1 https://literature.britishcouncil.org/writer/kazuo-ishiguro; http://www.william-golding.co.uk/about-william-golding

2 The Arabic meaning of this title is Devil. http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/english_literature/proselordflies/3prose_lord_flies_themerev7.shtml

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3 https://www.thoughtco.com/italian-remote-past-tense-2011716

Norms can be, however, described negatively by carrying constraints – restrictions to be challenged or overruled.  Consequently, they can be recognised as an intrusion on the freedom of the translator.  ‘A translator can occasionally thrive by breaking norms or, quite often, suffer by obeying them’ (Morini 2006: 124).  Translation problems will always remain problems, even when a translator has learned to deal with them.  Each culture has its own habits, norms, and conventions.  In any case, solutions to text-specific problems cannot be generalised; the translator must act creatively.  Translation needs to maintain the message and intention, which both translators achieved.  It is the translator’s task to mediate between the two cultures and mediation cannot mean imposing one’s culture-specific concept on members of another culture’s community.  Similarly, since authors are rarely experts in translation, they are likely to insist on a faithful rendering of the source text’s surface structures (probably the case for Lord of the Flies).  Translators must take expectations into account, even if it is difficult to know what they are.  However, this does not mean that translators are obliged to do exactly what the readers expect, yet there is a moral responsibility not to deceive them (Nord 1991: 94f, cited in Trosborg 1997: 48).  Norms are evidently at the forefront of translators’ minds, even if they are subconscious and were once undocumented.


This essay demonstrates that the translator decides how to approach translations, yet sometimes choices during the process are taken away from them.  It shows that norms have been used in the translated literary texts, with the main approach being the importance of meaning toward the intended audience.  Whether the texts lend themselves to literal or free translation, every translation sets its own profile of ‘equivalence priorities’, and it is part of the translator’s job to assess the overall profile that would be appropriate.  Chesterman (1997: 53) states that ‘norms make life easier by regulating behaviour to make it beneficial to all involved.’  This is an advantage of norms, enhancing logical translations and the knowledge of a target culture’s requirements. 




Linking to Toury’s initial norm, differences within the translations are adequacy and acceptability, subjecting the translation to either source or target system norms, though Toury’s notions of adequacy and acceptability are somewhat problematic (Hermans 1999: 77).  Lord of the Flies was subjected to source system norms using transferable features to achieve similar functions as the source text (Nord 1997: 50-51).  This resulted in a faithful representation of the source text which is deemed ‘adequate’ according to Toury’s initial norm.  The translation of Never Let Me Go created a reproduction of the source text form, content and situation, with the focus on textual units of the source text (Nord 1997: 48-51).  Limitations in translations are whether expressions exist and how to achieve the same meaning, deciding what can be left out (omission) and being consistent (operational norms).   Disadvantages are that norms can sometimes take decision-making away from translators.  When norms are abided by, translations are referred to as ‘proper’.  Failure to observe them means that the product is something other than a translation (Hermans 1999: 80); this could hinder a translator’s reputation.  A further limitation is translators’ competence, though competency should increase through experience and knowledge of the field.  If a target text is to be acceptable as representative of a target culture genre, the translator must be familiar with the conventions that the target text is to conform to.  A translator can refuse responsibility for the function of the target text and simply do what the client asks for.  Translation behaviour within a culture tends to manifest certain regularities, one consequence being that even if they are unable to account for deviations in any explicit way, the persons-in-the-culture can often tell when a translator has failed to adhere to sanctioned practices (Toury 1995: 56).  In some cultures, covert translations may be treated with suspicion, because readers expect translations to be overt (for example, ‘unnatural’) in some way, like, ‘agitated’ becoming ‘troublesome person’ in Never Let Me Go.  A translation that is genuinely natural may raise doubts about its accuracy, suspicions that the translator must have been too free.  


Hermans (1999: 85), ‘when translators do what is expected of them, they will be seen to have done well,’ relates to each translation despite their differing use of norms.  The translation of Lord of the Flies abides closely by multiple norms, subsequently producing a literal interpretation of the text.  Though this was the expected approach to translation, some choices would have been automatically made for the translator due to the norms in place.  Never Let Me Go’s translation, however, seems to escape some of those choices to produce a freer translation, which is more usual today.  The language used in Never Let Me Go seems to be more modern than the language in Lord of the Flies.  This could be due to a more recent audience (from 2006) and evolution in language.  The former is also in the first person, as a young character talking to the readers, whereas the latter, is written in the third person singular, and in the remote past describing something that once happened. 


Table 6, showing phrases translated differently creating a variation of meaning in Never Let Me Go.


Now I know my being a carer so long isn’t necessarily because they think I’m fantastic at what I do.


Adesso mi rendo conto che il fatto che io sia rimasta per tutto questo tempo non significa necessariamente che loro abbiano grande stima di me.

Back translation

Now I realize that the fact that I have stayed all this time does not necessarily mean that they have great respect for me.

‘Communication takes place through a medium and in situations that are limited in time and place.  Each situation determines what and how people communicate’ (Nord 1997: 1).  Both translations have been carried out through different communication levels with the translations being written years apart.  If norms are acquired by individuals, what might seem to be highly rated by one may not even be considered by another.  Never Let Me Go has more variation of target-culture adaptation, altering meaning and using addition and omission of information, for example, omitting the English word ‘never’ from the title.  The relation norm seeks to capture a range of resemblances between source and target text.  However, the choice of the relation between source and target is restricted by the range of relations that are possible (Chesterman 1997: 79).  Never Let Me Go appears to challenge norms (see table 6 showing differences in meaning between the source and target text) – behaviour which breaks Chesterman’s professional norms is usually worthy of criticism.  This criticism might be rejected by the translator, marking the beginning of an argument about how norms should be interpreted.  Going against expectancy norms, and, by extension, culture expectations, creates controversy and negative evaluation (Munday 2013: 172) unless the translator persuades readers to accept changes (Chesterman 1997: 84).

What are the strengths and limitations of the norms?

Expectancy norms allow evaluative judgments about translations to be made.  Some translations may conform to expectancy norms more closely than others, like Lord of the Flies, and tend to assume the status of ‘norm-models’ which exemplify the norms in question.  Other translations, like ‘Never Let Me Go’ are still accepted as translations, albeit not completely norm-abiding.  Some literary translators claim that their intention is to break norms. In such cases, the expectancy norms are broken because of some higher priority: the loyalty of the source text or the desire to produce a more persuasive text (Chesterman 1997: 66).   This appears to be the case in this translation, to encourage readers to continue reading by making it perhaps more appealing.  In addition, this translation was created 50 years after Lord of the Flies.  This reveals a movement in time – the freedom in translation and bravery to break norms: Nabokov’s view that ‘the clumsiest literal translation is a thousand times more useful than the prettiest paraphrase’ describes the direct approach desirable in the 1950s (Nabokov 1955, cited in Venuti 2000: 71).  This reveals that behaviours and attitudes, along with norms, have differed over time.


Table 5, replacing the original textual and linguistic material in the translated novel, Never Let Me Go.


…but actually they want me to go on for another eight months, until the end of this year.


…ma a dire il vero loro vogliono che continui per altri otto mesi, fino alla fine di dicembre.

Back translation

…but to tell the truth they want that it (the work) continues for another eight months, until the end of December.

Another of Toury’s norms, operational norms, direct the decision-making process, and within this, textual-linguistic norms govern the selection of target language material to replace source text material (Toury 1995: 59).  The translator’s work links to the textual-linguistic norm, accounting for the variety of ways to translate the source text (Chesterman 1997: 69).  This approach differs from that used in Lord of the Flies as it replaces the original textual and linguistic material (Toury 1995: 58).  For Lord of the Flies, the translator kept close to the original; for this translation, the translator translates in a subjective manner (see table 5).   Here the wording has changed, altering meaning.  This could be the use of Chesterman’s professional norms, which can govern the way a translator reads and comprehends the source text, before the action of translating, and how the translator’s own expectancy norms regarding the source language affect the comprehension of the source text (Chesterman 1997: 70).   This pattern of difference between the texts continues throughout. 

Table 4, varied differences between the original and translated novel, Never Let Me Go.


So I’m not trying to boast.


Quindi non ho nessuna intenzione di darmi delle arie.

Back translation

Therefore/So I have no intention to put on airs.

The text is target-oriented and functional.  Firstly, the translator has altered the sentence (see table 4) to be more thoroughly understood by the target-culture.  The gerund tense of ‘to try’ would not function well in an Italian novel due to the gerund being used whilst doing an action at a specific moment in time.  ‘I have no intention of…’ is more logical as it is in the present continuous, a tense used throughout the novel.  It is also showing informality, using ‘airs’ instead of ‘boast’.  The reason for this could be for the audience to grasp that the character is young and a friend to the reader.  For increased equivalence and literalness, the present tense ‘try’ with ‘vantarsi’ (to boast) could have been used.  Morini (2006: 124) identifies that translators usually standardise the source, so the tendency will be to let pass those elements of the source that are most digestible for the target audience.  The translator, throughout, has appealed to the target-culture, which under Toury’s initial norm, makes her work ‘acceptable’. 


This translated text demonstrates a descriptive translation (how the translation is, not how it should be), resulting in a less literal output compared to Lord of the Flies.  The title in Italian is ‘Non Lasciarmi’, which means ‘don’t leave me’.  This changes the context slightly as ‘non lasciarmi mai andare’ would be the literal translation (albeit longer and less appealing), though ‘non lasciarmi mai’ (‘never leave me’) would give a more literal meaning with a similar effect to the original.  An expressive approach follows throughout this translation.

3.2 Never Let Me Go  Non Lasciarmi


Table 3, demonstrating adequate actions to achieve understanding within the text, Lord of the Flies.


trailed it now from one hand, his grey shirt stuck to him and his hair was plastered to his forehead.


ora gli penzolava da una mano, la camicia grigia gli stava appiccicata addosso, e i capelli gli erano come incollati sulla fronte.

Back translation

now it was dangling/hanging in one hand, his grey shirt stuck to him, and his hair was stuck/glued to his forehead.

The remote past tense is evident throughout; engaging with the readers and following the pattern of tense used in Italian literature.3  This is one example of the communication norm (see table 3): to communicate so others recognise the intention and for them to interpret it accordingly, towards the achievement of understanding (Chesterman 1997: 57).  Lord of the Flies is an almost literal word-for-word translation with variation for ‘trailed it now from one hand’ – ‘trail’ meaning ‘follow’ in Italian so this word is altered to ‘penzolava’ (hanging).  Another example of slight variation is ‘plastered to his forehead’, where the verb ‘glued’ is chosen instead of plastered.  This again is chosen for accuracy in meaning.  Evidence of the three professional norms (accountability, relation, and communication) have been included here and throughout the text.  Although norms were not formally established at the time of translation, there is evidence of them in the translation, especially those classified as professional norms by Chesterman, which are applied during the translation process and can be set by translators.  Their use may have helped to keep the translation relevant and popular even today.


Table 2, a clear and unambiguous sentence within the text, Lord of the Flies.


The voice spoke again.  “I can’t hardly move with all these creeper things.”


La voce parlò di nuovo: «Non posso quasi muovermi, con tutti questi rampicanti.»

Back translation

The voice spoke again.  “I can hardly move, with all these creepers.”

The translator seems to be aware of ethical norms (accountability norms) – what is required and accepted by parties, upholding their trust and understanding (see table 2 demonstrating an unambiguous translation of a sentence, with the word ‘rampicanti’ for the English ‘creeper things’).  The translator has taken liberties with the word choice substitutions.  Ethical norms expect the translator to allow the reader to recognise if norms are breached.  This norm limits the amount of deviance target cultures will accept.  Though ethical norms pertain to most communicative interaction, they could be considered to not be specific to translation (Hermans 1999: 69).  The text is a literal translation of the novel; the slight alterations serve to form clearer expressions, maintain equivalence, and reduce ambiguity to target readers.   The translator’s highest priority is the target audience and abides strictly by norms.  The translator knows the story well and has acted in a way that the demands of loyalty are met regarding all involved.


Table 1, a sentence with norms within the text, Lord of the Flies.


The boy with fair hair lowered himself down the last few feet of rock and began to pick his way toward the lagoon.


Il ragazzo dai capelli biondi si calò giù per l’ultimo tratto di roccia e cominciò a farsi strada verso la laguna.

Back translation

The fair-haired boy lowered himself down the last stretch of rock and began to make his way toward the lagoon.

The sentence within table 1 also demonstrates the product norm (expectancy norms).  ‘For the last stretch of rock’ was chosen because ‘feet’ as a unit of measurement is rarely used in Italy and this translated phrase engages more with the reader, making the text exciting rather than plain – ‘gli ultimi piedi di roccia’, would lack effect and be unmeaningful.  Moreover, readers have expectations about target language/target culture adaptations.  Another example of this norm is the chosen verb form meaning ‘to make his way’; the verb ‘to pick’ would be unsuitable, hindering meaning and impression in the Italian language.  This translated phrase adds prominence to the movements of the character.  These equivalences are examples of the product norm: the expectations of readers of a translation concerning what a translation should or should not be like.  Bartsch (1987, cited in Schaffner 1999: 1) declares that product norms regulate what a product must look like in order to be regarded as correct and appropriate.  They concern the correctness and the well-informedness of linguistic expression. 


The Italian translation of Lord of the Flies appears to show a priority in stylistic similarity, which is usually the case for a short story (Chesterman 1997: 69).  A mixture of norms can be identified within the text.  The sentence below (see table 1) shows a description of a character.  However, the translator has decided to alter the sentence to enable it to be more accurate and flowing for Italian readers.  In Italian ‘with’ is ‘con’ and ‘the hair’ becomes the plural ‘i capelli’, therefore the translator could have used a literal phrase ‘con i or coi capelli’, though these are more commonly used in spoken language.  Instead, he accurately chooses ‘dai’ to link meaningfully to the written language use of the target culture.  Another reason for this is that the translation becomes more personalised with ‘the fair-haired boy’, rather than ‘the boy with the fair hair’.  This is an example of the relation norm, keeping a correspondence between the texts by adapting single components when needing to adapt to the target audience.  Chesterman (1997: 69-75) states that ‘professional translators tend to conform to the relation norm’, and that the relation norm is specific to translation where translators must establish and maintain similarity between the source text and the target text.  Literalism works well for back-translation, which may have been used after the Italian translation was created in 1956, to provide the commissioner with a gauge of the accuracy of the source text.  In addition, it retains the interpretation of the intention and meaning of the original text to the target audience (Robinson, no date).   There are further examples of the relation norm throughout the translation.


The translated title of ‘Lord of the Flies’ is literal as is most of the text itself.  This could be due to reduced freedom in translation (restrictions) and different norms in the 1950s (indeed, Toury’s norms were not introduced until 1978).  Or, equivalence, the translator kept the title literal to maintain the metaphor and meaning2 where the children are the flies following a chosen leader and a title with a similar impression would be difficult to create.  Before a translation can even commence, notions such as, ‘who the original audience was; what the original author intended by it and intended to achieve through it’ are considered (Robinson, no date).  This is then reflected in the translation, in this case beginning with the title, which already demonstrates these notions, maintaining the author’s intentions.

3.1 Lord of the Flies  Il Signore delle Mosche

How have norms been used in the two texts?

Norms, acquired through repetitive behaviour, education, and socialisation, are agreed by communities as appropriate normalities.  They are not orders or prescriptions but descriptive of practices within a community (Bartsch 1987: 76, cited in Chesterman 1997: 54); they fall midway between laws and conventions.  They are accepted and useful not only in everyday life but also employment – guiding a translator’s work (Chesterman 1997: 63).  Thus, they become dominant and influential on thought and behaviour; a way of life.  In translation studies, the concept of norms was first introduced by Toury in 1978.  They affect the process of translation; they support the decision-making process and enable translators to choose one option amongst others, so it is acknowledged that norms save time and effort (Chesterman 1997: 56).  Norms determine both the theory and practice of translation, though questions of validation have been raised.  The imperative theory argues that norms are validated by authority, whilst the practice theory argues that norms are validated by their existence.  Toury (1995: 54) proclaims that translators performing under different conditions adopt different strategies and therefore produce varied end products.  Yet norms attract approval or disapproval within society (Munday 2013: 181).  Criticisms of the concepts exist, though these will not be explored during this essay.   

What are norms and why do they exist in translation studies?


This essay will present two English language texts with existing Italian translations.  It will categorise, describe and compare norms found in the two texts, including those established by Chesterman and Toury.  The chosen texts, found in the appendices, are Lord of the Flies by William Golding (1954) and Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (2005).  These texts (A and B respectively, alongside their Italian translations, A1, published in 1958, and B1, published in 2006) have been chosen as they are both fiction novels and express the language of given times – these novels were written approximately 50 years apart.  They are written by award-winning authors1, and aimed at young adults.  It will be interesting to note if there are similarities in the norms found or whether they differ greatly, perhaps demonstrating a change in norms over time.  In addition, this essay will consider the strengths and limitations of the norms. 



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