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Is a translation a mirror of the translator's ideology? How does this affect certified translation?

Updated: May 31, 2020

The ideology of the translator is in most cases reflected in his or her work. Some translations show this quite clearly, while others do not. In this article, we will deal with an aspect of translation that attracts a lot of attention and curiosity from a large number of researchers and translators. Translation is an activity from which the world has benefited for thousands of years, because it gave us the opportunity to discover some of the most relevant sciences for society, such as mathematics or philosophy, among others. It has also turned the world into a metaphorical small village, since thanks to this activity scientific and cultural exchange has been and continues to be encouraged. Nida - one of the pioneers of translation theory - defines translation in the following way:

"Translating consists of reproducing in the receptor language the closest natural equivalent of the source language message, first in terms of meaning, secondly in terms of style"

However, despite the fact that one of the golden rules for the translator is the maintenance of fidelity, we see that in a large portion of translations the ideology of the translator is reflected in one way or another. According to several theorists and thinkers, ideology in translation has existed since the appearance of translation. Fawcett states that "the exercise of ideology is as old as the history of translation itself". Likewise, Christina Schäffner, a scholar of translation and interpretation who specialises in political discourse, points out that "ideology inevitably appears in translation, since it is the interest, the purpose and the objective that make us choose the source text and the target text and promote translation".

To begin with, it should be noted that we cannot talk about translation and ideology without first having precisely defined the term ideology. The latter was introduced by the French Scholar Antonie Destutt de Tracy as ''idéologie'', i.e. the science of ideas. According to the Dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy, ideology is "the set of fundamental ideas that characterize the thought of a person, a community or an era, a cultural, religious or political movement, etc." Initially, this term was well interpreted and understood. However, in recent decades it has acquired an ambiguous nuance, and there is a tendency to relate it to the politics and beliefs of certain social groups.

However, the question that arises is: How does ideology manifest itself in translation?

Ideology can be expressed on two different levels, the first being the grammatical and the second being the lexical. The ideological aspect can be determined within a text itself, both at the lexical level, reflected, for example, in the deliberate choice or avoidance of a particular word, and the grammatical level, for example, the use of passive structures to avoid an expression of agency. Ideological aspects may be more or less obvious in texts, depending on the subject of a text, its genre and communicative purposes.

Therefore, a translator's ideology is reflected in the performance of his or her translation task. Depending on the genre translated, the translator chooses the terminology he or she finds most suitable for translating what is said in the original text, either by using a particular term or by omitting it. To reflect what we have just explained, we have a good example where ideology is shown in a translation in a blatant way, and it is the French translation by Voltaire of a sentence from Hamlet. Shakespeare said ''thus conscience doth make cowards of us all'', while Voltaire translated it as "d'un héros guerrier, fait un chrétien timide" (from a warrior hero to a shy Christian).

Here we can clearly see how Voltaire has reflected his ideology through his translation by describing Christians as shy, while the original text does not mention that.

In the case of Aelfrico, an Anglo-Saxon writer, when translating the manuscripts "Lives of the Saints" in the Middle Ages, we see that he summarised the book enough to make it more interesting to non-Christians. This was also so that anyone could read it for themselves without having to resort to a priest to understand it. Here we can appreciate the modification made by the translator influencing, in this way, the original text by changing its structure.

In this same vein, we can mention another quite representative example, which consists of a translation of the New Testament of the Bible that referred to God as "She". This was reworked to make the gender masculine, so that the translator would see it as suitable for an Anglo-Saxon and largely male audience. By this the translator shows his ideology and beliefs in a blatant way. However, we cannot talk about ideology in translation without shedding light on the famous School of Manipulation.

According to the translator and scholar, Snell-Hornby, there are two European schools of thought that deal with translation. On the one hand, there is the Übersetzungswissenschaft or translatology school, whose main focus is linguistics, and on the other, the School of Manipulation, which is the one that interests us in this article. The School of Manipulation is culturally oriented, based in the Netherlands, and invlolves academics such as Lefevere, Lambert, Hermans, Bassnett and Toury.

Since this school is mainly concerned with literary translation, we may think that the ideas of experts in manipulation are only valid for literary translation. However, according to the members of this school, this is not the case, since most of them consider that their work is applicable to all types of translation: "both oral and written, literary and non-literary, and without restriction in time or space".

Manipulation scholars base their work on polysysystemic theory. The term "polysystem" is understood to mean a different set of systems, which is characterised by internal oppositions and continuous changes. One of these systems would be the literary system, which is made up of numerous subsystems, in which translation is a factor to be considered, given that it can play a double role: as a carrier of innovative elements or as a conservative instrument to consolidate and reinforce the canonical literary model in the receiving culture. The concept of the polysystem was coined by translation studies, among them the researcher and pioneer of the theory of the polysystem, Even-Zohar, in Israel, who saw "literature translated not only as an integral system within any literary system, but as the most active system within it".

We can say that according to the above, ideology can be transmitted voluntarily or involuntarily in translation, and this can be considered positive or negative depending on each person. However, the fact that the translator leaves his or her mark is not always bad, because if this is done in a positive sense it can enrich the translation and make it more enjoyable for the reader. We’d say that ideology should not come into certified translations however, which are carried out in order to convey an official message in a straightforward way in order for it to be best understood in the target language. We’ll continue to produce our certified translations in a no-nonsense manner, with no room for misunderstanding. We’ll also keep on guaranteeing the best price on the market for them. Just get in touch!

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