Chapter 8: Norms Critique
1. Some problems with Toury’s theory of norms have been raised. Toury’s well-known terms ‘acceptability’ and ‘adequacy’ (the initial norm) have been considered problematic by various researchers. Chesterman points out that there is a risk of confusion since among other scholars there is a wide-spread use of ‘adequate’ to mean roughly what Toury means by ‘acceptable’ (Chesterman 1996, 200). More fundamentally, Hermans objects that ‘adequacy’ is based on the assumption that textual relations in TT can presumably coincide with the original in all but language, which is an untenable view since textual relations do not exist independently of the language of a text (Hermans 1995, 219). If we try to avoid this problem by considering that ‘adequacy’ is a matter of analogous textual/language relations, it seems no longer possible to make the distinction between ‘adequacy’ and ‘acceptability’. Hermans also raises the problem of the interpretation of textual relations: there can be no fixed quality, which is supposed by ‘adequacy’ (Hermans 1999, 76). To my mind an important problem is that Toury’s ‘adequacy’ and ‘acceptability’ cover too many aspects which need to be separated out in order to achieve clarity. Depending on one’s particular study, it might be useful to distinguish: imitation and non-imitation of ST form; adaptation to the new readership; natural and non-natural usage; and reproduction of ST meaning, shift of meaning, and mistranslation. [Imitation = imitation of ST lexis or grammar by using similar formal TL equivalents: literal translation, cognates, borrowing, or transfer.]
2. At a more general level with respect to Toury’s theory, Pym and Douglas Robinson point out that there is uncertainty in Toury’s theory as to the status of norms: they seem both to be translators’ underlying motives based on shared values, and to be the researcher’s explanatory hypotheses (Pym 1998b, 109; Robinson 1998, 122). Norms are therefore posited as existing as intersubjective motives; and at the same time are hypotheses which can never be verified or falsified, that is, they are fictions (Robinson 1998, 122). Toury’s response that being a phenomenon and being hypothetical are not two mutually exclusive statuses (Toury 1998b, 132) is not quite convincing. What he should argue rather is that it is common in much research to posit the existence of a phenomenon about which we then produce hypotheses.
3. As for Toury’s notion of ‘equivalence’, for Chesterman it is redundant (Chesterman 1996, 199). Hermans worries that the hollowing out of the notion of equivalence “blurs precisely the aspect of non-equivalence, of manipulation, dislocation and displacement which the norms concept did so much to foreground” (Hermans 1998a, 61). We cannot escape the long-held concept of equivalence which puts the emphasis on sameness, and not on difference. Hermans feels indeed that the norm concept has to be pushed further or has to be complemented by a consideration of the way norms reflect values and beliefs of society, in particular of the group in power (Hermans 1998a, 59). Venuti agrees with Hermans in considering that the sociocultural, ideological, and political effects of translation need to be studied, including the expression of unequal power relations between cultural groups (Hermans 1998b, 136; Venuti 1998, 29). Pym also holds that the mere observation and description of norms doesn’t tell us much; we need to know about other variables in order to explain how and why the norm may have come about. Pym challenges the assumption that norms are culture-specific. They may be intercultural and come about as a result of negotiation between different cultural groups. For Pym, norms involve struggle, negotiation, and change, and temporary stability may be the result of compromises rather than the imposition of a dominant ideology (Pym 1998a, 111; Pym 1998b, 110, 112).
4. Pym’s and Hermans’ approaches have methodological implications. Pym considers that signs of debate (for example in prefaces and critical reactions) may be sufficient to indicate the presence of (a) norm(s), and that in such cases statistical regularities are often not of great consequence (Pym 1998b, 112). Hermans too wants to put less emphasis on studying regularities in behaviour extracted from large corpora, in favour of focusing on prevailing normative expectations (Hermans 1998a, 58).
5. My own concern with respect to Toury’s ideas on norms is also methodological. There is a major flaw in Toury’s method of discovering norms, which stems from the dubious equation of regular behaviour and normative notions. Regularity is not sufficient to indicate norms which are group notions of approval; there must also be evidence of approval. So as well as studying regularities in translated texts (which indicate regularity in behaviour), statements indicating translators’ and other actors’ notions of approval must be taken into account. The confusion of the regular and the normative also seems to affect Toury’s notion of equivalence, which is defined at one point as actual relations between ST and TT, and at another as approved relations between ST and TT (Toury 1995, 61, 86). In order to achieve consistency of definitions, Toury would need to articulate his notions of ‘norm’, ‘equivalence’, and ‘law’ in the following way: norms (approved notions) govern behaviour resulting in regularities of actual behaviour (Toury’s equivalence), a study of which in large quantities may lead to the formulation of laws.