Found in translation


Lawrence Venuti, Professor of English at Temple University. Photo Courtesy of Creative Commons

Alfonzo Mendoza

On Feb. 21, Professor Lawrence Venuti of Temple University visited UTSA to present a two day lecture about the importance of translation studies in our ever – increasing globalized society. The second-day lecture titled The Trouble with Subtitles is a Matter of Interpretation focused on the audio – visual world, and how the study of translations can be a risky business.
“In 1991, after Muslim authorities proclaimed Salman Rushdie’s novel, ‘The Satanic Verses,’ blasphemous, Hitoshi Igarashi, who dared to translate the book into Japanese was stabbed to death. A week earlier, the novels Italian translator, Ettore Capriolo, was seriously injured when he was stabbed. So, translation is a risky business. It is also generally unsummed and ill-paid,” said Professor Steven Kellman, PhD.
Translation studies is a centuries-old topic of interest that has evolved significantly over time and only within the past half century has taken on a vibrant life of its own. As more and more people become accustomed to foreign literature, films, etc, it has become clear that translation is present in our everyday lives, yet we hardly realize it. From the movies we watch to our phones made overseas, there is always a translator with us every step of the way.
In a Times Literary Supplement review, Venuti’s shift work is described as, “Shifting between textual units, encompassing the word, the sentence, paragraph, chapter, even the entire text, building in the process an interpretation that guides their verbal choices. What nullifies the idea of an invariant is the fact that any text can support multiple and conflicting interpretations – which may or may not have gained authority in cultural institutions – and therefore just as many translations.”


“Translation Changes Everything” is a collection of 14 of Venuti’s essays.
“Translation Changes Everything” is
a collection of 14 of Venuti’s essays.

Venuti discussed the importance of interpretation and how different understandings of a word, sentence structure, mode or literary device can greatly affect how the translator composites that specific translation and how it can come across slightly different to a varying audience.
One example given is a quote taken from the movie Psycho (1960) where a car salesman is assisting a customer in buying a used car. “One thing people never oughta be when they’re buyin’ used cars and that’s in a hurry,” said the salesman.
“In the Italian translation, ‘one should never.’ In the French, ‘one should not.’ The tone as a result, is somewhat formal. So that in these versions, the salesman appears to be politely helpful. The English line can support another very different interpretation. The salesman language is markedly colloquial,” explained Venuti.


Venuti’s translation from the Catalan of Ernest Farrés’ “Edward Hopper.”
Venuti’s translation from the Catalan of
Ernest Farrés’ “Edward Hopper.”

The world of translation studies has many obstacles to overcome in the near future with many objecting to the current practices, and some opposed to the equivalence of effect instead of the equivalence of information.
“A translation can never give back the source text intact, it is a cultural artifact with its own constitutive materials… with its own cultural and social effects and its own historical significance,” said Venuti.
To find out more about Venuti’s work, read “The Translator’s Invisibility: A History of Translation.” To learn more about UTSA’s Translation Certificate, contact Melissa Wallace at [email protected].