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


Study Background

Translation is an art that requires both skill and knowledge. It is not just the mere conveying of words from a source language to a target language and is more of a complicated process. By definition, translation is regarded as the transferring of languages as well as cultures. According to Bassnett (2002), translation does not only involve the replacement of lexical and grammatical elements between two languages but also requires conveying the cultural settings of the texts. Lefevere and Bassnett (1990) view translation as a way of rewriting the original text to a certain extent to fulfill the readers’ expectations. They view rewriting as a means of manipulation to introduce new genres, devices, and new cultural concepts. The cultural aspect is vital in the translation process since the language is the reflection of its culture. It indicates that the culture highly influences the vocabulary of the language.

Larson (1984) stresses on the importance of being fully aware of the cultures of both SL and TL. He argues that in the translation process the emphasis is on the culture stating that Language is a part of a culture. Therefore, translation from one language to another cannot be done adequately without knowledge of the two cultures as well as the two languages structure. Thus, the translator has to be fully acquainted with the language structure and the culture of both SL and TL. As a matter of fact, the translator needs to be well-informed about the culture of both languages including customs, beliefs, norms, habits, and social settings. Hence, the primary role of an interpreter is not just restricted to lexical issues in the text; it also involves bridging the gap between two cultures. The real challenge of translation occurs due to dissimilarities not only in the linguistic system but also in the cultural system of both SL and TL. In this context, translating culturally-based texts is burdensome since it requires to overcome the barriers between the SL and the TL as well as to produce the same effect on the target text readers Larson (1984).

As a result, cultural rewriting is required. According to cultural rewriting theory, cultural rewriting is a way of manipulating the original text or rewriting it under various constraints and for specific purposes in compliance with the reader’s culture. Bassnett’s theory allows translators and students of translation to manipulate and rewrite the text so as to be able to create the required effect. Using Bassnett’s theory, the researcher will investigate some problems that are frequently found in cultural texts so as to determine the effectiveness of the theory in solving such problems.

Problem Statement

Despite the rapid improvement in the field of translation in both the practical and theoretical areas, the cultural references still pose a serious challenge to translators and students of translation. The present research study will attempt to shed light on the following issues regarding cultural aspect. These issues include the problem of cultural equivalence, specifically idioms and expressions that are culturally bound. The issue of untranslatability of certain SL phrases in the TL cultural level and the lack of similar cultural convention in the TL will also be addressed in this paperwork. Additionally, the range of TL phrases available regarding to the presentation of social class, status, age, and gender in cultural texts will also be discussed.

Purpose Statement 

The aim of the current study is to test the effectiveness of Bassnett’s theory (1990), particularly the concept of cultural rewriting to identify and solve cultural translation problems. Moreover, the study will also determine the efficiency of the strategies mentioned in Bassnett’s theory in solving cultural translation problems.  The cultural data provided in this study for investigating the effectiveness of Bassnett’s theory is taken from the UNESCO as it contains phrases of social class, status, age, and gender in cultural texts. Most importantly, this study will provide a solution to the most frequent cultural translation issue faced by translators and trainees of translation which is the cultural untranslatability.

Research Questions

The following questions guide the present study

  1. What is the effectiveness of applying cultural rewriting theory for solving the problem of cultural equivalence?
  2. What are the strategies mentioned in Bassnett’s and Lefevere’s theory for applying the principle of cultural rewriting?
  3. What are the processes of manipulation that can help in solving the problem of cultural untranslatability, according to Bassnett’s and Lefevere’s theory?

Research Hypothesis

The cultural rewriting theory is effective in identifying and solving cultural issues. The Null Hypothesis is: the cultural rewriting theory is ineffective in identifying and solving cultural issues.


The research study is based on the assumption that Bassnett’s theory, “the cultural manipulation concept,” can help students of translation in solving and identifying cultural problems. Among the problems that even professional translators might confront is cultural equivalence, the untranslatability of certain SL phrases and Lack of similar cultural convention in the TL. Therefore, translation is not restricted to the replacement of lexical elements. It is the conveying of lexical as well as cultural elements. Rendering the cultural aspects can pose a serious challenge to students of translation due to dissimilarities between the SL and Cultural systems.

Significance of the Study

The significance of the study is that it is among a few pieces of research that aim at allowing the translators and students of translation to rewrite the original text to a certain extent to produce the same effect that was produced by the ST. As opposed to the common consideration of traditional studies on translation, Bassnett’s theory enables the translators to be creative in conveying the cultural elements of ST. It also assists translators to overcome any difficulty regarding cultural aspects of the text by applying the strategies mentioned in Bassnett’s theory.  Moreover, the study will provide evidence on the effectiveness of Bassnett’s theory so that teachers and students in the translation department at the College of Languages and Translation, Al-Imam Muhammad Ibn Saud Islamic University, can apply it in the classrooms (Bassnett, 2002).

Theoretical Framework

The theoretical framework of the present research study was based on the theory of cultural rewriting or the manipulation theory. Bassnett and Lefevere (2004), in their book Translation Rewriting and the Manipulation of Literary Fame, have come up with the cultural rewriting theory presenting their view “translation is a rewriting of an original text”. According to Bassnett and Lefevere, all rewritings, whatever their intention, reflect a certain ideology and a poetics and as such manipulate literature to function in a unique way in a given society. Rewriting is manipulation undertaken in the service of power. Rewriting can introduce new concepts, new genres and new devices. Therefore, this indicates that the main aim of manipulating any text is to present new concepts. As Bassnett and Lefevere point out, all rewritings are “not innocent,” they are shaped by certain factors among them are power, ideology, poetics, and patronage (Bassnett & Lefevere, 2004).

Bassnett is against the principles adopted by the linguistically oriented approach, the equivalence or the faithfulness principles. He views translation as rewriting which is manipulation of the source text to a certain extent. Bassnett further 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. Bassnett also argues that the process of translation occurs at three levels intralingua translation, or rewarding, which is an interpretation of verbal signs in the same language. Interlingua translation which means an interpretation of verbal signs while incorporating another language. Lastly, inter-semiotic translation or transmutation which is an interpretation of verbal signs through signs of nonverbal sign systems (Bassnett, 2002).

Limitation and Delimitation of the Study

This analytical research study was an attempt to examine the effectiveness of Bassnett’s theory in solving and identifying cultural problems to help a specialist in overcoming any obstacles they face while translating.  Among the limitations encountered by the researcher is the lack of previous studies particularly on the cultural rewriting concept outside the literary domain as most of the researchers applied the cultural rewriting theory on the only literary field.  There aren’t enough researchers investigating the same cultural view in other areas of studies. Furthermore, the sample size of the study is too small and limited as it was conducted only on three UNESCO articles. Therefore, more research studies are needed in this field to examine the effectiveness of Bassnett’s theory in solving and identifying cultural problems.

Definitions of Terms

There are certain terms used in this research that require clarification to comprehend the present study.

Cultural reference

By cultural reference, we mean any reference to a cultural entity which, due to its distance from the target culture, is characterized by a sufficient degree of opacity for the target reader to constitute a problem (Mailhac, 1996)

Cultural untranslatability

Catford (1965) defined cultural untranslatability as what appears to be an entirely different problem. However, in a situational feature, functionally relevant for the SL text, it is completely absent in the culture of which the TL is a part.


Lefevere (1999) refers to ideology as the conceptual grid that consists of opinions and attitudes deemed acceptable in a certain society at a certain time through which readers and translators approach texts (Lefevere, 1999).


An idiom can be defined as an expression whose meaning cannot be worked out from the meanings of its constituent words (Trask, 1999).


According to Collins dictionary, the verb manipulate has several meanings among them are:

  1. To handle or use, especially with some skill, in a process or action.
  2. To negotiate, control or influence (something or someone) cleverly, skillfully, or deviously.


According to Lefevere, Patronage is any power (person, institution) that can further or hinder the reading, writing and rewriting of literature (Lefevere, 1999).

Chapter Summary

Chapter one gives a general introduction to the cultural rewriting theory. It highlights some of the cultural issues that translators may confront during the translation process. It also clarifies the main aim of the current research study which is guided by specific questions. Further, it provides definitions for some terms that are used in this study along with the limitations and delimitations of the study.

Post Author: Kobe

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