Chapter 13: Laws
1. An important aspect of the scientific approach espoused by Toury is that the eventual goal of Translation Studies is to establish laws and thus a general theory of translation. Although some proponents of the use of corpus linguistics (see chapter 12) justify that approach on the grounds that quantitative studies will uncover universal laws of translation, Maria Tymoczko considers that this may be a “positivist chimera” (Tymoczko 1998, 656). She states that it would be necessary to have corpora representing as many types of translations as are known from the whole of human history (an infinite undertaking), and that common features may be so restricted “that the effort is unlikely to provide the field of Translation Studies with much information of lasting value or transferable worth” (Tymoczko 1998, 656). Hermans points out that the aspiration towards laws is based on the dubious premises that either translation is an immanent category or that its diversity can be reduced to a common denominator (Hermans 1999, 92). Arrojo adopts the stance that there are no universals, since all meaning is constructed from a certain perspective, culturally, historically and thus locally; any claim to transform such meanings into universals is unjustly “authoritarian” (Chesterman & Arrojo 2000, 159). Tymoczko concludes that laws should not be the goal. Instead studies should illuminate diversity and difference as well as similarity, investigating phenomena in many different languages and cultures in translation (Tymoczko 1998, 657).
2. In defense of Tourian DTS we could say that DTS is not so much aiming at universal laws, but at establishing laws for specific genres of translation (what translation is likely to involve under varying circumstances (Toury 1995, 265)). Even with this limitation the quest for laws still seems utopian, because it assumes that it is possible to know all the variables. There seems furthermore to be a problem in the relation between systemic position (Toury’s final cause), and predictive law as sources of explanation. Polysystem theory is dynamic in that systems are said to be always changing (as well as norms). Predictive laws, however, seem to be premised on lack of change: if the same circumstances arise we can predict an outcome. There is an incompatibility between cultural system and law here. This points to the inadequacy of predictive laws with regard to human cultures in that cultures are complex, changing and not predictable in any certain way.
3. A methodological restriction in aspiring to laws is the stated necessity of replicability of studies which, as we saw in chapter 12 para 4, is probably only possible for a very limited range of translational questions. From a pragmatic point of view, the notion of law does not seem very fruitful in promoting research, whereas abandoning the notion of law may be more so. The important methodological consequence of abandoning the notion of predictive law is that we no longer need to worry about replicability, in other words we no longer need to worry about undertaking studies within one discipline with shared objectives and method. Diversity is accepted in terms of object of study and method, and there is openness to interdisciplinarity.