For a long time, translation formed part of linguistic studies (see G. MOUNIN’s works). However, during the last few decades, it has been institutionally associated with “Language Sciences”, which represent a vast and very dynamic field in which interdisciplinary plays a key role. This association has led to the burgeoning of a translation science (traductology or translation studies) within the field of Language Sciences which does not deal specifically with “translation” but with “translation operations and process”, thus reflecting the change in perspective adopted to approach the study object. One of the fundamental issues regarding the translation approach is still that of principles allowing the interpretation of the meaning to be translated.

The perspective adopted here for analyzing translations deems there to be a specific translation mechanism which intervenes in the interpretation of phrases and general principles associated with interpretation to be insufficient. However, this mechanism should be amended to take into consideration linguistics marks (tense, mood, linking word, verbal and nominal lexicon) contributing to the interpretation of phrases and speeches to be translated.

Often, translation procedures are applied to ensure that the target language wording is as near as possible to that in the source language. This results in ignoring emic meaning of concepts in both the source and the target contexts. Translators are subjected to multiple pressures that may be related to productivity, quality or ideology. These pressures enter into play in contemporary cultures throughout the world and have likely entered into play throughout the entire history of translation activity. The translator may assume the role of censor as a result of pressures or constraints, real or imagined; enforced by authority figures or self-imposed.

Censorship refers broadly to the suppression of information in the form of self-censorship, boycotting or official state censorship before the utterance occurs (preventive or prior censorship) or to punishment for having disseminated a message to the public (post-censorship, negative or repressive censorship). When Church and State combine forces in exercising control over discourse, religious authorities may enforce prior or repressive censorship with particular vengeance. This situation did not apply to Victorian England; however, examples throughout history abound. Étienne Dolet and William Tyndale, among many others were strangled, and then burned at the stake during the sixteenth century for their translations of pagan texts that did not conform to Christian dogma or of the Bible into vernacular tongues. All forms of censorship, except self-censorship, result from external pressures, i.e., from a source other than the translator.

When translators comply with little resistance to the constraints in force (i.e., covert or unconscious self-censorship), the perpetuation of a social order is ensured, the minority that resists being subjected to various forms of socially-imposed constraint (e.g., censure in the form a strongly worded reprimand, prior and post censorship). Laws (e.g., codes of social and professional conduct) impose constraints on translators to ensure the enforcement of a moral code and the perpetuation of a homogeneous worldview. Censorship also operates on another level, for, whether the political situation is stable or undergoing change, some of society’s members achieve domination by having themselves endowed with the official right to visibility and audibility, as opposed to the dominated who are censured and silenced. The publishing industry plays a crucial role in this area.

A book only becomes visible once it is print: the broader the dissemination, the greater the visibility. If critics review it, if teachers talk about it in their classrooms, visibility is increased. Needless to say that a unpublished manuscript has been silenced. Such structural censorship is, in fact, imposed on all producers of symbolic goods, including a culture’s authorized spokespersons whose discourse tends to reproduce faithfully the norms of official decorum, while it condemns the dominated to choose between silence and non-normative discourse.

Gideon Toury’s norms and socio-cultural constraints (1995) Toury suggests identifying trends in translation behaviour and decision-making processes in the aim of reconstructing the translation norms of the period. The translator considered one of a “culture’s authorized spokespersons” is he or she who has acquired and internalized translation norms reflecting socio-cultural constraints through education and socialization.

Mona Baker explains that in Toury’s view, norms are the options that translators as members of a community living in a given socio-historical context select on a regular basis, for the translator is a member of a community with shared values, norms and practices. Thus, it is not unexpected for Toury to write in Descriptive Translation Studies and Beyond: “[translators] simply operat[e] within different socio-cultural settings and hence ha[ve] different norms as guidelines for their translational behaviour”.

Translation norms may spark resistance to the linguistic or cultural alterity of the source text and resistance may take the form of “purification” of the target text. Toury discusses “censorial mechanisms,” while presenting his “law of interference”: Strong resistance to interference may indeed lead to a considerable reduction of its manifestations, especially in the translational output of professionals […]. Thus, resistance quite readily leads to the activation of purification, or other censorial mechanisms, whose influence, however, can hardly ever be absolute, due to cognitive as well as behavioural factors.

These mechanisms are often resorted to post factum, after the act of translation has been terminated, by way of [post]-editing, whether by the translator him-/herself or by some other agent, who may have had a different kind of training and was charged with other responsibilities. Often, such a revisor [sic] is not even required to know the source language, and even if s/he does, it is not necessarily the case that s/he also falls back on it.

Censorship can also be activated during the act of translation itself though, inasmuch as the translator has internalized the norms pertinent to the culture, and uses them as a constant monitoring device. Despite the very broad recognition of the usefulness of Toury’s ideas, some weaknesses have nevertheless been identified. We agree, for example, with Jeremy Munday who writes that Toury’s approach to norms and laws of translation risks overlooking ideological and political factors such as the status of the source text in its own culture and the source culture’s promotion of the translation of its own literature, or the author’s promotion of translation of his own works.

André Lefevere’s five hierarchical constraints of textual production in descending order of importance are :

  • 1) undifferentiated patronage (ideological, economic and status components provided by same patron) and differentiated patronage (ideological, economic and status components are not dependent on each other)
  • 2) text conventions
  • 3) universe of discourse
  • 4) locutionary language and illocutionary language. Lefevere adds that texts called translations have to deal with a fifth constraint
  • 5) the source text.

Lefevere’s three factors that constrain literary systems in which translations function are :

  • 1) professionals within the literary system (e.g., critics, teachers, translators)
  • 2) patronage outside the literary system (persons, such as Queen Victoria, the author; groups of people, such as morality leagues, the newly educated middle-class reader; institutions that regulate the distribution of literature and literary ideas, such as circulating libraries)
  • 3) dominant poetics (literary devices, the concept of the role of literature) . The translator’s ideology, or the ideology imposed upon him by his patron—which since the nineteenth century if not earlier is often the publisher—, as well as poetological considerations dictate the translation strategy and the solution to specific problems. The patron ensures the translator’s livelihood, as long as he or she agrees to remain within certain ideological limits.

As we have seen, some twentieth-century translators and publishers living in democratic countries were wounded or lost their lives for having translated and published Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses. To repeat Lefevere’s opening quotation, “Nobody ever speaks or writes in complete freedom.” What is common to all social organization, whether democratic or not, is the control of discourse.
While in different countries throughout the world degrees of freedom of expression vary, and the form that freedom of expression takes may vary, it is clear that lucid literary translators and publishers must be aware of the rules that govern their discourse, if they wish to be in position to decide whether to reproduce or subvert the dominant discourse.


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Anderson, Ben (1991) Imagined Communities, Verso: London Anthias, Floya and Nira

Yuval-Davis (1992) Racialized Boundaries: Race, Nation, Gender, Colour and Class and the Anti-Racist Struggle, London: Routledge.

Bannerji, Himani (1993) ‘Popular Images of South Asian Women’, in Himani Bannerji (ed) Returning the Gaze: Essays on Racism, Feminism and Politics, Toronto: Sister Vision Press, pp.144-152.

Bhabha, Homi (1990) ‘DissemiNation: Time, narrative, and the margins of the modern nation’, Nation and Narration, ed. H.Bhabha, Routledge: London

Cheung, King-Kok (1993) Articulate Silences, Cornell University Press

Rey (1991) Woman and Chinese Modernity: The Politics of Reading Between East and West, University of Minnesota Press, Minnesota —— (1993) Writing Diaspora: Tactics of Intervention in Contemporary Cultural Studies, Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Crosby, Marcia (1994) ‘Construction of the Imaginary Indian’, in Wendy Waring (ed) By, For and About: Feminist Cultural Politics, Toronto: Women’s Press, pp.85-113.

Gideon Toury (1995). Descriptive Translation Studies and Beyond, Amsterdam/Philadelphia, John Benjamins. See Louise Brunette (2002). “Normes et censure : ne pas confondre,” TTR XV/2, pp. 223-233.

Mona Baker (2001). “Norms” in Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies, ed.

Mona Baker, New York/London, Routledge, p. 164