Politici de integrare a migranţilor

Between Assimilation and Accommodation:
Migration and Translation Policies in Post-Communist Romania1

[„Al.I. Cuza” University of Iași]

The changing transnational relations following the European integration and the process of globalization urge us to look at translations from a broader sociological perspective. Both the European integration and globalization seem to have greatly affected the inequalities between languages and the translation ratios in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Therefore, this paper aims to discuss the situation of the Romanian writers’ “export” abroad, i.e. the translation policies operating in post-accession Romania as an instance of migration on the literary book market.

Keywords: inward/outward migration; translation assimilation/ translation accommodation; minor/ major languages; power relations; central/ peripheral languages

The functions and the role of translation in the target culture have long been theorised within the cultural orientations in translation studies. Translated texts migrate towards the target cultural space, being inevitably shaped by the social, cultural and historical context of their reception. Therefore, our analysis will be based on an interdisciplinary approach, involving recent developments in the fields of Translation Studies, Cultural Studies and Sociology.

Operating somewhere in-between the interpretative and the economic dimensions of Translation Studies, the sociological approaches to translation are concerned with a specific type of economy – the market of symbolic capital2. Within this new perspective, the emphasis is shifted towards a whole set of social relations within which translations are produced and circulated, and the subsequent specifically sociological questions about the aims and functions of translations, their agents and agencies, the space within which they are situated and the constraints, both political and economic, that circumscribe them3. From a sociological perspective, translation is thus considered a transnational transfer, based on relations of competition and rivalry between nation-states and linguistic groups, constituting a space of international relations.

Therefore, changing transitional relations and globalization urge us to look at translations from the broader sociological perspective and to include geopolitical and geocultural dimensions within this type of Translation Studies. In the context of cultural and linguistic plurality which characterizes present day globalization and internationalization, cultural and linguistic dialogue becomes essential, as it is also the existence of a new lingua franca – English.

Another important phenomenon with far-reaching implications for translation theory and practice is the phenomenon of inward and outward migration, which necessarily deals with language issues. Migration and translation share in common issues of power and identity, which can be correlated with discussions on postcolonialism and power relations.

According to Cronin4, migration policies divide into policies of translation assimilation and translation accommodation. In the case of a regime of translational assimilation, migrants will qualify for citizenship in a receiving state only if they can demonstrate that they master on a satisfactory level the language of the state, while policies will be generally directed at encouraging migrants to assimilate the dominant or official language of the country as rapidly as possible, in other words, to translate themselves into the receiving language and culture.

A good example of migration in the literary field is the case of the writers of the Romanian exile or diaspora, such as Mircea Eliade, Paul Goma, Dumitru Tepeneag, Norman Manea, etc. Some of these writers, choosing or being forced into exile, and eager to be included into the host literary environment, decided to give up their mother tongue, writing directly in English or French, or practicing self-translation, in the hope of a faster insertion into the literary field of their new home country. Even more so, in some cases, the success on a certain (dominating) literary market is facilitated by the presence, through translation, on other cultural and literary scenes (in other cultural and literary spaces). Such cases include writers Norman Manea, who first entered Germany, or Mircea Cărtărescu who also had some books published and awarded in a few West-European countries before entering on the American market and being published in the United States.

On the other hand, in a regime of translational accommodation, the importance of linguistic and cultural diversity in a society is highly acknowledged and valued, and therefore translation practices are a way of protecting diversity, ensuring communication at the same time.

The relationship between globalization and translation reveals a constant tension between globalization perceived as centrifugal and centripetal5and it turns to issues of cultural authority and hegemonic relations between cultures. In its centrifugal form, globalization means interdependence, interpenetration, hybridity, syncretism, creolization and crossover (translation allows minority languages to preserve their autonomy), whereas in its centripetal form, it involves homogenization – implying imperialism, subjection, hegemony, Westernization or Americanization (in which translation plays an essential role). 

From this perspective, power relations and inequalities between countries and cultures lead to unequal cultural exchanges that express relations of domination and affect the flows of translations. According to Heilbron and Sapiro, English occupies the most central position since half the books translated worldwide are translations from English:

Well behind come German and French, which represent between 10 and 12% of the world market of translations. Eight languages have semi-peripheral positions, with a share that varies from 1 to 3 % of the international market (Spanish and Italian for example). The other languages all have a share of less than one percent of the international market, and might thus be considered as peripheral, despite the fact that certain of them (Chinese, Arabic or Japanese) represent linguistic groups that are among the most important in terms of number of speakers6.

As it can be noticed, the number of speakers of a certain language does not necessarily determine the hierarchy of ‘central’ and ‘peripheral’ languages. It is certainly obvious that the translation flows are highly uneven, and the direction is from the centre toward the margin, rather than vice versa. While the dominant countries „export” widely their cultural products, translating little into their own languages, the dominated countries „export” little and „import” a high number of foreign books, especially by means of translation.

Power relations among languages also elucidate historical changes and account for translation flows. Loss of power or prestige and the subsequent diminution of language status impacts on the level of translation activity in a given country (e.g. the changes in the position of Russian after the collapse of the Socialist regimes which meant a sharp decline in the number of translations from Russian).

The existence of cultural hegemonies inevitably leads to disproportionate translation ratios. This issue has been explored extensively by Lawrence Venuti (1995) who is interested specifically in disproportionate volumes of translation into and from English, given that after Wold War II English has been the most widely translated language worldwide, while the number of translations into English has dropped significantly. For instance, speaking about the commercial balance between Europe and the United States of America, the director of the American PEN Michael Moore, states that „it is ridiculous, since only 3%7 of the published books in the US are translations”8, while in Romania, for instance, translations represent over 50% of the books on the market.

The „consequences of such translation patterns are wide-ranging and insidious”, Venuti9 states, illustrate the imbalances of cultural power in present day’s world, namely British and American publishing which has reaped the financial benefits of successfully imposing Anglo-American cultural values on a vast foreign readership, while producing cultures in the United Kingdom and the United States that are aggressively monolingual, unreceptive to the foreign, accustomed to fluent translations that invisibly inscribe foreign texts with English language values and provide readers with the narcissistic experience of recognizing their own culture in a cultural other10.

This practice is known, in Venuti’s terms, as domestication, which, given its economic value, has been supported and enforced by editors, publishers and reviewers interested in translations that are easily readable and therefore, likely to be successful on the book market. In Translation and the Formation of Cultural Identities (1996), Venuti sees domestication as a process functioning at every stage in the production, circulation and reception of translation, and starting with the very choice of a foreign text to be translated.

From postcolonial stance, in Venuti’s terms, domestication and domesticated translation is communicative, assimilative, accessible, continuing thus to colonize the reader, whereas, on the other side of the coin, foreignizing translation is resistive, noncommunicative, nonassimilative, inaccessible, undermining thus colonial hegemony and decolonizing people.

Similarly, in „Altered States: Translation and Minority Languages”11 Michael Cronin attempts to „account for the asymmetry and inequality of relations between peoples, races, languages” in Europe, examining in detail the position of such a minority language, namely Irish Gaelic. He defines thus „minority” as a dynamic concept with  respect to language, the expression of a relation rather than an essence, that can assume two forms: diachronic and spatial.

The diachronic relation that defines a minority language is „an historical experience that destabilises the linguistic relations in one country, so that languages find themselves in an asymmetrical relationship”12. And here, Cronin provides the example of English, which functioned in Ireland as a minority language for centuries, but changed its status as a majority language as a result of political developments over time.

Closely connected to the diachronic relationship, the spatial relation involves a minority position that can be due either to a redrawing of national boundaries (for instance, Russian, which became a minority language in most of the Baltic Republics with the break-up of the Soviet Union) or to a shift in the dominant position effected on the same territory (the example of Ireland). Cronin’s spatial/ diachronic dissociation is extremely useful in evaluating the different contexts in which minority languages operate from the perspective of translation.

As Cronin13 argues, the relational dynamic of minority languages, highly significant to translation theory and practice, is related to three factors. First of all, the majority status of a language depends on political, economic and cultural forces, subjected to changes, and which involves that all languages are potentially minority languages and vice-versa. Secondly, translation relations are based on figure/ ground oppositions. Languages can be divided into target-language intensive (for instance English, which faces nowadays intense translation into other languages, but significantly less translation traffic in the opposite direction) and source-language intensive (e.g. almost any minority language where translations are largely from other source languages that enjoy majority status). And finally, the pressure to translate is a central rather than a peripheral aspect in the relational position of minority languages, translation becoming an essential means of understanding the position of minority-language speakers in relationships of language and culture.

Discussing the differences in translation flows between Europeans (as speakers of minority languages) and the United States, Andrei Codrescu notices that the Europeans are generally more aware of international writing than the Americans; and he argues that „they have to be: they speak a variety of languages in a reduced space, and there are a lot of former colonists living in Europe. They need to be „international”, otherwise they will disappear”14.

This leads translators of minority languages to the classical dilemma: if they preserve in translation the full otherness of the majority language/ culture (foreignizing, in Venuti’s terms), then the language in which they translate loses its distinctiveness as a separate linguistic entity and becomes a mere imitation of the source language; on the other hand, if they translate domesticating the source text, opting for a target-oriented approach, translation no longer functions as an agent of regeneration in the target language, and it runs the risk of „complacent stasis”15 Failing to signal the difference and the difficulties of the translation process, the use of „fluent strategies”16 can lead to an illusion of transparency, sacrificing „the other”, obscuring „the different” in order to ensure readability.

Translation choices conform to and enforce stereotypical views of the speakers of minority languages. Moreover, not only the speakers of majority languages are affected by translation options, but, interestingly enough, in their turn, speakers of minority languages can begin to internalise the stereotypes and see these representations as inherent to their being.

In an article published in World Literature Today, critic Christian Moraru comments upon this cultural dimension, warning about the danger of a new type of (cultural) post-colonialism; he argues that before stepping the borders into a vaster ensemble, one should first do away with the inherited national self-representations and the traditional paradigms which have lasted for too long after the official fall of communism. He states that „in the postcommunist era, the ongoing hegemony of the nationalist model and East-European ethnic strife, in particular, have consolidated in the West a set of assumptions about what the East-European writer should be like”.17

These assumptions can create clichés and presumptions that distort the Western representations of Eastern Europe and, meanwhile, the East European identity and, more precisely, the Romanian identity still continues to be measured in terms of touristic expectations:  Moraru claims that „Eastern Europe and East-Europeans are one big freak show”, further referring to „former communist countries’ literatures as a cultural safari.”18

All these discussions on power asymmetries in the literary field could be therefore applied to the cultures of the former Communist countries where, as in most developed countries in the second half of the twentieth century, migration and cross-border mobility were accompanied by an increase in the number of books translated, especially from English. For small countries and peripheral language groups, international communication became thus very much one-way traffic ... and this was also the case of Romania.

In order to support these very general considerations and to exemplify the state of affairs concerning the presence of Romanian literature on the international book market, the way in which Romania managed to respond to globalization and increase its visibility at international level, in what follows I will refer to the promotion policy led by three important cultural institutions in Romania: the Romanian Cultural Institute, Observator Cultural (the Cultural Observer Magazine) and Polirom Publishing House.

Starting with 2005, the promotion of Romanian culture has been consistently supported by the Romanian Cultural Institute19, established in 2003, with a declared aim to promote the international exchange of literature and culture. It comprises a network of 17 institutes in 16 countries, which provide information on Romanian literature, language and civilization. In 2007, the National Book Centre took over the translation and promotion of Romanian literature abroad through the programmes it has developed: TPS (Translation and Publication Support Programme), 20 authors, Publishing Romania, and the scholarship programme for new and professional translators of Romanian literature. The Centre coordinates the Romanian participation in international book fairs, organizes meetings with publishers from various linguistic areas, meetings with authors and translators and ensures the presence of the Romanian writers at international cultural events. Since 2005, when it begun its publishing activity, the Romanian Cultural Institute has published 270 books, by 113 authors, and belonging to 13 genres. The translated volumes were published at 157 publishing houses from 27 countries and in 24 languages.20

English is the preferred language for translation, with 45 titles translated, followed by Spanish (39) and French (32)21, demonstrating the tendency to move towards the centre, towards the internationally recognised lingua franca, in order to increase visibility. 

Launched in September 2008 at the initiative of the Observator Cultural magazine, The Observer Translation Project22 is an international magazine of translated Romanian writing, presenting previously untranslated fiction. The project’s declared aim is to „highlight a „pilot” author each month”, in order to provide the potential foreign reader interested in Romanian literature with a database of Romanian writers, updates on Romanian writing published abroad, as well as critical reactions to Romanian works. Described on signandsight.com as „the fantastic translation project,”23 OTP translates into English, Dutch French, German, Italian, Spanish and Polish, leaving also room for guest languages.

The project does not promote publishing houses, but authors and, as in the case of RCI, the focus is rather on contemporary authors, untranslated so far in any foreign languages (such as, for instance, Mircea Horia Simionescu, Mircea Nedelciu, Ştefan Agopian, Răzvan Petrescu, etc.), but also on authors whose works have been partially translated (Gheorghe Crăciun, Stelian Tănase, Gabriela Adameşteanu, Florina Iliş etc.)

In the three years since its launching, the Observer Translation Project has gathered a number of 20 authors, mostly contemporary Romanian writers (like in the case of the RCI), with a few notable examples of classical authors (Mateiu Caragiale or Petre Ispirescu), and 46 translators into the seven languages. Most translations posted on the website are in English, which adds up to and is somehow justified by the editors’ note on the About Us webpage: Please note, English is the „lingua franca” of the non-literary parts of the site.

Another worth-mentioning translation project is the Contemporary Romanian Writers24 website created in 2008 by two representative publishing houses in Romania, Polirom and Cartea Românească. Drawing on a set of beautiful brochures and other materials which are meant to promote Romanian authors, the project aims to better inform the foreign publishers about the most recent entries in the Romanian literature. According to www.book-fair.com, the Contemporary Romanian Writers website, „providing bio and bibliographic information along with book descriptions and excerpts for a host of Romanian writers” seems to be „a very well designed site, and one that will be incredibly useful to any publisher interested in Romanian literature.”

Going back to the assimilation/ accommodation dilemma, and bearing in mind that most Romanian works included in these projects are translated into English, the biggest question is related to what we should promote. Some people support the idea that we should focus on exporting our „specificity”, our local, strictly „Romanian” values, while others state that we can stir the interest only through forms that are 100% international, cosmopolite and „à la mode”, through copies of the recipes that are successful nowadays worldwide. Apparently different, both categories somehow illustrate a complex of marginality, according to which, being „peripheral”, we should promote picturesque, „exotic” authors, or disguise in „westerns”. For instance, literary critic Nicolae Manolescu (2009), argues that we should count on the translation of „live” authors, on contemporaries, i.e. on writers such as Dan Lungu, or Filip Florian, rather than on Slavici. „We should move on to another type of politics, a more aggressive one in this field and not go on with the shy one we’re practicing at the moment”, states Manolescu, adding that „in the end we will find a successful writer who will pull the others, just like an engine”.25

The answers to these questions came out during a discussion with some of the people involved in the elaboration and running of the RCI programs26. Their strategy is conceived according to the specific needs of each targeted cultural space. And, if Spain for instance, seems to be more open to the Romanian classical literature (the success recorded by Mateiu Caragiale’s Craii de Curtea-Veche), most cultural milieux are much more responsive to contemporary authors.

This is by no means a question of value, they argue, but one of marketability.  Foreign editors and publishing houses are looking for books that are likely to be sold. Contemporary authors are easier to present and promote; they can be invited to literary events, public readings, they are generally much more appealing to the general public than a classical author, no matter how valuable (s)he might be. Promoting classical, canonical writers would mean, from a commercial point of view, restricting the targeted audience. 

And since the main projects involved in the promotion of Romanian literature are supporting mostly contemporary authors, while the need to translate canonical writers is felt especially in academic environments, such as readerships and departments of Romanian literature and culture, the question is: what are the chances of the canonical Romanian literature to be translated abroad? Could this clear cut separation between what we choose to promote on the international book markets, what „sells in the West”, and what still needs to be studied in schools, eventually lead to the creation of two literary canons?


Cronin, Michael, „Altered States: Translation and Minority Languages” in TTR: traduction, terminologie, rédaction, vol. 8, n° 1, 1995,  85-103.
Cronin, Michael, Translation and Globalization, London and New York: Routledge, 2003.
Cronin, Michael, Translation and Identity, London/New York: Routledge, 2006.
Harris, Jean, „Literaturile de circulaţie mică şi piaţa americană de carte”, Interviu cu Andrei Codrescu, Carmen Firan, Julian Semilian si Michael Moore, Observator Cultural, no.118/ 7-13 June 2007 http://www.observatorcultural.ro/Literaturile-de-circulatie-mica-si-piata-americana-de-carte.-Dialog-cu-Jean-Harris*articleID_17707-articles_details.html.
Heilbron, Johan, „Responding to Globalization. The development of book translation in France and in the Netherlands” in Beyond Descriptive Translation Studies: investigations in homage to Gideon Toury, Amsterdam/ Philadelphia: Benjamins Translation Library, Vol. 75, John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2008, 188-197.
Heilbron, Johan and Gisèle Sapiro, „Outline for a sociology of Translation” in Michaela Wolf and Alexandra Fukary (eds.), Constructing a Sociology of Translation, Amsterdam/ Philadelphia: Benjamins Translation Library, Vol. 74, John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2007, 93-107.
Lefevere, André „Translation Practice(s) and the Circulation of Cultural Capital. Some Aeneids in English”, in Susan Bassnett and André Lefevere (eds.) Constructing Cultures, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, 1998, 25-40.
Lefevere, André, „Translated literature: Towards an Integrated Theory” in Bulletin, Midwest MLA, 1981, 14/1, 68-78.
Lefevere, Andre, Translation, Rewriting and the Manipulation of Literary Fame, London / New York: Routledge, 1992.
Manolescu, Nicolae, „Cum ne vindem literatura în străinătate” in  Adevărul, March 11th, 2009 http://www.adevarul.ro/actualitate/vindem-literatura-strainatate_0_74394671.html.
Moraru, Christian, „Romanian literature beyond the nation: Mircea Cartarescu” Europeanism and Cosmopolitanism” in World Literature Today, 2006, July, 1st,  http://www.accessmylibrary.com/coms2/summary_0286-16296618_ITM.
Pieterse, Jan Nederveen, „Globalization as Hybridization” in Mona Baker (ed.) Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies, 2nd edition, London / New York: Routledge, 2009, 127.
Venuti, Lawrence, The Translator’s Invisibility, London/New York: Routledge, 1995.
Venuti, Lawrence (ed.), The Translation Studies Reader (London/New York: Routledge 2004, 2006, 2008).
Venuti, Lawrence, „Translation and the Formation of Cultural Identities.” Christina Schaffner and Helen Kelly Holmes (eds.) Discourse and Ideologies, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, 1996, 9-23.   
*** Centrul Naţional al Cărţii (The National Book Centre): http://www.cennac.ro/anunturi/traduceri-aparute-cu-sprijinul-icr-7/op-38/?ord=cod
*** Contemporary Romanian Writers http://www.romanianwriters.ro/s.php?id=1
*** Institutul Cultural Român (Romanian Cultural Institute): http://www.icr.ro/praga/despre-noi-1/
*** Observer Translation Project http://translations.observatorcultural.ro/
*** Frankfurt Bookfair www.book-fair.com
*** Three Percent



1 Acknowledgements: This work was supported by the European Social Fund in Romania, under the responsibility of the Managing Authority for the Sectoral Operational Programme for Human Resources Development 2007-2013 [grant POSDRU/88/1.5/S/47646].
2 In „Translation Practice(s) and the Circulation of Cultural Capital: Some Aeneids in English” (1998) Lefevere uses the notion of cultural capital, concept borrowed from Pierre Bourdieu, to refer to „what you need to be seen to belong to the ‘right circles’ in the society in which you live” (p. 41) what „makes you acceptable in your society at the end of the socialisation process known as education.” (p. 42).
3 Cf. Johan Heilbron and Gisèle Sapiro, „Outline for a sociology of Translation” in Michaela Wolf and Alexandra Fukary (eds.), Constructing a Sociology of Translation, (Amsterdam/ Philadelphia: Benjamins Translation Library, Vol. 74, John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2007) 95.
4 Michael Cronin, Translation and Identity (London/New York: Routledge, 2006).
5 Jan Nederveen Pieterse, „Globalization as Hybridization” in Mona Baker (ed.) Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies, 2nd edition (London / New York: Routledge, 2009) 127.
6 Heilbron and Sapiro, „Outline...”, 95.
7 According to the Three Percent website (http://www.rochester.edu/College/translation/threepercent/index.php?s=about), the 3% figure includes all books in translation, the number in terms of literary fiction and poetry being actually closer to 0.7%.
8 Michael Moore in „Literaturile de circulaţie mică şi piaţa americană de carte”, Interview with Jean Harris, in Observator Cultural (118/ 7-13 June 2007, [My translation]
9 Lawrence Venuti, The Translator’s Invisibility (London/New York: Routledge, 1995), 15.
10 Venuti, The Translator’s... , 15.
11 Michael Cronin, Altered States: Translation and Minority Languages (TTR: traduction, terminologie, rédaction, vol. 8, n° 1, 1995),  85.
12 Cronin, Altered..., 86.
13 Cronin, Altered..., 87-88.
14 Andrei Codrescu in „Literaturile”, [My translation]
15 Cronin, Altered..., 90.
16 Venuti, The Translator’s..., 5
17 Christian Moraru, „Romanian literature beyond the nation: Mircea Cartarescu” Europeanism and Cosmopolitanism” in World Literature Today (2006, July, 1st, 2006), 42.
18 Moraru, „Romanian literature...”, 43.
19 The Romanian Cultural Institute (RCI) website http://www.icr.ro/bucuresti/
21  The list of translation languages is available at http://www.cennac.ro/statistici/limbi?ordn=numar.
25 N. Manolescu, in Adevărul, 2009, March 11. http://www.adevarul.ro/actualitate/vindem-literatura-strainatate_0_74394671.html, [my translation]
26 Personal communication with Laura Marin and Răzvan Purdel, collaborators at the National Book Centre, 16 August 2011.

OANA SURUGIU– Drd., Facultatea de Filologie, Universitatea „Al. I. Cuza” Iaşi.




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