Volume 5, No. 3 
July 2001

  Dr. Berrin Aksoy





Thank You!
by Gabe Bokor
Index 1997-2001
  Translator Profiles
The Making of a Translator
by Louis Korda
  The Profession
The Bottom Line
by Fire Ant & Worker Bee
  Legal Translation
La traduzione giuridica
by Deirdre Exell Pirro
  Arts and Entertainment
In the Footsteps of Giants
by Robert Paquin, Ph.D.
One Translator's Thoughts on Localization
by Dag Forssell
  Translation Theory
Translation and Language Varieties
by Magdy M. Zaky
  Translators Around the World
The First Three Years
by Timothy Howe
  Translating Social Change
Translation as Rewriting
by Berrin Aksoy, Ph.D.
  Science & Technology
A Translator’s Guide to Organic Chemical Nomenclature XXIV
by Chester E. Claff, Jr., Ph.D.
  Caught in the Web
Web Surfing for Fun and Profit
by Cathy Flick, Ph.D.
Translators’ On-Line Resources
by Gabe Bokor
  Translators’ Tools
An Effective and Inexpensive Translation Memory Tool
by Andrei Gerasimov
Translators’ Emporium
Letters to the Editor
Translators’ Events
Call for Papers and Editorial Policies
  Translation Journal

Translating Social Change


Translation as Rewriting:

The Concept and Its Implications on the Emergence of a National Literature

by Berrin Aksoy, Ph.D.

  Turning translations into instruments of humanism, peace and progress-such is our noble task.

Pierre-François Caillé
Founding President of the International Federation of Translators


The primary stage of understanding the spirit of humanism begins with an acclamation of works of art which are the perfect creations of human existence. Among the branches of art, literature is the richest in intellectual elements. Hence, a nation's rewriting of a nation's literature in its own language, or rather, in its own consciousness, means empowering, recreating, and invigorating its own intellect and awareness with respect to foreign works of art. For that reason, we regard translation as an important and effective activity in our struggle for civilization and modernization.

1. Introduction

he purpose of this study is twofold: first, to examine translation from a historical point of view as a form of rewriting an original text and to discuss the forces or constraints that define the ideology and aesthetic experience of the target culture and that guide the translation activity from its beginning to the end; second, to discuss how and why translation as a form of rewriting was regarded as a means of generating a full-scale state-organized initiative for modernization, the creation of the spirit of humanism, and the formation of a model for the process of revitalizing and recreating a national culture, of which the young Turkish Republic of the 1940s will pose a concrete example.



2. Theoretical Framework

2a. The study of the history of translation

In order to justify translation as an independent discipline, it is necessary to construct a history of translation as a first step in bringing to light how cultural and intellectual interactions between people and civilizations took place throughout history. "The construction of a history of translation is the first task of a modern theory of translation." (Berman qtd. in Delisle and Woodsworth 1995: XV)

The history of translation helps those who are interested in translation, literature, and cultural studies to better understand the contribution of translation to civilization and to the development of cultural and intellectual life. Translation is closely related to progress. All the awakening periods in the history of nations start with translations. Translation, which is the meeting of different cultures and civilizations, introduces nations to various perspectives on their paths to modernization and intellectual advancement. In 1935, the Turkish philosopher Hilmi Ziya Ülken stated that opening up to civilization involves opening the doors to all the influences of cultural, scientific and intellectual activities abroad. Hence, a deliberate selection of those influences, considering also the potentials and cultural treasures within the country, will guide the nation on the way to civilization and modernization. Ülken went on to say that in all nations' awakening periods, which constitute turning points in the progress towards civilization, the greatness of works of art can only be judged in terms of the doors of influences they open up; no doubt, translation is the primary influence among them. In other words, translation is the power behind the awakening periods of nations. The ancient Greek awakening took place through translations from Anatolia, Phoenicia and Egypt; the Turk-Uighur awakening took its power from Indian, Persian, and Nestorian translations; the Islamic awakening was influenced by the Greek (Nestorians, Jacobites) and Indian translations; and the European Renaissance was only possible due to the translations from Islamic, Jewish, and Greek sources (Ülken 1935: 11-33).

A thorough study of the history of translation will uncover the civilizing power of translation throughout the centuries and will show how translation has guided nations towards westernization and modernization. Within this framework, our study will use Turkey as a concrete and recent example to support our view of translation's role.

  2b. Translation as a form of rewriting

Translation has never been an isolated activity. There is always a context in which translation takes place, a history from which a text emerges and another one into which a text is transposed. Translation has always served a special purpose or many purposes at the same time, and each time it has been shaped by a certain force, power, or reason. Since translation cooperates more with the domestic than the foreign culture, the translator should not be frustrated by the expectations of an institution, person or body of individuals. In its intellectual aspect, translation as a means of cultural enrichment, the choice of the works to be translated, and the guidelines and goals of the translation activity are set by certain forces. Hence translation takes the form of rewriting an original text, since it is performed under certain constraints and for certain purposes. The original text is chosen for a certain purpose and the guidelines of translation are defined to serve this purpose by the translator and/or by those who initiate the translation activity. In this case, rewriting in order to fit that purpose, along with fidelity to the original, become the main issues for the translator.

Most translation projects are initiated by an actor of the domestic culture such as state ideology, cultural climate, the expectations of the target audience, economic and social reasons, etc., and foreign texts are selected not by the translators themselves but by this actor, who manipulates the whole process. The very function of translation thus becomes the rewriting of the foreign text into the domestic culture, in compliance with the domestic cultural norms and resources that make up the overall system of the society. Lawrence Venuti argues that in instances where translations are governed by the state or a similar institution, the identity-forming process initiated by a translated text has the potential to affect social mores by providing a sense of what is true, good, and possible. Translations may create a corpus with the ideological qualification to assume a role of performing a function in an institution (Venuti 1998: 67).

As stated by Alvarez-Vidal, approaching a culture implies beginning a process of translation. Translation reveals the power one culture can exert over another. Translation is not the production of a text equivalent to another text, but rather a complex process of rewriting the original which runs parallel both to the overall view of the language, and to the influences and the balance of power that exists between one culture and another (Alvarez-Vidal 1996: 1-7).

The idea that translation can be regarded as a form of rewriting was developed by André Lefevere, who sees translation as an act carried out under the influence of particular categories and norms constituent to systems in a society. The most important of these are patronage, ideology, poetics, and 'the universe of discourse' (Lefevere 1992a: 13).

Theo Hermans, in Translation in Systems, writes that Lefevere developed his ideas about systems and the role of 'rewriting' in them over a period of about fifteen years. The idea is that society is viewed as a conglomerate of systems, of which literature is one. This literary system possesses a dual control mechanism. One mechanism governs it largely from the outside, and defines the relations within the environment, where the key words are patronage and ideology. The other mechanism keeps order within the literary system, and the key terms are poetics and rewriters. Patrons and literary experts, ideology and poetics control the literary system, and therefore the production and distribution of literature. Hence, along with literary texts, 'rewritings' are also produced under these constraints (Hermans 1999: 132).

Lefevere views rewriting as "the adaptation of a work of literature to a different audience, with the intention of influencing the way in which that audience reads the work." An example is the rewriting of the translation of Victor Hugo's Les Misérables by Münif Pasha in 1860 into Turkish as a newspaper serial. Action is the essential element in this translation, where the readers are held in suspense for the next episode not only to boost the circulation of the newspaper, but also to entertain the readers and to create a positive atmospere for the printing of newspapers and the development of journalism in the Reformation Period (the 19th century) of the Ottoman Empire. Later, Lefevere developed the idea of translation as a form of rewriting, which means that any text produced on the basis of another has the intention of adapting that other text to a certain ideology or to a certain poetics, and usually to both (qtd. in Hermans 1999: 127). The manifestation of this theory of translation can be seen in the early years of the Turkish Republic, and this study examines Lefevere's idea of translation as a form of rewriting. With the modernization and westernization initiatives led by Atatürk, the founder and first president of the Turkish Republic, a full-scale translation initiative was envisaged by the Ministry of National Education. This activity was organized, manipulated and conducted by the state itself, from the selection of the works to be translated to the establishment of the guidelines in the translation process that would serve the spirit that lay behind the whole initiative.

3. The concept of ideology, patronage, and the position of the translator

In this study, ideology refers to (a) ideas, value concepts, and assumptions, whether cultural or political, that are related to the power and authority of persons or institutions in a specific society; (b) ideology in this context is not limited to the political aspect only; it also refers to "the propositions, assumptions we hold consciously and unconsciously about ourselves which guide our actions" (Abdulla 1999: 1). The reason why ideology is examined from two points of view in this study is that the model, that is, the Turkish Republic in its early years, involves a broad cultural spectrum and a climate in which the entire nation, state, and its people enthusiastically and in perfect harmony encouraged the state initiatives of creating a spirit of humanism for a western-oriented modern society. Hence, the state ideology that undertook to implement all the institutions and concepts of the West in Turkey could not be regarded as a form of imposition but as a national endeavor.

Lefevere proposes three elements that interact under the heading of patronage. The ideological element acts as a constraint on the choice and development of both form and subject matter. In our model, the Turkish Ministry of National Education had established a Translation Bureau to select the list of western works of art to be translated in 1940. There is also an economic element in this case, where the state paid a certain amount of money to the intellectuals and men of letters who were appointed to work for the Translation Bureau and granted them a certain amount of authority to revise, check, and edit the translations produced as well as to decide which publishing houses were to be supported financially by the state. Thus, in the case of Turkey, the element of status, as pointed out by Lefevere, was also incorporated in the system of patronage.

Another quality of patronage, which is referred to by Lefevere as differentiated or undifferentiated, is revealed in an interesting situation in the Turkish case. In the Ottoman Empire, the undifferentiated patronage that was exercised by the court of Istanbul and which regarded the Anatolian National Literature as 'low' or 'popular' was turned upside down with the establishment of the new Turkish Republic, which elevated the national literature and in which the state, the writers, and the producers of national literature became the undifferentiated patron (Lefevere 1992: 17).

The position of the translators within this context implies that writers and rewriters work within the parameters set by the patron and that they should be willing to cooperate with and implement the patron's objectives and legitimitize the patron's status and power over the whole operation of the systems.

3a. State ideology with respect to translation activities in the young Turkish Republic-civilization and translation

Translation activities in Turkey developed consistently following the Reformation Period of the Ottoman Empire. Scientific and religious works were translated from Arabic and Persian sources. However, translation, which is supposed to create an atmosphere of intellectual and artistic exchange to ensure cultural transfer among nations who speak different tongues, failed, in Turkey, to achieve a systematic unity; hence access to the values created by the ancient civilizations and the absorption of the past cultural inheritance could not be achieved. Ottoman society remained indifferent both to its national values and to universal cultural concepts. In the Tulip Period (17th century) of the Ottoman Empire, organized translation activities, which were first initiated by İbrahim Pasha, did not go further than the translation of Ayni's Ikd ül Cüman, Havandmir's Habib üs- Siyer, and the translation of Aristototeles's Physics into Ottoman Turkish (Gürsel 1985: 320-3). Nevertheless, the formation of a Translation Council and the selection of texts not only from Islamic culture, but also from the Western opus is an important sign of the closed Ottoman society's first attempts to open up to new influences. However, this process of opening up brought with it economic consequences which led to making concessions to other countries. The Ottoman society and its cultural structure did not allow the formation of a bourgois class similar to that of the West, and thus failed to create a renaissance with its own dynamics; therefore, the few existing translation activities remained in the periphery. On the other hand, we know that the humanistic movement which constituted the basis of western culture was manifested through translation activities, and the production of cultural and scientific values was attained after thorough absorption of the values of the past, such as the inheritance of the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations. The synthesis of past inheritance and present values was achieved by means of translation, which enabled the West to take giant steps on the way to contemporary civilization (Delisle and Woodsworth 1995: 67-101).

3b. The approach to translation in the literary polysystem of the young Turkish Republic in the 1940s

Translation activities increase during a society's process of transformation from one cultural structure to a more advanced and different one, since the initial conditions required for a new cultural climate which corresponds to the new social and economic structure of a society can only be created through translation.

Itamar Even-Zohar, who puts forward the idea of a literary polysystem, sees the position of translated literature in the literary polysystem of a society as a primary one when it actively participates in modelling the center of the polysystem. Hence, translated literature fulfills the needs of a young literature to put its renewed tongue in use in as many literary genres as possible in order to make it functional as a literary language and useful for its emerging public. Since, when it is young and in the process of being established, a young literature cannot create major texts in all genres until its polysystem has crystallized, it greatly benefits from the experience of other literatures, and translated literature becomes, in a way, one of its most important systems (Even-Zohar 1978: 117-128).

In Turkey, translated literature in the 1940s and 1950s became not only a source of literary inspiration, but was also circulated freely by the state throughout all cities, towns, and villages, in public libraries, schools, and village institutions; and was even read by the villagers themselves (Özgü 1970: 176-183). Efforts to create a cultural renaissance in the early years of the Turkish Republic, when the national "Turkish" literature was still in its infancy after the domination of the Ottoman Empire's court literature for so many centuries, coincided with the initiatives taken towards westernization and modernization in all fields in the country as a state ideology and policy which is nicely stated by one of the leading figures of the translation activities in the statement below:

We were now both the conquerors and the conquered (...) We shaped this soil [Anatolia], but this soil also shaped us. For this reason, whatever existed on this soil in the past and exists in the present is ours. The history of our nation is the history of Anatolia. Once we were Shamanistic, then we became Christians, and then we turned to Islam. This nation built the temples, the churches, and the mosques. We filled the amphitheatres and we filled the caravanserais. Countless states and civilizations were born and perished here. We spoke many languages before choosing Turkish...

(Sabahattin Eyüboğlu qtd. in Dino, 1978: 104)


These words explain the concept of Kemalism, the concept of a national culture which attempts to include the historical past of all the different civilizations that existed in Anatolia. For that reason, the state, through the efforts of the Ministry of National Education, set out to determine the principles of a national and original form of humanism which had its roots in western humanistic thought. Hence, inspired by the directives of M. Kemal Atatürk, a full-scale translation effort was started in order to establish organized and systematic translation activities. In 1940, a Translation Bureau was formed in which a group of intellectuals, men of letters, writers, and translators were gathered.

The objectives of the Translation Bureau were as follows:

  • To democratize culture throughout Anatolia,
  • To develop a Turkish-language grammar derived from the daily spoken tongue of Anatolia and to eliminate the Arabic and Persian vocabulary,
  • To enrich the Turkish language with all the concepts of modern western thought through the translated texts,
  • To fill the cultural gap that existed in the first two decades of the 20th century by means of translation activities in order to shape a cultural identity that would create an awareness of the potential of the Turkish language and an enthusiasm for establishing a literature of our own

(Dino 1978: 107).

Following the report prepared by the Council (1940), whose first item was "to give priority to translating works which are related to the Humanist culture," the Translation Bureau drew up a list of works to be translated which primarily consisted of Greek and Roman classics and renowned works of western literature. The first five years' translation output amounted to 500 translations. This activity, which turned out to be extremely fruitful, led the way to the adaptation of the resolution by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1940 concerning the translation of world classics into all national languages. At the Third World Congress of the IFT which was held in Bad Godesberg in 1959, the President, Pierre François Caillé, named Turkey "a haven of translation" after hearing the report on the activities of the Translation Bureau prepared by Professor Bedrettin Tuncel (Özgü 1970: 180).

4. The standards that govern the process of translation as rewriting.

Gideon Toury describes the 'value' behind the standards in the case of literary translation as consisting of two major elements: (a) being a worthwhile literary work (text) in the target literature; that is, occupying the appropriate position, or filling in the appropriate 'slot' in the target literary polysystem, and (b) being a translation; that is, constituting a faithful representation in the target language of another pre-existing text written in some other language, the source language, or belonging to another literary polysystem (Toury 1978: 85).

In this context, the translations produced by the Translation Bureau were regarded as worthwhile literary works which began to occupy a central position in the literary polysystem and were read as "an original" rather than "the original."

Preliminary standards which involved translation policy or factors affecting or determining the choice of works were established and an organized systematic translation activity was conducted by the Translation Bureau. The works to be translated were not selected for subjective reasons but based on objective criteria such as choosing renowned works of art which would reflect the spirit of humanism.

In terms of directness of translations, according to the decisions made in 1947 by the Translation Bureau, for those works belonging to both the Greek and Roman antiquity and civilizations and the Spanish, Portugese, and Italian literatures, indirect translations were allowed from French or English since translators who could make direct translations from those works were extremely difficult to find.

In terms of matrical norms, again in line with the objectives of the Translation Bureau, the works were translated in full without any omissions, additions, changes, etc., in order to fully convey the spirit of the works.

With the reform in the Turkish language initiated by Kemal Atatürk, who established a Turkish Language Institute, a Turkish derived from the everyday Turkish tongue of the people and based on Turkish grammar, syntax, and vocabulary, free of the influence of the Arabic or Persian languages and of Ottoman Turkish (a mixture of Arabic, Persian, and Turkish tongues which was mainly used in written language as well as in oral communication in the court of Istanbul) was developed. Now, one of the objectives of the Translation Bureau was to create an atmosphere conducive to the emergence of a national literature which would employ and contribute to the potential and richness of the Turkish language by using unelaborated, simple, original, easy-flowing Turkish in the translations. Textual norms were set up in harmony with the radical language reform. The form and style of the works were recreated in Turkish as faithfully as possible, using a readable, easily understandable, simple, and unelaborated Turkish. The criteria of 'acceptability' and 'adequacy' in those translations were regarded in terms of preserving the original's artistic, intellectual, and aesthetic quality, proving to the Turkish reader that the Turkish language was capable of recreating those works of art. The translations were not only chosen by the Translation Bureau, but were also evaluated and criticized by the Bureau members. Selections from the translations, along with introductory notes on the works and the translations, were published in the Translation Journal, issued monthly by the Bureau and the Ministry of National Education.

Since both 'adequacy' and 'acceptability' were sought in the translations, translators moved within the limits set by these criteria. Translations were expected to be 'adequate' rewritings of the original with an acceptable language use in order to create a reading public, which was scarce at the beginning. In some instances, such as in Shakespeare's tragedies, the blank verse form was transferred into narrative form in Turkish. Since creating an easy-flowing, simple, and unelaborated Turkish which took its source from the daily spoken tongue of the common people was one of the goals, popular idioms, vocabulary, and expressions, which did not appear in the original, were used in some translations.

Translation in the form of rewriting appeared under the constraints of translating within the parameters of the above criteria. Can Yücel's translation of Katherine Mansfield's "The Doll House" can be cited as an example. The story was published in the Translation Journal in 1958. The translator has strictly observed Mansfield's style regarding the flow of thought, the inner consciousness of the characters described by introspective descriptions, the chronology of events, speech and thought presentations, names, titles, etc., while using a vocabulary consisting only of local and native idioms, expressions, and words. The conversational tone of the narrator no longer sounds like that of a foreigner in this case, but like a native, who narrates the story in a completely conversational manner of a local person. In other words, by using all the artistic and literary qualities of the original, the story "The Doll House" has been rewritten in the local Turkish tongue which echoes, as far as Can Yücel (a poet and a man of letters) is concerned, the unique tone of the translator as well. During the activities of the Translation Bureau, the Turkish language was also going through a process of transformation and change. The translators at that time were 'producing' a new Turkish as well. In the first issue of the Tercüme Dergisi (Translation Journal), in his preface to the translation of Paul Valéry's Düşünceler (Mauvaises Pensées et autres), Nurullah Ataç, a famous translator, man of letters, and linguist wrote:

Sabahattin Eyüboğlu is not like me; he wants to be loyal to the form of the original text, whereas I keep searching for a softer form in Turkish while trying to figure out what the writer would say if he were Turkish. But I must confess that I don't have any affinity with Valéry; not because I don't agree with his ideas; on the contrary, I admire them. But Paul Valéry is a master of narrative tongue whereas I give a conversational tone to the narrative mode.

Nurullah Ataç (qtd. in Azra Erhat 1978: 57).

Here, rewriting manifests itself on two levels: first to make the original writer speak like a Turk; second to give the narration a conversational tone. Nurullah Ataç, who also worked for the Translation Bureau, points out an important aspect of translation activity during that time under the constraints discussed above. The translators of that period may as well be said to have been working under the pressure to produce translations which derived their potential from the possibilities and richness of the Turkish language and which would contribute to its development.

Another famous translator and one of the leading figures of the Translation Bureau, Selahattin Eyüboğlu, in his translation of La Fontaine's Fables, meticulously tried to make the animals speak with the finest and best idioms in the Turkish tongue. As a result, the 17th century elaborate court French turned into simple, easy-flowing and understandable Turkish. Similarly, many of Eyüboğlu's translations of Shakespeare, especially the dialogues of the nobles in his tragedies, were transferred to simple conversational Turkish. To make a comparison, I would like to compare André Gide's and Selahattin Eyüboğlu's Hamlet translations:

At the beginning of Hamlet in act 1, scene 1, during the change of guards, Bernardo asks Francesco, "Have you had a quiet guard?" André Gide translates the question into French without giving the exact or equivalent translations of the words; he prefers to use two simple questions in French:, "Rien vu? Rien entendu?" Similarly, Selahattin Eyübloğlu prefers a conversational and simple Turkish, rendering the question as, "Birşey olmadı ya nöbetinde?" -which is, "I hope nothing happened during your guard," in back translation.

Another example from the same piece:

In act 1, scene 3, Ophelia says, "I shall the effect of this good lesson keep/ As watchman to my heart." Gide transfers these lines as: "Je resterai sensible a ta bonne leçon;/ Elle veillera sur mon coeur," and Eyüboğlu rewrites them in Turkish with a common Turkish idiom and in a single line: "Güzel öğütlerin kulağımda küpe olacak," which is, "your good advice will be earrings on my ears," in word-for-word translation and which is used in Turkish to mean that the advice will be kept and never forgotten (Doğan 1978: 49-51).

One more example for the rewritings of that period may be given from Professor Ioanna Kuçuradi's article entitled "Evaluating Poetry Translation and Homer in Turkish." There Professor Kuçuradi, a famous Turkish scholar of philosophy, discusses the criteria during the time of the Translation Bureau's activities and judges the translations into Turkish, performed under ideological and poetical constraints, of Homer's The Illiad and The Odyssey. Since translation was regarded as an activity to pave the way towards creating a spirit of humanism in the newly emerging Turkish society, and since the aim of the Translation Bureau was also to enrich, improve, and elevate the Turkish language by means of using forms and devices from its own sources, the translators had to create translations which would conform to both of these constraints. From this perspective, Kuçuradi goes on to say that Ahmet Cevat Emre, who translated both works in 1941, 1942, and 1957, intended to recreate Homer's epic world for the Turkish public without making incongruous associations with the Turkish epic world; this led him to make use of some language devices used in the Orhon Yazıtları (the old Turkish Inscriptions) in his translation (Kuçuradi 1978: 115-116).

5. Conclusion

Translation activity takes the form of rewriting with respect to the idea that society is a constituent of a system which comprises categories and norms which influence the translation process with the intention of influencing the audience according to the ideology and poetics of that society. Within this framework, the early years of the Turkish Republic, where an extensive translation activity was systematically organized and conducted by the state with the support-and taking into consideration the expectations-of its people, provides an example of translation regarded and performed as rewriting, occupying a central position in the Turkish literary polysystem with the aim of creating a national literature and promoting modernization. We hope to have shown in this study, using the example of a certain historic period in Turkey, the role of translation as rewriting to achieve those goals.

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