31 May 2010

TSR: Vinay and Darbelnet

Writing in 1958, Vinay and Darbelnet proposed certain methodological concepts for use by translators. Their work was apparently hugely influential, and on the surface is practical and untheoretical. For the sake of reference, I'll list here the seven procedures they outlined. They start from the viewpoint that translation is easy until you meet lacunae - gaps where there is no direct equivalent in the target language. How do you cope with these gaps?

1. Borrowing. If you can get away with it, use the foreign term. Sometimes the foreign term will be established in the target language already, making this a fait accompli. Otherwise you may need to stretch the target language a little.

2. Calque. A calque is where a foreign phrase is reassembled in the target language using simple translations of the elements of the original phrase. I suppose that's what German did with television to Fernsehen.

3. Literal translation. I don't really understand why this is listed here. It really belongs to the pre-lacuna stage. The comments here, though, do say that literal translation can go from the more specific to the more general or vice versa. Also by literal translation they include translation of common phrases. At the simplest level would be a phrase like "of course" where it would be folly to attempt a word by word rendering. At a move complex level, a phrase like "leave it on the back burner" probably has a well-used equivalent in other languages, which may be nothing to do with simmering. I guess the point is that literal translation operates at a level above individual words, which must be true, but begs several questions.

4. Transposition. Where a grammatical formation in the source language is altered. Many examples spring to mind. "Avant son arrivée", for example, might read better as "before s/he arrived".

5. Modulation. Not very different from transposition. Here there's a "change in the point of view", generally to make the translation more natural. An example would be the way the pronoun "on" is used much more in French than "one" in English. So if a character says "On y va?", it's much better if that's translated as "Shall we go?", even though both the tense and the pronoun are changed.

6. Equivalence. This seems to me more like the more complex version of literal translation. One example given is "too many cooks spoil the broth", translated into French as "deux patrons font chavirer la barque", where there are no cooks. It's literal translation at phrase level.

7. Adaptation. This is the remotest, and the most problematic technique. When an action does not fit into the translation language context, it may be changed. There's a weird example quoted of an interpreter recasting a comparison with cricket into terms based on the Tour de France. Personally, that seems like a highly dangerous approach, and it's in this area, I realise, that I tend to get riled most often. It's by way of adaptation that "cien metros" becomes "100 yards" and in the film Central Station the charge for writing a letter is "one buck".

In the introduction, Venuti mutters darkly about Vinay and Darbelnet's inherent conservatism. I think he may be meaning the apparent laxity they show towards the use of adaptation. (Incidentally, Venuti's section introductions are written in an entirely inappropriate present historic tense. Talking about Nabokov, he writes "few English-language translators at the time follow [his] uncompromising example". And he means "followed".  At "that" time. Twat.)

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