In the field of translation theories,
one of the most influential theory would be ‘norms’ proposed by Gideon Toury. In
1995, based on his concept of target-text oriented translation studies, he wrote
Descriptive translation studies and
beyond to introduce translation norms to the public, aiming at making a
more general theory and a systematic branch for translators to follow.

 

In his book, Toury provided the
definition of ‘norm’. According to Toury, sociocultural constraints included
two extremes, which are absolute rules and idiosyncrasies, and in between there
lie norms (1995:54). Norm refers to some ‘general values or idea shared by the
community’ which are observed, and turn these observations into ‘performance
instructions which are appropriate for and applicable’ to certain situations
(Toury, 1995:55). Firstly there is initial norm, which refers to the ‘basic
choice which can be made between requirements of the two different sources’
(Toury, 1995:56). When the translation tends to be in favor of source culture,
it would be an adequate translation; when the translation is subjection to
target culture, it would be an acceptable translation. Secondly, there are
preliminary norms, which is about translation policy and directness of
translation. Lastly, there are operational norms which are ‘directing the
decisions made during the act of translation itself’ with matricial norms and
textual-linguistic norms (Toury, 1995:58). Also, Toury believes that translation
norms can have a wider coverage, as it can ‘applies to all types of
translation, not just literary, philosophical or biblical’ (Toury, 1995:57).

 

Overall, Toury’s norms theory has
received very positive feedback, as it was used widely by various translators.
Indeed, there are several strengths in ‘Norms’ theory. To begin with, Toury’s
Norms theory has provided a norm for translators to follow. Since it would
observe the norms in translation in different period, translators can therefore
find out what is the most common trend and follow, or simply serves as an
example for translators to take reference from. It is very important to translation
field, as ‘extreme free variation may well have been the result’ if there were
no norms for translators to follow (Toury, 1995:56). Therefore, norms theory
provided a key to establishing translation techniques, maintaining the
translation system and community, and avoiding potential problems caused by
individual decisions.

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Secondly, a unique point for Toury’s
norms theory is that norms are not fixed forever. As time passes by, the common
practice in translation would change too. As a result, translation norms are
constantly changing. Therefore, it can always fit requirements and society in
different time. As described by Martínez-Sierra, by looking back at certain
norms, ‘we can see that some have come to implement changes in the system, so
much so that their study is also an interesting field'(2015:8). To sum up, not
like some theories or rules that would be neglected as time passes by, norm
theory could adopt changes and survive.

 

What is more, norms endues an extra
function for translation, which is social function. As norms are describing how
people act in different culture, norms in translation would allow translators
to communicate and compare their actions, which brings more meaning to
translation, as described by Herman, ‘learning to translate involves a
socialization process: it means learning to operate and perhaps manipulate
norms of translation’ (Herman, 1999:72). Therefore, through communication, the
society can come to an agreement on which approach is a norm and which one is
not. As a result, after observation, communication and comparison, a behavior
which is considered ‘correct’ and ‘appropriate’ at that time is born for
translators to follow. The communication would not just be between different
actions and practices, but also between different cultures.

 

It is true that Toury’s norms theory has
many strengths in it, and influence much translation practice of translators.
However, it is still not flawless, and it needs much clarification and further
elaboration.

 

To start
with, norms theory is describing instead of prescribing. As in norms theory,
qualified people would observe how certain professional translators would
translate texts, gather this information and sums up which translation technique
is the majority and therefore make it into a norm, it would be describing how
translator handle texts, instead of giving instructions or guidelines for translators
to follow. This is a good thing in one hand, as it can be changed flexibly as
time passes by; however, on the other hand, this could cause much trouble, as
there are no guidelines for translators to follow when they translate. Also, we
cannot deny the possibility that there was no common trend to be observed in a
certain period, or even have different norms appearing at the same time, as
every individual could translate texts in their own style. Therefore, this
could be confusing.

 

Another
problem would be ‘who’. In norms theory, Toury mentioned that comments from target
text receiver should be collected, and common practices should be judged to
make it into norms. It is clear that in this approach, many observations and
evaluation on the translators’ work need to be done. However, he did not
mentioned who would be qualified to do the judging. As the key of norm theory
is to evaluate, an unclear instruction on the casting on such important role
would be a fundamental problem, which would unavoidably shake the pillar of the
theory. This problem is not unnoticed either, as it was criticized by others as
well. For example, Pym had raised questions like ‘who
negotiates norms?’, ‘who are these people? Where are they? Are they
professionals, working on behalf of interested parties?’ and so on (1998:111). Other
than Pym, Chesterman has further developed that norms should be from a ‘subset
of “competent professional translator’, which he also found it hard to ‘define
“competent” and “professional” precisely’ (1993:7-8). Therefore, it is clear
that if more instructions and criteria in choosing observation group and judges
are stated, norms theory would be more perfect and feasible to operate.

 

Other than that, a huge problem of the
norm theory is, it would be impossible to observe reception of norms directly
and comprehensively. Firstly, as translators may not have the chance to
interview his readers comprehensively, it is hard for them to collect all of
the response from the receiver, needless to mention that they may never know
how many receivers there actually is. Secondly, as admitted by Toury, ‘norms
are not directly observable’ (1995:65), as it is usually the behavior being
observed rather than the norms itself. It is because we can never know why a
translator would choose a particular method to translate out of all the
possibilities. In other words, what can be observed is not the reasons behind
the method, but the method only.

 

Also, it seems that the way Toury wanted
to separate source-culture oriented and target-culture oriented would be too
harsh. In Toury’s norms theory, there is the initial norm, which requires
people to distinguish the translation into two systems: source-culture
oriented, which stands for adequate, and target-culture oriented, which stands
for acceptability. It is good that Toury wanted to distinguish different
approaches in translation, but it seems too absolute, as sometimes the
approaches of translators may not be that clear-cut, and some translation may
even be a mixture of the two approaches. Therefore, it could be hard for judges
to determine whether some translations are source oriented or target oriented.
As suggested by Hermans, instead of choosing sides, treating norms as something
full of varieties and different mixture would be better.

 

Lastly, sometimes an advantage could be
a double-edged knife. As mentioned above, the feature of constant changing norms
could make them applicable in different period. However, it can also be a
disadvantage, especially when one tries to catch up with the trend. With the
fast changing norms, it would be hard for translators to keep up with the
latest norms, and that it would take much effort for them to keep track on all
the updates. Also, as it is changing all the time, some norms may be too immature
and have not fully developed, thus they may have false in it, and would be dangerous
for translator to use it. Last but not least, for people who studies
translation norms, the constant changing feature would make the amount of information
too big, and therefore ‘complicate their study in contemporary texts’ (Diaz
Cintas, as cited in Martínez-Sierra, 2015:14).

 

To sum up, Toury’s norms theory is a
very successful contribution. It may have its flaw, as some definitions are still
unclear for people to follow, and even Toury admits that there are more to be
discussed. However, this theory does provided a workable system which covers a wide
range, and is adaptable throughout different time. With further modification,
it would surely be a perfect system which is applicable for a long time.

(1459 words)

 

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