Translation Theories

Thursday, October 13, 2005

“Principles of Good Translation” by Dolet, Dryden, and Tytler

Translation scholars have discussed certain “principles of good translation” (Dolet in Robinson 1997: 95) for centuries probably because, as practicing translators themselves, they experienced or observed others experience problems in the process of translation. Dolet, Dryden, and Tytler are among the scholars whose statements shed light on the qualities expected to be present in good translation. These scholars have similar views on certain issues like literal translation.

First of all, it is agreed by the three scholars that translators have to understand the meaning of the original text fully so that they can render what the author says into the target language, which is a rule that translators may not manage to follow if they focus on translating literally. Dolet states that “if the author is at all ambiguous, the translator can easily make him clear and intelligible” (95) implying the translator’s right to play with the text by following certain practices like changing the word order or adding a few words that are originally not in the text. Tytler draws attention to the same issue. He firmly believes that translators need to give their decision based on the general meaning of the whole text and the author’s “usual mode of thinking” (210). As a result, the translator will not be only reading and translating the words that follow but also taking the necessary steps in order to be faithful to the original meaning. Through this practice, the translator can be able to render the ideas and feelings present in the text written by the author. Since “the sense of an author, generally speaking, is to be sacred and inviolable” (Dryden: 174), the translator, these scholars assert, need to pay attention to the meaning obviously more than they should to the number of words in the original text.
Second, the harmony of words is seen significant in translation. Dolet claims that giving the meaning of the text through words that do not have any rhetorical harmony would not be a good example of a translated text. In the perspective of these scholars, this rule holds true for not only verse but also prose. Because “the genius and character of all languages” (Tytler: 209) are not the same, it may not be possible to translate literally and harmoniously at the same time. Thus, “dancing on ropes with fettered legs” (Dryden: 172), translators who prefer literal translation may not escape from losing the “gracefulness” (172) of the original text due to the difficulty involved in such a confining act of translation.

Another rule stressed by Dolet, Dryden, and Tytler is related to the importance of the style of the author. Dryden states that he aimed to translate Virgil imagining how the author would have written in the 17th century English, which shows how crucial it is for him to stick to the style of the original text in its translated version. Tytler also adds the necessity of maintaining the “style and manner” of the author’s writing in the translation to his three “laws of translation” (209). However, this task may prove to be hard for some translators because they may fall into the trap of being too faithful to the original. As a result, the text may not have “the ease of original composition” any more (Tytler: 211). Since the task has its own difficulties, it does not look wise to make it even more difficult or maybe impossible by attempting to translate word by word, which already contradicts with the above mentioned rules.

In conclusion, translators and/or translation scholars have searched for practices that can lead to examples of ‘good translation’ while they “dress the vineyard” (Dryden: 175) they do not possess. It is clear that Dolet, Dryden, and Tytler warn against literal translation due to the fact that this practice may not result with the qualities sought for, such as rendering the meaning of the original text fully, formulating the word order harmoniously, and considering the style of the author while translating a text. I also believe that paying attention to the real meaning of the author and not taking the risk of making an awkward translation seem to be good pieces of advice. As Dryden points out, “no sober man would put himself into a danger for the applause of escaping without breaking a neck” (172).

Robinson, Douglas., ed. 1997. Western Translation Theory. Manchester St Jerome Publishing.


  • At 4:19 AM, Blogger Esra Birkan said…

    I think it is a good idea to reflect on the similarities among these three scholars because they have a lot in common in their ideas.

    The three similarities among the three scholars pertaining to rendering the meaning and harmony of the original text and style of the author are well spotted. In addition Elif's conclusion that "these qualities sought for in a good translation cannot be well achieved via literal translation" is a good point to make.

    However, Elif's conclusion at the end of the last body paragraph is not clear. Does rendering the text as if written in present day imply sticking to the style of the author? If so, how is it related to being too faithful to the original thereby losing the ease of original composition. In other words, does being faithful to the original necessarily lead the translator to word for word translation? In conclusion, it sounds as if faithfulness and literalness are the same thing.

  • At 8:51 PM, Blogger Seffliva said…

    Thanks for sharing this post regarding principles of good translation. This post would really help translators there to become successful in their field.
    interpretation and translation services


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