In the field of translation theories,one of the most influential theory would be ‘norms’ proposed by Gideon Toury. In1995, based on his concept of target-text oriented translation studies, he wroteDescriptive translation studies andbeyond to introduce translation norms to the public, aiming at making amore general theory and a systematic branch for translators to follow. In his book, Toury provided thedefinition of ‘norm’. According to Toury, sociocultural constraints includedtwo extremes, which are absolute rules and idiosyncrasies, and in between therelie norms (1995:54).
Norm refers to some ‘general values or idea shared by thecommunity’ which are observed, and turn these observations into ‘performanceinstructions which are appropriate for and applicable’ to certain situations(Toury, 1995:55). Firstly there is initial norm, which refers to the ‘basicchoice which can be made between requirements of the two different sources'(Toury, 1995:56). When the translation tends to be in favor of source culture,it would be an adequate translation; when the translation is subjection totarget culture, it would be an acceptable translation. Secondly, there arepreliminary norms, which is about translation policy and directness oftranslation. Lastly, there are operational norms which are ‘directing thedecisions made during the act of translation itself’ with matricial norms andtextual-linguistic norms (Toury, 1995:58). Also, Toury believes that translationnorms can have a wider coverage, as it can ‘applies to all types oftranslation, not just literary, philosophical or biblical’ (Toury, 1995:57). Overall, Toury’s norms theory hasreceived very positive feedback, as it was used widely by various translators.Indeed, there are several strengths in ‘Norms’ theory.
To begin with, Toury’sNorms theory has provided a norm for translators to follow. Since it wouldobserve the norms in translation in different period, translators can thereforefind out what is the most common trend and follow, or simply serves as anexample for translators to take reference from. It is very important to translationfield, as ‘extreme free variation may well have been the result’ if there wereno norms for translators to follow (Toury, 1995:56). Therefore, norms theoryprovided a key to establishing translation techniques, maintaining thetranslation system and community, and avoiding potential problems caused byindividual decisions. Secondly, a unique point for Toury’snorms theory is that norms are not fixed forever.
As time passes by, the commonpractice in translation would change too. As a result, translation norms areconstantly changing. Therefore, it can always fit requirements and society indifferent time. As described by Martínez-Sierra, by looking back at certainnorms, ‘we can see that some have come to implement changes in the system, somuch so that their study is also an interesting field'(2015:8). To sum up, notlike some theories or rules that would be neglected as time passes by, normtheory could adopt changes and survive. What is more, norms endues an extrafunction for translation, which is social function. As norms are describing howpeople act in different culture, norms in translation would allow translatorsto communicate and compare their actions, which brings more meaning totranslation, as described by Herman, ‘learning to translate involves asocialization process: it means learning to operate and perhaps manipulatenorms of translation’ (Herman, 1999:72).
Therefore, through communication, thesociety can come to an agreement on which approach is a norm and which one isnot. As a result, after observation, communication and comparison, a behaviorwhich is considered ‘correct’ and ‘appropriate’ at that time is born fortranslators to follow. The communication would not just be between differentactions and practices, but also between different cultures. It is true that Toury’s norms theory hasmany strengths in it, and influence much translation practice of translators.However, it is still not flawless, and it needs much clarification and furtherelaboration.
To startwith, norms theory is describing instead of prescribing. As in norms theory,qualified people would observe how certain professional translators wouldtranslate texts, gather this information and sums up which translation techniqueis the majority and therefore make it into a norm, it would be describing howtranslator handle texts, instead of giving instructions or guidelines for translatorsto follow. This is a good thing in one hand, as it can be changed flexibly astime passes by; however, on the other hand, this could cause much trouble, asthere are no guidelines for translators to follow when they translate. Also, wecannot deny the possibility that there was no common trend to be observed in acertain period, or even have different norms appearing at the same time, asevery individual could translate texts in their own style. Therefore, thiscould be confusing.
Anotherproblem would be ‘who’. In norms theory, Toury mentioned that comments from targettext receiver should be collected, and common practices should be judged tomake it into norms. It is clear that in this approach, many observations andevaluation on the translators’ work need to be done. However, he did notmentioned who would be qualified to do the judging. As the key of norm theoryis to evaluate, an unclear instruction on the casting on such important rolewould be a fundamental problem, which would unavoidably shake the pillar of thetheory.
This problem is not unnoticed either, as it was criticized by others aswell. For example, Pym had raised questions like ‘whonegotiates norms?’, ‘who are these people? Where are they? Are theyprofessionals, working on behalf of interested parties?’ and so on (1998:111). Otherthan Pym, Chesterman has further developed that norms should be from a ‘subsetof “competent professional translator’, which he also found it hard to ‘define”competent” and “professional” precisely’ (1993:7-8).
Therefore, it is clearthat if more instructions and criteria in choosing observation group and judgesare stated, norms theory would be more perfect and feasible to operate. Other than that, a huge problem of thenorm theory is, it would be impossible to observe reception of norms directlyand comprehensively. Firstly, as translators may not have the chance tointerview his readers comprehensively, it is hard for them to collect all ofthe response from the receiver, needless to mention that they may never knowhow many receivers there actually is. Secondly, as admitted by Toury, ‘normsare not directly observable’ (1995:65), as it is usually the behavior beingobserved rather than the norms itself. It is because we can never know why atranslator would choose a particular method to translate out of all thepossibilities.
In other words, what can be observed is not the reasons behindthe method, but the method only. Also, it seems that the way Toury wantedto separate source-culture oriented and target-culture oriented would be tooharsh. In Toury’s norms theory, there is the initial norm, which requirespeople to distinguish the translation into two systems: source-cultureoriented, which stands for adequate, and target-culture oriented, which standsfor acceptability. It is good that Toury wanted to distinguish differentapproaches in translation, but it seems too absolute, as sometimes theapproaches of translators may not be that clear-cut, and some translation mayeven be a mixture of the two approaches. Therefore, it could be hard for judgesto determine whether some translations are source oriented or target oriented.
As suggested by Hermans, instead of choosing sides, treating norms as somethingfull of varieties and different mixture would be better. Lastly, sometimes an advantage could bea double-edged knife. As mentioned above, the feature of constant changing normscould make them applicable in different period. However, it can also be adisadvantage, especially when one tries to catch up with the trend. With thefast changing norms, it would be hard for translators to keep up with thelatest norms, and that it would take much effort for them to keep track on allthe updates.
Also, as it is changing all the time, some norms may be too immatureand have not fully developed, thus they may have false in it, and would be dangerousfor translator to use it. Last but not least, for people who studiestranslation norms, the constant changing feature would make the amount of informationtoo big, and therefore ‘complicate their study in contemporary texts’ (DiazCintas, as cited in Martínez-Sierra, 2015:14). To sum up, Toury’s norms theory is avery successful contribution. It may have its flaw, as some definitions are stillunclear for people to follow, and even Toury admits that there are more to bediscussed.
However, this theory does provided a workable system which covers a widerange, and is adaptable throughout different time. With further modification,it would surely be a perfect system which is applicable for a long time.(1459 words)