Moving borders: Fluctuating norms in Hungarian literary translation, 1989-2000

Dalma Galambos (Pázmány Péter Catholic University, Hungary)

“There are no fixed rules because there are no fixed borders. Borders are drawn by the translator on a momentary basis.”

Hans J. Vermeer. „Grenzen der Translation ausloten.“  Paper delivered at the conference Translation als Schlüsselbegriff der Interdisziplinarität on 22th November 2008 in Germersheim, p. 7. <>

Whenever the word ‘translation’ is uttered, certain assumptions are automatically engaged about what it is or what it should be. However, what seems unequivocally self-evident to one person, one community, one language, one culture, one era is not necessarily so to another—all of which, while obvious for translation scholars, seem to not have caught the eye of the general public or even the translators themselves. Especially so during certain periods of time when a whole system is undergoing change.

In Hungary, the 1989 regime change marked the start of such a period. The end of censorship and the radical change in the formerly state-controlled cultural policy, at least initially, incited a hunger for foreign literature banned up to that point. These circumstances ushered in a new era for the translation industry as well. These factors inevitably resulted in a burst of new publishing houses, an upsurge in the number of literary works translated into Hungarian and, in general, a cultural revolution. In addition, naturally, it involved a change in the status of translators as well as the availability of strategies and preferences towards them.

This pilot study aims to create a preliminary map of ideas, guidelines and contradictions regarding translation to gain a better understanding of the fluctuation of translation norms in Hungary between 1989 and 2000. Collecting and organising these often-reiterated ideas from the relevant literary journals from this particular period of a translation-oriented culture may serve to illustrate the effect the regime change exerted on the field of literary translation. The study will create the basis for further research which will explore both the deeper background and the long-term effects of this phenomenon as a means to gain insight into the surprisingly perseverant yet often contradictory concepts shaping the perception of the field in Hungary—and with it, the field itself. Furthermore, it provides an exciting opportunity to revisit the framework of the Skopos Theory and take a first glance at how these often conflicting or culture-specific phenomena shape aim in addition to changing translators’ strategies and readers’ expectations, thus moving borders in perhaps unexpected directions.


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