Literary translation from Turkish into English: A case study on Turkish-English translation of Ahmet Ümit’s Bab-ı Esrar

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It is no exaggeration to assert that there is a remarkable disparity between the book translation flows among central languages like English and more peripheral languages such as Turkish. Considering language groups, to use Heilbron’s words, as “the basic units of the world-system of translation” (Heilbron, 2010, p.304), this paper first examines the huge discrepancy in flow among languages, and then briefly elucidates the path authors from peripheral languages may achieve recognition in central languages’ literary world. Examining initial steps taken during the introduction of Ahmet Ümit to the English-language readers, emphasizing the determining role of agents, especially Ahmet Ümit’s publisher, Everest Publishing House, and his agency, Kalem Literary Agency, the research will present a preliminary “to-do” list for Turkish authors to publish their books in English, and specifically focus on textual considerations, that is, the translatorial decisions taken during the translation process. The analysis section of this study seeks to uncover the fact that, in Ahmet Ümit’s case, marketing-oriented decisions seem to result in domesticating translation strategies that manifest themselves in the translated text, The Dervish Gate, and the paratexts surrounding it. Within the scope of this study, in order to furnish a comparative textual analysis with further findings, several findings obtained from my already-published e-mail corresponce with Ümit have been used. However, ethical permission is not required for this interview since it was conducted on January 14th, 2015. This paper, applying Mona Baker’s narrative theory and her concepts as a methodology, discusses the target-oriented linguistic make-up of the target text in which framing strategies (Baker, 2006a) help Islamic mysticism, or Sufism (Arabic tasawwuf), to take on a malleable nature and flexible narrative, making it considerably more intelligible and even familiar to the target-language reader. That said, it provides an example for domesticating Rumi’s narrative, presenting Sufism as a more appealing alternative to institutionalized belief. Last, this research demonstrates that the use of domesticating translation strategies that appear in the form of omission and substitution makes easier the journey of an author from Turkish, a peripheral language, to the English literary world. The hierarchy among languages and its effects on the translation flow give rise to the translation traffic flowing from the core to the periphery. A language is more central in the world system of translation when it owns a large share of the total number of translated books worldwide. Based on this hierarchical translation traffic and the controversy over whether translation entails smooth communication across cultures by pushing source cultures to the background, this research seeks to outline the dynamics of transnational cultural exchanges where power, hierarchy, and non-equality are blatantly obvious. In this light, it also examines the path Ahmet Ümit as an author writing in Turkish, a peripheral language, seeks to gain recognition in the central languages’ literary world. Furthermore, the specific purpose of this study is to demonstrate what strategies the translator Elke Dixon has employed in the Turkish-English translation of Ahmet Ümit’s Bab-ı Esrar, exploring the underlying reasons behind the textual choices. The textual and paratextual analysis discloses a series of norms that guide the process of translation from English into Turkish. In this paper, I benefited from Lawrence Venuti’s concepts and Johan Heilbron’s assumptions as a general theoretical framework to examine the norms effective in the translation process from English into Turkish. Concerning the worldwide translation traffic, Heilbron argues that if a language assumes a major position in culture, translations into that culture are produced at small percentages. Put differently, he suggests that the language's position uncovers the role of translation within the worldwide system of translation. As Heilbron indicates, the global flow of the translation is guided by a hierarchical structure that categorizes languages as core, semi-peripheral, and peripheral. I employed Mona Baker’s narrative theory as a methodological framework to examine such translational choices as additions and omissions which would be considered (re)framing strategies in translation. Baker highlights that narrative theory allows us to explain translation practices within the larger socio-political context. Drawing on a narrative theory, my case study endeavors to bring to light the potential reasons for evident differences between Ümit’s Bab-ı Esrar and its English translation. The examples I examined demonstrate how Sufi terms have been dealt with in the translation of Bab- ı Esrar from Turkish into English and how the translator’s treatment has revealed her tendency towards domestication of the Turkish text. It appeared that Dixon’s domesticating method functioned as a framing strategy, appropriating Bab-ı Esrar for the English-language readers. It is plausible to view Dixon’s inclusion of words as a selective appropriation when we consider her numerous interventions both to make the ST more intelligible to the target reader and to acculturate it in consideration of the target literary market. In the ST, religiously-loaded terms have often been used through transliteration from Persian and Arabic. However, Dixon has either omitted connotative meanings of these terms of Persian and Arabic origin, or she has substituted them with words, which do not embody the feelings and ideas that people may connect with them. It can be argued that the translator has (re)framed the larger Sufi narrative in a more culturally assimilable way where a Sufi culture can be more easily recognized within the target cultural context. It can be concluded from the efforts of Ahmet Ümit’s literary agency and Turkish publisher that the


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Turkish Studies - Language and Literature

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