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Descriptive Translation Studies Benefits and Limitations Essay


Introduction

Translation studies discipline

The need for translators and interpreters has been quite persistent since the Babel (Venuti 2012). Indeed, because of the necessity to create economic links and engage into trading business with other states efficiently, people needed translators and interpreters badly (Kurz, Nishizawa, Tribe 2011, p. 3). However, translation studies have gained the status of a discipline quite recently (Bassnett 2013).

The given phenomenon can be explained by the fact that Translation Studies needed to establish specific standards, in accordance with which the evaluation of translation could be carried out (Bassnett 2013). Indeed, the existence of a discipline without specific criteria that allow for an assessment of the quality of translation is impossible (Bazzi 2009). However, with the introduction of key parameters, in accordance with which the efficacy of translation tools could be evaluated, the possibility to consider the Translation Studies as an independent discipline emerged:

The growth of Translation Studies as a discipline, however, should go some way towards raising the level of discussion about translations, and if there are criteria to be established for the evaluation of translation, those criteria will be established from within the discipline and not from without. (Bassnett 2013, p. 22).

Descriptive translation definition

According to the existing definition, descriptive translation is “the use of a description to translate a term or a phrase in the source by characterizing it instead of translating it directly” (Darwish 2010, p. 142). However, there are other ways of viewing descriptive translation; for example, some sources define the term from the perspective of its social functions (Darwish 2010). As Bazzi explains, Descriptive Translation can be identified as a tool that “is used to present faithfully the values, the hegemonic views or ideological positions of the target text participants” (Bazzi 2009, p. 201).

Therefore, it can be assumed that Descriptive Translation can be seen from both the linguistic and the sociological aspects (Bazzi 2009). It is remarkable that in the course of the search for the definition of Descriptive Translation, some scholars even doubted that the given study can actually be related to the discipline of translation in general (Bazzi 2009). For example, Gutt often criticized the idea of relating the Descriptive Translation to Translation Studies, arguing that the given branch of translation should, in fact, be named as interpretive (Bazzi 2009, p. 199).

Benefits of descriptive translation for translation studies discipline

Turning “norm” into an operative

One of the obvious strengths of Descriptive Translation in terms of its contribution to the evolution of the Translation Studies in general concerns the fact that Descriptive Translation nearly erases the concept of norm (Medeiros 1985, p. 142). Though the given feature of Descriptive Translation can also be seen as a major disadvantage, as it will be proven later, it is also a huge step forward in developing the Translation Studies as a discipline (Delabastia 2008, p. 245).

As Kruger explains, Descriptive Translation provides the premises for shaping the “decision-making process involved in translation, and the norms operative in translation” (Kruger 2012, p. 103). Bending the existing translation norms means that the Translation Studies are evolving, and that the Descriptive Translation phenomenon facilitates the progress of the discipline (Koster 2011, p. 21).

A theoretical probe and applied translation practice

The fact that Descriptive Translation serves as the tool for shaping specific translation behaviour is also to be taken into account (Flynn & Gambier 2011, p. 88). Indeed, it would be wrong to assume that Descriptive Translation technique should be used solely for the purposes of conveying a specific message to the recipient; as Laviosa explains, Descriptive Translation Studies also serve as a means for the trainees in translating to remember specific translation patterns and, thus, develop the required skills:

At the same time, however, teachers of translation are independently drawing on the insights of corpus-based Descriptive Translation Studies and would seem to be aiming, in the long term, to formulate bridging rules that postulate what translator trainees should be doing if they adhere to the patterns of translational behaviour unveiled by descriptive scholars. (Laviosa 2008, p. 132)

The given approach is the manifestation of the fact that Descriptive Translation allows to approach the Translation Studies from an empirical perspective (Baker & Malmkjær 2001, p. 80). In other words, the Descriptive Translation practice allows considering Translation Studies as a social activity rather than the process of rendering a certain message by using specific expression means (Baker & Malmkjær 2001, p. 80).

Hence, the Descriptive Translation as a discipline can be viewed as a social activity that has a major impact on the community and, therefore, should be encouraged as an additional tool for improving communication between the community members (Esfeld 2001, p. 99). At this point, the linguistic significance of translation is shifted into the background, whereas its social importance is manifested (Weissbrod 2008, p. 50).

Descriptive translation as the tool for trainees to perfect their skills

As it has been stressed above Descriptive Translation Studies also have their weaknesses, the key one being the fact that “it puts too little stress on the power relations involved in translation” (Weissbrod 2008, p. 52). However, herein one of their key advantages lies. To be more exact, the capacity of the Descriptive Translation Studies to provide the premises for multiculturalism evolution should be taken into consideration (Weissbrod 2008, p. 52).

More importantly, Descriptive Translation can be viewed as a range of tools that can be used to explore new opportunities in the Translation Studies (Snell-Hornby 2011, p. 47). Instead of considering Descriptive Translation the concept that may tear the very fabric of the Translation Studies apart, one should view the phenomenon as another way of looking at the translation process (Snell-Hornby 2011, p. 47).

Limitations of descriptive translation for translation studies discipline

Absence of prescriptive tendency

Needless to say, the descriptive nature of the aforementioned tool for translation practice can be characterized by a complete absence of prescriptive elements (Millan & Bartina 2013). There is practically no problem solution process deployed into the Descriptive Translation practice; instead, the situational approach towards translation is used (Kaplan 2010, p. 478). One could argue that the given method of approaching the translation process allows for avoiding the so-called “prescriptive intervention,” or purism, in language (Toury 2013, p. 87). While Descriptive Translation does help obliterate the instances of purism, it is still devoid of norms completely, which triggers a confusion in defining the method of Descriptive Translation (Toury 2013, p. 88).

Another obvious problem of perspective and scope, which the proponents of descriptive translation as the key to translation studies in general will have to acknowledge concerns outlining the boundaries of descriptive translation; a range of researches point at the vagueness of the subject and the impossibility of drawing the line between the objects that should be descriptive translation and the ones that exist outside its realm: “The first question that suggests itself concerns the range of objects of study in the framework of DTS: where would the line be drawn between what is and what is not ‘in’?” (Toury 2013, p. 17).

Therefore, the vagueness of the very concept of interpretive, or descriptive, translation can be viewed as the basic problem with the discipline (Hatim & Munday 2004, p. 128). Despite the fact that it seemingly allows for more options in terms of rendering a specific idea into the target language, it may also lead to a range of confusions once an attempt to define its place in the realm of Translation Studies is made (Toury 2013, p. 49).

In other words, Descriptive Translation can be characterized by the absence of specific norms and rules, which are typical for other types of translation (Toury 2013,, p. 50). Descriptive Translation does not allow for creating tangible norms, which, being a compromise between rules and idiosyncrasies of a language, are an absolute must for any type of a Translation Study (Aldebyan 2008, p. 33). One might argue, of course, that the “borderlines between the various types of constraints are thus diffuse” (Toury 2013, p. 54). Therefore, the concept of a norm is rather vague in Translation Studies. The absence of obvious norms in the realm of Descriptive Translation, in its turn, creates limitations for Descriptive Translation in terms of its validity as a translation tool (Toury 2013).

Absence of problem–solution pattern

Before going any further, it will be necessary to specify that the concept of a “problem” and the corresponding “solution” is rather loose in the field of Translation Studies (Toury 2013). As Toury explains, the terminological status of the word “problem” is still very unclear when it comes to discussing the patterns of problem solution in the realm of Translation Studies in general and Descriptive Translation in particular (Toury 2013).

Seeing how Descriptive Translation reduces the already vague concept of a translation norm to a situational translation practice, the problem solution pattern becomes even less clear (Cristafulli 2003, p. 13). Descriptive Translation practically erases the very concept of problem solution, substituting it with the notion of an “existence condition” (Toury 2013, p. 37). While the given phenomenon can be seen as another stage of the Translation Studies evolution, it still poses a range of obstacles in the definition of norms and standard, as well as the methods of addressing particular translation problems (Darwish 2008, p. 35).

Translators and their cognitive apparatus

Finally, the fact that Descriptive Translations create the premises for the translator to link the text to their own cognitive apparatus should be brought up (Malmkjær 2005, p. 17). While it would be wrong to deny the fact that translator’s background knowledge is used actively in the process of translation, the specifics of the translator’s vision must not stand in the way of providing the correct translation.

However, with the Descriptive Translation principles applied, there can be no “correct” translation variant; as a result, the translator may face a very tempting idea of projecting his own vision onto the translation process and, therefore, make the recipient of the message view the information through the lens of the translator’s vision. A range of authoritative sources mention the necessity for the translator to avoid filtering the message of the source language, stressing the limitations of a cognitive apparatus and putting a special emphasis onto the cultural limitations in particular (Darwish 2010, p. 35).

Conclusion

Although the very definition of descriptive translation is very loose, it still must be acknowledged as a phenomenon that has changed the landscape of Translation Studies considerably, both opening new opportunities for translators and at the same time binding them with numerous limitations. It can be assumed that the key problem of Descriptive Translation as a phenomenon concerns its vagueness.

Lacking in norms drastically by default, the given phenomenon in the translation practice should be viewed solely as one of the possible tools for opening more opportunities for translators. One cannot deny the significance of Descriptive Translation, especially when it comes to rendering the specifics of a particular culture; however, the fact that Descriptive Translation lacks precision should also be born in mind.

Descriptive Translation obviously has its potential, which needs to be explored, analyzed and used for the benefit of the translation practice. However, because of the absence of clear norms and certain restrictions, Descriptive Translation makes the translation process dependent on the vision and cognitive apparatus of the translator too much, which it should not do. Thus, the results of the translation can be doubted in terms of their precision, with the message of the source text being under a threat of being twisted to the point where it is obliterated in the process and replaced with what the translator considers an appropriate substitute. Hence, Descriptive Translation can only be seen as a tool, and not as an end in itself.

Reference List

Aldebyan, Q A 2008, Strategies for translating Arabic cultural markers into English: a foreignizing approach, ProQuest, Ann Arbor, MI.

Baker, M & Malmkjær, K 2001, Routledge encyclopedia of translation, Routledge, New York, NY.

Bassnett, S 2013, Translation studies, Routledge, New York, NY.

Bazzi, A 2009, Arab news and conflict: a multidisciplinary discourse study, John Benjamin’s Publishing, Philadelphia, PA.

Cristafulli, E 2003, The vision of Dante: Cary’s translation of The Divine Comedy, Troubadur Publishing, Ltd., London, UK.

Darwish, A 2010, Translations and news making in contemporary Arabic television, Writescope Publishers, Victoria, AU.

Delabastia, D 2008, ‘Status, origin, features: translation and beyond,’ Beyond descriptive translation studies, A Pym, M Schlesinger & D Simeoni (eds), John Benjamins North America, Philadelphia, PA, pp. 233–246.

Esfeld, M 2001, Holism in philosophy of mind and philosophy of physics, GRIN Verllag, Berlin, DE.

Flynn, P & Gambier, Y 2011, ‘Methodology in translation studies,’ Handbook of translation studies, Y Gambier & L v Doorslaer, John Benjamin Publishing, Philadelphia, PA, pp. 88–96.

Hatim, B & Munday, J 2004, Translation: an advanced resource book, Routledge, New York, NY.

Kaplan, R B 2010, The Oxford handbook of applied linguistics, Oxford Publishing, Oxford, UK.

Koster, C 2011, ‘Comparative approaches to translation,’ Handbook of translation studies, Y Gambier & L v Doorslaer, John Benjamin Publishing, Philadelphia, PA, pp. 21–25.

Kurz, H-D, Nishizawa, T & Tribe, K 2011, The dissemination of economic ideas, Edwar Elgar Publisher, Northampton, MA.

Laviosa, L 2008, ‘Description in the translation classroom,’ Beyond descriptive translation studies, A Pym, M Schlesinger & D Simeoni (eds), John Benjamins North America, Philadelphia, PA, pp. 119–132.

Malmkjær, K 2005, Norms and nature in translation studies, Web.

Medeiros, R R de 1985, ‘Translational norms: a prescription? Revisiting the concept,’ UFSC, pp. 141–149.

Millan, C & Bartina, F 2013, The Routledge handbook of translation studies, Routledge, New York, NY.

Snell-Hornby, M 2011, The turns of translation studies: new paradigms or shifting viewpoints?, John Benjamin Publishing, Philadelphia, PA.

Toury, G 2013, Descriptive translation studies – and beyond, John Benjamin Publishing, Philadelphia, PA.

Venuti, L 2012, The translator’s invisibility: a history of translation, Routledge, New York, NY.

Weissbrod, R 2008, ‘Implications of Israeli multilingualism and multiculturalism for translation research,’ Beyond descriptive translation studies, A Pym, M Schlesinger & D Simeoni (eds), John Benjamins North America, Philadelphia, PA.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Descriptive Translation Studies Benefits and Limitations." July 1, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/descriptive-translation-studies-benefits-and-limitations/.

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