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Mohammad S. Zeidan

Discourse and Text.

"How Discourse is translated"

English Department The University of Jordan

S. Zeidan Discourse and Text . " How Discourse is translated" English Department The University of

.Discourse and Text

2 . Discourse and Text Language as is well-known can be thought of as a vehicle

Language as is well-known can be thought of as a vehicle for the expression of a wide range of socio-cultural meanings. Roughly, these meaning have to do with the following categories:


Rhetorical Purposes (Texts)


Communicative events (Genres)


Ideology (Discourse)

And as far as our course is concerned I intend to discuss the issue of comparative studies in translation and its importance through discussing the translation shifts on the discoursal level.

To achieve this, we need to have a good sense of three important and recurring concepts in our topic today:

Genre: The linguistic expressions conventionally associated with certain forms of writing. (Routledge Encyclopedia of translation studies) Or: "a conventional form of writing or speaking which we associate with particular communicative events (Hatim and Munday:2004, p. 349).

Text: A sequence of cohesive and coherent sentences realizing a set of mutually relevant intentions

Discourse: Modes of speaking and writing which involve participants in adopting a particular attitude towards areas of socio-cultural activity.

Within the triad genre-text-discourse, the latter has been accorded supremacy and "is seen as the institutional-communicative framework within which both genre and text cease to be mere carriers of communication act and become fully operational vehicles of communication". (Hatim and Munday: 2004 p. 88).

Discourse Discussing the complex notion of discourse from a Foucaultian point of view will add to the complexity of the subject but would of course shed lights on important aspects of discourse that are really worth considering. Foucault i defined discourse as "an entity of sequences of signs in that they are enouncements (enoncés)" (Foucault 1969: 141). These enouncements (i.e. statements) are conveyed as acceptable by the discourse community, and they:


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"are not a unity of signs but an abstract matter that enables signs to assign specific repeatable relations to objects, subjects, and other enouncements. Thus, a discourse constitutes sequences of such relations to objects, subjects and other enouncements". 1

Thus, a discourse constitutes sequences of such relations to objects, subjects and other enouncements". 1

The ideas of Foucault, one could argue, were decisive in determining the mood of thinking about "truth" in postmodernism. While theorists in the modern era were concerned about "truth" and believed that there are some universal and social laws that should be determined and expounded, Foucault and other postmodernist scholars discredited the notion of "truth" and instead of focusing on determining certain "accepted" and normative laws they tried to focus on the multiple "truths" found in a society and the circumstances that accompanied the appearance of such truths.

"Postmodernist theorists were interested in examining the variety of experience of individuals and groups and emphasized differences over similarities and common experiences."

In his seminal work, The Archeology of Knowledge, Foucault revolutionized the notion of discourse. Lara Lessa in her "Discursive Struggles within Social Welfare" summarizes the idea of discourse for Foucault as:

"Systems of thoughts composed of ideas, attitudes, courses of action, beliefs and practices that systematically construct the subjects and the worlds of which they speak."(Lessa: 2006). She also maintains that Foucault "traces the role of discourses in wider social processes of legitimating and power, emphasizing the construction of current truths, how they are maintained and what power relations they carry with them".

Edward Said ii has asserted the interrelationship between knowledge and power, and he clarified the conception of knowledge as power, especially in the context of imperialism and resistance. The West, by studying the history and culture of the orient, succeeded in controlling it.

"I doubt if it is controversial, for example, to say that an Englishman in India or Egypt in the later nineteenth century took an interest in those countries which was never far from their status in his mind as British colonies. To say this may seem quite different from saying that all academic knowledge about India and Egypt is somehow tinged and impressed with, violated by, the gross political fact and yet that is what I am saying in this study of Orientalism."

Orientalism (1978), p. 11

gross political fact – and yet that is what I am saying in this study of

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Foucault, has preceded Said in identifying the interrelationship between knowledge and power, and this is why he concluded that "every human relationship is a struggle and negotiation of power" 1 , but still, Foucault argued that power can "reproduce knowledge by shaping it in accordance with its anonymous intentions" 2 .

Discourse for Foucault is a medium through which power relations are depicted, the enemy is defined and the speaking subject is highlighted, and it is through discourse the truths and ideas are disseminated, or controlled. This is as relevant to writing as it is to translation, which is essentially a "genre" of writing (Hatim: 2001).

The multifarious intricacies if discourse could be discussed from difference angles. We have indicated earlier the influence of postmodern theorists such as Foucault on discourse studies, and the same can be said about Structuralism, Feminism, and Oriental Studies. Structuralism highlighted the importance of language in our social systems and argued that every social action is necessarily linked with language, and the culture that we live in and associate ourselves with should be dealt with as a semiotic system.

"the individual elements of a system only have significance when considered in relation to the structure as a whole, and that structures are to be understood as self-contained, self- regulated, and self-transforming entities.”

Howarth, 2000, p. 17

are to be understood as self-contained, self- regulated, and self- transforming entities.” Howarth, 2000, p. 17

To mark the relation between text and discourse it is vital to appreciate the fact the discourse is a "dispersion of texts whose historical mode of inscription allows us to describe them as a space of systematic statements (enunciative regularities). This means that discourse is embedded in texts and that texts make up discourse. "The relationship between discourse and text is one of emergence: discourse emerges in and through texts." (Hatim and Munday:2004 p. 198)

Interdiscursivity and Intertextuality

Texts in this context are specific articulation of discourse, a semiotic space within which discourse emerges. Thus text and discourse are not synonymous, yet they are inextricably interconnected and interdependent.


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It is natural for a text to encompass more than one discourse (political and religious for example) and here the notion of interdiscursivity becomes crucial in understanding the interaction between discourses and the approach the translator should follow in the process of translation.

"No discourse type is pure; all contain elements which find their origins in other discourses: the recognition of this is essential in the translator’s attempt to define ambiguous meanings."

(ibid. 198)

the recognition of this is essential in the translator’s attempt to define ambiguous meanings. " (ibid.

Interdiscursivity: "the reciprocal interaction and influence of adjacent discourses in a text. i.e. the interaction of the fundamental regulative principles of specific discourses"(Hatim and Munday:2004 p. 198).

Central to the discussion of discourse is the notion of intertextuality, a process through which textual elements convey meaning by virtue of their dependence on other relevant texts. Intertextuality has two basic types (Fairclough 1989):

Horizontal Intertextuality: involves concrete reference to, or straight quotation from other texts.

Vertical Intertextuality: involves a reference to an entire "mode of expression" (Quranic style, Biblical style, Shakespearean tone). It is more subtle than the essentially quotative (horizontal) intertextuality.


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In order to have a good idea about the way through which we can study discourse, the interface between text, genre and discourse, and the concept of translation shifts, it is better to give some examples:

1) "She reminded me of a northern Italian peasant woman with her clothes, her mobile face and her lovely, thick, alive immigrant hair which she wore put up in the same way she had probably worn it in college. She talked all the time and at first it was about people and places".

2) She was working on a piece of needlepoint when we first met them and she worked on this and saw to the food and drink and talked to my wife. She made one conversation and listened to two and often interrupted the one she was not making.

(E. Hemingway, A moveable feast)

Naturally, Hemingway's basic intention is to tell a story. However, a pattern emerges in his work that reveals a tendency to treat men and women differently. While men are depicted as active, women are relegated to a "passive existence" (i.e. always at the receiving end, sitting, smiling, talking etc). This attitude turns a narrative into a forum for ideological statement, and this kind of language use- together with other stylistic features as short, pithy sentences- have become the hallmark of Hemingway's genre. If we take this text, with all these recurring features, to be our ST, we, as translators, should not fail to observe that the language used reflects an attitude towards the sexes, which is specifically, a sexist ideology and this is a discourse matter in gender studies for example. From a translation perspective the relevant question is whether the translator was aware of the significance of these features and their implications in the TT. Was the translator for example aware that passive verbs were associated with women and dynamic verbs with men? One translation by Dr. Ali Alqasimi serves our case very well here. The translator, unfortunately, was oblivious to these features and their implications, a thing that resulted in not only glossing indifferently over them, but also producing an opposite effect of what is intended.

that resulted in not only glossing indifferently over them, but also producing an opposite effect of

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7 . Discourse and Text It is safe to assume that "this strategy was influenced by

It is safe to assume that "this strategy was influenced by TL linguistics and stylistic norms and conventions which prefers (even encourage) such features such as longer and more complex sentences closely linked to each other, as well as predominantly "active" verbs. (Translation, an advanced resource book, page 300). The previous examples show that the status enjoyed by text types in the translation process may be best appreciated if when texts are seen as part of the socio-textual practices which make up the context of culture. This is the semiotic dimension which caters for the diverse range of rhetorical purposes, modes of speaking and writing, and statements of attitudes towards aspects of socio-cultural life. Texts genres and discourse are macro-signs within which we do things with words. Words thus become instruments of power and ideology.


Ideology encompasses the tacit assumptions, beliefs and value systems which are shared collectively by social groups, and it is useful when talking about ideology in translation to distinguish between two central ideas:

The ideology of translating: the basic orientation chosen by the translator operating within a social or cultural context. (The choice for example between domesticating and foreignizing translation). The translation of ideology: the extent of mediation supplied by a translator of sensitive texts.

Discussing ideology is best understood within the context of post-colonialism, which is broadly, the study of power relations between different peoples and cultures. In the previous example we looked at the affirmation or erasure of gender identity, in post- colonialism, it is national or ethnic identity which is at stake. Again, from a translation perspective, this can be seen in translation between languages of different world status, like English and Arabic, where one can sense the comfortable assumptions underlying western ideology when it portrays the Middle East, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the war in Iraq, women, education etc. The most pioneering and famous example is Edward Said's Orientalism, in which he describes the way the West's depiction of the East as "irrational, depraved, childlike, different" (as opposed to Europe, which is rational, virtuous, mature and normal) has pervaded western thinking since the 1800s, and, driven by political forces, helped to create a mindset that was imperialist, racist and ethnocentric, when dealing with other cultures (204). This can be found in mainstream Western original writings as well as translations, through the process of (interpellation), which refers to the "subjection of a given


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people by the discourse of colonialism which constructs a stereotype of that people as inferior". Translation in this process is a means that serves the colonialist.

One of the important examples is the work of translators during the British colonization of India. No translation was accepted from the colonized and the colonizer-translator was thus the bearer of the "true" meaning, always operating from the position of assumed superiority. The strategy adopted by translators in that period is one of domesticated and westernized translation that involves downplaying the characteristics of the language of the ST. Tejaswini Niranjana for example wrote a very influential and important book about ther role of translation in the context of post-colonialism. She argued that translation in colonized India played a major role in under British colonial rule in interpellating India (depicting India and Indian people as inferior) which helped in sustaining the colonization thereof. (Hatim and Munday: 2004 p. 206)

The following extract is from the beginning of Niranjana's book 3 :

The passion for English knowledge has penetrated the most obscure, and extended to the most remote parts of India. The steam boats, passing up

and down the Ganges, are boarded by native boys, begging, not for money,

but for books.

the eagerness with which they were pressed for books by a troop of boys, who boarded the steamer from an obscure place, called Comercolly. A Plato was lying on the table, and one of the party asked a boy whether that would serve his purpose. Oh yes,he exclaimed, give me any book; all I want is a book.The gentleman at last hit upon the expedient of cutting up an old Quarterly Review, and distributing the articles among them.

.] Some gentlemen coming to Calcutta were astonished at

(Charles Trevelyan, On the Education of the People of India)

(Hatim and Munday:2004: p. 207)

Calcutta were astonished at (Charles Trevelyan, On the Education of the People of India ) (Hatim

3 Tejaswini Niranjana, Sitting Translation (1992)


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The translator should be able to handle the translation process on the immediate context of situation and the macro context of culture and ideology, in order to be able to make the decisions in his translational action that best suit his translation ideology. It should be noted as well that discourse is also important in reviewing any translated work, especially literary works, since literature play an important role in shaping the cultural values of any society and creating, or maintaining, the power relations found in it.

Studying Foucault and Said ideas regarding knowledge and power and the influence of this on writing and translation is of great importance and significance in the field on translation studies and comparative literature.

I would like to extend my great thanks to Professor Mohammad Shaheen, who encouraged us to "write, and write and write", and whose lectures and advice kept us going throughout this semester. I would also like to thank my colleagues from whom I benefited so much.

M. S. Zeidan


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i Michael Foucault, a French scientist, philosopher and historian. (1926-1984. He is often associated with Postmodernism, but he rejected to be labeled as postmodernist, and he preferred to classify himself a critical theorist of modernity.

ii Edward W. Said (1935-2003): A Palestinian literary theorist, cultural critic and advocate for Palestinians rights.