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This article is taken from PN Review 184, Volume 35 Number 2, November - December 2008.

Translation: Between the Universal and the Local Lawrence Venuti

Translating is a supremely local practice. The very idea of what a translation is - and whether it is distinct from or overlaps with an adaptation or imitation, a paraphrase or parody - is a category that varies according to different translating cultures. A translated text, moreover, must answer to the intelligibilities and interests of the translating language and culture in order to be effective as a translation, whatever particular effect or function it may be designed to serve, whether literary or scholarly, religious or scientific, commercial or political, among many others. And although any translation project is usually initiated and executed in the translating culture, the local conditions that enable and constrain the resulting text are active even when the project is initiated in the culture of the source language. Bilingual or multilingual cultures where a great deal of internal translation routinely occurs, where readerships might know the source and translating languages equally well, putting into question whether either of them can truly be called foreign - such cultures are no exception to this localism: the translating language, with its structural differences and its patterns of usage, its literary traditions and its social affiliations, inevitably assumes a decisive importance in shaping the translation.

This fact makes translation an indissolubly historical practice, rooted in cultural situations at particular historical moments, and it points to the necessity of a historicist approach to translation studies. I use the term 'historicist' advisedly, as a way of stressing the local nature ...


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