The process by which a bilingual speaker may be said to gain recognition in
his/her capacity as a translator has hardly been studied so far. It will be specu-
lated upon at some length towards the end of the book (Excursus C). In the
present chapter the nature of the acquired norms themselves will be addressed,
along with their role in directing translation activity in socio-culturally relevant
settings. This presentation will be followed by a brief discussion of translational
norms as a second-order object of Translation Studies, to be reconstructed and
studied within the kind of framework which we are now in the process of
sketching. As strictly translational norms can only be applied at the receiving end,
establishing them is not merely justified by a target-oriented approach but
should be seen as its very epitome.
54 DESCRIPTIVE TRANSLATION STUDIES AND BEYOND
In terms of their potency, socio-cultural constraints have been described
along a scale anchored between two extremes: general, relatively absolute rules
on the one hand, and pure idiosyncrasies on the other. Between these two poles
lies a vast middle-ground occupied by intersubjective factors commonly
designated norms. The norms themselves form a graded continuum along the
scale: some are stronger, and hence more rule-like, others are weaker, and hence
almost idiosyncratic. The borderlines between the various types of constraints
are thus diffuse. Each of the concepts, including the grading itself, is relative too.
Thus, what is just a favoured mode of behaviour within a heterogeneous group
may well acquire much more binding force within a certain (more homogene-
ous) section thereof, in terms of either human agents (e.g., translators among
texters in general) or types of activity (e.g., interpreting, or legal translation,
within translation at large).
Along the temporal axis, each type of constraint may, and often does move
into its neighbouring domain(s) through processes of rise and decline. Thus,
mere whims may catch on and become more and more normative, and norms
can gain so much validity that, for all practical purposes, they become as
binding as rules; or the other way around, of course. Shifts of validity and force
often have to do with changes of status within a society. In fact, they can always
be described in connection with the notion of norm, especially since, as the
process goes on, they are likely to cross its realm, i.e., actually become norms.
The other two types of constraints may even be redefined in terms of norms:
rules as '[more] objective', idiosyncrasies as '[more] subjective [or: less inter-
Sociologists and social psychologists have long regarded norms as the
NORMS IN TRANSLATION 55
translation of general values or ideas shared by a community -- as to what is
right and wrong, adequate and inadequate -- into performance instructions
appropriate for and applicable to particular situations, specifying what is pre-
scribed and forbidden as well as what is tolerated and permitted in a certain
behavioural dimension (the famous 'square of normativity', which has lately
been elaborated on with regard to translation in De Geest 1992: 38-40). Norms
are acquired by the individual during his/her socialization and always imply
sanctions -- actual or potential, negative as well as positive. Within the com-
munity, norms also serve as criteria according to which actual instances of
behaviour are evaluated. Obviously, there is a point in assuming the existence of
norms only in situations which allow for different kinds of behaviour, on the
additional condition that selection among them be nonrandom.1 Inasmuch as
a norm is really active and effective, one can therefore distinguish regularity of
behaviour in recurrent situations of the same type, which would render
regularities a main source for any study of norms as well.
The centrality of the norms is not only metaphorical, then, in terms of their
relative position along a postulated continuum of constraints; rather, it is
essential: Norms are the key concept and focal point in any attempt to account
for the social relevance of activities, because their existence, and the wide range
of situations they apply to (with the conformity this implies), are the main
factors ensuring the establishment and retention of social order. This holds for
cultures too, or for any of the systems constituting them, which are, after all,
social institutions ipso facto. Of course, behaviour which does not conform to
prevailing norms is always possible too. Moreover, "non-compliance with a
norm in particular instances does not invalidate the norm" (Hermans 1991:
162). At the same time, there would normally be a price to pay for opting for any
deviant kind of behaviour.
One thing to bear in mind, when setting out to study norm-governed
behaviour, is that there is no necessary identity between the norms themselves
and any formulation of them in language. Verbal formulations of course reflect
awareness of the existence of norms as well as of their respective significance.
However, they also imply other interests, particularly a desire to control behaviour
-- i.e., to dictate norms rather than merely account for them. Normative formula-
tions tend to be slanted, then, and should always be taken with a grain of salt.
1. "The existence of norms is a sine qua non in instances of labeling and regulating;
without a norm, all deviations are meaningless and become cases of free variation"
(Wexler 1974: 4, n. 1).
56 DESCRIPTIVE TRANSLATION STUDIES AND BEYOND
(1) being a text in a certain language, and hence occupying a position, or
filling in a slot, in the appropriate culture, or in a certain section thereof;
(2) constituting a representation in that language/culture of another, pre-
existing text in some other language, belonging to some other culture and
occupying a definite position within it.
These two types of requirement derive from two sources which -- even
though the distance between them may vary greatly -- are nevertheless always
different and therefore often incompatible. Were it not for the regulative
capacity of norms, the tensions between the two sources of constraints would
have to be resolved on an entirely individual basis, and with no clear yardstick to
go by. Extreme free variation may well have been the result, which it certainly
is not. Rather, translation behaviour within a culture tends to manifest certain
regularities, one consequence being that even if they are unable to account for
deviations in any explicit way, the persons-in-the-culture can often tell when a
translator has failed to adhere to sanctioned practices.
It has proven useful and enlightening to regard the basic choice which can
be made between requirements of the two different sources as constituting an
initial norm. Thus, a translator may subject him-/herself either to the original
text, with the norms it has realized, or to the norms active in the target culture,
or in that section of it which would host the end product. If the first stance is
adopted, the translation will tend to subscribe to the norms of the source text,
and through them also to the norms of the source language and culture. This
tendency, which has often been characterized as the pursuit of adequate trans-
lation,2 may well entail certain incompatibilities with target norms and prac-
tices, especially those lying beyond the mere linguistic ones. If, on the other
hand, the second stance is adopted, norm systems of the target culture are
triggered and set into motion. Shifts from the source text would be an almost
inevitable price. Thus, whereas adherence to source norms determines a
2. "An adequate translation is a translation which realizes in the target language the
textual relationships of a source text with no breach of its own [basic] linguistic system"
(Even-Zohar 1975: 43; my translation).
NORMS IN TRANSLATION 57
translation's adequacy as compared to the source text, subscription to norms
originating in the target culture determines its acceptability.
Obviously, even the most adequacy-oriented translation involves shifts
from the source text. In fact, the occurrence of shifts has long been acknowl-
edged as a true universal of translation. However, since the need itself to deviate
from source-text patterns can always be realized in more than one way, the
actual realization of so-called obligatory shifts, to the extent that it is non-
random, and hence not idiosyncratic, is already truly norm-governed. So is
everything that has to do with non-obligatory shifts, which are of course more
than just possible in real-life translation: they occur everywhere and tend to
constitute the majority of shifting in any single act of human translation, render-
ing the latter a contributing factor to, as well as the epitome of regularity.
The term 'initial norm' should not be overinterpreted, however. Its initiality
derives from its superordinance over particular norms which pertain to lower,
and therefore more specific levels. The kind of priority postulated here is
basically logical, and need not coincide with any 'real', i.e., chronological order of
application. The notion is thus designed to serve first and foremost as an explanatory
tool: Even if no clear macro-level tendency can be shown, any micro-level
decision can still be accounted for in terms of adequacy vs. acceptability. On the
other hand, in cases where an overall choice has been made, it is not necessary
that every single lower-level decision be made in full accord with it. We are still
talking regularities, then, but not necessarily of any absolute type. It is unrealis-
tic to expect absolute regularities anyway, in any behavioural domain.
Actual translation decisions (the results of which the researcher would
confront) will necessarily involve some ad hoc combination of, or compromise
between the two extremes implied by the initial norm. Still, for theoretical and
methodological reasons, it seems wiser to retain the opposition and treat the two
poles as distinct in principle: If they are not regarded as having distinct theoreti-
cal statuses, how would compromises differing in type or in extent be distin-
guished and accounted for?
Finally, the claim that it is basically a norm-governed type of behaviour
applies to translation of all kinds, not only literary, philosophical or biblical
translation, which is where most norm-oriented studies have been conducted so
far. As has recently been claimed and demonstrated in an all too sketchy
exchange of views in Target (M. Shlesinger 1989b and Harris 1990), similar
things can even be said of conference interpreting. Needless to say, this does not
mean that the exact same conditions apply to all kinds of translation. In fact,
their application in different cultural sectors is precisely one of the aspects that
58 DESCRIPTIVE TRANSLATION STUDIES AND BEYOND
should be submitted to study. In principle, the claim is also valid for every
society and historical period, thus offering a framework for historically oriented
studies which would also allow for comparison.
Preliminary norms have to do with two main sets of considerations which
are often interconnected: those regarding the existence and actual nature of a
definite translation policy, and those related to the directness of translation.
Translation policy refers to those factors that govern the choice of text-
types, or even of individual texts, to be imported through translation into a
particular culture/language at a particular point in time. Such a policy will be
said to exist inasmuch as the choice is found to be nonrandom. Different
policies may of course apply to different subgroups, in terms of either text-types
(e.g., literary vs. non-literary) or human agents and groups thereof (e.g., different
publishing houses), and the interface between the two often offers very fertile
grounds for policy hunting.
Considerations concerning directness of translation involve the threshold of
tolerance for translating from languages other than the ultimate source lan-
guage: is indirect translation permitted at all? In translating from what source
languages/text-types/periods (etc.) is it permitted/prohibited/tolerated/preferred?
What are the permitted/prohibited/tolerated/preferred mediating languages? Is
there a tendency/obligation to mark a translated work as having been mediated,
or is this fact ignored/camouflaged/denied? If it is mentioned, is the identity of
the mediating language supplied as well? And so on.
Operational norms, in turn, may be conceived of as directing the decisions
made during the act of translation itself. They affect the matrix of the text -- i.e.,
the modes of distributing linguistic material in it -- as well as the textual make-
up and verbal formulation as such. They thus govern -- directly or indirectly --
the relationships as well that would obtain between the target and source texts;
i.e., what is more likely to remain invariant under transformation and what
So-called matricial norms may govern the very existence of target-language
NORMS IN TRANSLATION 59
material intended as a substitute for the corresponding source-language material
(and hence the degree of fullness of translation), its location in the text (or the
form of actual distribution), as well as the textual segmentation.3 The extent to
which omissions, additions, changes of location and manipulations of segmenta-
tion are referred to in the translated texts (or around them) may also be deter-
mined by norms, even though the one can very well occur without the other.
Obviously, the borderlines between the various matricial phenomena are
not clear-cut. For instance, large-scale omissions often entail changes of segmen-
tation as well, especially if the omitted portions have no clear boundaries, or
textual-linguistic standing, i.e., if they are not integral sentences, paragraphs or
chapters. By the same token, a change of location may often be accounted for as
an omission (in one place) compensated by an addition (elsewhere). The
decision as to what may have 'really' taken place is thus description-bound:
What one is after is (more or less cogent) explanatory hypotheses, not necessarily
'true-to-life' accounts, which one can never be sure of anyway.
Textual-linguistic norms, in turn, govern the selection of material to
formulate the target text in, or replace the original textual and linguistic material
with. Textual-linguistic norms may either be general, and hence apply to
translation qua translation, or particular, in which case they would pertain to a
particular text-type and/or mode of translation only. Some of them may be
identical to the norms governing non-translational text-production, but such an
identity should never be taken for granted. This is the methodological reason
why no study of translation can, or should proceed from the assumption that the
latter is representative of the target language, or of any overall textual tradition
thereof. (And see our discussion of 'translation-specific lexical items' in Chapter 11.)
It is clear that preliminary norms have both logical and chronological
precedence over the operational ones. This is not to say that between the two
major groups there are no relationships whatsoever, including mutual influ-
ences, or even two-way conditioning. However, these relations are by no means
3. The claim that principles of segmentation follow universal patterns is just a figment of
the imagination of some discourse and text theoreticians intent on uncovering as many
universal principles as possible. In actual fact, there have been various traditions (or
'models') of segmentation, and the differences between them always have implications
for translation, whether they are taken to bear on the formulation of the target text or
ignored. Even the segmentation of sacred texts such as the Old Testament itself has
often been tampered with by its translators, normally in order to bring it closer to target
cultural habits, and by so doing enhance the translation's acceptability.
60 DESCRIPTIVE TRANSLATION STUDIES AND BEYOND
fixed and given, and their establishment forms an inseparable part of any study
of translation as a norm-governed activity. Nevertheless, we can safely assume at
least that the relations which do exist have to do with the initial norm. They
might even be found to intersect it -- another important reason to retain the
opposition between 'adequacy' and 'acceptability' as a basic coordinate system
for the formulation of explanatory hypotheses.4
Operational norms as such may be described as serving as a model, in
accordance with which translations come into being, whether involving the norms
realized by the source text (i.e., adequate translation) plus certain modifications,
or purely target norms, or a particular compromise between the two. Every
model supplying performance instructions may be said to act as a restricting
factor: it opens up certain options while closing others. Consequently, when
the first position is fully adopted, the translation can hardly be said to have
been made into the target language as a whole. Rather, it is made into a model-
language, which is at best some part of the former and at worst an artificial, and
as such nonexistent variety.5 In this last case, the translation is not really
introduced into the target culture either, but is imposed on it, so to speak. Sure, it
may eventually carve a niche for itself in the latter, but there is no initial attempt
to accommodate it to any existing 'slot'. On the other hand, when the second
position is adopted, what a translator is introducing into the target culture
4. Thus, for instance, in sectors where the pursuit of adequate translation is marginal, it is
highly probable that indirect translation would also become common, on occasion even
preferred over direct translation. By contrast, a norm which prohibits mediated
translation is likely to be connected with a growing proximity to the initial norm of
adequacy. Under such circumstances, if indirect translation is still performed, the fact
will at least be concealed, if not outright denied.
5. And see, in this connection, Izre'el's "Rationale for Translating Ancient Texts into a
Modern Language" (1994). In an attempt to come up with a method for translating an
Akkadian myth which would be presented to modern Israeli audiences in an oral
performance, he purports to combine a "feeling-of-antiquity" with a "feeling-of-
modernity" in a text which would be altogether simple and easily comprehensible by
using a host of lexical items of biblical Hebrew in Israeli Hebrew grammatical and
syntactic structures. Whereas "the lexicon ... would serve to give an ancient flavor to the
text, the grammar would serve to enable modern perception". It might be added that
this is a perfect mirror image of the way Hebrew translators started simulating spoken
Hebrew in their texts: spoken lexical items were inserted in grammatical and syntactic
structures which were marked for belonging to the written varieties (Ben-Shahar 1983),
which also meant 'new' into 'old'.
NORMS IN TRANSLATION 61
(which is indeed what s/he can be described as doing now) is a version of the
original work, cut to the measure of a preexisting model. (And see our discussion
of the opposition between the 'translation of literary texts' and 'literary trans-
lation' in Excursus B as well as the detailed presentation of the Hebrew transla-
tion of a German Schlaraffenland text in Chapter 8.)
The apparent contradiction between any traditional concept of equivalence
and the limited model into which a translation has just been claimed to be
moulded can only be resolved by postulating that it is norms that determine
the (type and extent of) equivalence manifested by actual translations. The
study of norms thus constitutes a vital step towards establishing just how the
functional-relational postulate of equivalence (see Chapter 1, Section 5 and
Chapter 3, Section 6) has been realized -- whether in one translated text, in the
work of a single translator or 'school' of translators, in a given historical period,
or in any other justifiable selection.6 What this approach entails is a clear wish
to retain the notion of equivalence, which various contemporary approaches
(e.g., Hönig and Kußmaul 1982; Holz-Mänttäri 1984; Snell-Hornby 1988) have
tried to do without, while introducing one essential change into it: from an
ahistorical, largely prescriptive concept to a historical one. Rather than being a
single relationship, denoting a recurring type of invariant, it comes to refer to
any relation which is found to have characterized translation under a specified
set of circumstances.
At the end of a full-fledged study it will probably be found that translational
norms, hence the realization of the equivalence postulate, are all, to a large
extent, dependent on the position held by translation -- the activity as well as its
products -- in the target culture. An interesting field for study is therefore
comparative: the nature of translational norms as compared to those governing
non-translational kinds of text-production. In fact, this kind of study is absolute-
ly vital, if translating and translations are to be appropriately contextualized.
6. See also my discussion of "Equivalence and Non-Equivalence as a Function of Norms"
(Toury 1980a: 63-70).
62 DESCRIPTIVE TRANSLATION STUDIES AND BEYOND
features inherent in the very notion of norm, and are therefore not unique to
Translation Studies at all: the socio-cultural specificity of norms and their
Thus, whatever its exact content, there is absolutely no need for a norm to
apply -- to the same extent, or at all -- to all sectors within a society. Even less
necessary, or indeed likely, is it for a norm to apply across cultures. In fact,
'sameness' here is a mere coincidence -- or else the result of continuous contacts
between subsystems within a culture, or between entire cultural systems, and
hence a manifestation of interference. (For some general rules of systemic
interference see Even-Zohar 1990: 53-72.) Even then, it is often more a matter of
apparent than of a genuine identity. After all, significance is only attributed to a
norm by the system in which it is embedded, and the systems remain different
even if instances of external behaviour appear the same.
In addition to their inherent specificity, norms are also unstable, changing
entities; not because of any intrinsic flaw but by their very nature as norms. At
times, norms change rather quickly; at other times, they are more enduring, and
the process may take longer. Either way, substantial changes, in translational
norms too, quite often occur within one's life-time.
Of course, it is not as if all translators are passive in face of these changes.
Rather, many of them, through their very activity, help in shaping the process,
as do translation criticism, translation ideology (including the one emanating
from contemporary academe, often in the guise of theory), and, of course,
various norm-setting activities of institutes where, in many societies, translators
are now being trained. Wittingly or unwittingly, they all try to interfere with the
'natural' course of events and to divert it according to their own preferences. Yet,
the success of their endeavours is never fully foreseeable. In fact, the relative role
of different agents in the overall dynamics of translational norms is still largely
a matter of conjecture even for times past, and much more research is needed to
Complying with social pressures to constantly adjust one's behaviour to
norms that keep changing is of course far from simple, and most people --
including translators, initiators of translation activities and the consumers of
their products -- do so only up to a point. Therefore, it is not all that rare to find
side by side in a society three types of competing norms, each having its own
followers and a position of its own in the culture at large: the ones that domi-
nate the center of the system, and hence direct translational behaviour of the so-
called mainstream, alongside the remnants of previous sets of norms and the
NORMS IN TRANSLATION 63
rudiments of new ones, hovering in the periphery. This is why it is possible to
speak -- and not derogatorily -- of being 'trendy', 'old-fashioned' or 'progressive' in
translation (or in any single section thereof) as it is in any other behavioural domain.
One's status as a translator may of course be temporary, especially if one
fails to adjust to the changing requirements, or does so to an extent which is
deemed insufficient. Thus, as changes of norms occur, formerly 'progressive'
translators may soon find themselves just 'trendy', or on occasion as even
downright 'passé'. At the same time, regarding this process as involving a mere
alternation of generations can be misleading, especially if generations are
directly equated with age groups. While there often are correlations between
one's position along the 'dated'-'mainstream'-'avant-garde' axis and one's age,
these cannot, and should not be taken as inevitable, much less as a starting point
and framework for the study of norms in action. Most notably, young people
who are in the early phases of their initiation as translators often behave in an
extremely epigonic way: they tend to perform according to dated, but still existing
norms, the more so if they receive reinforcement from agents holding to dated
norms, be they language teachers, editors, or even teachers of translation.
Multiplicity and variation should not be taken to imply that there is no
such thing as norms active in translation. They only mean that real-life situ-
ations tend to be complex; and this complexity had better be noted rather than
ignored, if one is to draw any justifiable conclusions. As already argued (mainly
in Chapter 1, Section 3), the only viable way out seems to be to contextualize
every phenomenon, every item, every text, every act, on the way to allotting the
different norms themselves their appropriate position and valence. This is why
it is simply unthinkable, from the point of view of the study of translation as a
norm-governed activity, for all items to be treated on a par, as if they were of the
same systemic position, the same significance, the same level of representative-
ness of the target culture and its constraints. Unfortunately, such an indiscriminate
approach has been all too common, and has often led to a complete blurring of the
normative picture, sometimes even to the absurd claim that no norms could be
detected at all. The only way to keep that picture in focus is to go beyond the
establishment of mere 'check-lists' of factors which may occur in a corpus and
have the lists ordered, for instance with respect to the status of those factors as
characterizing 'mainstream', 'dated' and 'avant-garde' activities, respectively.
This immediately suggests a further axis of contextualization, whose
necessity has so far only been implied; namely, the historical one. After all, a
norm can only be marked as 'dated' if it was active in a previous period, and if, at
64 DESCRIPTIVE TRANSLATION STUDIES AND BEYOND
that time, it had a different, 'non-dated' position. By the same token, norm-
governed behaviour can prove to have been 'avant-garde' only in view of sub-
sequent attitudes towards it: an idiosyncrasy which never evolved into something
more general can only be described as a norm by extension, so to speak (see
Section 1 above). Finally, there is nothing inherently 'mainstream' about
mainstream behaviour, except when it happens to function as such, which
means that it too is time-bound. What I am claiming here, in fact, is that
historical contextualization is a must not only for a diachronic study, which
nobody would contest, but also for synchronic studies, which still seems a lot less
obvious, unless one has accepted the principles of so-called 'Dynamic Functionalism'
(for which, see the Introduction to Even-Zohar 19907 and Sheffy 1992: passim).
Finally, in translation too, non-normative behaviour is always a possibility.
The price for selecting this option may be as low as a (culturally determined)
need to submit the end product to revision. However, it may also be far more
severe, to the point of taking away one's earned recognition as a translator;
which is precisely why non-normative behaviour tends to be the exception, in
actual practice. On the other hand, in retrospect, deviant instances of behaviour
may be found to have effected changes in the very system. This is why they
constitute an important field of study, as long as they are regarded as what they
have really been and are not put indiscriminately into one basket with all the
rest. Implied are intriguing questions such as who is 'allowed' by a culture to
introduce changes and under what circumstances such changes may be expected
to occur and/or be accepted.
7. "There is a clear difference between an attempt to account for some major principles
which govern a system outside the realm of time, and one which intends to account for
how a system operates both 'in principle' and 'in time.' Once the historical aspect is
admitted into the functional approach, several implications must be drawn. First, it
must be admitted that both synchrony and diachrony are historical, but the exclusive
identification of the latter with history is untenable. As a result, synchrony cannot and
should not be equated with statics, since at any given moment, more than one
diachronic set is operating on the synchronic axis. Therefore, on the one hand a system
consists of both synchrony and diachrony; on the other, each of these separately is
obviously also a system. Secondly, if the idea of structuredness and systemicity need no
longer be identified with homogeneity, a semiotic system can be conceived of as a
heterogeneous, open structure. It is, therefore, very rarely a uni-system but is, necessar-
ily, a polysystem" (Even-Zohar 1990: 11).
NORMS IN TRANSLATION 65
There are two major sources for a reconstruction of translational norms,
textual and extratextual:8
(1) textual: the translated texts themselves, for all kinds of norms, as well as
analytical inventories of translations (i.e., 'virtual' texts), for various pre-
(2) extratextual: semi-theoretical or critical formulations, such as prescriptive
'theories' of translation, statements made by translators, editors, publishers,
and other persons involved in or connected with the activity, critical ap-
praisals of individual translations, or the activity of a translator or 'school'
of translators, and so forth.
There is a fundamental difference between these two types of source: Texts
are primary products of norm-regulated behaviour, and can therefore be taken as
immediate representations thereof. Normative pronouncements, by contrast, are
merely by-products of the existence and activity of norms. Like any attempt to
formulate a norm, they are partial and biased, and should therefore be treated
with every possible circumspection; all the more so since -- emanating as they do
from interested parties -- they are likely to lean toward propaganda and persua-
sion. There may therefore be gaps, even contradictions, between explicit argu-
ments and demands, on the one hand, and actual behaviour and its results, on
8. Cf., e.g., Vodicka (1964: 74), on the possible sources for the study of literary norms, and
Wexler (1974: 7-9), on the sources for the study of prescriptive intervention ('purism')
66 DESCRIPTIVE TRANSLATION STUDIES AND BEYOND
the other, due either to subjectivity or naivete, or even lack of sufficient knowl-
edge on the part of those who produced the formulations. On occasion, a
deliberate desire to mislead and deceive may also be involved. Even with respect
to the translators themselves, intentions do not necessarily concur with any
declaration of intent (which is often put down post factum anyway, when the act
has already been completed); and the way those intentions are realized may well
constitute a further, third category still.
Yet all these reservations -- proper and serious though they may be --
should not lead one to abandon semi-theoretical and critical formulations as
legitimate sources for the study of norms. In spite of all its faults, this type of
source still has its merits, both in itself and as a possible key to the analysis of
actual behaviour. At the same time, if the pitfalls inherent in them are to be
avoided, normative pronouncements should never be accepted at face value.
They should rather be taken as pre-systematic and given an explication in such a
way as to place them in a narrow and precise framework, lending the resulting
explicata the coveted systematic status. While doing so, an attempt should be
made to clarify the status of each formulation, however slanted and biased it
may be, and uncover the sense in which it was not just accidental; in other
words, how, in the final analysis, it does reflect the cultural constellation within
which, and for whose purposes it was produced. Apart from sheer speculation,
such an explication should involve the comparison of various normative
pronouncements to each other, as well as their repeated confrontation with the
patterns revealed by [the results of] actual behaviour and the norms recon-
structed from them -- all this with full consideration for their contextualization.
(See a representative case in Weissbrod 1989.)
It is natural, and very convenient, to commence one's research into
translational behaviour by focussing on isolated norms pertaining to well-
defined behavioural dimensions, be they -- and the coupled pairs of replacing
and replaced segments representing them -- established from the source text's
perspective (e.g., translational replacements of source metaphors) or from the
target text's vantage point (e.g., binomials of near-synonyms as translational
replacements). However, translation is intrinsically multi-dimensional: the mani-
fold phenomena it presents are tightly interwoven and do not allow for easy
isolation, not even for methodical purposes. Therefore, research should never
get stuck in the blind alley of the 'paradigmatic' phase which would at best yield
lists of 'normemes', or discrete norms. Rather, it should always proceed to a
'syntagmatic' phase, involving the integration of normemes pertaining to various
problem areas. Accordingly, the student's task can be characterized as an attempt
NORMS IN TRANSLATION 67
to establish what relations there are between norms pertaining to various
domains by correlating his/her individual findings and weighing them against
each other. Obviously, the thicker the network of relations thus established, the
more justified one would be in speaking in terms of a normative structure(cf.
Jackson 1960: 149-160) or model.
This having been said, it should again be noted that a translator's behaviour
cannot be expected to be fully systematic. Not only can his/her decision-making
be differently motivated in different problem areas, but it can also be unevenly
distributed throughout an assignment within a single problem area. Consistency
in translational behaviour is thus a graded notion which is neither nil (i.e., total
erraticness) nor 1 (i.e., absolute regularity); its extent should emerge at the end
of a study as one of its conclusions, rather than being presupposed.
The American sociologist Jay Jackson suggested a 'Return Potential Curve',
showing the distribution of approval/disapproval among the members of a social
group over a range of behaviour of a certain type as a model for the representa-
tion of norms. This model (reproduced as Figure 9) makes it possible to make a
gradual distinction between norms in terms of intensity (indicated by the height
of the curve, its distance from the horizontal axis), the total range of tolerated
behaviour (that part of the behavioural dimension approved by the group), and
the ratio of one of these properties of the norm to the others.
One convenient division that can be re-interpreted with the aid of this
model is tripartite:9
(a) Basic (primary) norms, more or less mandatory for all instances of a
certain behaviour (and hence their minimal common denominator).
Occupy the apex of the curve. Maximum intensity, minimum latitude of
(b) Secondary norms, or tendencies, determining favourable behaviour. May
be predominant in certain parts of the group. Therefore common enough,
but not mandatory, from the point of view of the group as a whole. Occupy
that part of the curve nearest its apex and therefore less intensive than the
basic norms but covering a greater range of behaviour.
(c) Tolerated (permitted) behaviour. Occupies the rest of the 'positive' part of
the curve (i.e., that part which lies above the horizontal axis), and therefore
of minimal intensity.
9. Cf., e.g., Hrushovski's similar division (in Ben-Porat and Hrushovski 1974: 9-10) and its
application to the description of the norms of Hebrew rhyme (in Hrushovski 1971b).
68 DESCRIPTIVE TRANSLATION STUDIES AND BEYOND
Figure 9. Schematic diagram showing the Return Potential Model for representing norms: (a)
a behaviour dimension; (b) an evaluation dimension; (c) a return potential
curve, showing the distribution of approval-disapproval among the members of a
group over the whole range of behaviour; (d) the range of tolerable or approved
behaviour. (Reproduced from Jackson 1960.)
A special group, detachable from (c), seems to be of considerable interest and
importance, at least in some behavioural domains:
(c') Symptomatic devices. Though these devices may be infrequently used, their
occurrence is typical for narrowing segments of the group under study. On the
other hand, their absolute non-occurrence can be typical of other segments.
We may, then, safely assume a distributional basis for the study of norms:
the more frequent a target-text phenomenon, a shift from a (hypothetical)
adequate reconstruction of a source text, or a translational relation, the more
likely it is to reflect (in this order) a more permitted (tolerated) activity, a
NORMS IN TRANSLATION 69
stronger tendency, a more basic (obligatory) norm. A second aspect of norms,
their discriminatory capacity, is thus reciprocal to the first, so that the less
frequent a behaviour, the smaller the group it may serve to define. At the same
time, the group it does define is not just any group; it is always a sub-group of
the one constituted by higher-rank norms. To be sure, even idiosyncrasies
(which, in their extreme, constitute groups-of-one) often manifest themselves as
personal ways of realizing [more] general attitudes rather than deviations in a
completely unexpected direction.10 Be that as it may, the retrospective estab-
lishment of norms is always relative to the section under study, and no auto-
matic upward projection is possible. Any attempt to move in that direction and
draw generalizations would require further study, which should be targeted
towards that particular end.
Finally, the curve model also enables us to redefine one additional concept:
the actual degree of conformity manifested by different members of a group to a
norm that has already been extracted from a corpus, and hence found relevant
to it. This aspect can be defined in terms of the distance from the point of
maximum return (in other words, from the curve's apex).
Notwithstanding the points made in the last few paragraphs, the argument
for the distributional aspect of norms should not be pushed too far. As is so well
known, we are in no position to point to strict statistical methods for dealing
with translational norms, or even to supply sampling rules for actual research
(which, because of human limitations, will always be applied to samples only).
At this stage we must be content with our intuitions, which, being based on
knowledge and previous experience, are 'learned' ones, and use them as keys for
selecting corpuses and for hitting upon ideas. This is not to say that we should
abandon all hope for methodological improvements. On the contrary: much
energy should still be directed toward the crystallization of systematic research
methods, including statistical ones, especially if we wish to transcend the study
of norms, which are always limited to one societal group at a time, and move on
to the formulation of general laws of translational behaviour, which would
inevitably be probabilistic in nature (see Part Four). To be sure, achievements of
actual studies can themselves supply us with clues as to necessary and possible
methodological improvements. Besides, if we hold up research until the most
systematic methods have been found, we might never get any research done.
10. And see the example of the seemingly idiosyncratic use of Hebrew ki-xen as a trans-
lational replacement of English 'well' in a period when the norm dictates the use of
u-vexen (Chapter 4, Section 3).
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