Academic journal article Translation & Interpreting

Listening to the Voice of the Translator: A Description of Translator's Notes as Paratextual Elements

Academic journal article Translation & Interpreting

Listening to the Voice of the Translator: A Description of Translator's Notes as Paratextual Elements

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Gerard Genette defines paratexts as 'those liminal devices and conventions, both within the book (peritext) and outside it (epitext), that mediate the book to the reader: titles, and subtitles, pseudonyms, forewords, dedications, prefaces, intertitles, notes, epilogues and afterwords' (1997, p.xviii). These literary tools are elements that surround and accompany the text, presenting the text to the public in a book format. As such, these elements play an important role in the reading and reception of a text. However, according to Genette paratextual elements are positioned in an 'undefined zone', occupying an ambiguous position both inside and outside of the text. This ambiguity makes it difficult to delimit their textual and extratextual character and to perceive of them as an integrated part of the text.

The importance of studying paratexts has not gone unnoticed within Translation Studies. For instance, translation prefaces and introductions have proven essential for the reconstruction and development of the History of Translation (Schulte and Biguenet, 1992; Vega, 1994; Delisle & Woodsworth, 1995; Robinson, 1997). Tahir-Gurcaglar (2002) points out the relevance of this textual, extratextual and paratextual material in historical translation research, mentioning its importance in 'offering clues about a culture's definition of translation' and explaining how it provides 'a valuable insight into the production and reception of translated texts' (p.45). It is this borderline position between the inside and outside of the text that makes paratexts such an interesting object of study. In the framework of descriptive and historical translation studies, paratextual elements may be useful material for the contextualisation of translation processes and an understanding of the translation policies and translation norms in force at a specific moment in time. As indicated by Toury (1995, p.65), they can be viewed as a combination of the textual and extratextual sources of information that are needed to decipher the translation norms that underlie the target text production. Paratextual elements such as prefaces, epilogues, introductions, notes or translator's notes may sometimes turn into metadiscourses containing explicit theoretical statements about translation norms and a translator's decision-making processes. At the same time, their very existence is the result of a norm-governed decision, a norm-regulated behaviour from which norms can be inferred.

The focus of this article is on the study of translator's notes, a type of paratext specific to the practice of translation. Although research on translator's footnotes has been carried out within the discipline of Translation Studies, it has primarily focused on footnotes that are either created in a specific spatial and temporal context, or it has focused on footnotes from the literary translation tradition (Tahir-Gurcaglar, 2002; Martin, 2006; Paloposki, 2010). Several authors, including Paloposki (2010), Martin (2006) and Tahir-Gurcaglar (2002) agree that there is a potential wealth of information to be obtained from such material:

What would be a more fascinating clue to a past translator's work than his or her footnotes, the one spot in the translation that is clearly the translator's own voice? [...] Footnotes, like footprints, are marks left behind by people who have gone their way, and they let us follow and discover the paths they have taken. (Paloposki, 2010, p.87)

However, despite the fact that there is explicit interest in this field of study, Paloposki (2010, p.91) brings our attention to the fact that existing research has not yet provided an overview of the general practice of the use of footnotes in translations.

This article provides a description of some of the aspects that define the contextual, pragmatic and functional nature of these paratextual elements in translation. Using Genette's outstanding contribution to the analysis of paratexts as a point of departure (1997), this article explores the richness of the practices and procedures that are hidden within translator's notes and aims to reveal the unfulfilled potential of such data for Descriptive Translation Studies. …

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