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Externally / internally referenced

Externally referenced learners respond to informational input largely on the basis of

other people's expectations and attitudes. Societal norms and values control their

behavior to a great extent. "What is the right thing to do?" implies questions like

"What would my parents expect me to do?" or "What would all right-thinking

people do in my situation?"

Externally referenced translators and interpreters almost certainly form the large

majority of the profession. They predicate their entire professional activity and selfimage

on subordination to the various social authorities controlling translation: the

source author, the translation commissioner (who initiates the translation process

and pays the translator's fee), and the target reader. Their reasoning runs like this:

The source author has something important to say. The importance of that message

is validated by social authorities who decide that it should be made available to

readers in other languages as well. The message is important enough to make it

imperative that it be transferred across linguistic and cultural barriers without

substantial change. The translator is the chosen instrument in this process. In order

to facilitate this transfer-without-change, the translator must submit his or her

will entirely to the source text and its meanings, as well as to the social authorities

that have selected it for translation and will pay the translator for the work. This

submission means the complete emptying out (at least while translating) of the

translator's personal opinions, biases, inclinations, and quirks, and especially of any

temptation to "interpret" the text based on those idiosyncratic tendencies. The

translator can be a fully functioning individual outside the task of translation, but

must submit to authority as a translator. For externally referenced translators and interpreters this is an ethical as well as a legal issue: a translator who violates this

law is not only a bad professional but a bad person.

Internally referenced learners develop a more personal code of ethics or sense of

personal integrity, and respond to input based on their internal criteria — which may

or may not deviate sharply from societal norms and values, depending on the


It is easy enough to identify various maverick translators as internally referenced:

Ezra Pound, Paul Blackburn, and the other literary translators discussed in Venuti

(1995: 190—272) are good examples. The difficulty with this identification, however,

is that many of these translators only seem internally referenced because the source

of their external reference is not the one generally accepted by society. Venuti himself,

for example, argues that translators should reject the external reference imposed

by capitalist society that requires the translator to create a fluent text for the target

reader, and replace it with a more traditional (but in capitalist society also dissident)

external reference to the textures of the foreign text. The "foreignizing" translator

who leaves traces of the source text's foreignness in his or her translation thus

seems "internally referenced" by society's standards, but is in fact referring his or

her response not to some idiosyncratic position but to an alternative external

authority, the source text or source culture, or an ethical ideal for the target culture

as positively transformed by contact with foreignness.

Such feminist translators as Barbara Godard, Susanne Lotbiniere-Harwood,

Myriam Diaz-Diocaretz, and Susanne Jill Levine, too, seem internally referenced

by society's standards because they either refuse to translate texts by men and see

themselves as intervening radically in the women's texts they translate in order to

promote women's issues and a feminist voice, or, when they do translate male texts,

are willing to render them propagandistically. And some of these translators write

about their decisions to translate as they do as if the pressures to do so came from

inside — which they almost certainly do. Lotbiniere-Harwood, for example, speaks

of the depression and self-loathing she felt while translating Lucien Francceur,

and of her consequent decision never to translate another male text again. Levine

writes of her personal pain as a feminist translating the works of sexist men. Diaz-

Diocaretz (1985: 49ff.) reprints long sections from her translator's log, written

while translating the lesbian feminist poet Adrienne Rich into Spanish, and much

of her anguish over specific decisions seems internally referenced. Clearly, however,

this personal pain and the personal code of ethics that grows out of these women's

ongoing attempts to heal that pain are both also externally referenced to the

women's movement, to solidarity with other women engaged in the same healing


For translators and interpreters, therefore, it may be more useful to speak of

conventionally referenced and unconventionally referenced learners — those who

are willing to submit to the broadest, most generally accepted social norms and

those who, out of whatever combination of personal and shared pain and individual and collective determination to fight the sources of that pain, refer their translational

decisions to authorities other than the generally accepted ones. In some cases the

other authority might even be the translator herself or himself, with no connection

to dissident movements or other external support; in most cases, perhaps,

translators and interpreters build their ethics in a confusing field of conflicting

external authorities, and may frequently be both praised and attacked for the same

translation by different groups.