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 »  Articles Overview  »  Art of Translation and Interpreting  »  Translation Theory  »  Domestication vs. Foreignization in English-Arabic Translation

Domestication vs. Foreignization in English-Arabic Translation

By Abdul Aziz Dammad | Published  02/2/2008 | Translation Theory | Recommendation:
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Abdul Aziz Dammad
Reino Unido
inglés a árabe translator

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Domestication vs. Foreignization in English-Arabic Translation

Translation does not only involve giving the equivalent meaning in the Target Language (TL), rather it involves considering the values of the TL and the Source Language (SL) whether they are linguistic values or cultural ones. Some translators prefer changing the SL values and making them readable for the TL audience. This is termed Domestication. Others, on the other hand, prefer keeping the values of the SL and exposing audience to them. This is termed Foreignization. For example, this piece of news report can be translated into Arabic using Domestication:

“...most of the Kuwaiti ruling family fled to Saudi Arabia.” (BBC Special Report, February 19, 1998).

غادرت معظم العائلة الحاكمة الكويتية إلى السعودية

This translation is domesticated because the back translation reads:

Most of the Kuwaiti ruling family left to Saudi Arabia.

Using ‘left’ instead of ‘fled’ is intended by the translator to avoid embarrassment especially if s/he is working in Kuwait. This is due to the ideology of the translator.

When translators use Foreignization, they keep the SL values and make them salient in the TL. Translating verses of the Quran into English shows foreign elements to the English language readership. For example,

و الجبال أوتادا (The Quran, Surat An-Naba’,verse 7)

is translated into English as:

‘And the mountains as pegs’ (Dr. Saleh As-Saleh,The Tafseer (explanation) of Surat An-Naba’).

The English meaning of the verse is ‘Mountains balance earth like anchors to a ship’.

The foreignization involved here as any English speaker would tell that this text is foreign. It breaks the sense of English s/he uses daily.

The debate on whether to use Domestication or Foreignization has attracted the attention of translation theorists for long time. Venuti discussed those two techniques in his book ‘The Translator Invisibility’, 1995. Venuti carried out research on translation in the Anglo-American culture. He found out that most publishers advocate Domestication as it makes the translation reader-friendly. The trend is to choose texts from other cultures that appeal to the Anglo-American values. For Venuti, this method is making the translator ‘invisible’ on the one hand and implies ‘an ethnocentric reduction of the foreign text to target-language cultural values’ (ibid: 20) on the other hand. By Domestication, the Anglo-American culture imposes its own ‘hegemonic’ power upon other minor cultures.

To avoid such cultural problems, Venuti recommends applying Foreignization as a solution for cultural clashes in terms of translation. Foreignization was introduced by Schleimacher (Kittel and Poltermann, 1998:423). He defined it as ‘the translator…moves the reader towards the writer’ (as cited in Hatim, 2001:46). If Foreignization is applied to a translation, the TL readers will feel that the translator is ‘visible’ and they will tell ‘they are reading a translation’ (Munday, 2001:147). This solution would recover the reputation of translators and highlight their importance according to Venuti.

Applying Domestication or Foreignization has sometimes political consideration. If an Iranian translator working in Iran tries to translate into English الخليج العربي ‘Arabian Gulf’, s/he would apply Domestication on that. S/He would use ‘Persian Gulf’ instead. Foreignizing that would result in the possibility that the Iranian Translator would become so visible that s/he becomes unemployed! Both Arabic and Persian cultures have political values concerning that name which would pose a real problem for translators.

Venuti would have introduced a new technique that all translators prefer to adopt if Foreignization had solved their problems. In his review article (Venuti’s Visibility, Target 8:1 165-177:1996), Pym accuses Venuti of introducing the invisibility of the translator to make himself more ‘visible’. Pym comments on four logical ‘themes’ from the introduction of Venuti book then he discuses them one by one. As far as Arabic is concerned, what Pym discusses about the four themes can be supported from Arabic examples.

To begin with, Venuti suggests as cited by Pym that ‘in contemporary Anglo-American culture translators are judged successful when their work is most fluent’. In fact, it is not only the Anglo-American culture that judges so, Arabic culture does that as well. Domestication is the key to success if it is applied in Arabic language translation. At Damascus Faculty of Medicine, textbooks are translated into Arabic. Foreignization is used in the translation of such books. Almost every student finds it easier to read the source text which is most of the times in English than to read the translated ones. Foreign features of those textbooks make books very difficult to read. Thus, the translators were not successful as they were not fluent. However, Arabs who do not read such books feel proud that the textbooks are translated into Arabic.

The second theme discussed by Pym is ‘the copyright contracts discriminate against translators, failing to give their authorship full recognition’. Venuti claims that copyright contracts keep translators invisible because they limit their freedom. What comes to mind is without such contracts, translators will be more visible. In the Arabic culture, the copyright laws are not enforced in every country. In a survey over five Arabic countries, it was found ’copyright-based industries in Arab countries are substantially underdeveloped’ (Harabi, Najib, Copyright-Based Industries in Arab Countries. Unpublished: 2004).Translator from those countries will choose whatever to translate and yet they will remain invisible. They are interested in what they produce not in their reputation. Even their names are written sometimes in small font below the original writer’s name, other times; there is only the writer’s name.

Pym discussion of the third theme ‘percentage of translations into English is very low compared with translations into other languages’ reveals that Venuti was not faithful in his statistics. Translations into English outnumber translations into other languages. The problem may be that Venuti did not consider that many authors tend to write in English, as it is the lingua franca of the world. Jubran khalil Jubran, is a famous Arab writer who composed eight literature works in English.

The theme of ‘translation percentage’ caused what Venuti terms ‘trade imbalance’. Venuti prefers that there is a balance between translation from English and translation into English. In fact, the idea of comparing is not reasonable. English is one of the most spoken languages in the world. Thus , there would not be ‘trade balance’.(Pym p.169).

The fourth theme of Venuti ‘a complacency in Anglo-American relations with cultural ones, …as imperialistic abroad and xenophobic at home’ Venuti, 1995:p.17) is discussed by Pym showing that this tendency is not applicable to the Anglo-American culture only. Pym cites a Brazilian who ‘puts a bit of Venuti to work in her survey of contemporary literary translations in Brazil’ (Pym p.170). What Venuti condemns is ‘applicable’ in other cultures. The Anglo-American readers have expectations about good readings, ‘For many British readers the model of good writing was provided by such works as Fowler’s Modern English Usage or The King’s English. Those works declared their preference for the familiar over the far-fetched, the concrete over the abstract, the single word over the circumlocution, the short word over the long, Saxon word over the Romance’ Maya Birdwood-Hedger,Doctorate thesis,2006).

Nowadays, Arabic readers prefer reader-friendly language to an old fashioned Arabic. They do not read pre-Islamic poetry as much as they read poems of the famous Syrian poet, Nizar Qabani. They tend to read what meets their expectations. In his paper about ‘al-Tarikh al-Ijitma’ai Liltarjama fi Masr-al-Qism al-Thany Wal-akhier,2006’ (The Social History of Translation in Egypt - the Second Part,2006), Samih Fikri Hanna cites the reasons why translators even changed Shakespearean plays for the Arab readers.
فى هذا السياق يمكن فهم الأسباب التي دفعت مترجمي ذلك الوقت إلى إدخال’
تعديلات على بناء الحبكة فى النصوص الأصلية،... لم يكن ليقبل فى ذلك الوقت أن يموت ذلك الشاب(هاملت) ... بعد كل مالقيه ...... من ناحية أخرى، تتصادم هذه النهاية مع مخزون الحكايا والقصص الشعبى ... وهى قصص غالباً ما تنتهي نهاية سعيدة، يفوز فيها البطل ....بينما تجازى ‘جماعة الأشرار عن أفعالها.

‘In this context, reasons that pushed translators of that time to introduce modifications to the plot of the source texts can be understood…it is not acceptable at that time that the young man (Hamlet) dies…after what he suffers….On the other hand, this ending (of the play) does not meet with the storage of folklore stories and tales…which often have happy ending, where the hero wins…while the evils are punished for their (bad) deeds.’

In the translation of the Quran, the SL is Arabic, when translating it, translators foreignize the values of Islam and impose them on the TL. In 2004, there was a new translation for the Quran into English by an Arab Professor ,Muhammed Abdulhalim in Oxford University. The translation is supposed to appeal to the English readers as there has always been misinterpreting for the meanings of Quran. This very translation preserved the SL values. ‘والبروفيسور حليم استخدم لغة حديثة ذات جمل مبسطة وبقي وفياً لرسالة القرآن متقيداً
بالحقبة واللغة التي جاء فيها القرآن حين نزوله’
‘Prof. Halim used a modern language with simple sentences and he kept loyal to the Quran message, committed to its era and the language of the Quran when it was revealed.’ (Mahatat,20/11/2004,

Venuti argument against Domestication is due to the ‘hegemonic’ nature of the Anglo-American culture. He claims that translators impose the Anglo-American values on translated texts through Domestication. It is not a matter of hegemony. Powerful cultures such as the Anglo-American try to formulate understanding of other cultures by imposing the norms of their own. It is not a matter of ‘radically English’ either. If an Arab translator working in a conservative society has the following sentence ‘I went camping with my girlfriend’ to translate, s/he would translate that as ‘ذهبت للتخييم مع زوجتي’. The back translation of that into English reads ‘I went camping with my wife’. Is this ‘radically’ Arabic? It would be very difficult to explain to the average Arab readers the meaning of ‘girlfriend’ with Arabic values. Hence, Domestication is the saviour.

By talking about the ‘invisibility of the Translator’, Venuti makes himself visible as a theorist and enables translators to have a start to be recognized as contributors to knowledge. His ‘four themes’ in this paper and other themes in the book can be contrasted with languages other than Arabic. Whether to use Domestication or Foreignization would always be under debate. As far as Arabic is concerned, native translators of Arabic would use Domestication most of the time when they translate into Arabic and would use Foreignization when they translate from Arabic especially when they translate the Quran.


As-Saleh ,Dr. Saleh (1998),The Tafseer (explanation) of Surat An-Naba’. Kuwait-Ibn-Katheer.

BBC ,February 19, 1998. Special Report ,Kuwait and Iraq - sworn enemies, URL:, accessed on 9/12/2007.

Fikri Hanna, Diwan al-Arab Journal, 21/3/2006 (The Social History of Translation in Egypt - the Second Part,2006) URL:, accessed 9/12/2007.

Harabi, Najib (2004), Copyright-Based Industries in Arab Countries, University of Applied Sciences, Northwestern Switzerland, URL:, accessed 9/12/2007.

Hatim, Basil (2001.) Teaching and Researching Translation/ Harlow: Pearson Education Limited.

Khalil Gibran, 9/12/2007. URL:, accessed 9/12/2007.

Mahatat, Alarabiya Net, New English Translation of the Quran, 20/11/2004, URL:, accessed 9/12/2007.

Birdwood-Hedger, Doctorate thesis,2006. URL:, accessed 9/12/2007.

Munday, Jeremy (2001.) Introducing translation studies: theories and applications/ London:

Pym, Anthony (1996.) Venuti’s Visibility /Target, 8:1: 165-177.

Venuti, Lawrence (1995) The Translator’s Invisibility: A History of Translation. London and New York: Routledge.

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