Scholarly article on topic 'Translating Ideology - A Teaching Challenge'

Translating Ideology - A Teaching Challenge Academic research paper on "Law"

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Abstract of research paper on Law, author of scientific article — Camelia Petrescu

Abstract Ignored until recently and therefore relatively undocumented, the manifestation of ideology in the practice of translating/interpreting has become an increasingly important issue in translation studies. Several definitions of ideology are discussed with a view to identifying the ideologic dimension of language. Ideology is also contrasted with axiology - described as a subjective ideological system of individual values, accountable for individual linguistic/translation choices. The analysis of a translation study and of a corpus of translation of institutional discourse suggests that translator's choices are not indicative of either ideology or axiology. They prove that translators follow a code of practice which describes translation as a commissioned task and the translator as an expert responsible for deciding the way in which a commissioner's goal can be attained.

Academic research paper on topic "Translating Ideology - A Teaching Challenge"

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ELSEVIER Procedía - Social and Behavioral Sciences 191 (2015) 2721 - 2725

Social and Behavioral Sciences

WCES 2014

Translating Ideology - A Teaching Challenge

Camelia Petrescu a*

aUniversitatea Politehnica Timi§oara, P-ta Victoriei No. 2, Timisoara, 300006, Romania


Ignored until recently and therefore relatively undocumented, the manifestation of ideology in the practice of translating/interpreting has become an increasingly important issue in translation studies. Several definitions of ideology are discussed with a view to identifying the ideologic dimension of language. Ideology is also contrasted with axiology - described as a subjective ideological system of individual values, accountable for individual linguistic/translation choices. The analysis of a translation study and of a corpus of translation of institutional discourse suggests that translator's choices are not indicative of either ideology or axiology. They prove that translators follow a code of practice which describes translation as a commissioned task and the translator as an expert responsible for deciding the way in which a commissioner's goal can be attained. © 2015TheAuthors.PublishedbyElsevier Ltd.This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).

Selection and peer-review under responsibility of the Organizing Committee of WCES 2014 Keywords: translation, ideology, axiology, institutional discourse;

1. Introduction

Seen as an encounter, a contest or even a clash between two languages/cultures, translation has a marked ideological dimension. Being a social practice translation is meant "to shape, maintain and at times also resist and challenge the asymmetrical nature of exchanges between parties engaged in or subjected to hegemonic practices." (Cunico and Munday, 2007).Ideology in its manifestation as "power" has recently become an increasingly important issue in translation studies as a result of a rather extensive research in the field of what could be described as "ideologized" language.

* Camelia Petrescu Tel.: +4-074-122-8512 E-mail address:

1877-0428 © 2015 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (

Selection and peer-review under responsibility of the Organizing Committee of WCES 2014 doi: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2015.04.481

2. Definitions of ideology

2.1 The "innocent" meaning

There is a very general definition of ideology which depicts it as almost synonymous with culture. Ideology is thus "a systematic scheme or coordinated body of ideas or concepts, especially about human life and culture, a manner or the content of thinking characteristic of an individual, group or culture." (Webster's Third New International Dictionary, 1993). In this broad and apparently innocent meaning ideology is mainly dealt with in translation studies focussed on literary and religious texts. Thus Henri Meschonnic in his Pour la poétique II (1973) argues that the translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew into Greek and then Latin impregnated it with Christian "ideology" by the mere fact of transposing paratax into syntax. Following the same line of thought, Berman, (2000) speaks about ethnocentric translations which impose target language cultural values and ideologies on source language cultures. The Ancient Roman culture, the classical French culture and, in recent times, the American culture are striking examples of such imperialistic cultural entities which have strong tendencies towards annexing or reterritorializing foreign cultures. It appears that ideology has a strong negative connotation, it points to power even when acting as a cultural component.

2.2 Socially oriented concepts

When related to society, group interests, political power and dominance, ideology acquires a fully negative meaning. This is, to a great extent, accounted for by the traditional Marxist ideology which largely contributed to a negative understanding of the concept. Ideology is thus seen as "a form of cognitive distorsion, a false or illusionary representation of the real". (Gardiner apud Beaton, 2007). A step further in the negative perception of ideology is its definition as "a set of discursive strategies for legitimizing a dominant power" (Eagleton apud Beaton, 2007). Thus ideologies as sets of ideas, values and interests shared by a group of people are rejected not necessarily because they are false - Marxism, for instance, is still attractive to many Western people - but mainly because they are imposed -by majority voting in democratic societies, by force in totalitarian regimes or, in more recent times, by manipulative mass-media. When we reject ideology we actually reject the idea of power, dominance, manipulation and subsequent inequality and subordination. This leads to the view that "to study ideology is to study the ways in which the meaning (or signification) serves to sustain relations of domination." (Thompson apud Beaton, 2007).

3. Ideology and Axiology

Viewed as closely connected with dominance and power, institutional ideology opposes, in principle, any individual set of values and beliefs. "There are no personal ideologies" (Van Dijk apud Beaton, 2007: 274), therefore a new concept, axiology, is meant to describe subjective ideological systems of individual values. Although based on subjectivity axiology is defined as a "socially constituted evaluation." (Ibidem). The interaction between ideology and axiology has become a matter of particular interest in translation studies since in translation mediated communication, the third actor, i.e. the translator/interpreter is presumed to have a relatively high degree of self-expression freedom in relation to the other two actors, the speaker and the listener. In other words, he/she is supposed to share the views of a particular ideology. In his study Interpreted Ideologies in Institutional Discourse, Beaton, (2007) attempts to identify the type of relation between the dominant institutional ideology of the European Union and various axiologies as manifested in the interpreting performances of five German conference interpreters. The analysis focusses on two textual characteristics, namely lexical repetition and use of metaphor strings. Assessing the "ideologizing" potential of these two features, Beaton says: "In constantly referring to the institution of European Union, the institution itself is stabilized and functions as a self-referential, semiclosed system. This self-referentiality strengthens ideological stabilization within the institution. Institutional self-reference can be clearly seen in the myriad of metaphors used to refer to the European Union and the process of European integration. By constantly thematizing and referring to the institution, a given debate stabilizes the institution of the EU and allows it to drive itself forward.

The repetition, both structural and lexical is also meant to reinforce the importance of concepts reflecting European values. Thus "the repetition of solidarity in collocation with terms such as European and multinational slots into the basic cognitive model: solidarity is good and hence the lack of solidarity is bad. Such basic cognitive models, used particularly in the construction, understanding and use of metaphor strings form a key aspect in the study of ideologies." (Beaton, 2007). It is perhaps of some interest to notice Beaton's obvious admiration for the European institutional discourse - a symptom of "ideological" contamination?

4. Translator's choices

The five axiologies scrutinized by Beaton in his study are found to be in full agreement with the dominant ideology, which means that the five German interpreters highly praise European values. Following Beaton's line of demonstration, most professional translators/interpreters living in totalitarian systems of government should be expected to share their employers' ideologies. Which might not be the case! Beaton's analysis cannot actually account for any personal ideology or axiology. It does not reveal axiological features, it simply points to professional competence. The fact that the five interpreters performed similarly by faithfully translating institutional discourse can only speak of their high level of translating expertise. The five interpreters chose a particular method of translation i.e. faithful/semantic, taking into account their commissioner's requirements, the type of text to be translated and the mode of translation. Their Commissioner is a European institution, namely the European Commission, the European institutional discourse to be translated is an authoritative text, from the category described by Newmark, (1988) "Typical authoritative statements are political speeches, documents etc. by ministers or party leaders; statutes and legal documents; (...) works written by acknowledged authorities." The mode of translation is conference interpretation. The lexico-grammatical choices in interpretating institutional discourse are thus not indicative of the translators' axiologies. Further evidence for this assumption is provided by all written translations of European institutional texts. We studied a corpus of translations of European institutional documents issued by the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training ( with a view to identifying translation choices. These documents include educational programs / projects, call for proposals, instructions, application forms etc.

A sample of such text type and its translation is given to show that an authoritative text is translated faithfully.

Table 1.

Authoritative text Lifelong Learning Programme General Call For Proposals 2008-2010 Update 2009 - Strategic Priorities Contents

How to Use this Document Introduction - General Policy Context

Introduction - the General and Specific Objectives of the Programme Chapter 1 - Sectoral Programmes 1. Comenius - School Education

1.1. Mobility and partnerships

1.2. Multilateral projects

1.2.1. Priority 1: Improving motivation for learning and learning to learn skills

1.2.2. Priority 2: The development of a range of approaches to teaching and learning to support 'transversal' key competences

1.2.3. Priority 3: School management

1.2.4. Priority 4: Language learning and linguistic diversity

1.2.5. Priority 5: Improving literacy skills

1.2.6. Priority 6: Digital educational content and services

1.3. Networks

1.3.1. Priority 1: Development of pre-primary and early learning provision

1.3.2. Priority 2: School management

1.3.3. Priority 3: Supporting entrepreneurship and links with the world of work

1.3.4. Priority 4: Digital educational content and services

1.3.5. Priority 5: Making science education more attractive

Faithful translation

Programul de invä^are pe tot parcursul vie^ii Apel general pentru propuneri 2008-2010 Actualizare 2009 - prioritä^i strategice Cuprins

Cum se utilizeazä prezentul document Introducere - context strategic general

Introducere - obiectivele generale §i specifice ale programului Capitolul 1 - programele sectoriale 1. Comenius - Invä^ämäntul Preuniversitar

1.1. Mobilitate §i parteneriate

1.2. Proiecte multilaterale

1.2.1. Prioritatea 1 : Consolidarea motiva^iei de a invä^a §i invä^area abilitä^ilor de a invä^a

1.2.2. Prioritatea 2: Elaborarea unui set de metodologii de predare §i mvä^are care sä sprijine competence cheie „transversale"

1.2.3. Prioritatea 3: Gestionarea §colilor

1.2.4. Prioritatea 4: Invä^area limbilor sträine §i diversitatea lingvisticä

1.2.5. Prioritatea 5: Imbunätä^irea abilitä^ilor de a citi §i a scrie

1.2.6. Prioritatea 6: Con^inutul §i serviciile educa^ionale digitale

1.3. Regele

1.3.1. Prioritatea 1: Dezvoltarea invä^ämäntului premolar §i a educa^iei timpurii

1.3.2. Prioritatea 2: Gestionarea §colilor

1.3.3. Prioritatea 3: Sus^inerea antreprenoriatului §i a legäturii cu pia^a muncii

1.3.4. Prioritatea 4: Con^inutul §i serviciile educa^ionale digitale

1.3.5. Prioritatea 5: Sporirea atractivitä^ii educa^iei çtiin^ifice

1.3.6. Priority 6: Development of special needs education (SEN) towards 1.3.6. Prioritatea 6: Dezvoltarea educa^iei speciale astfel încât sä includä to^i

inclusion of all young people, in particular of those with disabilities tinerii,în special cei cu dizabilitä^i

2. Erasmus - Higher Education including Advanced Vocational Education 2. Erasmus - Invä^ämäntul Superior, inclusiv Educaba §i Formarea

and Training. Profesionalä Avansatä

2.1. Mobility 2.1. Mobilitate

2.2. Multilateral projects 2.2. Proiecte multilaterale

2.2.1. Curriculum development (CD) projects 2.2.1. Proiecte de elaborare a programelor de studii (CD)

2.2.2. Projects focusing on cooperation between higher education 2.2.2. Proiectele centrate pe cooperarea dintre instituyale de mvä^ämänt

institutions and enterprises superior çiîntreprinderi

2.2.3. Projects supporting the modernisation agenda for higher education 2.2.3. Proiecte care sprijinä planul de modernizare a institu^iilor de

institutions mvä^ämänt superior

2.2.4. Virtual campus 2.2.4. Proiecte de campusuri virtuale

2.3. Thematic Networks 2.3. Regele tematice

2.3.1. Academic Networks 2.3.1. Regele academice

2.3.2. Structural Networks 2.3.2. Regele structurale

Apparently neutral, deprived of ideological, marks, mostly containing technicalities, these documents are authoritative and strongly ideologized: they give instructions to be strictly followed and reflect a whole philosophy of education based on such values as: lifelong education, motivation, mobility, inclusion, link with the world of work, etc. As in the case studied by Beaton, faithfulness is a matter of translator's choice depending on the text type / function and the requirements of a commissioned task. Faithfulness also means that an authoritative/ideologized text imposes not only a set of values/ideology but also a language, i.e. a source language on a target language. In our example of faithful translation English has become lexically and structurally "apparent" through borrowings or calques, e.g. mobilitate (stagiu/bursa), abilitafi de-a invafa (deprinderi de-a Tnvaja), abilitafi de-a scrie citi (deprinderi de-a scrie §i citi), invafarea abilitafilor (formarea deprinderilor), sa sprijine comptenfele (sa dezvolte competence), educafie digitala (Tnvajamant la distanja), educafie speciala (Tnvajamant pentru persoanele cu nevoi speciale), proiecte centrate pe (proiecte vizand/orientate catre), refele academice (rejele universitare), cum se utilizeaza prezentul document (instrucjiuni de folosire ale prezentului document). The idiomatic variant is given in brackets to emphasize the linguistic abuse which, mention should be made, does not affect comprehension. Although irrelevant in the translation situation evoked by Beaton - conference interpreting - and in the one we have discussed above - written translation - axiology may, in some different translational contexts account for the translator's choices. Such a context is ad-hoc interpreting. Ad-hoc interpreting in contrast with conference interpreting allows a less formal approach and gives the translator more freedom of self-expression. This is an instance of translation mediated communication based on less structured and more spontaneous speech which "invites" the interpreter to be spontaneous as well. The interpreter is also less constrained by time, being thus able to better and more creatively process meaning. In such situations the speaker and the interpreter address relatively, small audiences which is another factor of stress relief on both sides. As an ad-hoc interpreter in communist times, in Romania behind the "Iron Curtain", we often managed to "humanize" ideological discourse by depriving it, in translation, of its key-features, i.e. repetitions, excessive use of dead metaphors (stereotypes) and of impersonal patterns such as s-a realizat, s-a obfinut, s-a decis, etc. meant to conceal the subject/the doer/the individual. An apparently innocent stereotype such as oamenii muncii de la ora^e sate literally evoked a hideous reality: a whole people - both urban and rural inhabitants - fully pauperized and made dependent on the state support, and an unacceptable human condition: people (oamenii) seen as "attributes" of work (muncii). "Ideologically" neutralized, i.e. translated communicatively, this phrase became, in English, depending on the context, the Romanian working people or simply the Romanians. Otherwise, it is true that a literal translation of this phrase would have been fully unintelligible to an English listener. The translator's axiology could also become manifest when the translator opted for the "Western name" of an Eastern Europe institution, political/economic concept, historical event, etc. e.g. Comecon (the Council for Mutual Economic Control) instead of CMEA (the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance). Yet, such manifestations can hardly be described as real axiologies. They represent more or less emotional response to the dominant ideology.

5. Code of practice

In translating ideology, i.e. institutional discourse, the professional translators should, and, as shown in this

paper, they actually follow a code of practice. Apparently, they have two choices: either render faithfully the "ideological load" of the source text into the target text, or "neutralize" it through rewriting the source text. The two choices are seen to reflect individual response to ideology, i.e. axiology. Professional translation practice proves that the above assumptions are false. If we look into the description and requirements of the translating profession we shall find that translation is a commissioned task. Such a commission "comprises (or should comprise) as much detailed information as possible on the following: (1) the goal, i.e. a specification of the aim of the commission (...); (2) the conditions under which the intended goal should be attained (naturally including practical matters such as deadline and fee). The statement of goal and the conditions should be explicitly negotiated between the client (commissioner) and the translator, for the client may occasionally have an imprecise or even false picture of the way a text might be received in the target language (...). A commission can (and should) only be binding and conclusive, and accepted as such by the translator, if the conditions are clear enough." (Vermeer in Venuti (ed.), 2000: 229, emphasis added). Negotiated or not, once accepted, a commission becomes binding, the goal has to be attained, the translator has to translate. Bound to attain the commissioner's goal, the translator is however free to choose the way in which it could be attained, since "The translator is the expert in translational action (...); as an expert he is therefore responsible for deciding whether, when, how, etc. a translation can be realized". (Ibidem, emphasis added). All the translations we discussed here can be referred to as commissions, the commissioners being public national or international institutions whose main goal is to spread information and convey authority. In order to attain this goal translations chose faithfulness as the appropriate method of translating authoritative statements.

6. Conclusion

In the light of what we have discussed in this paper, translating ideology, i.e. institutional discourse appears to be a professional achievement reflecting linguistic competence and translation expertise, free from any ideology or axiology. Training translators for such achievement is a challenge any school of translation should meet.


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