Site Loader


Rock Street, San Francisco

The Role of Susan Bassnett’s Theory in Cultural Rewriting: A Genre-Based Qualitative Study


Cultural Translation

Cultural translation has been defined by Nida and Taber (1982) as a translation where the content of the message is changed to conform to the receptor culture in some way which information is introduced which is not linguistically implicit in the original. According to Pym (2014), cultural translation can be understood as a process in which there is no start text and usually no fixed target text. The focus is on cultural processes, rather than products. The translation was deemed to be only about language and how to transfer the message of the original text with no consideration of the cultural perspective of the text. It can be seen from the definitions of the word “translation” suggested by numerous scholars (Nida & Taber, 1982).

Catford (1965), for instance, defines translation as the replacement of textual material in one language (SL) by equivalent textual material in another language (TL). In his definition, Catford highlights two key elements, textual material, and equivalent. Additionally, Newmark (1981), states that translation is a craft consisting of the attempt to replace a written message and statement in one language by the same message and statement in another language. Therefore, it can be concluded that cultural aspect wasn’t considered valuable in the translation process by numerous language scientists. The difficulty of Cultural translation lies in the fact that it requires being competent at two languages and two cultures to render not only the message but the cultural features present in the text. Cultural translation can help in achieving cultural interaction and cross-cultural communication (Newmark, 1981).

This type of translation seeks to enlighten the reader about the source language culture with the intention of boosting cultural knowledge and cultural understanding. According to Lefevere translations, nearly always contain attempts to ‘naturalize’ the different culture, to make it conform more to what the reader of the translation is used to (Lefevere, 1999). Thus, in cultural translation alteration of the message is sometimes required to comply with the reader’s expectation. Similarly, Toury (2000) believes that translation involves at least two languages and two cultural traditions.  Armstrong declares that translators need to be bilingual as well as bicultural to carry out a successful translation. House’s definition of translation (2009) confirms the findings as mentioned earlier stating that translation is not only a linguistic act, it is also a cultural one, an act of communication across cultures (Armstrong, 2005).

Translation always involves both language and culture only because the two cannot be separated. Language is culturally embedded: it both expresses and shapes cultural reality, and the meanings of linguistic items, be they words or larger segments of text, can only be understood when considered together with the cultural context in which these lexical items are used. In other words, Scholars have realized the enormous impact of culture in translation since their cultures profoundly influence languages. Translation is not only about language structure anymore (Baker, 1992).

Cultural Translation Problems                                                                            

The difficulties of interpretation arise when the languages involved in translation are of distinct cultures and when these languages belong to unrelated language families. The differences of cultures are the main reason behind the problems of meaning in cross-cultural communication. These difficulties can occur due to several reasons such as unfamiliarity with the cultural expression, non-equivalence for the cultural term and lack of knowledge about all the translation procedures and methods to solve the problem (Larson, 1984). The first problem that the translator may encounter while translating cultural texts is manifested in finding equivalence for a cultural term. Cultural equivalence in this particular context refers specifically to idioms and culturally-bound words. Nida asserts that same equivalence can’t be achieved among languages (Nida, 1964).

Hence, Nida introduced the concept of “equivalent effect.” The problem of equivalence has resulted from the varieties between languages at various levels such as the cultural level. According to Baker (1992), nonequivalence can occur at the word level or above it. Baker states that nonequivalence at the word level means that there is no direct equivalent for the term of the ST. Baker (1992) indicates the various types of nonequivalence at word level such as culture-specific concepts referring to a nutshell in the SL which expresses a concept that has no existence in the TC. Furthermore, Baker highlights two main types of equivalence above word level which include collocation and idioms including fixed expressions. Bassnett (2002) expresses that the core difficulty of translating idioms is that they are cultural bound. It indicates that idioms can’t be translated literally (Bassnett, 2002).

There are similar idioms in the TC that function similarly. Additionally, Newmark also came up with ‘Cultural word’ which is a word that has a cultural reference. As a result, the readership finds difficulty in understanding such word. According to Newmark (1988), the cultural words which may constitute a barrier in translation are as follows: Ecology, Material Culture, Social Culture, Organizations Customs, Activities, Procedures, Gestures, and Habits.

Lastly, the translator may also experience the issue of untranslatability during the translation process. As stated by Catford, there are two types of untranslatability; linguistic and cultural. The linguistic untranslatability takes place due to differences in the SL and the TL, whereas cultural untranslatability is due to the absence of the TL culture of a relevant situational feature for the SL text. Therefore, cultural differences are the primary cause of cultural untranslatability (Catford, 1965).

Cultural Rewriting Theory

The Cultural rewriting theory is based on the studies of translation. Most of the researches that have been carried out on this theory opted for the literary translation since Bassnett and Lefevere (1990) applied it to the literary domain. Translation, for the traditional translation theorists, was seen as a purely linguistic matter focusing on the transference of meaning without giving further consideration to the cultural aspect of the text. The translation was defined regarding faithfulness and fidelity. Bassnett and Lefevere (1990) have realized that extra-linguistic factors should be taken into account during the translation process. The essential concern of Translation Studies is the cultural and historical background of the text (Lefevere, 2004).

Bassnett and Lefevere (1990), claim that the study of translation is the study of cultural interaction and translation is rewriting at multiple levels, which is the fundamental base of their cultural manipulation theory. Bassnett and Lefevere define translation as rewriting or manipulation of the source text to a certain extent. According to Bassnett and Lefevere (1990), translation is one of the processes of literary manipulation whereby texts are rewritten across linguistic boundaries, and rewriting takes place in a very clearly inscribed cultural and historical context (Bassnett 1990). Bassnett and Lefevere (2004), introduce the concept of cultural rewriting or in other words cultural manipulation theory stating that translation is a rewriting of an original text. All rewritings, whatever their intention, reflect a certain ideology and a poetics and as such manipulate literature to function in a given society in a given way.

Rewriting is manipulation, undertaken in the service of power, and in its positive aspect can help in the evolution of literature and society. Rewriting can introduce new concepts, new genres, new devices and the history of translation is the history also of literary innovation, of the shaping power of one culture upon another. But rewriting can also repress innovation, distort and contain, and in an age of ever increasing manipulation of all kinds, translation exemplifies the study of the manipulation processes of literature can help us towards a greater awareness of the world in which we live (Nida & Taber, 1982). It indicates that to make a text acceptable in a given culture the rewriting process of the ST is required. It allows various cultures to interact and facilitates cross-cultural communication. Lefevere and Bassnett consider translation as a way of rewriting the original text to some extent and under certain constraints to meet the readers’ expectations and to create the desired effect on the TT readers. In this regard, the translator rewrites the original text since he/she is in charge of the cultural and ideological transference present in the ST to accommodate it into the TT (Trask, 1999).

The cultural manipulation concept views rewriting in its positive form as a means of manipulation to develop the literature and society as well as introducing new genres, devices, and new cultural concepts. Bassnett and Lefevere (2004), assert that translation is not restricted to rendering the meaning of the ST instead translation is a process influenced by undeniable factors such as ideology, poetics, and patronage. Here the researcher of this paper will not dig into the details of such constraints as this would shift the focus from the primary topic of this paper which is cultural rewriting theory. According to Bassnett (2002), translation is not just the transfer of texts from one language into another; it is now rightly seen as a process of negotiation between texts and between cultures, a process during which all kinds of transactions take place mediated by the figure of the translator (Bassnett, 2002).

Bassnett (2002) points out that translation can be seen as “an act of creative rewriting” and that the main task of the translator is to bridge the gap between source author and text and the eventual target language readership. Moreover, Bassnett (2002) declares that the translator must tackle the SL text in such a way that the TL version will correspond to the SL version. To attempt to impose the value system of the SL culture onto the TL culture is dangerous ground. In other words, the translator has to be skillful in dealing with the cultural references of the ST (Bassnett, 2002).

Strategies of Cultural Rewriting Theory

There are several manipulative methods suggested by Susan Bassnett along with Lefevere which can be used when translating culturally specific texts to facilitate cross-cultural communication and interaction between the SC and the TC. Bassnett (2002) notes that the translator can at times enrich or clarify the source language texts during the translation process. Additionally, Lefevere (2004) states that various translators insert in their translations passages that are most emphatically not in the original. According to Zhang (2012), the first strategy that can be used based on Lefevere’s and Bassnett’s expressions (2004) is “addition.” Therefore, the translator may add some information to clarify a certain area of the text when necessary. Another translation strategy that is beneficial in cross-cultural communication is “explanatory note.” Bassnett and Lefevere mention that “translators will use the “explanatory note” to ensure that the reader reads the translation – interprets the text – in the “right” way” (Bassnett & Lefevere, 2004).

“Explanatory note” in this particular context refers to some information mentioned in the TLT, which is different from footnote (Zhang 2012). Further, Lefevere (2004) reveals an essential manipulative technique through deeply investigating the various translations of Anne Frank’s Diary which is “omission.” As claimed by Lefevere (2004), translators may omit or change certain words or even passages of the ST such changes could be of personal nature, some are ideological, and some belong to the sphere of patronage. Moreover, Lefevere (2004) expresses that on the personal level, the non-importance details to anyone are omitted as well as the unfaltering references to friends, acquaintances, or members of the family are omitted too. Several Chinese scholars commented on the omission strategy proposed by Lefevere. Qiu (2008), for example, argues that sometimes in the ST there are certain details of no importance to the TLT due to cultural variation. Accordingly, the translator may resort to the omission strategy to handle the unnecessary or redundant information during the translation process (Zhang, 2012).  Chapter Summary

Chapter two deals with the literature review, which covers the review of previous research studies on the cultural translation and the cultural rewriting theory. Chapter two also tackles the subject of cultural translation, cultural translation problems, cultural rewriting theory and the strategies of cultural rewriting theory.

Post Author: Kobe

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *