115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Adaptations as Translations: Fidelity and Context

Carrie Morrow, California State University, San Marcos

The complexities of adaptation mirror those of translation, thus forcing us to consider the integral role of adaptors in their understanding of the original context; the success of the adaptation depends not on fidelity, but on the effective translation of the cultural, social, and historical implications into the target context.


There are distinct parallels between the processes of linguistic translation and adaptation.  Many challenges center on the concept of fidelity, and translators, like adaptors, confront the dilemma of defining what is and providing an “authentic” re-telling of an original text. The fundamental question, for translators, is whether one should provide a literal translation or an idiomatic translation. In this paper, I argue that the complexities in the process of adaptation mirror these struggles of translators, and thus considers the integral role of the translator, or adaptor, in his or her understanding of the context surrounding the original; the success of the adaptation, therefore, depends not on the issue of fidelity, but on the effective translation of the cultural, social, and historical implications into the target context.

            With adaptation, we can apply fundamental theories of translation as a basis for measuring equivalency.  As a foundational translation theorist, John Dryden claims that there are three categories of translation: The first, a “metaphrase,” is where the literal translation is ideal.  This form is the purest of its kind – words are replaced from an original language to the target language, depending on their identical definitions.  However, scholars argue that this is nearly impossible, since a translator must adhere to the rules of the target language to clearly convey meaning, consequently changing the linguistic structure (and potentially sacrificing stylistic elements) in the process.  Therefore, the next type of translation offers more liberties: the “paraphrase” allows the message of the literary piece to be conveyed, but with consideration for the target language and audience. Thus, Dryden recognizes a third form of translation, the “imitation,” where the translator “assumes the liberty” to vary, and “to forsake them both as he sees occasion” (17). Dryden’s criticism of an imitation centers on the inherent nature of the translator as a writer, or artist, himself – this ultimately conflicts with the role of the translator, whose sole responsibility is to convey the original author’s “sense,” which also includes the contextual significance.  Therefore, the process must incorporate a translation of context in order to demonstrate significance in the target culture. Yingjin Zhang notes recent developments in translation studies which have “exposed such a myth and have advocated a paradigm shift to move against invisibility, beyond fidelity, and toward authorship” (84). Essentially, the translation of context depends on the translator’s ability to reconstruct the very components that intertwined within the original to create a similar significance in the target culture.

            The process of adapting a text requires the same discussion and relies on subjective components based on the adaptor’s interpretation of the original, including cultural, social, and historical influences.  Fans of the original work are often the most critical of the fidelity of adaptations, and many adaptors argue that the notion of a “pure” adaptation is unattainable.  Throughout this process, the adaptor’s perspective adds to the variety of interpretations of an original, thus highlighting specific contextual elements within each adaptation, and providing significance within the target culture.

Topic Area: