Chapter 11 – Conclusion
We have analyzed three translations of one original passage and attempted to account for the differences between them.
We began by going back and forth between the various translations, bearing in mind their chronology and the intertextual relations between them. This allowed us to identify a range of features and instances where the translators had made markedly different choices.
We then drew on paratexts in an attempt to find out what motivated the different choices. Matching the views expressed in prefaces with the priorities we had observed in the translations themselves allowed us to read each translation as enacting a particular interpretation of the original. We could thus appreciate why individual translators had made certain choices.
Although methodologically speaking the moves we have made seem reasonably sound, there are a number of critical comments to be added to the exercise.
- The exercise was extremely restricted in scope. One would normally draw on a much larger body of material, both primary and secondary.
- It was a little artificial in that it compared translations without reference to the original.
- The exercise was also artificial in that it started by comparing translations without any indication of the likely outcome of such a comparison. In other words, we started by looking at texts and then proceeded from texts to contexts. In most real-life situations you would go back and forth between texts and contexts, and your impression of one would inform the investigation of the other.
- We made several assumptions for the sake of the exercise. We assumed, for example, that the passage chosen was representative of the translation as a whole; that all three translators worked from an identical source text; that they did not share responsibility for their texts with editors or other stakeholders; that the views expressed in the prefaces reflected the approach taken by the translators in their translations.
These critical comments do not invalidate the exercise. They mean however that, where methodology is at stake, we should think carefully about both the strengths and the weaknesses of what we are doing.
The exercise as a whole should have helped you to
- appreciate the usefulness of comparing translations – not in their entirety, which would be impracticable for longer texts, but with reference to particular aspects;
- consider the methodological benefits of a procedure consisting in moving from primary texts (i.e. the translation themselves) to their paratexts (i.e. the prefaces), from observation to explanation – bearing in mind that the opposite approach, from paratext to translation, would be equally valid, and that it is the shuttling back and forth between them that really matters;
- recognize the tentative and hypothetical nature of explanation – in the sense that we may well have arrived at an intellectually satisfying match between the translators’ choices and what we think motivated them to make these choices, but we have no certainty that this match is the correct or the only possible one.
Understanding a translation as embodying a particular interpretation of an original is a rewarding way of studying translations in their context.