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A History Of Feminism English Language Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 2601 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Feminism is a historically recurring phenomenon, being a “potent form of cultural identity to take on linguistic and social expression” (Simon, 1996; 7). The concept of gender in an ‘era of feminism,’ a period powerfully influenced by feminist thought, has been the focus of research in the field of translation studies. Issues of gendered identity within translation was first introduced by feminist thinkers in the 1960s and 1970s to question the “cultural and political powerlessness of women” (von Flotow, 1997: 5). The emergence of Canadian feminist translations (Godard, 1990, Lotbinière-Harwood 1991; von Flotow 1991), established a school of work, modelling a theory from incorporating feminist ideology into translation, which resultantly has influenced international translation studies.

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The pre-established notion that language was not only a man-made artefact but an expressive tool to reflect on male ideology impelled discussions of gender and translation. Contemporary theorists viewed this patriarchal language, traditionally used in largely male-run institutions such as universities, as an instrument of women’s oppression (Lotbinière-Harwood 1991; von Flotow 1991). Needing to radically change these conventions, feminist translating during the 1970s sought to undermine and subvert patriarchal language, to introduce new, experimental ways of writing so that language could be used as a “cultural intervention;” an endeavour to alter expressions of dominance whether at the level of syntax or semantics (Simon, 1996: 9).

Feminist theories have also initiated a revision of the terms central to translation studies and feminism, such as traditional hierarchies and gendered roles, and rules defining fidelity. Under the influence of the cultural turn, contemporary translation was not only an operation of linguistic transfer, but also one that created new textual forms and introduced new paradigms of knowledge.

Translation is considered as a way of engaging with literature; where the feminist thought creates “new lines of cultural communication,” where translators are involved in a politics of transmission (Simon1996:viii).

In addition, feminist theorisers saw a parallel between women’s oppression in language and culture and its association to the devaluation of translation (Chamberlain, 1992). Translations themselves, given that they are “secondary” pieces of work, have negatively been linked with implications of discursive “inferiority.” The authority of the original over the reproduction is linked with imagery of masculinity and femininity; the original is considered the ‘strong generative’ male, the translation the ‘weaker and derivative’ female. (Simon, 1996: 1) [1] From this, the art of translating has been envisioned as a ‘feminine’ activity (Simon 1996; Flotow 1997).

Nonetheless, despite its historical status as a weak and passive composition, translating has offered a means of expression for women; allowing them to contribute to the intellectual and political aspects of society. In precedent years, scholarly authorship was primarily regarded as a male activity in European culture, and published literary work by women was susceptible to accusations of presumption (Krontiris 1992: 17-18). [2] Adversely, translation offered an opportunity for women to become involved in literary culture in a way that did not openly challenge social or literary power arrangements.

Another theoretical view challenges the belief that the status of translation is analogous to that of women. Simon (1996) distinguishes a language of sexism in translation studies, noting connotations with dominance, fidelity and betrayal. Representative of this is the seventeenth century adage of “les belles infidèles,” a term coined by Gilles Ménage to describe the French practice of translation. [3] 4The idea it encapsulates is that translations, like women, can be either beautiful or faithful, but not both; thus, being viewed as mutually exclusive. The term has hence come to signify a type of translation that diverges from its original to an extent that it ‘betrays’ the source text. Such disparaging comparisons lead to objections and strong criticism on behalf of the feminist thinkers. According to Chamberlain (1992), terms such as “les belles infidèles” express the traditional depreciation of both women and translation, resulting in the basis of feminist translation theory: to “identify and critique the tangle of concepts which relegates both women and translation to the bottom of the social and literary ladder” (Simon, 1996: 1).

From the revioson of such theories, it is discernible that taking a feminist approach on translation seeks to challenges the conventional hierarchies in society. Issues of language and gender have become intertwined, where gender can be seen as an element of identity and in some ways, takes form through social consciousness (Spivak, 1990). Applying a feminist voice to translation projects allows a translator to assert her identity and ideological stance. The feminist translator shows her critical judgement and her “interminable re-reading and re-writing, flaunts the signs of her manipulation of the text” highlighting her role on determining meaning to her work (Godard 1990: 91).

What feminist theory highlights is this renewed sense of agency in translation, allowing the reader to make cultural sense of the ‘difference’ between original and translation. Feminist translation endeavours to extend and develop the intention of the source text. Sherry Simon (cited in Arrojo, 1994) argues that the remarkable aspect of translation is that represents ‘equivalence in difference’.

Taking into account the feminist perspective, provides an alternative voice to the original text, aiming to “make the feminine visible in language” (De Lotbiniere-Harwood, 1996: 15). Von Flotow (1997: 10) also expresses this intent by stating, “if we continue to speak the same language, we will reproduce the same (his)story,” therefore showing the need to create new lines of transmission. Exemplary of this approach is the Bible where revised versions provide a fresh vantage point for the reader. The eventual production of The Women’s Bible (Stanton, 1895) was an attempt to draw attention to the sexist nature of current translations. [5] It was seen as a way to develop a language in an effort to alter expressions of domination and de-construct patriarchal language.

political motive De Lotbinière-Harwood defined translation as a “political activity making language speak for women.” (Santaemilla, 2005: 36)

but needs a limitation.

Duly, feminist translation opens up the question of fidelity, which has been an established quandary throughout the history of translation. [6] The ‘meaning’ of the original and the ‘message’ intended for the reader can be uncertain and constantly subject to interpretation and distortion.

A translation significantly altered will result in the work being an adaptation rather than a reproduction of the source text. Determinately, an excessive amount of manipulation will result in a loss of originality, where Brazilian critic Rosemary Arrojo (1994), states that it is contradictory to “claim ‘fidelity’ to a text one deliberately ‘subverts’.” [7] 

However, for feminist translations, fidelity is to be directed toward the writing project itself, rather than to the author’s original or the reader (Simon, 1996). Though there is recognition that the translator arbitrates the role of ‘interventionist,’ as she “reproduces faithfully but has scope for intervention,” albeit this does not mean that the translation can be ‘free’ in her reproduction but that her work should be shaped and focused by its final aims. [8] 

Another constraint is that translations themselves are made for a target audience, usually dependent on the receptor language. Likewise, a radically feminist text will only target one specific readership…

Equally, certain problems can arise from attempting to translate a highly masculine text… With the prevalence of machismo in Spain and Latin America, the work of translating cultural gender differences has repeatedly raised issues of sexism. Suzanne Levine (1983: 83), experiences difficulties when translating metaphors and images referring negatively to women, questioning whether to repeat the same archetype in her translation. [9] Not only will it possess a question of fidelity but also a loss of originality. The presence of a system of sexist thinking in an author’s work can make it very difficult to translate with a feminist approach. Obviously, the substance of the work represents a certain meaning that the author aspires to express, a meaning behind the choice of words, and through feminist thinking, this message could be lost through translation.

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Another obstacle when appropriating a feminist translation may stem from cultural problems rather than linguistic. Trying to re-work a text that is reflective of a specific time period it is written manifests difficulties. Translations of various books from the Bible have incorporated the use of neutral pronouns in an attempt to eliminate male-bias language (Haugerud, 1977). [10] Feminist revisions of the Bible do not seek to change the content of the text but are rather concerned with the language in which this content is expressed. [11] In riposte, Nida (cited in von Flotow, 1997: 55) asserts that the Bible needs to be read in the context of the “male-dominated society in which it originated.” Bearing these factors in mind, revising the language from a radically feminist perspective can considerably change the tone and meaning.

Gender neutrality can be a way to explicitly avoid a Karen Nölle-Fischer (1995) translation has shown her the immense benefits of a language in which gender need not be immediately revealed in the nouns, adjectives or participles an author uses. In English, it is easy to postpone revealing the sex of any character, thus heightening the effect of gender when this mysterious person turns out to be contrary to what is believed.. It is thus possible to maintain ambiguities leave things up to the readers’ imagination and not impose one particular reading. It is difficult to maintain this ambiguity in gender marked languages.

Given the characteristics inherent in languages with grammatical gender, where it explicitly references the sex of the noun, translators providing an English version of the source text will face uncertainties when translating. Canadian feminist translators innovated to find new formulas of expression that did not erase the gender marks of the original (Lotbinière-Harwood 1991; von Flotow 1991). [12] 

When looking at the contents page of the text, various language manipulations occur, in the titles of the short stories. The majority of them reflect on the translator’s position to remain neutral when re-working the gender-marked Spanish: “Regalo para una novia,” where ‘sweetheart’ has been chosen instead of the more obvious ‘girlfriend.’ This again can be seen with “El huésped de la maestra,” without making explicit references to the sex ot the subjects in English. [13] 

Another difference can be seen with the translation of a word, as is explicit in “María la boba.” ‘Boba’ which refers to silly or naïve gives off a negative connotation, but the English ‘simple’ is quite neutral, reflecting that the author wished not to attribute a negative connotation to María, Peden presenting her own feminist perspective.

Yet probably the most striking alteration is with “Niña perversa,” where not only does the English opt out of referencing the sex of the child, but translates ‘perversa’ as ‘wicked.’ Although accurately, wicked is a true rendering of the word ‘perversa,’ the two do not share the same connotation even after having read the story. [14] 

However, if ‘perversa’ was translated as ‘perverted’ in the English, it would have a rather stronger connotation than the Spanish, and thus ascertaining the issues behind a cultural sense of the ‘difference’ between original and translation. The alteration in the translation is not of a significant difference, demonstrating Simon’s belief of ‘equivalence in difference.’

Another example where meaning is sometimes lost through translation is during the opening paragraph of the story. The young girl, Elena, is described as skinny and unattractive, as ‘una cachorra desnutrida’ where the English translates as ‘a scrawny whelp. A few lines on, with regards to Elena’s solitary character she is referred to as ‘una gata,’ where Peden writes ‘a waif.’

Does mean wicked but dependent on the context, and I don’t think it applies here. In the Spanish the metaphors plants a specific image in the reader’s mind, which is therefore lost in the English translation, as there is no build up of metaphors. [15] 

Interestingly, the translation does not take a strong feminist approach, showing that all translations need not be radically feminine. Peden’s English translation remains ‘faithful’ to the original text, rendering the meaning of Allende’s stories within her new reproductions.


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