II - Méthodes et pratiques

Pragmatic translation and literalism[Record]

  • Peter Newmark

Defining pragmatism

I make the basic assumption that provided a source language text contains no misstatements of fact, is competently written and has to be fully translated rather than summarized or functionally reorientated, one's purpose in translating it is to be referentially and pragmatically accurate.

In this paper, I shall not deal with referential accuracy but concentrate instead on the pragmatic aspects of translation. As the term "pragmatic translation" may be used in a variety of ways*, I should like to state my own definition of "pragmatic", which derives from Charles Morris and ultimately from Charles S. Peirce.

I am using "pragmatic" as one of the two factors in translation: "pragmatic" denotes the reader's or readership's reception of the translation, as opposed to "referential", which denotes the relationship between the translation and the extra-linguistic reality it describes.

Aspects of the pragmatic factor

Characteristicsofthereadership.Thepragmaticfactorhastwoelements. The first is relatively extra-contextual and relates to the reader's characteristics, some of which (subject knowledge, linguistic level, SL cultural familiarity) may be considered to be more relevant or important than others (such as social class, age, sex and the time elapsed since the writing of the SL text). Pragmatic translation is largely tentative and presumptive, as opposed to referential translation where the only assumption is that the readers are literate. In the case of the illustrative text, only some of the SL or TL readers are likely to be emotionally involved, those who feel strongly about some leading statement, eg. how Europe reacts to Gorbachev. But in cases where the whole readership is affected (pragmatic text types such as publicity or public notices, for example), the translator must take into account all aspects involving readership sensitivity in order


to stimulate the appropriate frame of mind in the reader. The success of such a translation can only be assessed by the readership's subsequent behavior.

Syntax, word order and stress. The second element to be considered hinges on the language of the text itself and the readership's sensitivity to it. Normally the syntax sets the tone of any pragmatic relationship: action is pointed by verbs; description by nouns and adjectives or adverbs of quality; dialogue by forms of address and tags; injunctions by imperatives or rhetorical questions; urgency and speed by brief sentences; leisureliness or meditation by long ones.

Stress, which is intimately connected both with syntax and word order, is an essential element in pragmatic effect. Unusual word order indicates stress, emphasis or liveliness. In the specimen text, for example, the argumentative and strident tone is set by the negative-positive sequences: "... "... ni; non, celui qui était, c'est... (11. 2-5). There is opening stress in the word order shifts in the c'est sentences notably, but also in Non, celui qui était... (1. 5); Finis les heureux temps (1. 9); and Subtil, certes (1. 15), all admirably reproduced in No, the one who was... (1. 5); Gone are those balmy days (U. 9-10); and Wily he may well be (1. 15). The sentences are bold statements, self-contained but clearly interrelated. They are uncluttered by clauses with the exception of die adjectival clause, the specially privileged subordinate clause of French syntax, so often related to the even more privileged emphatic c'est or ce sont. The two rhetorical questions in paragraph 3 and the inversions help to force à view on the readership.

Note that I am here positing a "universal" word order. I assume:

(a) that the natural sequence of a proposition is from given (or old) to new information, from theme to rheme, which is also the natural ...