LINGUIST List 15.2429

Wed Sep 1 2004

Review: Translation: Pym (2004)

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  1. Kenesei Andrea, The Moving Text: Localization, translation, and distribution

Message 1: The Moving Text: Localization, translation, and distribution

Date: Tue, 31 Aug 2004 12:06:06 -0400 (EDT)
From: Kenesei Andrea <>
Subject: The Moving Text: Localization, translation, and distribution

AUTHOR: Anthony Pym
TITLE: The Moving Text
SUBTITLE: Localization, translation, and distribution
SERIES: Benjamins Translation Library 49 
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins 
YEAR: 2004
Announced at

Andrea Kenesei, Veszprem University, Hungary


Texts of every kind are produced in the source language (SL) and they
get translated into the target language (TL). If the process were as
simple as that, Pym would not have written The Moving Text (further
referred to as Text). The main point he makes about getting from SL to
TL is that a team of experts needs to apply an intricate net of steps
in order to achieve texts that will meet all the requirements of
''cross- cultural text adaptation'' (Pym 2001: 1), that is,
'localization'. The steps and components involved are 'distribution'
(the concern where the text goes), the forming of 'locales' (the
particular country/region and language), 'internationalization'
(generalization of products), 'translation' (retrieving from
'equivalence'), quantitative changes, the calculation of transaction
costs (the effort put into communication), 'segmentation' (shared
professionalization) and 'humanization' (consideration of the future
reader). Another aim is to demonstrate the fundamental differences
between 'localization' and 'translation', or rather, to show that the
latter is merely a subsection, however integral part of, the former.
The book provides a very practical approach to many theoretical


1. Distribution

Translated texts often betray their being 'transported' from another
language. Professionals can even determine the SL from the weird
phrases, strange or wrong word orders and other problems. Pym comes up
with not-so-funny examples from the computer world, mentioning that
the computer industry is just one among the many areas where the TL
texts are often incompatible with the reader, culture and language. If
they were, we could call them 'localized' texts. Localization must be
preceded by active 'distribution' rather than ''passive reproduction
or adaptation'' (p. 5). Without material distribution -- publicity,
physical distribution chains, updating, and adaptation to locales --
the TL texts remain functionless, which Pym proves very well. However,
I miss one important point from Pym's arguments -- while finding fault
with the Le Monde advertisement he fails to mention that the ad must
have been rendered to English by a non-native, as it is seen from the
spelling errors for example. No wonder that the relevant EU policy is
that the translators are allowed to translate texts into their mother
tongue only. If this rule were complied with everywhere, many of the
problems Pym discusses might be lessened if not eliminated. But
mention is not made here. Even-Zohar's 'transfer' seems to correspond
to Pym's 'distribution' like 'love' to 'hug'; the first being an
abstract concept and the former a concrete chain of moves. This might
be the reason for Pym's repudiation of 'transfer', however, if we
think in terms of 'abstract' and 'concrete', we can say that
'transfer' and 'localization' being abstract concepts agree just like
'distribution' and 'importation' being concrete things. Pym -- defying
Even-Zohar -- is right in claiming that the foreign cannot be wholly
domesticated, that is, complete localization hardly ever exists. Zohar
and Pym see the issues similarly though, Zohar speaks of 'polysystem'
(Even-Zohar 1990), Pym of 'localization', both having translation as
one part of the whole system.

Whenever Pym writes about localizers/translators/language workers, the
reader would like to know whether their native language is the TL or
is not because whatever we call the processes and products the
question stands or falls on this. Pym's treatment of intertextuality
is strange: ''A localized text is not called on to represent any
previous text'' (p. 5). ''... fanfares of generalized intertextuality
should be limited [...]. If there is to have been some kind of
transfer from one text to another, then the two texts must at some
time have shared the same locale'' (p. 20). To understand texts the
readers relies on their world knowledge, which comes partly from other
texts; i.e. no text can stand by its own. Some contradiction might be
felt here: ''the logic of separate locales and independent cultures is
still strong, and that the excluded spaces are still vast'' (p. 21);
''there are no natural borders between languages'' (p. 21). The first
complies with the Whorfian tenets; the second relies on Saussure's
diachronic approach, however, we should emphasize synchronicity in the
discussed processes. Pym's 'locale' is a feasible term and proves to
be somewhat more flexible than Zohar's 'transfer'. 'Transfer' involves
the importation of culture items, whereas Pym insists that ''cultures
are usually thought to be larger than locales'' (p. 23). Mention must
be made though that both authors are right in claiming that what we
are talking about is an extremely complicated system of linguistic and
cultural transmissions. This complexity makes the reader a bit
dubious about the effectiveness of the moves discussed. Also, Pym's
examples are simply bad and even worse translations, and he is looking
for the possible explanations for the failures. One can hardly agree
with Pym's point that if a text cannot be fully localized, it should
be left at that (p. 26). It is true that distribution may be less
effective than the desired but nobody should be prevented from
distributing/translating texts; it is always done with a well-grounded
reason. He keeps repeating that localization is hardly ever complete,
which is an acceptable fact -- English-Italian example in the next
chapter. The discussion of external/internal knowledge seems
hypothetical and idealistic, since we have learnt that ''removing all
the trace of the foreign'' (p. 28.) should be avoided.

2. Asymmetries of distribution

In his criticism of the LISA definitions he says ''we have preferred
to talk about 'texts' rather than 'products''' (p. 29.). But if the
things defined come mainly from industries like e. g. localization,
'industry' and 'product' are a good match. 'Internationalization' as
such may result in something of doubtful value; English-wise, the
films he refers to (p. 33) are just awful. The reasons are
understandable, but the linguistic purification 'internationalization'
involves will impoverish the source languages (see the language of the
above mentioned American films). This is the price that is paid for
maintaining and helping the target cultures/languages. The examples
(pp. 31-32.) are good to demonstrate 'internationalization', however,
a real 'text' would be more difficult to handle. Having this model in
mind ST -- internationalization -- TT1/TT2/TTn and that ''...the role
of the initial source will fade away'' (p. 35.) -- one raises at least
two questions: i. Why not write the original texts so that they would
not need any standardization? ii. The more channels a text goes
through the more fatal errors can and will occur.

Practically, it seems impossible to retain the information with this
much transformation. We are reminded that ''initial drafts will go
through committee processes'' (p. 36.) the texts are ''ideally
translated''; the emphasis should be put on ''ideally''. The automatic
translation system may work well between Romance languages, but the EU
includes other languages as well (the English-Hungarian machine
translations are just horrifying). The hitherto examples are from non-
literary texts; one is curious to learn how this theory/model works
with fiction. We are happy to learn that Pym does not enjoy the
prophecy that ''internalization would spell the death of cultural
difference on many levels, unless we believe in 'glocalization' (the
local embedded in the global). Even if we accept all this, what if the
source text is from a minor language? Does the model work vice versa?
And we should not forget that the hitherto attempts to create an
international language -- even though they were artificial languages
- have failed. The asymmetry of distribution and incomplete
localization is quite all right but I think as many technical terms
ought to be localized as possible for the sake of the non-professional
users (see example in Figure 9.). I just cannot imagine that
e. g. 'browser' has no Italian equivalent. If we expect the users to
pick up the English terms, why not wait until everybody learns

3. Equivalence, malgr� tout

Translation is part of localization. True, but (good) translators and
translation theorists all know that translation involves the
transmission of the message retaining the source culture (and
everything else) as much as needed and the conversion of the text to
meet the requirements of the target language reader. This means that
translation has always embedded exactly what Pym calls 'localization'.
The hermeneutic circle -- the question of part and whole -- is
revisited. And we need not get out of the circle. Good translators
keep cooperating with the professionals if the text is of technical
nature, and they are fiction writers and poets in the case of literary
works. Localization is not achieved when the translator, thinking
(s)he is omniscient, works in isolation. Doubts can be raised about
this: ''translation theory [...] in tune with text linguistics,
discourse analysis'' and ''translation [...] returned to the narrow
linguistic exercise'' (p. 52.). Text and discourse analysis came about
for the very reason that the linguists realized the importance of
linking social studies and language, which means the widening and
definitely not the narrowing of 'linguistic exercise'. Or this:
''Translation is not text adaptation'' (p. 54.); it
is. ''Internationalization'' remains on a theoretical level, along
with the ''paratext''; they imply rules operating in a few cases
only. Pym calls equivalence as a constraint; the reason is that he has
local rather than global equivalence in mind. Also, a text is
equivalent with the original (input), therefore not only is
localization the two-edged sword.

4. How translations speak

Pym treats translation as an ''asymmetric replacement of natural-
language strings'' (p. 67.). And localization can never be fully
successful. Are not we talking about the same thing? Also, equivalence
is achieved if the reception proves so. Mention must be made though
that local equivalence is more frequently achieved than the global as
my research in literary translations has shown (Kenesei 2004). In the
sentence ''A good/bad translation is one where we can/cannot see the
translator'' I presume the reverse order holds. To the requisition
''Ask receivers if the translator can be 'seen''' I note that my
findings have proved that i. about half of the translators betray
themselves and ii. the translator's mother tongue is not a decisive
factor in the success of the translation.

When the receivers treat a text as original can we say that 
i. localization is successful and 
ii. it does not imply a second person? 

This is why I doubt that ''translation turns the world of persons into
a world of things'' (p. 80).

5. Quantity speaks

As part of transliteration proper names are mentioned as
untranslatable (p. 92.), however, if they are telling names (in
fiction) they should be made clear in TT. That TT is longer than ST
due to its more explicit nature might be true but the examples for the
asymmetric distribution (salicyclic acid, sheep) are
counterexamples. The comments are the reiterations of the old
principle -- text in context. When the output is much lengthier than
the input we should simply accept the fact that cultural items are of
unequal nature but here I would emphasize neutral inequality rather
than difference in values. ''Translators are not supposed to be
authors'' (p. 98.) -- recalling the problem of 'localization within
translation' OR 'translation within localization' I repeat:
translators must cooperate with professionals (technical texts) or be
authors themselves (fiction). ''La Movida'' illustrates one of the
paraphrasing strategies to which translators turn as last resorts. We
might call this non-equivalence, however, it is an indispensable
tool. Deletion is not acceptable; paraphrase or generalization can be
used instead. This chapter is devoted to the discussion of various
strategies; Pym prefers to call them non- translational procedures; I
insist that they are parts of translation and localization because
they are employed to satisfy the receiver by making TT ''appropriate''
and ''acceptable'' (Toury 1980). It is understandable though that Pym
fights against equivalence which may involve the peril of an atomic
approach and he finds localization the way-out, rightly. Again, I
equal localization with global/text- level/context-level equivalence
(see the Hamlet translation in Quebec).

6. Belonging as resistance

''Translation, localization, globalization'' at provides human and machine translation. What
is the guarantee for a good rendering of ST to TT? Machine
translations have a bad reputation for good reason. Human translation
is done by a team of language workers. But as I have said translation
is teamwork, involving either at least two persons or two professions
in one. I wonder why Pym separates nature and culture; this world is
governed by the same rules. However, memes represent an atomic view,
which does not fit into the broad approach. If localization resists
globalization, it is welcomed! Why talk about constraints on
distribution when any stretch of language can be transformed in one
way or another? Pym asserts that performatives become constatives
through translation. 1. We do know that Austin, father of
performatives, changed his views and declared that every utterance
performs an action. 2. The audience is aware of the function of the
translated stretch. Pym asks ''what participation is left to the
... actual receivers?'' (p. 121.) There are as many interpretations as
people (author, receivers) involved. Thus much is left to the
receiver. The question is how big is the difference between the
receptions of ST and TT? From the differences we can make inferences
about how well the text has been distributed / localized /
translated. ''Localization is by no means an exclusively linguistic
phenomenon'' (p. 125.) -- is this what we have learnt so far? As for
the cultural embeddedness of texts, technical texts are the most

7. Transaction costs

The economic grounds for calculating the costs is convincing. From the
definitions of ''internationalization'' we learn that it is basically
the determination of general rules applicable for further
movements. Is it true then that the more locales are to accessed
internationalization is more complex? One might think that
generalization is one act or step (bearing in mind the doubts about
its highly theoretical nature).

8. Professionalization

Pym is looking for the ''shared professionalization'' which is very
logical for (good) translators. One thing is true though -- when the
translator cooperates with a professional, it is either done on 1. a
friendly basis (2. or like me and my engineer husband with technical
translations), or 3. the money is shared, or 4. the professional does
the text adaptation and the translator checks the linguistic errors.
The first two are few, the third does not mean much profit for either
party, but the fourth seems a feasible way. I do not find the
situation Pym describes that disastrous -- the party ordering the
translation decides whether something valuable has been done or not,
and goes on ordering further works or suspends the contact with the
translator. Well, this is not the ideal situation, and Pym is
rightfully trying to change it. Also, many companies employ their own
translators who grow into the profession. There are editors who
publish translated books and organize an efficient teamwork of
translators and professionals. They work on segments but there are
good databases and terminology sources.

9. Humanizing discourse

Localization seems to be very much humanizing discourse, language and
other contacts. Internationalization, however, seems to be working the
opposite direction. Standardization and simplification does not help
to keep up diversity, which is against humanization. The non- linear
nature of hyper-linked hypertexts need not be put in contradiction
with text linguistics. There are no ''stand-alone chunks'' (p. 186.);
it is CONTEXT that bears the omni-connecting power for both the
electronic and traditional texts. Pym calls it ''concept'' (p. 187.),
yes, concept is contextual, and context is conceptual, both
fundamentally required by localization and translation within and vice
versa. Technically, we can speak of non-linearity, but contexts and
concepts ensure mental linearity.


Even-Zohar, I. ''Polysystem Theory'' Poetics Today 11:1, 1990, pp. 9- 26.

Kenesei, A. (2004) ''Emily Dickinson Interpreted Today in English and
in Hungarian.'' IN: Modern Filol�giai K�zlem�nyek V. 2. under

Toury, G. (1980) In Search of a Theory of Translation. Tel-Aviv: The
Porter Institute for Poetics and Semiotics


Andrea Kenesei is a senior lecturer of linguistics. Her interests
include pragmatics, discourse and text analysis, linguistic analysis
of literature, translation and reader-response theories. She is
working on her Ph.D. dissertation on "Frame-based reader-response of
translated verse".
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