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Medieval Literature & Translation Theory (2010)

Medieval Literature & Translation Theory (2010)
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  This article was downloaded by: []On: 09 October 2014, At: 03:10Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House,37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK Translation Studies Publication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information: Medieval literature through the lens of translationtheory Bridging the interpretive gap Lynne Long aa  Centre for Translation and Comparative Cultural Studies , University of Warwick , Coventry,UKPublished online: 02 Dec 2009. To cite this article:  Lynne Long (2010) Medieval literature through the lens of translation theory Bridging the interpretivegap, Translation Studies, 3:1, 61-77, DOI: 10.1080/14781700903338680 To link to this article: PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLETaylor & Francis makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of all the information (the “Content”) containedin the publications on our platform. However, Taylor & Francis, our agents, and our licensors make norepresentations or warranties whatsoever as to the accuracy, completeness, or suitability for any purpose of theContent. Any opinions and views expressed in this publication are the opinions and views of the authors, andare not the views of or endorsed by Taylor & Francis. The accuracy of the Content should not be relied upon andshould be independently verified with primary sources of information. Taylor and Francis shall not be liable forany losses, actions, claims, proceedings, demands, costs, expenses, damages, and other liabilities whatsoeveror howsoever caused arising directly or indirectly in connection with, in relation to or arising out of the use of the Content.This article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes. Any substantial or systematicreproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing, systematic supply, or distribution in anyform to anyone is expressly forbidden. Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at  Medieval literature through the lens of translation theoryBridging the interpretive gap Lynne Long Centre for Translation and Comparative Cultural Studies, University of Warwick, Coventry, UK  Translation activity was particularly prevalent in the European Middle Ages andplayed a crucial role in the construction and development of national languagesand literatures. However, the tools provided by the discipline of translationstudies tend not to feature in studies of medieval literary and cultural history. Themedievalist would argue that the process of translation in medieval times cannotsensibly be separated from its unique literary and cultural context, whereastranslation studies theorizes the processes of translation whenever they occur,employing paradigms that work whatever the context. This article intends toshow that theories used in the modern discipline of translation studies can beusefully employed to make sense of translation activity in a historical context.Chaucer’s work as a translator and compiler of English versions of foreign texts isinvestigated through the lens of translation theory in order to complement theinsights of literary historians. Keywords:  development of the vernacular; medieval translation; polysystemstheory;  skopos   theory; English translation history; Chaucer Recovering the past It is a platitude to say that if we want to understand current literary and culturalproduction we need to delve into the distant past, yet we rarely highlight theimportant contribution made by literary translation to the historical formation of creative and intellectual capital. Looking into the literary history of a culture mayreveal the stages of a literature’s development; examining its translation activityreveals not only a whole network of connections that underpin creativity but anactive involvement in the exchange of literary and linguistic inventions, forms,conventions and devices. Translation activity was particularly prevalent in theMiddle Ages and it played a crucial role in the construction and development of national languages and literatures. From a global perspective, the shift from classicallanguages (Latin, Greek, Arabic, Chinese, Sanskrit) to national vernaculars occurredsufficiently long ago in most cultures for today’s reading public to have a restrictedview of the extent of translation’s influence on the rise of vernacular cultures. 1 Literary heritage is developed and transmitted from classical language to vernacularthrough translation, inter- or intralingual, and some texts, particularly thosetranslated in earlier times and into a language as widely spoken as English,eventually lose their position as translations and become assimilated into themainstream target culture without reference to their other-language srcins (seeVenuti 1998, 11    2). As a result, the tools provided by translation studies tend not tofeature in studies of literary and cultural history (Stanton 1997, 35). Instead, the only ISSN 1478-1700 print/ISSN 1751-2921 online # 2010 Taylor & FrancisDOI: 10.1080/14781700903338680 Translation Studies ,Vol. 3, No. 1, 2010, 61    77    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   8   8 .   1   5 .   1   9   6 .   1   9   6   ]  a   t   0   3  :   1   0   0   9   O  c   t  o   b  e  r   2   0   1   4  way for the literary scholar to understand how translation worked in medievalliterature has been to study the localized and the wider historical context in depth.This article intends to show that theories used in the modern discipline of translationstudies can in fact be usefully employed both by medievalists and translationscholars to highlight the translation possibilities in the layers of text withoutdepending on detailed historical research.The context of education and readership has, of course, changed greatly sincemedieval times. 2 The growth of audience from a relatively tiny literate elite, with themanuscript codex or the reading aloud thereof as its only medium, to a massconsumer society literate in new technology complicates the dynamics of receptionstudies in a way unprecedented in history. Facility in Latin, which had absolutecultural hegemony in the Middle Ages in Europe (Evans 2006, 298), has diminishedamong the young in the West, just as in China today the younger generation is nolonger routinely taught classical Chinese. With the increasing difficulty of linguisticaccess, mediation    with varying degrees of visibility    intervenes between text andreader and takes the place of direct engagement with the texts. No such problemexisted in an age when to be literate meant to be educated in classical languages and,throughout Europe, specifically in classical Latin. Whereas in medieval times therewas some awareness of the srcins of a text, for an increasing number of readerstoday a translation, whether inter- or intralingual or even intersemiotic, functions asan srcinal, and the earlier history of the transfer process remains unexplored andunrecorded.Literary and cultural historians of the Middle Ages have given due attention tothe context of translation as it relates to the writing processes and literary traditionsof the times (Minnis 1984; Copeland 1987; Machan 1985), and scholarship hasincluded some discussion of translation in the context of vernacular theory (Wogan-Browne et al. 1999, 316    8). However, there has not been active engagement with themodern discipline of translation studies until relatively recently; the  ‘‘ turn towardshistory within translation studies, ’’  say Peter Burke and Po-Chia Hsia,  ‘‘ has not yetbeen matched by a turn towards the study of translation on the part of historians,even cultural historians ’’  (2007, 3). Real dialogue between those involved in thediscipline of translation studies and those who work in cultural history is one of theaims of Burke and Hsia ’ s volume. This article too intends to go some way towardsestablishing such a dialogue by engaging, from a translation studies point of view,with material in which the traces of translation remain visible only to experts, and byapplying a modern methodology in the analysis of medieval translation practice in away that complements the work of literary historians and provides new insights.Retrieving a text from the past for the readership of the present highlights thecontrast between the work of translation studies and medieval studies. While themedievalist would argue that contemporary commentaries on the process of translation in medieval times cannot sensibly be separated from their unique literaryand cultural context (Evans 2006, 300; Copeland 1991, 103), the discipline of translation studies intends to theorize the processes of translation whenever theyoccur, employing paradigms that work whatever the context. Ideally, moderntranslation theories should be able to assist in the location and understanding of medieval translations as well.If the process of translation that took place in medieval times is considered bymodern translation studies at all, it is most often considered linguistically, as a62  Lynne Long     D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   8   8 .   1   5 .   1   9   6 .   1   9   6   ]  a   t   0   3  :   1   0   0   9   O  c   t  o   b  e  r   2   0   1   4  question of whether the product is a  ‘‘ faithful ’’  or  ‘‘ unfaithful ’’  representation of itssource text or texts     if, indeed, these can still be identified, since the medievalprocess appears to have been more one of displacement than of representation (seeCopeland 1991, 4). But it is questionable whether discussion of fidelity is everproductive, particularly when sources are historically remote. Even after centuries of debate, the problems of defining accuracy or faithfulness in terms of either languageor meaning remain unresolved. 3 The diachronic study of translation often fails totake into account differences over time in attitudes and perceptions, in knowledgeand scholarship, and in thought processes and cognitive skills. As George Steinercomments,  ‘‘ The time barrier may be more intractable than that of linguisticdifference ’’  (Steiner 1992, 29).What may be more interesting and productive, particularly with reference tomedieval translation, is to ask how modern translation theory can be reconstructed toapply to medieval processes. Locating translated texts as part of the literaryproduction of the age, for example, answers broad questions of translation functionand motive. The development of functionalist theory in translation studies has beenimportant in  ‘‘ breakingthe two thousandyearold chain ’’  of   ‘‘ the faithful vs. freeaxis ’’ (Gentzler 2001, 71). Analysis of a translation can identify the strategies of thetranslator; where strategies are employed to achieve a particular  skopos  (that is, thepurpose or intent of a translation exercise), the detection of that  skopos  can help usascertain the more general motive for the translational action. The function of translated texts in the literary system, the motive of the translator and the  skopos  fortranslating has excited less attention than the question of fidelity, and yet may provemore illuminating as a way of locating specific historical contexts.The historical remoteness of texts and the intractability of the time barrierbetween us and the medieval translator are exacerbated by the activities of post-medieval and post-Reformation commentators who were either not in possession of all the facts or interpreted them in a way that reflected contemporary thinking andattitudes. Intervening between us and the event of translation, such commentatorseither assign the translation a clear place and political context in the canonaccording to their own interpretation of events, or consider translational issues to beof such minor importance that they do not address them at all. 4 It is easy to assumeor assign a motive retrospectively for the act of translation to suit the commentator ’ sown historical perspective, whereas in fact the translator ’ s primary motive fortranslating and the strategies employed often confronted a quite different and morecomplex reality. There has been a great deal of speculation along these lines aboutthe work and career of the printer William Caxton (c. 1422    1491), resulting infrequent repositioning of his work (Painter 1976; McFarlane 1981; Hellinga 1982;Kuskin 1999, 2005, 2008). Nor can we always rely on the explanations given by thetranslators themselves. If we were to examine Caxton ’ s prologues more deeply, forexample, we might discover that his justification of his work on moral andeducational grounds overlies a marketing initiative to the merchant classes, whichmay or may not have sat well with his aristocratic patronage.The motivation for translating, especially if it relates to the  skopos  or the widerdevelopment of the literary culture, may influence the choice of text for translation,dictate the strategies employed in the translation process or be part of a larger planrelating to the translator ’ s career and aspirations. Motive and  skopos  may not alwaysbe interchangeable or even precisely compatible. The medieval translator ’ s prime Translation Studies  63    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   8   8 .   1   5 .   1   9   6 .   1   9   6   ]  a   t   0   3  :   1   0   0   9   O  c   t  o   b  e  r   2   0   1   4

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