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Domestication vs. Foreignization vs. Localization

It’s Thursday, which means that soon the weekend will be upon us!

Yesterday’s post brought up a point that I wanted to explore further. The article I translated from Spanish mentioned that in years past, dialog translators would often lean too far in the direction of “domestication.” An example they gave was that in the sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Will Smith’s character makes a reference to a Spanish celebrity named Ramoncín. Of course, Will Smith’s character in the show is an urban youth from Philadelphia and he would likely have never heard of Ramoncín, but the change was made to make the reference more comfortable for Spanish viewers. That’s domestication, making content more easily understood by the consumer by changing the content to what’s familiar.

Now, I took a couple of translation courses in college, but I had not heard this term brought up, though we were taught some of the thinking behind it. Since I hadn’t heard of it before in regards to translation (for my ESL friends, “domestication” is commonly used to refer to animal farming and breeding), at first I wondered whether I should translate it as “localization,” which I had heard of many times regarding video games. That’s what happens when your husband makes video games for a living!

I decided to do some more research and came across this blog post:

In case you didn’t click on the link, the blogger discusses translating the same German novel twice, once using domestication and once preferring foreignization. In the foreignized version, the reader is expected to become comfortable with foreign names, places, and cultures. Conversely, in the domesticated version, the translator changed the names and places to those more familiar to a North American reader, which also required leaving out the part of the story where one character had escaped East Germany in his youth.

This is my problem with too much domestication: the writer had a purpose for choosing the names, setting, and culture of their writing (future post to come on the use of the singular “their”). When you change these things, truly a lot is lost in translation, to use that old cliché. Personally, if I choose to read something about someone from another culture, I usually want to learn about that culture in the process. I want to learn about the people and places, what makes them different from me, and what we share as fellow human beings. I want to learn some new names and customs I may have never heard of before.

On the other hand, too much foreignization may cause part of the target audience to be lost. For instance, a Spanish friend I met in Rome strongly recommended that I read Crime and Punishment. I was living in Japan at the time, so as soon as I returned to Japan I managed to find an English translation (yay, Kinokuniya’s English section!). Unfortunately, after fewer than a hundred pages I put it down and have never finished. I really should try it again, perhaps in a different translation, but at the time I was trying so hard to learn Japanese that I didn’t have the mental bandwidth to keep straight all the Russian names which were so unfamiliar to me. I’m not saying that the names should have been changed to John and Mary, but just that I wasn’t able to get into it at the time.

I mentioned video game localization above, which I think is a mix of domestication and foreignization, depending on the game. The Wikipedia article I linked to discusses varying philosophies on the topic and controversies that have arisen. Localization is a larger process than translation because it can involve hardware, software, and legal issues with shipping intellectual property to countries with different standards of what’s acceptable entertainment. But I think there’s an interesting cross-section there.

That’s what’s been rolling around in my head! I learned something new and I hope you did, too. If you found this topic interesting, go ahead and leave a comment. Where do you fall in the domestication vs. foreignization spectrum?