The shifting distance of translation

Yifeng SUN

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The present epoch of globalisation redefines the concept of distance in the course of negotiating spaces between nations and cultures. However, in a smaller world, cross-cultural exchanges are more contested and challenged by details and particulars, which, though seemingly insignificant, concerns the reception of the translated text. In adapting to the changed conditions and circumstances, translation vacillates between proximity and distance, with the latter taking precedence and emerging as the most dynamic, multivalent force at work. The pursuit of proximity entails coping with or adjusting to distance. Thus, translation can be seen as characteristic of different types and variables of distance: linguistic, cultural, social, political, psychological and aesthetic. That there exists temporal distance between source and target texts is a major hurdle for translation. Aside from it, linguistic and cultural distance necessitates acculturation, and sometimes justifies domestication. This paper aims to explore how distance operates with regard to translation, both at the cognitive and practical levels. Distance and displacement are deeply intertwined, and moreover, distance between the author and the source text reader and distance between the author and the target reader are very different in nature. Since distance is also characterised by dislocation, it gives rise to alienation, and despite the admitted appeal to minimise the distance between source and target texts as a gesture to address disparities between two particular languages and cultural values, in an overtly experimental mode of translation, distance is bound to change constantly, and can function to enhance the efficacy of cross-cultural communication. Close textual engagement or affirmative disengagement is seen to be strategic because an increased distance creates the necessary space for control and manipulation. The concept of distance is a useful heuristic for thinking about the way translation functions as a vital mode of cross-cultural communication and also suggests that the translator plays a pivotal role in the articulation and re-articulation of distance, particularly in literary translation to enhance the efficacy of translation.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTranslation and Cross-Cultural Communication Studies in the Asia Pacific
Number of pages15
VolumeApproaches to translation studies ; volume 42
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2015


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