Thursday, 24 November 2011

A New Arab Era (Translation and commentary)

The following is my translation of the article A New Arab Era by Lebanese intellectual and writer Elias Khoury. Below that is a translation commentary where I have explicated my translation strategy with reference to translation theory. The article was originally published in April 2011 on jadaliyya.com.






[Source Text]


 


زمن عربي جديد [A New Arab Era]



April 21 2011 by Elias Khoury
[…]

المشهد السوري يختلف عن المشهد في تونس او مصر او البحرين او اليمن او ليبيا. كل بلد يكتشف بنفسه وعبر تجربته الخاصة الشكل الملائم للثورة على الحكم الاستبدادي. لسنا امام ثورة عربية واحدة تستعيد الخطاب القومي الناصري، لكننا في الوقت نفسه امام ظاهرة موحدة الهدف تجتاح العالم العربي برمته.

مرة جديدة يكتشف العرب وحدتهم واختلافاتهم في آن معاً. فكما توحد العرب في الماضي في المعركة ضد الكولونيالية، يتوحدون اليوم في المعركة من اجل الديموقراطية. وبقدر ما كانت معركة الخمسينات ضد الهيمنة الاستعمارية واضحة الاهداف والمعالم، بقدر ما تبدو المعركة الجديدة بحاجة الى وعي تأسيسي بمعنى الديموقراطية وارتباطها بالعدالة الاجتماعية، وهي معركة مفتوحة على احتمالات متعددة.

لا بد من ان نعترف بأن الثورات التي اندلعت شرارتها في مدينة تونسية صغيرة لتعم العالم العربي لم تفاجيء العالم فقط، بل فاجأت العرب انفسهم. فجأة تهاوت ديكتاتورية بن علي السوداء، والتحق به نظام حسني مبارك، فيما اشتعلت المظاهرات الشعبية في اكثر من مكان. لا نستطيع ان نتحدث عن مقدمات مباشرة للثورات. جلّ ما نستطيع الاشارة اليه هو ان مقاومات صغيرة برزت هنا وهناك، من ربيع دمشق القصير في مطلع الألفية الثالثة الى حركة "كفاية" في مصر، الى اصوات العديد من المثقفين المعترضين على القمع والديكتاتورية في تونس، مشكّلة ما يشبه بديلا صغيراً عن غياب المعارضات العربية.

لكن الثورة اتت من حيث لم يتوقعها احد. وسط ما يشبه التصحّر السياسي العام، انفجرت المظاهرات، وابدع التونسيون الشعار الذي سيتم تعميمه في جميع الأمكنة: "الشعب يريد اسقاط النظام". هكذا تمّ تحديد الهدف منذ اللحظات الأولى: اسقاط النظام الديكتاتوري. الانفجار هو الكلمة الملائمة لوصف ما حدث. شيء صعد من اعماق الناس، ومن ألم دفين نتيجة غياب كرامة المواطنين كأفراد وجماعات. لذا كان الهتاف الذي صكّته حناجر المتظاهرين في درعا هو الأكثر تعبيراً عن مكونات الوجدان الشعبي: "الشعب السوري ما بينذلّ".

إنها ثورة ضدّ الشعور بالذلّ والمهانة والاستباحة. فالديكتاتوريات العربية اطاحت الأعراف وانتهكت المحرمات وحطمت عبر آلتي القمع والفساد، وهما آلتان متداخلتان، كل احتمالات التخفيف من وطأة شعور المواطن بالمهانة.

[…]

لا شك ان شبح التوريث لعب دوراً كبيراً في انطلاق الاحتجاجات التي ادت الى سقوط نظامي بن علي ومبارك، والى ترنح نظام علي عبدالله الصالح في اليمن. فمشروع التوريث قضى نهائياً على شرعية انظمة فقدت بريقها منذ هزيمة الخامس من حزيران عام 1967، حين تهاوت الجيوش العربية امام الجيش الاسرائيلي خلال ستة ايام. كما ان "الانفتاح"، الذي بدأ به الرئيس المصري الراحل انور السادات، لم يقد الى اقتصاد السوق، بل الى نظام اقتصادي مهجّن استولت عليه مافيات السلطة عبر تحالفها مع الرأسمال الريعي وغير المنتج، ما قاد الى الافقار المتزايد للطبقة الوسطى، والى قذف الطبقات الفقيرة الى ما دون خط الفقر. وهكذا جرّدت انظمة الانقلاب العسكري نفسها من الشرعيتين اللتين تستند اليهما: القوة العسكرية في مواجهة الغطرسة الاسرائيلية ومشروع العدالة الاجتماعية. 

لقد اعادتنا الثورة الى مدرسة التاريخ، مبرهنة مرة جديدة ان الشعوب قادرة وفي اكثر الظروف صعوبة على استعادة حرياتها وكراماتها.



[Target Text]

A New Arab Era

By Elias Khoury
[…]
The situation in Syria is of course different from that in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen or Libya. Each country discovers for itself, and through its own experience the most suitable way to revolt against despotic rule. We are not witnessing a single Arab revolution reminiscent of nationalist Nasserite discourse, but we are at the same time facing a single-minded force sweeping the entire Arab world.

Once again Arabs have simultaneously discovered their unity and their morals. For just as they united in the past to fight European colonialism, they are today uniting in the battle for democracy. To the extent that the battle of the 1950s against colonialist hegemony had clearly defined objectives, the new battle, which could result in a number of outcomes, needs an institutional awareness in the sense of democracy and its link with social justice.

We must acknowledge that the revolutions, whose flame was sparked in a small Tunisian town before encompassing the entire Arab region, did not only surprise the world, but surprised Arabs themselves. All of a sudden the dark dictatorship of Ben Ali crumbled, followed by the Mubarak regime as popular demonstrations broke out in several places. We cannot talk of the revolutions as having direct precedents. We can only point to small elements that surfaced here and there, from the short Damascus Spring at the beginning of the millennium, to the Kefaya movement in Egypt and the chorus of intellectuals who opposed suppression and dictatorship in Tunisia, all forming something of a small substitute for the absence of an Arab opposition.
Yet the revolution arose from somewhere nobody expected. In the midst of an apparent general erosion of politics, demonstrations erupted with Tunisians creating the slogan that would be heard everywhere: “The people want to overthrow the regime!”  This was how the objective was determined from the outset: topple the dictatorship. ‘Explosion’ is the right word to describe what happened. Something arose from the depths of the people; from the underlying pain brought on by a disregard for the dignity of citizens as individuals and groups. The chant that made hoarse the throats of protesters in the Syrian city of Daraa captured popular sentiment; “The Syrian people will not be humiliated!”

It is a revolution against feeling degraded, humiliated and violated. The Arab dictatorships have tossed aside tradition, violated the inviolable, and by the two-pronged instrument of repression and corruption, have crushed every chance of alleviating the citizen’s sense of humiliation.
[…]
No doubt the ghost of hereditary succession played a significant role in getting the protests underway. They led to the fall of both the Ben Ali and the Mubarak regime, and have left Ali Abdullah Saleh’s regime in Yemen reeling. The issue of inherited power ultimately spelt death for the legitimacy of regimes that had lost their luster after defeat in the 1967 war when the Arab armies collapsed in the face of Israel within six days. Furthermore, the Infitah, or economic opening initiated by the late Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, did not lead to a market economy, but to a bastardized economic system usurped by state mafias through its alliance with unproductive rentier capitalism. This in turn increasingly diminished the middle class and pushed the poor below the poverty line. In this way the military-coup regimes have striped themselves of the two forms of legitimacy on which they rely: military force in countering Israeli arrogance, and social justice. 
[…]
Revolution has brought us back to the history classroom, proving once again that people are capable even under the most difficult circumstances, to regain their freedom and dignity.



Translation Commentary


The Source Text (ST) is an article from the internet ‘e-zine’ Jadaliyya (Arabic for ‘dialectic’ or ‘controversial’) which deals with Arab politics and culture. The aim of the site, which features articles in English and Arabic, is to ‘discuss the Arab world on its own terms’ (http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/about).  Jadaliyya is aimed at an international audience, but its major readership is the United States and the Arab world.

The ST is written by the well-known Lebanese leftist writer and intellectual Elias Khoury (b. 1948), and presents an analysis of the revolutionary uprisings in the Middle East this year. With regard to the audience, the text assumes some pre-knowledge of the subject matter but the author explicates much of his reasoning. There is also little deictic reference that remains unexplained within the text. The audience could be described as educated but lay regarding the topic at hand. I chose to work with this text as it is pertinent to current affairs and also presents translation challenges that require full consideration of relevant translation theory and methodology.

The ST shares conventions from the evaluative article genre and in that respect is comparable to a journalistic editorial piece. It is useful here to consider text typologies and the typical characteristics they present. However, I find the ideas presented by Reiss (1977/89: 108-9, quoted in Munday, 2008:72) in her text type analysis, and Snell-Hornby’s ‘integrated approach’ (1995:31 quoted in Munday, 2008:75) narrow in their conception of text and text function. Reiss herself forwards only three text functions (informative, expressive and operative) although it is plain that many texts operate along a cline of discourse functions and cannot be wholly considered using such a prescriptive binary model.  The ST in this case features powerful metaphor in parts, but also aims to inform the reader, and surely attempts at the same time to persuade or ‘win over’ the reader to its thesis. The Hallidayan model of systemic functional grammar provides a more gestalt model which adequately acknowledges the derivation of surface level linguistic choices from the socio-cultural setting or ‘context of situation’ (Halliday 1985:11) present in the ST. The text’s function therefore assumes greater significance than its structural or syntactic features. The Hallidayan model allows the translator to conceptualize the language of a text in its relation with (social) function and thereby employ translation techniques that fully reproduce a text in translation on the social and lexico-grammatical levels.
The act of translation then, is one of cultural and socio-linguistic transfer and not merely a linguistic one. Of relevance for this task is Nida’s idea of equivalence (Nida: 1964). Although this theory has its shortcomings and has been revised and further revised beyond all sensibility, it considers that a similar response should be induced on the reader of both the ST and the TT. Though it is questionable whether the text’s effect can be measured and compared, it is nonetheless pertinent that lexico-grammatical phenomena be reproduced in ­­­­­­­their ‘equivalent’ form to achieve the writer’s intended effect.­
Because the ST is highly evaluative, the vocabulary carries significant connotations and idiomatic language features prominently. The syntax is highly marked and manipulated to exploit rhetorical effects and the diction is emotive. The author in fact departs from formal Arabic grammatical structures, the effect of which must be captured in the TT through ‘equivalent’ syntactic or lexico-grammatical choices.

 With this, and the evaluative register in mind, a translation strategy that is able to relay the dynamic rhetorical style of the source text is needed. I have found the procedural methodology of Jean-Paul Vinay and Jean Darbelnet (Vinay and Darbelnet in Venuti (ed.): 1995/2008) useful as a guide to modifying texts at the surface level to reproduce ST effects in a communicative manner. Their approach identifies so-called oblique translation methods that can be employed where manipulation of the ST syntax is required.
Overall, the dynamic nature of the ST necessitates a freer translation style that can accommodate its idiomatic and marked language.

A key grammatical feature exploited by the writer is the use of the noun-fronted sentence structure despite the preference in Standard Arabic for the VSO structure. This marked departure from the formal construction introduces an evaluative tone in Arabic (Hatim, 1997:12). An example occurs in ST L1 which I rendered with the addition of ‘of course’ in the TT to account for the markedness of the original. The same feature is seen in the second paragraph of the TT where the sentence begins     مرة جديدة ‘once again’, instead of with the verb يكتشف (‘discover’) which would normatively begin the sentence in an expository text. I have kept the English adverbial ‘once again’ in first position despite the preference in English for a noun/subject-fronted sentence. The disruption to the normative structure places the adverbial ‘once again’ into thematic prominence and therefore emphasises it over the subject (Baker 1992/2011:137-150). I have aimed at creating the equivalent effect in English through analysis of grammatical categories, which in this case requires a similar positioning of the clause elements.  
Of particular note in the third paragraph is the usage of the word الكولونيالية (transliterated ‘al-kuloonialiyya’) for ‘colonialism’, which I assumed the author had borrowed from English. This is because the word الاستعمار (which is employed in the phrase الهيمنة الاستعمارية (‘colonialist hegemony’) in the next line), is regularly and widely used in Arabic as the normative lexical referent for ‘colonialism’. However, I discovered after brief research that الكولونيالية can refer specifically to the studies undertaken by European powers into the peoples and geography of the areas they planned to colonize in their imperialist endeavours. Although the English term ‘colonialism’ can refer to the period of historical colonialism in the twentieth century, it also refers to the general political phenomenon denoted by the same term. To compensate for the lack of a specific lexical equivalent in English, I revised my initial translation (‘colonialism’) and instead opted for ‘European colonialism’, which still entails some translation loss. 

Nevertheless, the full meaning of الكولونيالية is not essential for the TT reader’s understanding of the text, and it would detract from the textual coherence to insert a prolix exegetic element.
I have taken a free approach towards translating words that despite being co-concurrent in the SL and TL, nonetheless suffer loss on the idiomatic level when a literal translation is applied. Line 7 in the TT is an example where I have translated ‘ظاهرة موحدة الهدف’ (‘a phenomenon united [in] aim’) as ‘single-minded force’. The idea of singularity is retained and the target translation is collocative. Further, I believe that the target audience would expect such idiomatic renditions for this text genre.

I have made several other lexical changes where idiomatic or communicative language is to be preferred over fidelity to literal renderings. See for example line 15 where I have translated ديكتاتورية بن على السوداء (‘Ben Ali’s black dictatorship’) as ‘the dark dictatorship of Ben Ali’ where ‘black’ and ‘dark’ share the semantic meaning of evil or unpleasantness but are not the same linguistic signs. Similarly, I have used the same technique for أصوات العديد من المثقفين (‘voices of many intellectuals’) which I rendered ‘the chorus of intellectuals’ (L19) which is collocative and concisely portrays the stress on the voice of the intellectuals.
 For one particular word, I adopted a generalizing translation method where the ST term التصحر السياسي (‘political desertification’) is rendered ‘erosion of politics’ (L22) where ‘erosion’ is a superordinate (Baker 1992/2011:p17) of desertification that adequately conveys the semantic idea of the ST term but avoids the literal translation which is usually reserved in English for a scientific register. Note also that I employed Vinay and Darbelnet’s oblique technique of grammatical transposition, in this case transposing the noun-adjectival phrase ‘political desertification’ to the composite noun ‘erosion of politics’, the latter being more idiomatic and recognizable in English than the literal rendering ‘political erosion’ which seems stilted. Another case of transposition is where I rendered the verb تستعيد (‘to recall; call back to one’s mind’, Hans Wehr 1994: 766) as the adjective ‘reminiscent’ in ‘a single Arab revolution reminiscent of nationalist Nasserite discourse’ (TT L6) which is more cohesive.
Arabic makes use of the dual in cases where two items are mentioned, although English uses only the plural. The ST mentions ‘the two instruments of repression and corruption’ (ST L23) which sounds strained in English. It is of course possible to omit the reference to ‘two’ although this may detract from the author’s emphasis on the duality and interconnectedness of repression and corruption, especially as he goes on to described them as intertwined. A strategy of omission would therefore entail translation loss. I have consequently rendered the phrase as ‘the two-pronged instrument of repression and corruption’ (TT L30). This collocative translation retains the image of an instrument and also ameliorates the aesthetic quality of the extended image of oppression.
In conclusion, I have found it necessary to use a range of translation techniques and theoretical considerations though I believe my overall approach remained faithful to my strategy of pursuing a free and idiomatic translation style.
I have seen that it remains problematic to follow one translation model, especially for a text that features dynamic genre and register conventions. A more thorough understanding of the relation between culture and language would facilitate translation choices in this regard. Had space limitations allowed, I would have considered the theory of equivalence in more detail. However, what one considers equivalent between two languages or cultures will inevitably be driven by ideological considerations, and this is problematic considering the hegemonic relationship between English and Arabic (Venuti 1996:196 quoted in Faiq (ed.) 2004: 3). This is another area I would have liked to have investigated in more detail, but is perhaps more pertinent to STs that feature much culture-specific content.


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Reference List

Baker, M. (1992) In Other Words: A Coursebook on Translation, London and New York: Routledge.
Halliday, M.A.K.  (1985) Spoken and written language, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hatim, B. (1997) English-Arabic/ Arabic-English Translation: A Practical Guide, London: Saqi.
Jaddaliyya, website of the e-zine Jaddaliyya [online]. [Accessed 10 November 2011). Available at http://www.jadaliyya.com/
Khoury, E. (2011) زمن عربي جديد  [A New Arab Era][online]. [Accessed 01 November 2011]. Available at http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/1307/زمن-عربي-جديد_a-new-arab-era_
Munday, J. (2001) Introducing Translation Studies: Theories and Applications, New York: Routledge.
Nida, E.A. (1964a) Toward a Science of Translating, Leiden: E.J. Brill.
Said, F. (ed.) (2004) Cultural Encounters in Translation from Arabic, Clevedon and New York: Multilingual Matters.
Venuti, L (ed.) (2000) The Translation Studies Reader, London and New York: Routledge, 1st edition.
Wehr, H., (1979/94), ed. by J.M Cowan A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 4th edition.