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Translation studies

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Translation studies

Translation studies is an academic interdiscipline dealing with the systematic study of the theory, description and application of translation, interpreting, and localization. As an interdiscipline, translation studies borrows much from the various fields of study that support translation. These include comparative literature, computer science, history, linguistics, philology, philosophy, semiotics, and terminology.

The term translation studies was coined by the Amsterdam-based American scholar James S Holmes in his paper "The name and nature of translation studies",[1] which is considered a foundational statement for the discipline.[2] In English, writers occasionally use the term translatology to refer to translation studies.


  • History 1
    • Early studies 1.1
    • Calls for an academic discipline 1.2
    • The boom in translation studies 1.3
    • Establishment and future prospects 1.4
  • Theories and paradigms 2
    • Cultural translation 2.1
    • Ethics 2.2
  • Further reading 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


Early studies

Historically, translation studies has long been prescriptive (telling translators how to translate), to the point that discussions of translation that were not prescriptive were generally not considered to be about translation at all. When historians of translation studies trace early Western thought about translation, for example, they most often set the beginning at Cicero's remarks on how he used translation from Greek to Latin to improve his oratorical abilities—an early description of what Jerome ended up calling sense-for-sense translation. The descriptive history of interpreters in Egypt provided by Herodotus several centuries earlier is typically not thought of as translation studies—presumably because it does not tell translators how to translate.[3] In China, the discussion on how to translate originated with the translation of Buddhist sutras during the Han Dynasty.

Calls for an academic discipline

In 1958, at the Second Congress of Slavists in Moscow, the debate between linguistic and literary approaches to translation reached a point where it was proposed that the best thing might be to have a separate science that was able to study all forms of translation, without being wholly within Linguistics or wholly within Literary Studies.[4] Within Comparative Literature, translation workshops were promoted in the 1960s in some American universities like the University of Iowa and Princeton.[5] During the 1950s and 1960s, systematic linguistic-oriented studies of translation began to appear. In 1958, Jean-Paul Vinay and Jean Darbelnet carried out a contrastive comparison of French and English in Quebec.[6] In 1964, Eugene Nida published Toward a Science of Translating, a manual for Bible translation influenced to some extent by Chomsky's generative grammar.[7] In 1965, John C. Catford theorized translation from a linguistic perspective.[8] In the 1960s and early 1970s, the Czech scholar Jiří Levý and the Slovak scholars Anton Popovič and František Miko worked on the stylists of literary translation.[9] These initial steps toward research on literary translation were collected in James S Holmes' paper at the Third International Congress of Applied Linguistics held in Copenhagen in 1972. In that paper, "The name and nature of translation studies", Holmes asked for the consolidation of a separate discipline and proposed a classification of the field. A visual "map" of Holmes' proposal would later be presented by Gideon Toury in his 1995 Descriptive Translation Studies and beyond.[10]

The boom in translation studies

Translation studies steadily developed in the following years. In the 1980s and 1990s, two very different paradigms developed, breaking away from previous equivalence-based research.

On the one hand, descriptive translation studies (a term coined after Toury's 1995 book Descriptive Translation Studies and beyond) aims at building an empirical descriptive discipline, to fill one section of the Holmes map. The idea that scientific methodology could be applicable to cultural products had been developed by the Russian Formalists in the early years of the 20th century, and had been recovered by various researchers in Comparative Literature. It was now applied to literary translation. Part of this application was the theory of polysystems (Even-Zohar 1990[11]) in which translated literature is seen as a sub-system of the receiving or target literary system. Gideon Toury bases his theory on the need to consider translations “facts of the target culture” for the purposes of research. The concepts of “manipulation”[12] and "patronage"[13] have also been developed in relation to literary translations.

On the other hand, another paradigm shift in translation theory can be dated from 1984 in Europe. That year saw the publication of two books in German: Foundation for a General Theory of Translation by Katharina Reiss (also written Reiß) and Hans Vermeer,[14] and Translatorial Action (Translatorisches Handeln) by Justa Holz-Mänttäri.[15] From these two came what is known as Skopos theory, which gives priority to the purpose to be fulfilled by the translation instead of prioritizing equivalence.

The cultural turn meant still another step forward in the development of the discipline. It was sketched by Susan Bassnett and André Lefevere in Translation - History - Culture, and quickly represented by the exchanges between translation studies and other area studies and concepts: gender studies, cannibalism, post-colonialism[16] or cultural studies, among others.

At the turn of the 21st century, sociology (Wolf and Fukari) and historiography (Pym) take a relevant role, but also globalization (Cronin) and the use of new technologies (O’Hagan) are introduced into translation studies.

In the following decades, the growth of translation studies became visible in other ways.

First, with the growth of translation schools and courses at university level. In 1995, a study of 60 countries revealed there were 250 bodies at university level offering courses in translation or interpreting.[17] In 2013, the same database listed 501 translator-training institutions.[18] Accordingly, there has been a growth of conferences on translation, translation journals and translation-related publications. The visibility acquired by translation has also led to the development of national and international associations of translation studies.

Establishment and future prospects

The growing variety of paradigms is mentioned as one of the possible sources of conflict in the discipline.

As early as 1999, the conceptual gap between non-essentialist and empirical approaches came up for debate at the Vic Forum on Training Translators and Interpreters: New Directions for the Millennium. The discussants, Rosemary Arrojo and Andrew Chesterman, explicitly sought common shared ground for both approaches.[19] Interdisciplinarity has made the creation of new paradigms possible, as most of the developed theories grew from contact with other disciplines like linguistics, comparative literature, cultural studies, philosophy, sociology or historiography. At the same time, it might have provoked the fragmentation of translation studies as a discipline on its own right.[20]

A second source of conflict rises from the breach between theory and practice. As the prescriptivism of the earlier studies gives room to descriptivism and theorization, professionals see less applicability of the studies. At the same time, university research assessment places little if any importance on translation practice.[21]

Theories and paradigms

Cultural translation

This is a new area of interest in the field of translation studies, deriving largely from Homi Bhabha's reading of Salman Rushdie in The Location of Culture.[22] Cultural translation is a concept used in cultural studies to denote the process of transformation, linguistic or otherwise, in a given culture. The concept uses linguistic translation as a tool or metaphor in analysing the nature of transformation and interchange in cultures. "Nonetheless, despite the fact that translation brings cultures nearer, in each translation, there will be a definite deformation between cultures." [23]

There are many issues in translating which can be present when translating a piece of work. Then there is the question "Is it possible to translate this theory of humour into a different culture?" [24] Being able to translate cultural references is extremely difficult. Being fluent in the language is not enough. You must have a strong knowledge of both the culture of the Target language culture as well as the culture of the Source language.

An increasingly used concept, which is still relatively undefined, is cultureme.[25]


In the last decade, interest among theorists and practitioners in the issue of ethics has grown remarkably due to several reasons. Much discussed publications have been the essays of Antoine Berman and Lawrence Venuti that differed in some aspects but agreed on the idea of emphasizing the differences between source and target language and culture when translating. Both are interested in how the “cultural other [...] can best preserve [...] that otherness”.[26] In more recent studies scholars have applied Emmanuel Levinas’ philosophic work on ethics and subjectivity on this issue.[27] As his publications have been interpreted in different ways, various conclusions on his concept of ethical responsibility have been drawn from this. Some have come to the assumption that the idea of translation itself could be ethically doubtful, while others receive it as a call for considering the relationship between author or text and translator as more interpersonal, thus making it an equal and reciprocal process.

Parallel to these studies the general recognition of the translator's responsibility has increased. More and more translators and interpreters are being seen as active participants in geopolitical conflicts, which raises the question of how to act ethically independent from their own identity or judgement. This leads to the conclusion that translating and interpreting cannot be considered solely as a process of language transfer, but also as socially and politically directed activities.[28]

There is a general agreement on the need for an ethical code of practice providing some guiding principles to reduce uncertainties and improve professionalism, as having been stated in other disciplines (for example military medical ethics or legal ethics). However, as there is still no clear understanding of the concept of ethics in this field, opinions about the particular appearance of such a code vary considerably.

Antoine Berman insists on the need to define a translation project for every translation; the translator should stick to his own project, and this shall be the sole measure of fidelity when translating.

Further reading

See also


  1. ^ Holmes, James S. (1972/1988). The Name and Nature of Translation Studies. In Holmes, Translated! Papers on Literary Translation and Translation Studies, Amsterdam: Rodopi, pp. 67–80.
  2. ^ Munday, Jeremy. 2008. Introducing Translation Studies. London and New York: Routledge. pp. 4
  3. ^ For an anthology of early translation theory readings, see Douglas Robinson, ed. (2002), Translation Theory From Herodotus to Nietzsche. Manchester: St. Jerome.
  4. ^ Cary, Edmond. 1959. '“Andréi Fédorov. Introduction à la théorie de la traduction.” Babel 5, p. 19n.
  5. ^ Munday, Jeremy. 2008. Introducing Translation Studies. London and New York: Routledge. pp. 8
  6. ^ Vinay, Jean-Paul and J.Darbelnet. 1958/1995. Comparative Stylistics of French and English: A Methodology for Translation. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
  7. ^ Nida, Eugene. 1964. Toward a Science of Translating. Leiden: EJ Brill.
  8. ^ Catford, J.C., (1965). A Linguistic Theory of Translation. London: Longman.
  9. ^ Levý, Jiří (1967). Translation as a Decision Process. In To Honor Roman Jakobson. The Hague: Mouton, II, pp. 1171–1182.
  10. ^ Toury, Gideon (1995). Descriptive Translation Studies and beyond. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
  11. ^ Even-Zohar, I. (1990b) “Polysystem theory,” Poetics Today 11(1): 9-26 LINK
  12. ^ Hermans, T. (ed.) .1985. 'The Manipulation of Literature: Studies in Literary Translation'. London and Sydney: Croom Helm.
  13. ^ Lefevere, A. 1992. 'Translation, Rewriting, and the Manipulation of Literary Fame'. London and New York: Routledge.
  14. ^ Reiss, Katharina (1989). "Text Types, Translation Types and Translation Assessment." In: Chesterman, Andrew (ed.) (1989). Readings in Translation Theory. Helsinki: Finn Lectura
  15. ^ Pym, Anthony. 2008. Exploring Translation Theories. London and New York: Routledge. 47
  16. ^ Robinson, Douglas. (1997). Translation and Empire: Postcolonial Theories Explained. Manchester: St. Jerome.
  17. ^ Caminade, M. and A. Pym. 1995. "Les formations en traduction et interpretation. Essai de recensement mondial". In Traduire. Paris: Société Française des Traducteurs
  18. ^
  19. ^ Chesterman, A. and R. Arrojo (2000) ‘Shared ground in translation studies’, Target 12.1:151–60.
  20. ^ Gile, Daniel. 2004 “Translation research versus interpreting research: kinship, differences and prospects for partnership”. In Christina Schäffner (ed.), ‘Translation Research and Interpreting Research: Traditions, Gaps and Synergies’. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters. pp. 10–34.
  21. ^ Munday 2010. p.15.
  22. ^ London and New York: Routledge, 1994.
  23. ^ Ziaul Haque, Md. "Translating Literary Prose: Problems and Solutions", International Journal of English Linguistics, vol. 2, no. 6; 2012, p. 109. Retrieved on May 30, 2014.
  24. ^ Hewlett-Clarke, Daniel. "Translating Cultural References". Retrieved 16 January 2015. 
  25. ^ Luque Nadal, L. (2009): "Los culturemas: ¿unidades lingüísticas, ideológicas o culturales?" en Language Design 11, págs. 93-120 (Spanish)
  26. ^ Venuti, Lawrence (1995). The Translator's Invisibility: A History of Translation. London and New York: Routledge. P. 306. ('s%20invisibility.%20history%20of%20translation.pdf Read full version here)
  27. ^ Larkosh, Christopher (2004): "Levinas, Latin American Thought and the Futures of Translational Ethics." TTR: traduction, terminologie, rédaction. Vol. 17, nº 2, 27-44
  28. ^ Inghilleri, Moira; Maier, Carol. 2001. "Ethics." In: Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies. New York & London: Routledge.

External links

  • International Association for Translation and Intercultural Studies
  • American Translation and Interpreting Studies Association
  • European Society for Translation Studies
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