POWER IN TRANSLATION. Bringing Japan to the West
Abstract: Studying the Japanese language in translation is highly interesting, given its many unique linguistic features and the distinctive cultural setting in which it is primarily used. Adopting Japanese works into Western languages like Swedish or English is therefore very challenging, as there is no shared syntax, language family or cultural background. The age-old translation dilemma of fidelity versus fluency thus becomes especially prominent when encountering Japanese texts.Translation theorist Lawrence Venuti argues that translation into English, by virtue of the language’s hegemonic position on the world stage, tends to employ a domesticating approach, wherein fully accurate representation of the source text is eschewed in order to make the text feel as though it were originally written in the target language. Venuti’s theory is one of the most prominent in translation studies today, but its ideas that cultural dominance influences the translation process, and that prioritising fluent translations is a question of power, have gone largely unquestioned. This study aims to challenge the normative aspects of Venuti’s concepts while still embracing their descriptive properties. To this end, it examines two translations of Haruki Murakami’s book 1Q84 from the original Japanese, Jay Rubin’s English translation and Vibeke Emond’s Swedish translation. 4000 words from each version are analysed and compared quantitatively and qualitatively in order to determine their respective degrees of fidelity to the original text. The goal is to see how a source text from Japan, i.e. a foreign cultural sphere, is translated into two different languages within the same cultural sphere, albeit of vastly differing spread and global status. The findings show that the English translation employs a linguistically and syntactically free, albeit relatively semantically faithful writing style, changing almost twice as many words as the Swedish translation, which is instead very faithful at the frequent expense of fluency. These discrepancies might be attributed to the translators’ individual attitudes, but this is unlikely the sole factor involved as native Japanese speakers, including academics, single out Rubin as a better translator than his peers. No general conclusions can be drawn from just this single comparison, but the difference between the two versions is significant enough that it might perhaps lend some support to Venuti’s claims that cultural status influences translation.
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