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Rules and theories (deduction)

Ideally, deductive principles — rules, models, laws, theories — of translation should

arise out of the translator's own experience, the inductive testing of abductive

hypotheses through a series of individual cases. In abduction the translator tries

something that feels right, perhaps feels potentially right, without any clear sense

of how well it will work; in induction the translator allows broad regularities to

emerge from the materials s/he has been exposed to; and in deduction the translator

begins to impose those regularities on new materials by way of predicting or

controlling what they will entail. Lest these general principles become too rigid,

however, and so block the translator's receptivity to novel experiences (and thus

ability to learn and grow), deduction must constantly be fed "from below," remaining

flexible in response to pressures from new abductions and inductions to rethink

what s/he thought was understood.

This ideal model is not always practicable, however. Above all it is often

inefficient. Learning general principles through one's own abductive and inductive

experience is enormously time-consuming and labor-intensive, and frequently

narrow — precisely as narrow as the translator's own experience. As a result, many

translators with homegrown deductions about translation have simply reinvented

the wheel: "I believe it is important to translate the meaning of the original text,

not individual words." Translators who post such deductive principles on Internet

discussion groups like Lantra-L have learned the hard way, through laborious effort

and much concentrated reflection, what translation theorists have been telling their

readers for a very long time: about sixteen centuries, if you date this theory back

to Jerome's letter to Pammachius in 395:

Now I not only admit but freely announce that in translating from the Greek —

except of course in the case of Holy Scripture, where even the syntax contains

a mystery — I render, not word for word, but sense for sense.

(Robinson 1997b: 25)

two millennia if you date it back to Cicero in 55 before the common era:

And I did not translate them as an interpreter, but as an orator, keeping the

same ideas and the forms, or as one might say, the "figures" of thought, but in

language which conforms to our usage.

(Robinson 1997b: 9)

It is also what translation instructors have been telling their students for decades.

Is it really necessary for individual translators to relearn this principle with so much

effort? Wouldn't it make more sense for them to be told, early on in their careers,

that this is the fundamental axiom of all mainstream translation in the West, and so

to be spared the effort of working it out for themselves?

Yes and no. The effort is never really wasted, since we always learn things more

fully, integrate them more coherently into our working habits, when we learn them

in rich experiential contexts, through our own efforts. In some sense no one ever

learns anything without first testing it in practice — even if that "practice" is only

the experience of taking a test on material taught in class, or comparing it to one's

own past experiences and seeing whether they match up. The beginning student

translator who "naturally" translates one word at a time will not quite believe the

teacher who says "translate the meanings of whole sentences, not individual words,"

until s/he has tested that principle in actual translation work and felt its experiential

validity. So experience remains important even when being taught someone else's

deductive principles.

But at the same time, "being told" can mean immense savings in time and effort

over "figuring it out on your own." The beginning student translator told to translate

the meanings of whole sentences will still have to test the principle in practice, but

this experiential testing process will now be focused or channeled by the "rule" or

"model," and so will move much more quickly and effectively toward its goal than

it would if left to develop on its own.

This is, of course, the rationale behind translator training: given a few general

principles and plenty of chances to test those principles in practice (and intelligent

feedback on the success or failure of those tests), novice translators will progress

much more rapidly toward professional competence than they would out in the

working world on their own.

In addition, exposure to other people's deductions about translation can help

broaden a translator's sense of the field. We all tend to assume that translation is

pretty much the same everywhere, and everywhere pretty much the same as what

we've experienced in our own narrow little niche — and this assumption can be

terribly limiting. A translator who has deduced from years of experience in technical

or business translation that all translators must render the meaning of the original

text as accurately as possible will feel paralyzed when asked to adapt advertising

copy to the requirements of a different culture, or a complex novel for children.

"That's not translation!" this sort of person typically cries — because that is not the

kind of translation s/he has done. Whatever lies outside each individual translator's

fairly narrow experience of the field is "not translation." Exposure to other people's

deductions about the field can coax translators with these ingrained assumptions

past the limitations of their own experiential worlds.

And this is one rationale for translation theory: it pushes translators past narrow

conceptions of the field to expanding insights into what translation has been historically

(in the Middle Ages translators often wrote their own glosses or commentaries

and built them into their translations), what it is today (radical adaptations, interpretive

imitations, propagandistic refocusing), and what it might be in some imaginable

future. These theoretical explorations may not be immediately applicable to the

translator's practical needs; the in-house translator who only translates a certain

type of technical documentation, for example, may not have a strong professional

need to know how people translated in the Middle Ages, or how advertising

translations often proceed in the present.

But no one ever knows what kinds of knowledge or experience will prove useful

in the future. The in-house technical translator may one day be offered an advertising

translation: "So-and-so's out sick today, do you think you could have a look at this

full-page ad?" Does s/he really want to have to say, "I don't know anything about

advertising translation, I've never thought about it, and to be quite frank I don't

want to think about it"? A friend with an advertising agency may be looking for a

translator to join the firm; does the technical translator really want not to be in

a position to choose between the two jobs, simply because advertising translation

(indeed anything outside her or his current narrow experience) is unthinkable?

One way of putting this is to say that the translator should be a lifelong learner,

always eager to push into new territories, and at least occasionally, in accordance

with his or her own learning styles (see Chapter 3), willing to let other people chart

the way into those territories. No one can experience everything first hand; in fact,

no one can experience more than a few dozen things even through books and courses

and other first-hand descriptions. We have to rely on other people's experiences

in order to continue broadening our world — even if, once we have heard those

other experiences, we want to go out and have our own, to test their descriptions

in practice.

It is important to remember, in these next five chapters, that abduction, induction,

and deduction are all important channels of experience and learning. Each has its

special and invaluable contribution to make to the learning process. Abductive

guesswork without the ongoing practical trial-and-error of induction or the rules,

laws, and theories of deduction would leave the translator a novice: induction

and deduction are essential to professional competence. But induction without the

fresh perspectives and creative leaps of abduction and the corrective "big picture"

of deduction would become a rote, mechanical straitjacket. And deduction without

surprises from the world of abduction or a solid grounding in professional practice

would be sterile and empty.