultural items (Oittinen 2003; Wyler 2003). However, the studies referenced above generally confirm that translators do not apply cultural frameworks consistently, and do not always recognise elements as being culturally bound. These inconsistencies call for a comprehensive model for translating cultural features.

While as yet no application of the models outlined by Katan (2004/2014) has appeared, models have been constructed identifying translation strategies and their underpinning norms (Aixela 1996; Pederson 2011). Jan Pedersen (2011) outlines seven strategies for translating cultural terms. Analysis of these strategies allows the researcher to describe the translator’s initial norm (Toury 2012). Pederson also identifies six cultural parameters. While “media-specific constraints” and “subtitling situation” are intended specifically for subtitling, “transcul-turality” (the degree to which the source culture is familiar to the targetculture), “extratextuality” (the status of the item outside the text) and “centrality” (the relative importance of the reference) are relevant to literary translation, and “polysemiotics” (channels of meaning transfer) is relevant to oral literature.

These models are useful for analysing or selecting translation strategies, but do not construct composite cultural images of the texts. A literary work is created within a particular cultural setting (be it real or fantastic), and the author takes pains to build up a holistic, coherent image for the reader, a feat requiring extensive prior research, but which also draws on (often subconsciously) acquired knowledge of cultural nuances. This comprehensive cultural image is what I call a literary work’s ‘linguistic-cultural constellation’ (LCC). Translators have the daunting task of uprooting a literary work’s essence from its natural cultural soil and transplanting it in foreign soil. Like an exotic plant, the work succeeds only if it flourishes in the new culture (Even-Zohar 1990). That success lies in the translator’s ability to create a holistic, coherent cultural framework in the TT.

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