The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer (c1340-1400) is acknowledged as a
major work of world literature. It has been translated, as a whole or in part, into
more than fifty languages. This study reflects on the process and outcome of an
Afrikaans translation, Die Pelgrimsverhale van Geoffrey Chaucer (appended), of
this Middle English text. The aim of this study was to explore what happens when a text is decontextualised as a result of its removal from the historical linguistic, literary and cultural context in which it originated and it is recontextualised in terms of a very different twentieth and twenty-first century receptor culture. This necessitates interpretation of the source text in its fourteenth century thought world, elucidated by scholarship accumulated over the centuries, and its reinterpretation in order to be intelligible and acceptable to contemporary readers, specifically Afrikaans-speaking readers, shaped in large measure by Calvinist theology and nationalist ideology. The focus of the study was on the correlation between theory underpinning Translation Studies and the practical conclusions arrived at in the course of an extended translating process and as a result of this study. Theorists whose insights figure prominently include Toury, Gadamer, Jauss, Iser and Even-Zohar. A central dilemma facing any translator was formulated by Friedrich Schleiermacher in 1813: a translation should either move the writer towards the reader (domestication) or move the reader towards the writer (foreignisation). Most more recent functionalist translation studies favour the former option, exemplified by Gideon Toury’s insistence on the normative nature of cultural accommodation in translation in order iii to achieve acceptability in the target text’s literary polysystem. Schleiermacher favoured moving the reader towards the writer, a course of action vigorously espoused by Lawrence Venuti, who rejects domestication in favour of foreignisation. The translation investigated is the researcher’s own work, a translation of Chaucer’s Canterbury TalesI, completed over a period of sixty years. These circumstances favoured a longitudinal approach and an autoethnographic methodology to investigate how practical translational strategies were employed to achieve the adequacy of the translation which can be reconciled with the theoretically based norms of acceptability, and how the theoretical acceptability of the translation relates to the realities of an Afrikaans polysystem.
Based on the practical experience set out in the reconstruction of the translation
process, the study opposes the binarism implied in adopting either domestication or foreignisation fully. The research established the adequacy of the translation in terms of Toury’s theoretically based norms of acceptability. These norms are usually advanced as purely descriptive, but in practical terms they may achieve prescriptive force for a translator in pursuit of acceptance. This difficulty, which arose in the context of a translation that was unacceptable to the Afrikaans polysystem at the height of Afrikaner nationalism, led to an appraisal of the current situation and a reflection on hypothetical future audiences for the translated work. The study concluded that in contrast to modernisations, translations draw on the vast linguistic resources of the target language and are therefore able to throw new light on the source text. Translations of the Canterbury Tales are therefore of benefit to Chaucer scholarship. Consequently, the Afrikaans translation and the author’s reflection on it may have a measure of significance in the global reception of Chaucer’s work.