Foreignizing or domesticating: that is the question

Translation is a wide and interesting field. One of its branches is translation theory, dealing with how a text should be approached and what underlies the translation process.

 A leading translation theorist is the American Lawrence Venuti, who in his book ‘The Translator’s Invisibility’ presents an interesting argument. He writes that when we read prose fiction in a translation, we – and most book reviewers – appreciate the fact that the text reads fluently, as if it was not a translation. In addition, in novels we are usually more interested in its content rather than stylistic features. By doing this, we leave out the set of cultural values brought by the original language.

 This approach promotes both the invisibility of the translation, because we do not want the text to read as such – as well as of the translator (hence the title), because fluency is considered of paramount importance. Venuti blames translators themselves, as well as publishing houses, and underlying economic values for this attitude. However since the majority of us are readers, I think is easier to look at things from our perspective. So, this attitude is called domestication by Venuti, which involves adjusting the text to the expectations and values of the target-language readership, not exposing them to any foreign original content.

 Venuti proposes a completely different approach: foreignization. This involves bringing the readership closer to the author, his/her language and cultural specifications, rather than the other way round. This is not only difficult to achieve for the translator, but also raises potential issues for the target audience. Would you appreciate a text that sometimes does not read very easily, if no one has warned you what they are aiming at? So, this means that we, as readers, would need to be educated – and educate ourselves – to a new way of translating and therefore to a new way of reading… but how difficult would that be?


About Chiara Vecchi

A blogging translator working from English and German into Italian. You are more than welcome to visit my blog!
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