M2: Unit 3 – Q4.1 Answer

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Again, this is worth discussing with a friend or colleague, but here are some examples of disciplinary narratives from within translation and interpreting studies:

  • Narratives of neutrality (the translator as mirror, bridge, window, diplomat etc.)
  • Venuti’s approach to domesticating v foreignizing, with domesticating as a symptom of Anglo-Saxon colonialism
  • Skopos theory, or the narrative of function and the commissioner as providing the guiding force for translation strategies
  • Linguistic narratives of translation as a simple transfer of meaning, or narratives of the possibility of translating meaning accurately across language barriers
  • Norm theory, or the narrative of mainstream values causing repeated patterns of translation behaviour
  • Feminist narratives of translation
  • Narratives of professional standards in translation and interpreting
  • Narratives surrounding interculturality, or narratives of translators and interpreters as intercultural agents

Thinking of approaches to translation or translation theory as disciplinary narratives firstly helps us to understand theory as a conceptual tool rather than any kind of absolute truth; this can be a liberating realization. Disciplinary narratives, particularly in the area of the sciences, are often invested with so much authority that it is difficult to challenge them; understanding any kind of theory as a conceptual construct which can be borrowed and adapted to our needs as researchers can provide a refreshing perspective on theory.

Secondly, thinking of translation theories as disciplinary narratives highlights the subjectivity of the researcher. It encourages us to think of theorists as individuals whose research is motivated by the great web of narratives to which he or she subscribes. Catford, for example, came from a linguistic background and subscribed to the narrative that transfer of meaning accurately across linguistic barriers is possible and that closer study of the phenomenon would lead to the development of machine translation. This conceptual narrative guided his research, causing him to select or ignore evidence and information depending on whether this usefully contributed to the promotion of this narrative (using the narrative feature of selective appropriation, as we will see in Chapter 7). Ultimately, all researchers will seek out and select information which supports the conceptual narratives they believe in.

As a consequence of this, theorists adopting a narrative theory approach to translation and interpreting studies are encouraged to acknowledge their own subjectivity as theorists, demonstrating an awareness that the narratives to which they subscribe will influence their work and study.