Foreignisation or domestication?

May 17, 2017 10:30 am

In the 1950s and 1960s, translation was explored and considered both from the linguistic and political point of view. However, the whole approach changed when there was a big “cultural turn in translation”, initiated by Mary Snell-Hornby in the 1970s. It set the focus of translation on cultural and historical approaches. According to Eugene Nida:

For truly a successful translation, biculturalism is even more important than bilingualism, since words only have meanings in terms of cultures in which they function.

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From this point on, translators understood that culture has the biggest impact on how we perceive the surrounding world. It has become obvious that the culture, in which we were raised, found its reflection in the language which we used on a daily basis. According to this attitude, translators divided into two translation groups: those who opted for foreignisation and those who supported domestication.

The best distinguished difference between these two main translation strategies was made by Lawrence Venuti, who explained that “you can bring the author back home” or just “sending the reader abroad”. Generally speaking, foreignisation is based on retaining the culture-specific items of the original, like: personal names, national cuisine, historical figures, streets or local institutions whereas domestication focuses on minimizing the strangeness if the foreign text for the target readers by introducing the common words used in the target language instead of providing readers with foreign terms. The next discussion, which arose about the translation, is the problem of invisibility of the translator in the text in domestication.

indexIt seems that the problem of choosing an appropriate translation strategy is still not obvious, especially when people are more aware about cultural differences. Globalisation nowadays influences not only the way in which we are communicating with each other, but foremost the way of translation bestsellers. In order to see why a certain strategy is used, we have to turn to the Greek theory named “Skopos“, which aimed at establishing the purpose of the translation. No matter if you will follow foreignisation or domestication rules, bear in mind that something will always be lost in translation. It is an inevitable fact that making rendition means distorting the source text, but at least you can always make an effort to provide your readers with the best quality of rendition. Notice that the common domesticating procedures are: limited or absolute universalisation, naturalisation, synonymy and deletions whereas foreignisation includes: orthographic adaptation, through-translation, intra– and extratextual goals, transference and pre-established translation. So, in dealing with the best translation, you need to determine which is more important to your readers: staying comfortable in the reality of their own country or setting off on a journey around the world!


Written by Aleksandra Święcicka, Journalist, web editor and social media expert, former Communication Trainee atthe Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament.

Post edited by  Katerina PalamiotiTranslator, Social Media and Content Manager, Communication Trainee and Foodie at the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament.

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