3 Translation Theories any Translation Student Should Know

Translation Theories
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Early interpretations of the Bible or other works considered sacred or exemplary were dominated by the desire to copy the original to the letter. This approach often led to ambiguity or even complete incomprehensibility of the final text.

The first translators and interpreters were bilingual and did not care much for theorizing. Today, we have an extensive background in different text types, styles, and languages. If, for example, someone wants to pay for essay, they will address writers that have to pass tests before getting to work. Back in the 1st century B.C., any person able to write and speak several languages was a ready-made translator.

Translation Is a Hard Work

Future interpreters, translators, and linguists study many subjects to prepare themselves for the job. The scope of the study is beyond comprehension. So, some students even drive themselves to exhaustion with constant book cramming.

These approaches rarely give positive results. Translation studies ask for complete attention to theory. Yet, it does not mean that one should run to extremes. If you need a high-quality research paper or an essay on a translation-related topic, use essay writing services. And if in doubt which one to pick, see Essay Hub reviews prepared by NoCramming. See for yourself how many people entrust their papers to this service.

The linguistic approach to translation theory includes the following concepts:

  • Meaning
  • Equivalence
  • Discourse (overall context)
  • The purpose of the text
  • Analysis

These concepts exist in the context of:

  • Structural and functional linguistics;
  • Semantics;
  • Pragmatics;
  • Analogy;
  • Sociolinguistics;

In 1790, A. Tytler described the following interpretation evaluation criteria:

  • Translation has to reflect the essence of the original.
  • The style and manner of presentation in the target language must be the same as in the original.
  • The translation should be as easy to read as the original.

Such requirements have not lost their significance, although today they seem self-evident.

J. Catford’s Equivalence Theory

In his works, J. C. Catford considered the following theoretical issues:

  • The concept and conditions of equivalence.
  • The description of the structure of language as a type of structural human behavior.
  • The structure of language units.
  • The interaction between a language and the situations of verbal communication.
  1. Catford describes the concept of language as a type of structural human behavior. This theory states that language is related to the communication context. The same is relevant for translation. So, Catford says that the language exists at two different levels – formal and informal levels. They are also known as linguistic and extralinguistic.

The linguistic levels include phonology and graphology associated with phonic and graphic substance (sounds and letters). Also, they include grammar and vocabulary associated with situational substance (elements of the external world).

According to Catford, basic meanings are distinctive situational features needed for a given text. So, translation is considered equivalent when distinctive features (or at least some of them) in the source text and the target one correspond.

Equivalence is usually associated with level-based translation. Catford believes that to reach equivalence, in pursuit of it, one needs to switch from one level to another. Working on loose interpretation, professionals go up the level ladder and interpret meanings instead of words. At the same time, a word-by-word interpretation is a path down the same ladder to the level of the morpheme.

Interpretive Theory, by Danica Seleskovich and M. Lederer

Researcher Danica Seleskovich bases her theory on simultaneous translation observations. The author refers to the difference between language and speech. Seleskovich states that we cannot reduce the meaning of an utterance to its linguistic content.

The concept of D. Seleskovich is based on linguistic and psychological factors that reveal the connection between language and thinking in the process of communication. Yet, communication itself is carried out not by language units but with the help of speech utterances. Texts have meanings that cannot be reduced to a simple sum of the meanings of such units.

For example, saying that it rains like cats and dogs, nobody means anything connected with animals. So, we should not use its basic units (words) but rather find the same meaning in the target language and consider the job done.

Also, the same statement can have different meanings depending on the context and situation in which it is used. The purpose of communication is to convey such a specific meaning, to the addressee. Thus, any translation is an interpretation (meaning explication).

Skopos Theory, by H. Vermeer

Hans Vermeer asserts that the main and the only criterion for evaluating a translation is its compliance with its purpose. Vermeer named his concept skopos theory (from the Greek word skopos – meaning the goal).

This theory distinguishes between the concepts of adequacy and equivalence. The adequate translation is the one that meets the stated goal. Equivalence means the functional correspondence of the translated text to the original text.

The author suggests judging any resulting text by the extent to which it hits the goal. The methods and interpretations may differ, but the ultimate goal is a universal indicator of a good translation.

Theory Is Key

Translations vary in styles, genres, and functions. Thus, theoretical knowledge about the interpretation process is essential. For example, the text type determines the approach and requirements for translation. It also impacts the choice of translation techniques and the degree of equivalence. So, the objectives may differ depending on the text type and the target audience.