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Monday, 18 April 2011 17:43

Thinking through Translation with Metaphors

Thinking through Translation with Metaphors explores a wide range of metaphorical figures used to describe the translation process, from Aristotle to the present.

Most practitioners and theorists of translation are familiar with a number of metaphors for translation, such as the metaphor of the bridge, following in another's footsteps, performing a musical score, changing clothes, or painting a portrait; yet relatively little attention has been paid to what these metaphorical models reveal about how we conceptualize translation. Drawing on insights from recent developments in metaphor theory, contributors to this volume reveal how central metaphorical language has been to translation studies at all periods of time and in various cultures. Metaphors have played a key role in shaping the way in which we understand translation, determining what facets of the translation process are deemed to be important and therefore merit study, and aiding in the training of successive generations of translators and theorists. While some of the papers focus mainly on past metaphorical representations, others discuss recent shifts in both metaphor and translation theory, while others still propose innovative metaphors in a bid to transform translation studies.

The volume also includes an annotated bibliography of works centrally concerned with metaphors of translation.

Author/Editor: James St. André (University of Manchester, UK)
Year of publication: 2010
Place of Publication & Publisher: Manchester: St Jerome Publishing (UK)
Publisher URL:
ISBN/ISSN: ISBN 1-905763-22-0
Price and ordering information: £22.50 (inc. postage and packing)


Table of Contents

Translation and Metaphor: Setting the Terms

James St. André, University of Manchester, UK

Abstract. Theorists of translation have persistently used a wide, at times bewildering, range of metaphors to describe the translation process. Despite a period of roughly forty years in the post WWII era (1945-85) in which such metaphoric language was downplayed or even denigrated, recent developments in metaphor theory have led to a resurgence in interest in how metaphors shape our basic understanding of the world and may in fact lead to breakthroughs in a wide variety of scientific fields. This paper first traces briefly the combination of factors (historic mistrust of metaphoric language in Western philosophy, the rise of logical positivism in the sciences, the linguistic basis of translation studies in the post-war period, and problems with the misuse of metaphors in translation studies) that led to the neglect of the study of metaphors in a wide variety of academic discourses in the 20th century, and translation studies in particular. Two developments in metaphor theory that led to its redeployment are then briefly explored: the work of Max Black and others on metaphor as cognitive instrument in the sciences, and the work of Lakoff and Johnson on the pervasive presence of conceptual metaphors in everyday language. Finally, the article situates the individual essays in the current volume and suggests ways in which the study of metaphors of translation may further enrich the field.

Something old

Imitating Bodies, Clothes: Refashioning the Western Conception of Translation

Ben Van Wyke, Indiana University-Purdue, University Indianapolis (IUPUI), USA

Abstract. The concepts of translation and metaphor are intimately connected in the West. Not only do they share a common etymology in many European languages, but both have been designated as secondary forms of representation in the Platonic tradition. Consequently, translation and metaphor have undergone similar revisions in contemporary, post-Nietzschean philosophy, which has given them positions of primary importance. One metaphor that has frequently been used to describe translation is that of dressmaking ? meaning is viewed as a body and the translator?s job is to redress this meaning in the clothes of another language. Using this common metaphor, I will highlight a common thread in our conception of translation that has basically remained unchanged throughout the ages, a thread that can be tied directly to Plato?s theory of representation. Nietzsche radically placed into question this Platonic model, beginning with a reformulation of the traditional relationship between metaphor and truth. After examining the implications of his critique of Platonism, I will turn to Nietzsche?s own use of the metaphor of dress, which will help us recast our conception of translation by focusing on elements that have traditionally been left out of the picture.

Performing Translation

Yotam Benshalom, Centre of Translation and Comparative Cultural Studies, University of Warwick, UK

Abstract. Translators are similar to actors: they both assume altered identities in an effort to modify a sign system and represent it in front of an audience. They are both praised for being creative, but also blamed for being technicians; treated as servants of truth, but also as masters of deceit. This paper aims at further developing the metaphor of translation as performance by isolating specific issues dealt with by actors and theatre scholars and reviewing their relevance to translation practice. One of these issues is the question of time concept: translators, used to revising their work when they wish, may still benefit from strategies developed by performers who cannot go back in time and correct their errors. Another issue involves impersonation: performance scholars, like Diderot and Stanislavsky, have dealt with the question whether practitioners who imitate a persona should perfect their external performances or change their internal natures. The conclusions they draw may be relevant to translators. The limits of this metaphor can be pushed even further by adapting additional performance issues to the realities of translation. The acting metaphor thus exemplifies the fertility of interaction between translation studies and other disciplines and also contributes to the status of translation as an art.

Metaphorical Models of Translation: Transfer vs Imitation and Action

Celia Martín de León, PETRA Research Group, University of Las Palmas, Spain

Abstract. Metaphorical models play an essential role in scientific reasoning. Through analogical thinking, they guide the elaboration of hypotheses in domains that do not have a clear conceptual structure. Traditionally, the domain of translation has been conceptualized through different metaphors, some of which are still used in modern translation studies. According to the principles of cognitive linguistics, it can be hypothesized that the way in which a person translates might be associated with the way in which that person conceptualizes translation. Since metaphor is an important tool for conceptualizing complex domains, conceptual metaphor theory offers a coherent theoretical frame for both a systematic study of metaphorical models of translation and research into the relations and potential interaction between those models and translation practice. Following this approach, the paper analyzes the basic structure underlying some prevalent metaphors in writings on translation (transfer, footsteps, target, assimilation, reincarnation, and projection) and the implicit communication models they assume, and puts forward some hypotheses about the way in which each metaphor might influence the translator?s work.

Something new

Western Metaphorical Discourses Implicit in Translation Studies

Maria Tymoczko, Department of Comparative Literature, University of Massachusetts, USA

Abstract. Dominant words for ?translation? in most (Western) European languages (such as translation, traducción, traduction, and Übersetzung) represent central cognitive metaphors for translation, signifying such things as carrying, setting, or leading across. These metaphors for textual translation became dominant in the late Middle Ages, associated with pressures to translate the Bible into the vernacular languages and encoding orientations related to the beginnings of the European age of imperialism. In a densely woven argument, this article demonstrates that the ascendancy of dominant contemporary Eurocentric cognitive metaphors for ?translation? inverted Cicero?s valorization of sense-for-sense over word-for-word translation, resulting in a pervasive orientation toward literalism in modern Eurocentric expectations about textual translation. The metaphors suggest there should be full semantic transfer between source text and target text and that protocols for achieving such results are possible. A central contention is that the strength of these metaphors rests in large part on Western European sacralization of the word, itself a consequence of the early Christian translation of the logos of God in New Testament Greek as verbum, ?word (Word)?, in Latin translations of the Bible, with the result that Jesus became equated with the Word become flesh. This metaphorical conceptualization persists in vernacular translations of the Bible into Western European languages to the present, contributing to the view of words themselves as numinous and the valorization of literalism in translation and other domains.

Squeezing the Jellyfish: Early Western Attempts to Characterize Translation from the Japanese

Valerie Heniuk, University of East Anglia, UK

Abstract. Translation has typically been conceptualized as a bridge, a mirror, a window through which we gaze at the original, a fountain from which we obtain water when we cannot go directly to the stream, the action of carrying across, and so on. Most of these images have lost their power to make us take seriously how they filter or even distort what we see as being involved in the process. Setting aside such dead metaphors and instead trying to think of translation as the squeezing of a jellyfish, as one early anthology of Japanese literature puts it, cannot help but force us to come at the problem from a fresh perspective. When Japan opened to the West in the mid-19th century, translators struggled to describe their experience of rendering this newly discovered canon into a foreign tongue, and often ended up employing eccentric images in order to do so. This article considers some of those images, including the jellyfish one and a cluster referring to such chemical or alchemical processes as distillation, filtration and sublimation. It thereby explores how translation is conceptualized via figurative language, and thus how metaphor may constitute a particular view ? if not a theory ? of cross-cultural transposition.

Something borrowed

Metaphor as a Metaphor for Translation

Rainer Guldin, Università della Svizzera Italiana, Lugano, Switzerland

Abstract. There are three major points of contact between translation studies and metaphor theory: the use of specific metaphors to describe the functioning of translation, the use of translation as a metaphor for exchange and transformation within different forms of discourse, and the question of the translatability of metaphors and the development of translational strategies necessary to achieve this. There is, however, a fourth possibility that has not encountered yet all the attention it deserves: Metaphor and translation share a series of structural similarities and their history within the Western tradition has been interlinked from the very beginning. Traces of this shared but not always explicitly acknowledged history can be detected in the common etymology of the two notions in Greek, Latin and English. Throughout history, furthermore, shifts in the appraisal of metaphor have very often found their echo in corresponding reappraisals within translation studies. Instead of studying the different metaphors used to describe translational processes and the theoretical points of view they imply, this paper therefore focuses on the different theoretical approaches developed with regard to the functioning of metaphor in an attempt to investigate the workings of translation and some of the stages translation studies has gone through. To put it in other words, the paper focuses on the meta-communicative potential of metaphor as a metaphor for translation.

Metaphors for Metaphor Translation

Enrico Monti, Università di Bologna , Italy

Abstract. This essay analyzes the metaphors used by translation scholars to define metaphor translation. The topic has elicited a surge of interest in translation studies since the late 1970s, and here a corpus of some 15 essays is taken into account, covering a diverse range of approaches to the issue. The main narrative is that of metaphor as a problem in translation, which finds its way through most if not all of the essays considered here. While not being dissociated from the traditional narrative of a more general theory of translation, in this specific case the activity seems almost doomed to failure. This is also confirmed by a number of spatial metaphors drawing a borderline space for metaphor translation and locating metaphors at the ?limits of translatability?. A final set of metaphors identified in the corpus resorts to the concepts of dimensions and forces, in order to allow a more encompassing view of the figure and its translation. Such models attempt to move beyond the narrative of a troublesome, unsolvable activity, towards a non-simplistic, quantitative approach to the issue.

Yves Bonnefoy?s Metaphors on Translation

Stéphanie Roesler, McGill University, Canada

Abstract. Although poet-translators rarely share details of their craft, Yves Bonnefoy is one notable exception. This article examines the ways in which Bonnefoy employs metaphors to elucidate both the role of the translator and the translation process. One is immediately struck by a group of metaphors Bonnefoy employs to describe the relationship between author and translator, all of which suggest friendship and intimacy and establish the translator as a privileged interlocutor. Another set of metaphors depicts the translator as an explorer. The translator journeys into the recesses of the poet?s psyche, trying to decipher his thoughts in order to re-express them through another poetic language. A third set of metaphors suggests that translating is less about the original text and its author than about the translator himself. In these metaphors, Bonnefoy invokes the senses: he proposes, for example, that translating consists in feeding on the teachings of another poet. Last but not least, translation is, in Bonnefoy?s words, an occasion for self-reflection, suggesting a self-oriented and narcissistic process. Ultimately, the metaphors used by Bonnefoy in his articulation of the translation process ask us to reconsider both the translator?s role in the translation of poetry and the profound motivations that lie behind this enterprise.

Something blue

Translation as Smuggling

Sergey Tyulenev, Cambridge University, UK

Abstract. This paper considers the epistemological and methodological potential of the metaphor ?translation is smuggling?, in particular as it relates to the axis of visibility/invisibility of the translator or other agents of the translation process. The metaphorization of translation as smuggling is shown to be a middle case between the two extremes: visibility and invisibility of the translator, allowing researchers to overcome this simplistic dichotomy. In the illustrative part of the paper, translation as smuggling is analyzed in two domains: the social-political and the sexual. Examples are taken from Russian translation history, mainly Boris Pasternak?s and Ivan Dmitriev?s translations of Western European writers. The metaphor ?translation is smuggling? is shown to be a useful methodological tool for studying translation as practised under various ideological and ethical pressures. Under the surface of its text, the translator as smuggler introduces a hidden content charged with a concealed subversive mission. This content represents the translator?s own convictions, sentiments, and anxieties not found in the source text.

Passing through Translation

James St. André, University of Manchester, UK

Abstract. In this paper I demonstrate that cross-identity performance, a new and specific metaphor for translation related to acting, has several points to recommend it. It covers a number of different but related types of performance, including passing, slumming, drag, blackface, yellowface, impersonation and masquerade. In each of these activities, a number of variables, including appearance versus reality, the relative power relationship between representer and represented, how knowledge of the Other is linked to knowledge of the self, and the meaning of border crossing, lead to a spectrum of practices which can be mapped on to an extremely wide variety of translation practices. The metaphor also draws attention to the importance of both aural and visual signs. The ability to mimic the speech patterns of others is crucial to successful cross-identity performance, and this should make us more aware of the importance of ?voice? even in written translation, to say nothing of oral interpretation. Furthermore, various dichotomies in translation studies, such as the visibility or invisibility of the translator, source norms versus target norms and domestication versus foreignization, might be overcome, or at least problematized, by the metaphor of cross-identity performance. Finally, I suggest that there are links with post-structural attempts to dislodge the author and the original text from their throne and open up translation studies to a more radical vision of the field.


An Annotated Bibliography of Works Concerned with Metaphors of Translation

James St. André

List of Contributors

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