Chapter 7: Norms Theory
1. Rather than his support of polysystem theory (chapter 6), what will probably be Toury’s lasting contribution to translation research is his development of the concept of translational norms. Toury defines social norms as values shared by a group with regard to approved behaviour; norms govern behaviour and result in regularity of behaviour. Norms are different in various cultures and at different historical times. According to Toury norms are pervasive in translation practice. Norms are notions of approved behaviour which have prescriptive force within a community, but for the DTS researcher, they are to be analyzed as objects of study.
2. Toury posits various kinds of translational norm. Preliminary norms are concerned with translation policy (the choice of works to be translated), and with directness of translation (whether the use of an intermediate text is tolerated). It is arguably the ‘initial norm’ which has been the most influential type of norm proposed by Toury, in that his terminology has been used by other researchers. The initial norm determines the global approach of the translator with respect to the following two polar alternatives: the translator submits himself or herself to the textual relations and norms embodied in the source text (adequacy); or the translator follows the linguistic and rhetorical norms of the target language and culture (acceptability). Toury considers that in practice it is likely that actual translation decisions involve a compromise between the poles or a combination, such as an adequate translation with certain reservations. The initial norm is expressed through operational norms which direct actual decisions made during the translating process: this concerns omissions/additions, location of material, textual segmentation, and translational renderings (Toury 1995, 56-59). Toury’s preference as a source of evidence for norms is corpora of translated texts. It is the regularities of phenomena in the translated texts that serve as evidence of normative force, since they indicate regularity of behaviour (Toury 1995, 65).
3. Tied up with Toury’s notion of norms is his redefinition of ‘equivalence’. Toury no longer holds to a notion of equivalence based on a fixed atemporal conception of the ST-TT relation. He defines ‘equivalence’ as “that set of relationships which will have been found to distinguish appropriate from inappropriate modes of translation performance for the culture in question” (Toury 1995, 86). For Toury the definition of ‘equivalence’ varies according to the historical and cultural situation; equivalence is not a hypothetical ideal, but an empirical matter (Gentzler 1993, 128).
4. Toury’s concept of norms is generally considered a major contribution to translation research. Andrew Chesterman states that Toury’s introduction of the study of norms offered a solution to two problems. Firstly it provided an escape from the tradition of prescriptive approaches: norms were to be studied by scholars rather than prescribed, and secondly norms offered a way of explaining why translations have the form they do (Chesterman 1998a, 91). The focus on norms means that a source text is not considered to have one ‘correct’ translation (Gentzler 1993, 129). Chesterman feels that the move from an essentialist position (a translation must have feature X) to a relativist one (let us see what kinds of texts are called translations in this culture) has been enormously beneficial in freeing research from unnecessary constraints (Chesterman 1998a, 91). Studying translations in their cultural context is a strength of Toury’s approach signaled by Gentzler. Only by analyzing translated texts from within a cultural-linguistic context can the translation process be understood. Literary tendencies within the TC system, for example, are involved in the production of TTs. This emphasis on cultural context laid the ground for the ‘cultural turn’ in Translation Studies, which gave rise to approaches such as postcolonial and gender-based approaches (Gentzler 1993, 128, 130, 134, 188) (See unit 3).