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Abstract and Figures

This is a course on the main paradigms of Western translation theories since the 1960s. It adopts a view of translation that includes interpreting (spoken translation) but does not give any special attention to the problems of interpreting. The course is not primarily designed to make anyone a better translator; it is mainly for academic work at advanced levels, although it should be accessible to anyone interested in how the theories invite debate. The basic idea is that all the theories respond to the one central problem: translation can be defined by equivalence, but there are many reasons why equivalence is not a stable concept. So how can we think about translation beyond equivalence? The answers to that question have been more numerous than many suspect, and are often creative and surprising.
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Exploring Translation Theories
Anthony Pym
Routledge, 2010
Additional chapter: Descriptions – the intellectual background
This material explains the historical background of the concepts presented in chapter 5
of the printed book.
If we set out to describe a translation or an act of translating, the simple description
might seem to require no grand theory. In fact, it could be considered too simple to be
taken seriously by scholars. Some of the most significant concepts in European
translation theory have nevertheless come from what we shall call a broad “descriptive
paradigm,” and this chapter describes the ways that paradigm developed in the twentieth
century. This background should help connect translation theory to some of the main
anti-humanist currents of the day. It is also intended to correct some common
misunderstandings, particularly with respect to the many ways the various schools and
centers were interconnected. We place some emphasis on the Russian Formalists, even
though they did not produce any major works on translation. This is because the key
ideas of the Formalists can be traced through various paths throughout the century,
reaching several points at which major translation theories did develop. The first
connection is with the work done in Prague, Bratislava and, more loosely connected,
Leipzig. The second link is with the “Tel Aviv school” (Even-Zohar, Toury and the
development of Descriptive Translation Studies). And the third link is through Holland
and Flanders. When literary scholars from those three areas met and discussed their
projects at a series of conferences, Translation Studies started to take shape as an
academic discipline. That is why the history is important—this particular paradigm does
not come from the same roots as the others mentioned in this book. The second half of
the chapter describes the main concepts used within descriptive studies: translation
shifts, systems and polysystems, “assumed translations,” and a focus on the target side.
In the next chapter we look more closely at some of the findings that have come from
the general descriptive approach.
Special thanks to Itamar Even-Zohar, Gideon Toury, Zuzana Jettmarová, Jana Králová
and Christina Schäffner for their help and advice with this chapter.
The main points covered in this chapter are:
- Descriptive Translation Studies developed from a tradition in which objective
scientific methods were applied to cultural products.
- Those methods were often applied to translation by literary scholars working in
smaller cultures.
- Rather than prescribe what a good translation should be like, descriptive
approaches try to say what translations are like or could be like.
- Translation shifts are regular differences between translations and their source
texts. They can be analyzed top-down or bottom-up.
- Translations play a role in the development of cultural systems.
- The innovative or conservative position of translations within a cultural system
depends on the system’s relation with other systems, and may correlate with the
type of translation strategy used.
- When selecting texts to study, translations can be considered facts of target
culture only, as opposed to the source-culture context that is predominant in the
equivalence paradigm.
- Translators’ performances are regulated by collective “norms,” based on
informal consensus about what is to be expected from a translator.
- The descriptive approach was instrumental in organizing Translation Studies as
an academic discipline with an empirical basis.
5.1 What happened to equivalence
Equivalence went out of fashion. German-language Skopostheorie made it even more
unfashionable by arguing that since “functional consistency” (the closest thing they had
to equivalence) was no more than one of many possible requirements, translation
usually requires transformations of a rather more radical kind. For those theorists,
equivalence became quite a small thing, a special case. At almost the same time,
however, other theorists were dismantling equivalence in precisely the opposite way.
For this second very broad group, for what Gideon Toury would eventually construct
as “Descriptive Translation Studies,” equivalence was a feature of all translations,
simply because they were thought to be translations, no matter what their linguistic or
aesthetic quality (cf. Toury 1980: 63-70). That changed everything. If equivalence was
suddenly everywhere in translations, or almost, it could no longer be used to support
any linguistics that would help people create it, nor could the concept directly serve the
prescriptive training of translators. Translation Studies was thus moved into a realm that
was relatively unprotected by any parent discipline; it had to become its own discipline.
The descriptive approach emphasized the need to carry out research on translation,
mostly research of the kind done in structuralist literary studies, rather than expound
principles and opinions. The theories associated with the research were thus positioned
problematically out of touch with the growing number of training institutions; they were
in an institutional context quite different from that of Skopostheorie. Here we will
follow the adventures of that historical move. In the following chapter we will consider
what the descriptions might actually have discovered.
5.2 Origins of the descriptive paradigm
The name “Descriptive Translation Studies” (with the capitals) was never fully
consecrated as such until Gideon Toury’s book Descriptive Translation Studies and
beyond (1995; Spanish translation 2004). It has since become a flag of convenience for
a loose flotilla of innovative scholars. Around that particular name there is now a rather
large body of thought and research. On the surface, this would seem to be a general
paradigm in which scholars have set out to describe what translations actually are,
rather than just prescribe how they should be. Those terms, though, are simplifications.
If the aim were merely to describe, there would be little need for any grand theory. And
yet what we find in this paradigm is a host of theoretical concepts: systems, shifts,
norms, universals and laws, to name the most prominent, plus a long ongoing debate
about how to define the term “translation” itself. Despite the emphasis on description,
this remains very much a paradigm for theoretical activity.
In the historical context, the shift from prescription to description involved a clear
challenge to the institutionalization of the equivalence paradigm. Rather than just tell
people how to translate well (which is what and most equivalence-based linguistic
analyses set out to do, along with Skopostheorie and hopefully most training
institutions), descriptivist theories aim to identify how people actually do translate, no
matter what the supposed quality. The equivalence paradigm mostly came from scholars
who worked in linguistics or professional training; the descriptive paradigm was mostly
peopled largely by researchers with a background in literary studies. This division
appeared in the 1970s and early 1980s, roughly in parallel with the development of
Skopostheorie. The intellectual genealogies of the descriptive paradigm might
nevertheless be traced back to at least the early twentieth century.
5.2.1 Russian Formalism and its legacy
In the first decades of the twentieth century, the movement known as Russian
Formalism set out to produce scientific descriptions of cultural products and
systems, particularly in the field of literature. The basic idea was that science could and
should be applied to the cultural sphere. As simple as that might appear, it was
something that had never been done before in any consistent way. Nineteenth-century
applications of empirical science to literature were mostly limited to prescribing the
way novels should describe society (such was the ideology of Naturalism), along with
some attempts to analyze artistic language within what became known as the Symbolist
movement. Indeed, it may well be from that broad Symbolism that the seeds of Russian
Formalism were sown (cf. Genette 1976: 312). In 1915 a group of young university
students who met at the courses of Professor Vengerov founded the “Moscow
Linguistic Circle.” This brought together Roman Jakobson, Petr Bogatyrev and Grigori
Vinokur, who sought to study the specificity of literature in with the help of concepts
borrowed from the emerging pre-structural linguistics (especially the notion of
“distinctive features” in language). In 1916 the Society for the Study of Poetic
Language (known by the acronym Opojaz) was founded in Saint Petersburg, bringing
together Viktor Shklovsky, Boris Eikhenbaum, Boris Tomashevsky and later Yuri
Tynianov. These were mostly literary historians in search of the underlying laws and
principles of literature. One project was within linguistics, the other was concerned with
poetic language; but at that stage the two sides could develop substantial common
ground. Both projects were based on a very simple idea: as we have said, the methods
and goals of science were to be applied to culture. Both sought to develop explicit
models, defining terms carefully and using observations to verify or falsify
hypothesized principles or laws of artistic language, independently of the psychology of
authors, the emotions of readers, or any supposed representation of societies. According
to a powerful Formalist principle, the object of study was not the literary work in itself,
nor its contents, but the underlying features that made it literary (“literariness,” or
literaturnost’, as Roman Jakobson put it). This literary language had its own artistic
techniques (priyómy in Shklovsky’s terminology, sometimes rendered as devices in
English, or procédés in French); it presumably had its own underlying systemic
patterning, and, especially in the work of Tynyanov, specific dynamic relations with
other cultural systems, both synchronically and diachronically. In describing process of
change within literary systems, Tynyanov recognizes that a new “constitutive principle”
may start from a series of chance occurrences or encounters, but in order to become
substantial the principle may need the transfer of models and materials from beyond
itself (1924: 19-20). That observation was not actually accompanied by any
consideration of the role of translations, although elsewhere Tynyanov did write a
critical account of Tyutchev’s renditions of Heine (study dated 1921, included in
Arxaisty i novatory in 1929 and in the French translation Formalisme et histoire
littéraire of 1991 but not in the partial German translation of 1967). A framework for
the study of literary translation was certainly there, but the study itself would seem not
to have been part of the main agenda of Russian Formalism. Any potential insights
about translation would remain without immediate impact within Russian theory,
although some students of Tynjanov’s, like Andrei Fedorov, became major theorists of
translation in the Soviet era, and Jakobson would go on to write several seminal papers
on translation, as we have noted in previous chapters.
The legacy of the Formalist moment would have been passed on, in various
forms, to the sociolinguist Valentin Vološinov, perhaps in part to the cultural theorist
Mikhail Bahktin, and more obviously to the semioticians Yuri Lotman and Boris
Uspenski, whose names might be more familiar. None of those cultural theorists,
however, produced systematic theoretical work on translation; nor did the later
Formalists themselves. When Andrei Fedorov wrote his ground-breaking “Introduction
to the Theory of Translation” in 1953, he had studied at the State Institute for the
History of the Arts, where the Formalists had created a program (our thanks to Itamar
Even-Zohar for this information), so something of the basic approach certainly lived on.
The traces of that legacy might be divined from Fedorov’s highly systematic approach
to basic principles (after paying due homage to Marx and Lenin) and his detailed
investigation of the way different genres and stylistic features should be translated. The
same can be said of Efim Etkind, whose work on Russian poet-translators (1973) drew
attention to the role of translation in the development of cultures.
From Fedorov and others we do reach a certain Russian school of translation
theory, which includes important work by Retsker and Shveitser. Their general
principles, however, are not linked to the literary school; they are linguistic,
prescriptive, and basically compatible with the equivalence paradigm. If we are seeking
the way scientific descriptions of systems led to a new paradigm of translation theory,
then we have to look elsewhere.
What concerns us more here is how the Formalist ideas moved out of Russian
and reached other translation scholars. We can pick out three interrelated threads:
through Prague and Bratislava, through Tel Aviv, and through Holland and Flanders.
5.2.2 Structuralism in Prague, Bratislava, and Leipzig
One strand led to the scholars who met from 1926 under the name of the Cercle
linguistique de Prague (the Prague Linguistic Circle). The most obvious connection
was the linguist Roman Jakobson, who had taken a position in Brno (and whose
escape from the German occupied Prague took him to Copenhagen, Stockholm, New
York and Harvard, stimulating intellectual curiosity as he went, eventually cultivating
some fundamental insights into translation). Another Russian member of the Cercle was
Nikolai Trubetzkoi, who actually held a chair in Vienna, and a further member of the
group was Henrik Becker, who attended the first meeting but lived in Leipzig (see
Dušková 1999). We note these details to indicate that the Prague circle clearly extended
beyond the city of Prague. In 1928 Jakobson, Trubetzkoi and other members of the
group attended the First International Conference of Linguists in The Hague, the
Netherlands, where they signed a resolution calling for synchronic linguistic analysis.
They actually signed alongside Charles Bally and Albert Sechehaye, who had compiled
and edited Saussure’s Cours de linguistique générale (1916), the prime reference for the
science of synchronic analysis. The strands of intellectual history crossed; they are not
easily spun into national traditions. But was there any translation theory in the web?
The scientific approach of Russian Formalism provided an impulse for basic
advances of the Prague Cercle in structuralist linguistics, working in areas from
phonology to the study of poetic language, all potentially part of the general analysis of
cultural signs. Although the development of phonemics was undoubtedly the great
lasting success of the group (and indeed of structuralism in general, we shall argue),
their interests extended to many aspects of culture, especially literature, and
occasionally translation.
In the work of Jan Mukařovský of the Prague Circle we find clear awareness of
the historical role of translation. In his 1936 article “Francouzská poezie Karla Čapka”
(The French poetry of Karel Čapek), Mukařovský argues that translation is one of the
ways in which national literatures can be transformed, since they seek and develop
equivalents for foreign texts (see Králová 2006). This insight might be gleaned from the
work of Tynyanov within the frame of Russian Formalism as such (or indeed from work
by Zhirmunskij on Pushkin, or Vinogradov on Gogol), but in Mukařovský it is now
clearly stated as such.
In terms of literary studies, the transformational role of translation became
part and parcel of an approach that saw cultural systems (such as national literatures) as
sets of structural relations developing not just in terms of their internal logic, as had
mostly been the case mostly in Russian Formalism, nor exclusively from external
influences, as might have been the case of traditional historical studies, but from the
complex social context formed by dynamics on both sides at once. The interest of
translation was that it necessarily cut across those two deceptively separate frames; it
forced the literary historian to see the internal and the external in the one vision. We
might argue that this was more likely to happen when dealing with a “minor system”
like Czech literature than with a “major” and apparently more independent system like
Russian literature. The Prague interest in translation was perhaps not entirely an
Prague structuralism was properly a phenomenon of the 1920s and 1930s. There
was nevertheless a tradition, apparently discontinuous, that saw its influence filter down
through the decades, especially in the study of literature. In the 1960s and 1970s we find
the Czech scholar Jiří Levý and the Slovak scholars František Miko and Anton
Popovič setting out to describe the structural principles underlying literary translations
(see Jettmarová 2005; Králová 1998, 2006). Importantly, these scholars explicitly
limited their prejudices about what equivalence was, or about what a “good translation”
might be; their ideas of science made them describe rather than prescribe. Levý was
publishing in Czech in the 1960s and became more widely known in German (Levý
1969). His work shows a gift for applying models from the exact sciences, drawing not
only on linguistics but also on game theory (as we shall see in our chapter on
indeterminism). Miko (1970) proposed to focus on what happens to the formal features
of a text in translation. Popovič (1970) recognized that since translations transform
texts, the study of translation should focus on what is changed as much as what remains
the same. He thus set out to describe the “translation shifts” that affected the level of
expression. We will return to this key concept below.
Note should be made here of the loose “Leipzig School” of translation theorists,
who were working in similar ways from 1964 (for historical details see Wotjak 2002; on
the conceptual range, Jung 2000). Although we would hesitate to draw any direct line
with Russian Formalism and its legacy, there can be no doubt that scholars of the order
of Otto Kade (in social communications theory), Gert Jäger (in structuralist
linguistics) and Albrecht Neubert (in pragmatics and text linguistics) sought a
scientific approach to translation, requiring clear concepts. This led them to reshuffle
and define many of the common German terms. For example, “linguistic mediation
(Sprachmittlung) became the wider object of study (see Kade 1980), rising above a
narrow conception of translation, and Kade coined the neologism Translation, in
German, to cover both written translation and oral interpreting. The work in Leipzig
was also important for the re-definition of “translation shifts,” since the research by
Kade and Neubert increasingly focused on text-level relations. One should also admit
that the school’s relation with official Marxist ideology sometimes went beyond mere
lip-service. When Kade approached linguistic mediation as a social phenomenon, he
sought the causes of translation problems not in the mysteries of language but in the
“non-corresponding” development of two historical societies. The systemic thought is
clear, wide-ranging and important, as indeed it is in Marx. The main work of Leipzig,
however, was on non-literary translation at text level, without major investigation of
social systems. As such, it did not become an integral part of the way the descriptive
paradigm developed (the early paradigm tended to be literary and systemic). It instead
fed into the development of the equivalence paradigm, which is where we have noted
Kade’s work on types of equivalence; it had a terminological influence on general
purpose-based approaches, which adopted the German term Translation, as well as the
general penchant for re-naming things; some of its terms and basic text-functional
insights helped fuel the development of Skopos theory; and Kade had his word to say in
the development of Interpreting Studies (see Pöchhacker 2004: 34-35). That said, the
Leipzig School’s impetus and identity did not live far beyond the fall of the Berlin Wall
in 1989, at least not within Germany. Albrecht Neubert has helped to foster text-
linguistic approaches in the United States, largely thanks to an exchange program
between Leipzig and Kent State, and Christina Schäffner, in the next generation, went
to the United Kingdom, where she specializes in functionalist text-linguistic
approaches, especially with respect to the translation of political texts. The theorists
remaining in Germany tend to argue the toss between equivalence and Skopos, without
great interest in description as a separate paradigm.
There is little evidence of any profound influence leading from Prague or
Bratislava to Leipzig, despite geographical and political proximity. We should
remember, however, that the various Communist regimes of the period attached great
importance to translation, both as a way of maintaining national languages and as a
means of fostering the international dimensions of their cause. This concerned not just
the role of Russian as a pivot language, but also translation policies for literary works
from across the like-minded world, from Latin America and Africa, for example, as well
as translations of ideological texts for the future liberation of oppressed peoples. Those
policies required translators; the translators had to be trained; the training created
institutional space for thought on translation. Whatever we might nowadays think of the
official ideologies, the development of systematic translation theory owes a great deal to
the Communist period in the Soviet Union and Central Europe. We cannot reproduce
the myth of an enlightened pre-Revolution Russian Formalism that somehow struggled
through the dark days of benighted regimes. Stalin certainly persecuted the formalist
movement, which he regarded as anti-Marxist, but the history of the Communist period
should not be reduced to that.
5.2.3 Polysystems in Tel Aviv
A second strand of contact led from Russian Formalism to Tel Aviv. The agent of
transfer here was the Israeli scholar Itamar Even-Zohar, who became aware of the
Russian texts as a student of Benjamin Harshav at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem
and started to read them while studying in Copenhagen (see Even-Zohar 2008b; the
networks of European scholarship are complex) and working on his doctoral
dissertation. Even-Zohar has generally been concerned with the systemic descriptions of
the ways cultures develop, and he explicitly follows the insights of Tynyanov, Jakobson
and Eikhenbaum in studying cultural phenomena as systems, with their own principles
and laws that await discovery. Rather than focus on literary systems in isolation, Even-
Zohar has sought to see cultures as “polysystems,” roughly as large, heterogeneous and
complex systems (such as “Israeli culture,” “French culture”) within which there are
smaller systems like literature, language, law, architecture, family life, and so on (hence
the “poly,” meaning “many”). These smaller systems may also be complex and
dynamic, warranting the “poly” prefix as well.
In his detached view of cultural systems, Even-Zohar has remained faithful to
the tradition of scientific modeling and to the multiple strands of the European tradition,
as was shown in his doctoral thesis on translation. Like the structuralists in Prague and
Bratislava, he has worked from within a “minor” culture (Hebrew), and his interest in
the pre-Israeli phases of Hebrew literature has led him to develop a view of it as a
multiple-components system (a polysystem). Even-Zohar founded a section for
Translation Studies at Tel Aviv University and was at the origin of what would become
the “Tel Aviv School” of Translation Studies, which includes Gideon Toury (whose
PhD was supervised by Even-Zohar), Rakefet Sela-Sheffy and Gisèle Sapiro. This
strand thus leads more or less directly to the coining of the term “Descriptive
Translation Studies.”
5.2.4 Descriptivism in Holland and Flanders
The third strand concerns a group of scholars working in Holland and Flanders (the
Dutch-speaking part of Belgium), sometimes referred to as the “Low Countries” school.
Names here would include American James S Holmes1 in Amsterdam, and the
Belgians José Lambert, Raymond Van den Broeck, André Lefevere and Theo
Hermans. Their connection with Russian Formalism is far less important or direct than
in the other cases. Major texts of the Russian school had been translated into French
(1965, edited by Todorov) and English (also 1965, edited by Lemon and Reis; then
1971, edited by Matejka and Pomorska), but the intellectual climate was by this stage
imbued with the prestige of structuralism anyway. The tenets of east-European thinking
certainly also reached the Low Countries scholars through a series of personal contacts,
particularly with Anton Popovič, who also met Even-Zohar and Toury. This led to a
rather broader meeting of minds.
1 A strange piece of Translation Studies folklore maintains that the middle S in the name “James S
Holmes” stands for his mother’s name; it should apparently be written with no stop after it. The writings
of Gideon Toury consistently omit the stop.
5.2.5 A European descriptivism
These three strands came together from the late 1960s, especially following a
conference in Bratislava, Slovakia, in 1968 (see Holmes ed. 1970). Collective work was
then carried out in the 1970s (see Holmes et al. eds. 1978), with some of the main
scholars meeting as the Translation Committee of the International Comparative
Literature Association. Toury (1978) built the bridge with Even-Zohar’s work on the
way cultures develop. A series of influential papers by most of the scholars was then
brought together in the volume The Manipulation of Literature (ed. Hermans 1985), and
for some time the group was half-jokingly dubbed the “manipulation” school, although
the term says very little about what they were doing.
As the diverse backgrounds would suggest, this was far from a group of scholars
sharing the same theories (see Hermans 1999 for a detailed survey). They would all
nevertheless agree that a scientific approach should be used to find out about the world,
rather than to evaluate or criticize what is found. They would thus more or less agree
that the previous work on translation, including many of the theories elaborated within
the equivalence paradigm, was “pre-scientific” (a harsh term, but it was used freely
enough). And they all agreed, obviously, that translation was worth studying seriously,
and that this opposed them in part to literary studies that had mostly seen translations as
marginal products, inherently inferior to originals, and thus of little interest. As for the
rest, each theorist’s precepts and interests tended to work in very different ways and on
various different levels.
A shortlist of ideas in the development of the descriptive paradigm
In the following we indicate the names of scholars who were instrumental in the
development and use of the propositions, although many other names could also be
listed and most names should be associated with far more than one idea:
1. The relations between source and target texts can be described in terms of
“translation shifts” (Levý, Miko, Popovič).
2. The innovative or conservative position of translations within a cultural system
depends on the system’s relation with other systems, and correlates with the
type of translation strategy used (Even-Zohar, Holmes, Toury).
3. Translation Studies should be an empirical descriptive discipline with a
hierarchical organization and a structured research program (Holmes, Toury).
4. When selecting texts to study, translations should be considered facts of target
culture (Toury).
5. To understand not just translations but all kinds of “rewriting,” we have to
consider the social contexts, especially patronage (Lefevere).
6. Translation scholars need to look at more than just literature (Lambert).
As we have seen, the descriptive paradigm cannot really be tied to a coherent
geographical location like the “Low Countries.” To be sure, all the scholars mentioned
above are or were from relatively small cultures, and this could explain some of their
insights. The smaller the culture, the more important translation tends to be in that
culture (a descriptive hypothesis formulated in Pym 2004 but clearly deducible from
Even-Zohar 1978). One should thus not be surprised that precisely those scholars
decided to study translation seriously. However, there were also some significant
changes of location. Theo Hermans moved to London and has had a decisive influence
on the development of Translation Studies in the United Kingdom; André Lefevere
moved to the United States, where the legacy has been less influential (no doubt
because of his unfortunately early death in 1996, but perhaps also because the United
States has a very large complex culture). The growth of research-based Translation
Studies has since spread the basic descriptive paradigm virtually all over the world. For
that same reason, the paradigm cannot really be restricted to a historical moment like
the 1960s or 1970s (as suggested in Venuti 2000). Many of the fundamental research
questions formulated by the original group are still being answered today, no doubt
because the paradigm remains eminently suited to empirical research. Numerous PhD
dissertations use these ideas and are effectively contributing to our knowledge about
We will now attempt to outline the main research models developed within the
descriptive paradigm. In the next chapter we will consider some of the findings actually
produced by this research.
5.3 The attraction of structuralism
We have met the term “structuralism” several times in the above pages, especially with
reference to the equivalence paradigm. We now take some time to explain what the term
means, and why it was so important in the twentieth century.
At its simplest level, structuralism means that instead of studying things in
themselves, as one might do under the influence of positivism, we study the relations
(“structures”) between things. The trick is that, while the things are visible to
everyone, the relations are hidden. Structuralism thus invites us to discover the secret
logics that lie somewhere beneath the surface of cultural products. In retrospect, it offers
the same appeal as did Marx when discovering the relations of production at the base of
the way societies work, or Freud revealing the principles of the unconscious mind. For
most structuralists of the first half of the twentieth century, the structures are really
there, within our languages and cultures; structures do not come from the subjectivity of
the individual researcher. Structuralism invites us to reveal objective verifiable truths,
reachable through patient discovery procedures. It offers a scientific approach to
culture (as in Russian Formalism). That was and remains a very appealing and
powerful invitation, extended to anyone in search of knowledge.
Examples of these underlying structures can be found in many of the approaches
that see languages as “world views.” One instance would be Saussure’s example of the
way English sheep and French mouton enter into different structures within their
language systems. We have seen how this idea initially created problems for the
equivalence paradigm, which had to argue that translation was nevertheless somehow
possible. For the descriptive paradigm, however, structuralism was something to learn
from, not to oppose. Rather than ask if sheep could really translate mouton, the initial
task in this paradigm was to describe the way historical translators effectively resolved
the problem.
Structuralism enters the descriptive story in much the same suitcases as Russian
Formalism, and more particularly through the Prague Cercle (which was indeed in
touch with the legacy of Saussure). As we have mentioned above, the Prague
development of phonology would be the one great success story of structuralism. For
example, in English we hear the sounds /b/ and /v/ as significantly different, since their
difference helps us to distinguish “bat” from “vat.” In spoken Iberian Spanish, however,
there is generally no significant difference, to the extent that the spoken language will
not help people spell words like “vota” or “bota.” This is because English has two
separate phonemes for these sounds (quite apart from the many different ways of
pronouncing those sounds), whereas Spanish only has one. People speaking the
languages can certainly pronounce the different sounds, but the underlying structure of
each language divides up the sounds in different ways. That underlying structure is
acquired when we learn a language, even though we are not aware of it. For Prague
synchronic linguistics, and for structuralism in general, the object of study should thus
be the underlying structure (the phonemes), not the surface-level phenomena (the details
of phonetics). This was basically the same insight as Saussure’s analysis of sheep and
mouton, except that in phonemics the structures formed complete and relatively stable
systems. If you change one term (especially a vowel in English), the other terms
actually do tend to change. In that sense, phonemics moved the focus of ideal research
from structures to strong systems.
Once you understand this view of what a structure is, it is relatively easy to see a
system as a network of structures where, ideally, a change in one term implies some
kind of change in all others. There are actually very few cultural systems where this is
the case. Most have parts where changes are connected, as in a particular region or
genre, and others that remain relatively undisturbed. The introduction of a new lexical
item does not alter the entire language (lexical fields are segmented, and the repertoires
are mostly open-ended), although a change in tense usage would normally affect all the
tenses in the language (verb tenses form systems with very few terms). The reigning
idea, however, was that structures could indeed connect everything to everything,
giving rise to numerous plans to explain the whole world.
The basic idea of structuralism went traveling around the West in several
different guises. Many parts of the humanities were applying elements of the approach.
In anthropology, the tradition leading from Mauss to Lévi-Strauss had tapped into
structuralist linguistics; structuralism was in the scientific epistemologies of Bachelard
and Merleau-Ponty; it would be behind the linguistics of Benveniste and Chomsky (who
sought its Cartesian connections). Virtually across the humanities, researchers set out to
study relations between things, in search of hidden principles. Translation Studies was
no exception. But what would the basic structures of translation look like? Were
translations in any way necessary for cultural systems? And could there be anything like
a system of translations?
5.4 Theoretical concepts within the descriptive paradigm
Within this intellectual context, there is nothing obvious or banal in wanting to describe
translations, rather than “prescribe” what translations should ideally be. Descriptive
approaches were setting out to discover relations and laws that were in some way
hidden; they were working on the problems of structuralism. Further, given the terms
and concepts that had been accumulated in many related disciplines since the Russian
Formalists, the researchers working on translation were able to draw on a broad range of
established categories (no one can simply describe in language what they see with the
eye) and indeed of hypotheses about what they would find. The underlying approach
was certainly empirical, in the sense that these researchers were going out to test their
ideas on actual data. But it would be quite misleading to reduce the approach to
empiricism alone (as is done, for example, in Merino and Rabadán 2004), as if there
were no properly theoretical concepts at work.
In the following sections we will briefly describe the main concepts at work
within the descriptive paradigm. In the next chapter we will look at the larger concepts
of norms and laws.
5.4.1 Translation shifts and their analysis
The most obvious way to apply structuralism to translation is to see the source and
target texts as sets of structures. We can compare the texts and see where the structures
are different, we then have specific structures (the differences) that somehow belong to
the field of translation. That idea is as simple to understand as it is difficult to apply.
The structural differences between translations and their sources can be
described as “translation shifts,” a term found in many different theories. For Catford,
shifts are “departures from formal correspondence” (1965: 73), which sounds clear
enough. If formal correspondence is what we find between “Friday the 13th” and
“viernes y 13,” then any other rendition will be a “shift” of some kind. The range of
possible shifts might thus include all the things that Vinay and Darbelnet (1958) found
translations doing, or indeed anything detected by anyone within the equivalence
paradigm. A shift might come from the translator’s decision to render function rather
than form, or to translate a semantic value on a different linguistic level, or to create the
correspondence at a different place in the text (using a strategy of compensation), or
indeed to select different genre conventions. Much research can be carried out in this
way: compare the texts, collect the differences, then try to organize the various kinds of
There are at least two ways of approaching this task: bottom-up analysis starts from
the smaller units (usually terms, phrases or sentences) and works up to the larger ones
(text, context, genre, culture); top-down analysis goes the other way, starting with the
larger systemic factors (especially constructs such as the position of translations within
the sociocultural system) and working down to the smaller ones (especially categories
like translation strategies). In principle, it should make no difference which end you
start at: all roads lead to Rome, and there are always dialectics of loops and jumps
between levels. Yet, perhaps surprisingly, the difference between bottom-up and top-
down has a lot to do with the role of theory in description. Bottom-up shift analysis
The range and complexity of bottom-up analysis is most completely seen in the
comparative model developed by Kitty van Leuven-Zwart (1989, 1990), where shifts
are categorized on many levels from the micro (below sentence level) to the macro (in
her case, text-scale narrative structures). A useful summary is in the first edition of
Munday’s Introducing Translation Studies (2001: 63-65) (and Hermans 1999: 58-63),
however the model is omitted from the second edition of Munday (2008) since it is
rarely used any more. Here we are interested in the underlying reasons why it is no
longer used.
In Leuven-Zwart, the basic textual units entering into comparison are called
transemes” (cf. the “translemas” in Rabadán 1991). For example, the two
corresponding units might be English “she sat up suddenly” and the Spanish “se
enderezó,” which basically means that she sat up. What these two transemes have in
common would be the “architranseme.” Once you have identified that, you can start to
look for shifts, which can then be categorized in much the same way as Vinay and
Darbelnet had proposed from within the descriptive paradigm. For example, you might
note that the two phrases occupy corresponding positions in the two texts but the
English has a value (suddenness) that seems to be absent in the Spanish. So we write
down “absence of aspect of action,” and we call this absence a shift. Eventually we will
have compiled a notebook full of such shifts, which we hope will form patterns
(manifesting structures of some kind) that can tell us something about the translation.
What could be wrong with that? Since this “sit up” example is presented as being
relatively uncomplicated in both Hermans and Munday, it is worth spending some time
on the difficulties it might actually involve:
- For a start, how can we be sure that the value of “suddenly” is not in the
Spanish? The verb “enderezó” is in the preterit tense (actually the pretérito
indefinido), which in Spanish has a value in opposition to the past imperfect (the
pretérito imperfecto, giving the form “enderezaba”), a tense that does not exist
as such in English. That is, both languages can say “He was in the process of
sitting up,” but English does not have a simple past tense for such drawn-out
actions; Spanish does. One could thus argue, in pure structuralist mode, that the
selection of the Spanish preterit in itself represents the value “suddenness.” The
shift would then be from the English adverbial to the Spanish tense, and it would
be regulated by the differences between the two tense systems.
- Alternatively (although possibly for similar reasons), we might check large
corpora of general English and Spanish and note that the English verb “sit” is
associated with adverbials and phrasal particles far more than is the case for the
Spanish verb “enderezarse” (none the least because “sit up” and “sit down” have
no formal equivalents in Romance languages). In that case, the translator might
have omitted the value “suddenly” (which could be expressed as “de repente,”
for example) simply because it did not sound right in Spanish; it would have
been an unusual collocation (for comparisons of verbs of movement in Spanish
and English, see Mora Gutiérrez 2001, Slobin 1996, 2003). We might thus find
an alternative non-structural justification for the translator’s decision, albeit
without denying the underlying logic of structures.
- More worryingly, if we try to apply this type of analysis to our “Friday the 13th
example, how can we be sure that the non-shift involves the form or the
function? In a context framed by superstition, surely “martes y 13” (Tuesday the
13th) would be the expected translation, the normal one, the non-shift? What
right do we have to pick one rendition and call it the “proper” or “expected”
translation, and thereby relegate all the other possible renditions to the category
of “shifts”?
- Finally, there are many cases where formal correspondence itself implies some
kind of shift. For example, the American English term democracy certainly
corresponded formally to the East German term Demokratie (as in the Deutsche
Demokratische Republik), but with a remarkable shift of ideological content (the
example is used by Arrojo in Chesterman and Arrojo 2000). So why should the
formal correspondence itself not represent a shift?
In all these ways, we find that bottom-up shift analysis presupposes far too quickly
that the meanings of language are clear and stable (i.e. not subject to interpretation), and
that there is thus one stable common core (the “architranseme”) in relation to which all
the rest would represent “shifts.” On that score, the approach has far more to do with the
equivalence paradigm than with the precepts of scientific description. Even without
questioning the ultimately arbitrary way in which transemes are identified, there must
remain some doubt about the identification of the shift and of its causation. The bottom-
up accumulation of shifts tends to be methodologically murky, and the long lists of
differences only rarely congeal into firm findings at the higher level of analysis. This
approach can produce much doubt and even more data. At the end of the day, it requires
orientation from a few reductive theories. That is one of the reasons why the descriptive
paradigm is actually full of theories. Top-down shift analysis
The descriptive work in central Europe tended to be much more theoretical than the
bottom-up description of shifts outlined by Catford and substantiated by van Leuven-
Zwart. In Leipzig, Kade (1968) explicitly argued that a bottom-up approach
(“induction”) had to be accompanied by top-down analysis (a “hypothetico-deductive”
approach) if theoretical results were to be achieved (that is, if the “necessity” and
“regularity” of translation were to be understood). In Bratislava and Nitra the analysis
of “shifts of expression” was also happening in roughly the same years as Catford (cf.
Popovič 1968, 1970; Miko 1970) but the focus was not at all the same. For many of the
Europeans, especially those coming from literary studies, shifts could be made quite
independently of any simple desire to maintain equivalence. They could thus be
approached in a top-down way, starting from major hypotheses about why they might
exist and how they could form tendencies.
Popovič, for instance, claimed that there are “two stylistic norms in the
translator’s work: the norm of the original and the norm of the translation” (1968/70:
82). This seems so simple as to be obvious. Yet consider the consequence: as soon as
the two “stylistic norms” are announced, the multiplicity of shifts is already theorized
in terms of coherent patterns (“norms” is a term we will meet further below). This kind
of approach could connect quite easily with the study of literary stylistics, where one
might see the two interacting “norms” as the voices of author and translator. On another
level, shifts could be patterned differently because of historical factors (the nature of the
receiving system, patronage, new text purpose, different ideas about what translation is,
etc.). Or again, some shifts might come about simply as a result of the translation
process as such (these would later be dubbed potential “universals”). On all those levels,
the top-down approach to shifts seeks causal factors (the reasons for the shifts) that are
quite different from those of the equivalence paradigm. These descriptive approaches
could obviously join forces with the bottom-up analyses carried out by linguists, but
their theoretical frame was fundamentally different. In effect, despite the misnomer
“descriptive,” these were theories about the possible causes (personal, institutional,
historical) explaining why people translate differently.
As an example of the top-down analysis of historically bound translation shifts,
consider the basic problem of what to do with a source text that is in verse. This is
analyzed in a seminal paper by James S Holmes (1970), first presented at a conference
on “Translation as an Art” held in Bratislava, Slovakia, in May 1968 and published in a
volume co-edited by Holmes himself (an American resident in Amsterdam), Frans de
Haas (Amsterdam) and the Slovak Anton Popovič (making the book of the key
publications where various strands come together).
We know that in some target cultures (notably in French, at least until the late
nineteenth century), foreign verse forms can consistently be rendered in prose. So the
problem is solved: translators know what to do (translate into prose), and readers know
what to expect (verse is for only texts originally written in French). That would be one
huge kind of shift, and it has remarkably little to do with equivalence of the linguistic
kind. In other cultural situations, however, alternative shifts may be deemed
appropriate. Holmes (1970) formalizes these further shifts in terms of four available
options (in addition to the blanket rendering of verse as prose): the translator can use a
form that looks like the source-text form (“mimetic form”); they can select a form that
fulfils a similar function (“analogical form”); they can develop a new form on the basis
of the text’s content (“organic form”); or they could come up with their own individual
solution (“extraneous form”).
A model of options for the translation of verse (from Holmes 1970)
1. Verse as prose: All foreign verse is rendered as prose, as has been the norm in
translations into French.
2. Mimetic form: The translator chooses a form in the target language that is as
close as possible as the one used in the source language. For example, an
English sonnet can be rendered as a Spanish sonnet well enough, even though
the metrics of feet in English will not correspond to the syllabic metrics of
Spanish. Often this involves introducing a new form into the target culture, as
was done when English terza rima was modeled on the Italian verse form.
3. Analogical form: The translator identifies the function of the form in the source-
language tradition, then finds the corresponding form in the target-language
tradition: “Since the Iliad and Gerusalemme liberata are epics, the argument of
this school goes, an English translation should be in a verse form appropriate to
the epic in English: blank verse or the heroic couplet” (Holmes 1970: 95). This
option might be an application of the equivalence paradigm at a high textual
level. It is to be distinguished from the blanket “verse to prose” option to the
degree that it requires identification of the way the specific source-text form
functions in the source culture.
4. Organic or content-derivative form: The translator refuses to look solely at the
form of the source text (as is done in the above options) and instead focuses on
the content, “allowing it to take on its own unique poetic shape as the
translation develops” (Holmes 1970: 96).
5. Extraneous form: In some situations, the translator may adopt a form that is
totally unconnected with the form or content of the source text, and that is not
dictated by any blanket form for translations in the target culture. In other
words, anything can happen.
Holmes sees these options as being appropriate to different historical situations.
Mimetic form tends to come to the fore “in a period when genre concepts are weak,
literary norms are being called into question, and the target culture as a whole stands
open to outside impulses” (Holmes 1970: 98). This might be the case of German in the
first half of the nineteenth century. On the other hand, “the analogical form is the choice
to be expected in a period that is in-turned and exclusive” (Holmes 1970: 97), such as
the neoclassical eighteenth century in France. As for the use of “organic” form, Holmes
sees it as being “fundamentally pessimistic regarding the possibilities of cross-cultural
transference” (1970: 98) and thus associates it with twentieth-century Modernism.
“Extraneous” form is then regarded, not very convincingly, as having “a tenacious life
as a kind of underground, minority form […] resorted to particularly by metapoets who
lean in the direction of the imitation” (1970: 99).
Holmes’s analysis here suggests that translators’ decisions are always culture-
bound, give or take a few unruly “metapoets.” When asked how any decision should be
made, the descriptivist will thus always be able to say, “it depends on the (target)
culture.” But then, how many different things can a decision actually depend on? Is
there any way to model the huge range of variables covered by phrases such as “the
translator’s sociocultural situation”? Descriptivists have made use of at least three
concepts that are of some help here: systems, norms, and (for want of a better term)
5.4.2 Systems of translations?
What Holmes does in his brief study is in a sense systematic: he identifies and classifies
the available options, and he gives them a certain logical symmetry, largely thanks to
some blunt distinctions between form, function and content. This is theory with a very
top-down function: the theorist conceptualizes the alternatives, then goes looking for
historical examples. One must be careful, though, about the status of this
systematization. What Holmes does here is systematic (ordered, thorough, complete),
but not necessarily systemic (in the sense that might be related to a system where all
terms in some way depend on all other terms).
If we were talking about a language system (as in the work of the systemic
functionalist Halliday, for example), we would see the speaker producing a string of
words such that at each point there is a restricted set of what words can follow. The
language system limits the choices that can be made. The same is true of the translator
as a language producer, since the target language imposes limited sets of choices, which
vary as we go about doing the translation. However, does the same kind of decision-
making concern how to render a foreign verse form? The translator may certainly select
one of Holmes’s five options, and that choice might have meaning in terms of the
overall history of European verse forms, yet is it a decision like those where we are
obliged to select a certain kind of verb or adverbial? Is it properly systemic? To a
certain extent, yes: all receiving cultures have literary genres, and they mostly maintain
structural relations between themselves. Then again, no: those sets of genres need bear
no resemblance at all to the five translational alternatives outlined by Holmes. The
receiving culture is one thing; the sets of theoretical alternatives are something quite
different. In this case, the kind of choice process outlined by Holmes surely cannot be
considered a psychological reality. If the translator was working into German at the
beginning of the nineteenth century, there were all kinds of social and cultural factors
that not only made the use of mimetic form appropriate, but also made Holmes’s
alternatives relatively invisible. Germanic culture, without a state, was prepared to draw
on other cultures in order to develop. Translations of Homer brought hexameters into
German, and translations of Shakespeare brought in blank verse. Indeed, speaking in
1813, Schleiermacher saw this capacity to draw from other cultures as the key to
foreignizing translations, regarded as being a particularly Germanic strategy. A literary
translator trained in that cultural environment would then see “mimetic form” or
“foreignizing” as the normal way to go about translation. The translator might even see
it as the true or correct way in which all translations should be done, in all sociocultural
environments. Prescriptive theorizing may result (“All translations should use mimetic
form!”); some structural oppositions might be proclaimed in theory (“German mimetic
form is better than French translations into prose!”); but the choices are not made within
an abstract system comprising purely translational options.
As Toury would later clarify (1995a: 15-16), the system here belongs to the
level of the theorist (the options theoretically available), which is to be distinguished
from the alternatives actually available to the translator at the time of translating, which
are in turn quite different from what the translator actually does. Toury thus
distinguishes between three levels of analysis: “all that translation […] CAN involve,”
“what it DOES involve, under various sets of circumstances,” and “what is it LIKELY to
involve, under one or another array of specified conditions” (1995a: 15)
Three levels of analysis in Descriptive Translation Studies
Delabastita (2008: 234) elaborates on Toury’s three levels of analysis as follows,
relating them to the notion of norms:
Level of system:
possibilities (“can be”)
For each translation problem or source text, it is
possible to envisage a whole range of possible or
theoretical solutions or target texts [as does
Level of norms:
constraints (“should
On the intermediate level of norms, some of these
possible relationships will be recommended or
even required as being the only ones that can
generate “genuine” translations, whereas others
will be dismissed or even simply ignored.
Level of performance:
empirical discursive
practice (“is”)
We can then observe which relationships have
actually materialized in a given cultural setting. By
definition, these empirical relationships constitute
a subset of the possible relationships; their degree
of frequency in a given cultural situation is a
crucial indication that certain norms have been at
The top-down thinking is fairly clear here (even though, once again, one could
presumably work upwards at the same time). Note, however, that the term “system” is
used here only in the sense of “theoretical possibilities.” This is quite different from the
kind of social or cultural system presented as the context in which translations function.
The relative importance of this second, more general sense of “system” varies from
theorist to theorist. Can the levels of “should be” and “is” be properly systemic in any
strong sense?
When Holmes tries to explain why a particular translation option is associated
with a particular period, he cites a range of quite profound phenomena: “genre
concepts,” “literary norms,” “cultural openness/closure,” “pessimism/optimism about
cross-cultural transfer,” and so on. This are all things placed in the target culture; they
do not belong to any “system of translations” as such. Holmes mentions them in a fairly
off-hand way; they seem to be quite separate, isolated phenomena. However, it is
possible to see such things as being bound together to some extent, as different aspects
of the one culture. This second vision requires us to see cultures as being systemic in
themselves. In Holmes, those systems appear to hang together rather loosely; there is no
necessary homogeneity or determinist fatality. In other theorists, particularly those more
closely in touch with the legacy of Russian Formalism, cultural systems can impose
quite strong logics. Lotman and Uspenski (1971: 82), for example, talk about entire
cultures being “expression-oriented” or “content-oriented” (along with various more
complex classifications), never doubting that such orientations characterize the entire
cultural system. The stronger the logic by which the system is presumed to operate (i.e.
the more systemic it is seen to be), the more that system can be seen as determining the
nature of translations.
Here we return to the way Even-Zohar has worked with the idea of
polysystems.” The “poly-” part of the term may be seen as an indication that, unlike
the approach of Lotman and Uspenski, there is a lot of flexibility involved. The internal
logics of a culture are not going to determine everything that can be done within that
culture. For Even-Zohar, translated literature can be seen as a kind of sub-system
occupying a position within the literary polysystem that hosts it. The relations are
nevertheless strong enough for certain general tendencies to be observed. The
translations can become a key element in the literature (and thus “innovative” and
“central” in position), or they may be secondary or unimportant (“conservative” and
“peripheral”). In these terms, translation is seen as one of the ways in which one
polysystem “interferes” with another, where the verb “to interfere” does not carry any
pejorative sense (see Even-Zohar 1978 and subsequent papers on his website). Even-
Zohar proposes, among much else, that translations play an innovative, central role
(a) a polysystem has not yet been crystallized, that is to say, when a literature is
“young,” in the process of being established; (b) when a literature is either
“peripheral” within a large group of correlated literatures) or "weak," or both; and
(c) when there are turning points, crises, or literary vacuums in a literature. (1978:
These three types of conditions are described as “basically manifestations of the same
law” (1978: 47), the nature of which we will return in the next chapter.
Even-Zohar’s mode of thought, although expressed in a very lapidary way, goes
well beyond Holmes’s concern with explaining why translations are the way they are.
His conceptualization of systems as dynamic and pluralist allows Even-Zohar to ask
what translations can actually do within their target cultures, and how they evolve from
relations between cultures (particularly in terms of inferiority and prestige). He thus
adds many elements to early insights such as Mukařovský’s awareness that literatures
develop through translation. Even-Zohar’s general finding is in fact rather negative,
since he concludes that “the ‘normal’ position assumed by translated literature tends to
be the peripheral one” (1978: 50), that is, that translations tend to have a conservative,
reinforcing effect rather than a revolutionary, innovative one. That kind of finding is
unlikely to be popular within a discipline disposed to see translations as a hidden and
maligned cause of change. Even-Zohar nevertheless stresses that translation is an
essential element to the understanding of any cultural system, since no culture is an
entirely independent entity.
The term “system” thus varies in meaning and importance from theorist to
theorist. In each case, it pays to read the descriptions closely, paying particular attention
to the verbs and the agents of the verbs (who is supposed to be doing what). In strong
systems theory, you will find that the systems themselves do things, as if they were
people. In other approaches, people are portrayed as doing things within systems of
constraints. That is a big difference, bearing on fundamental issues such as human
liberty, the determinist logics of history, and sometimes even the role and nature of
While on the terminological difficulties, we should note a related problem with
the term “function.” For descriptive studies, the “function” of a translation is generally
correlated with its position within its corresponding system, in accordance with an
extended spatial metaphor. When we say that, within a given cultural system, a
translation is relatively “central” or “peripheral” (or things in between), we effectively
mean that its function is either to change or to reinforce (or things in between) the
receiving language, culture or literature. The function here is what the text does in the
system. For the purpose paradigm, on the other hand, the “function” of a translation is
generally conflated into the Skopos, the action that the translation is supposed to enable
in a specific situation, just as the function of a source text is assumed to be the action in
which the text is used (to teach, to express, to sell, etc.). Although both paradigms
would claim to be “functionalist,” the term “function” means one thing in relation to
systems theory (a position and role within a large-scale set of relations) and something
else in relation to action theory (an action within a situation comprising various agents).
There obviously must be common ground between the two usages, yet few theorists
have actually sought it. Here is one way we might think about this relationship: On the
surface, it would seem that the purpose of the translation, the Skopos, varies with each
translation situation. All the situations are different, yet they always occur within wider
social and cultural constraints that limit and orient them. One should thus be able to
connect some wider systemic function to the smaller situational function.
Skopostheorie has remained relatively indifferent to top-down descriptivism, just
as structuralist descriptive studies traditionally distanced themselves from the close-up
dynamics of situations (Lefevere’s 1992 analysis of patronage being a significant
exception). Both paradigms are strongly relativist; both refuse to see the source text as
the only factor determining a translation. Yet they have long been looking in separate
If there is a significant historical bridge between the two notions of function, it
might lie behind the notion of norms.
5.4.3 Norms
In his three-level schema (the one we have reproduced above), after the level of what
“can be” Toury opens a space for what “should be,” which he describes in terms of
“norms.” Norms are thus positioned somewhere between abstract possibilities (such as
Holmes’s alternatives) and what translators actually do (the kinds of pragmatics that
Skopos theory deals with). For Toury, norms are
the translation of general values or ideas shared by a community […] into
performance instructions appropriate for and applicable to particular situations,
specifying what is prescribed and forbidden as well as what is tolerated and
permitted in a certain behavioural dimension. (1995a: 55)
The term “performance instructions” here might suggest that a norm is the same
thing as a client’s brief or a Skopos. It could also misleadingly be associated with a set
of rules or official regulations (which would indeed be called normas in Spanish). In the
descriptive paradigm, however, the term norm usually operates at a wider, more social
level. For example, we could say that in the nineteenth century the norm for translating
foreign verse into French was to render it into prose. There was no official rule stating
that this had to be done, but there was an informal collective agreement. When
translators approached the foreign text, they would accept as a matter of course that
their work was not to imitate what the text looked or sounded like. When publishers
hired translators, that is what they expected them to do. And when readers approached a
literary translation, they would similarly accept that foreign poetry simply had to be in
prose. Of course, the norm was not respected by all translators; norms are not laws that
everyone has to follow. Norms are more like the common standard practice in terms of
which all other types of practice are marked. That much is relatively unproblematic.
Why did the norm of “verse into prose” exist? On several different levels, it no
doubt embodied the general idea that French culture was superior to other cultures. In
Toury’s terms, it conveyed at least that much of the society’s “general values and
ideas.” Given this assumed superiority, there was no reason to accept any foreign
influence on the existing system of neo-classical literary genres. In Even-Zohar’s terms,
we would say the perceived prestige of the target system allocated translation a
peripheral role and hence a very conservative range of acceptable forms. Further, if we
follow Toury, there would be some kind of social (though not juridical) penalization
involved whenever a translator did not adhere to the norm. For instance, a text that
differed radically from the established genres might be considered peculiar, ugly, or
simply not worth buying. In every culture, the nature of a good translation is determined
by such norms, since “bad translations” are penalized in some way, even if only by
hurling adjectives like “bad.” Of course, in milieux governed by an avant-garde logic,
the breaking of norms might mark a superior translation, rather than an inferior one.
Norm-breaking might thus mark not only translations that are bad, but also those that
are exceptionally good.
The concept of norms thus covers quite a few related but different things. Toury
(1995a: 58) makes a basic distinction between “preliminary norms,” which concern
the selection of the kind of text and the mode of translation (direct/indirect, etc.), and
operational norms,” which would cover all the decisions made in the act of
translating. However, as our “verse into prose” example shows, norms also have
different social and epistemological dimensions. They concern what translators think
they are supposed to do, what clients think translators ought to do, what text-users think
a translation should be like, and what kind of translations are considered reprehensible
or especially laudable within the system. Chesterman (1993) organizes these various
aspects by distinguishing between “professional norms,” which would cover
everything related to the translation process, from “expectancy norms,” which are what
people expect of the translation product. If translators in a given society usually add
numerous explanatory footnotes, that might be a professional norm. If readers are
frustrated when such notes do not appear, or if the notes are in an unusual place
(perhaps at the beginning of the text rather than at the bottom of each page), then that
frustration will be in relation to expectancy norms. Ideally, the different types of norms
reinforce one another, so that translators tend to do what clients and readers expect of
them. In times of cultural change, the various types of norms might nevertheless be
thrown out of kilter, and considerable tension can result. Indeed, in systems of self-
induced change, an extreme logic of the avant-garde may mean that all text producers,
including translators, set about breaking norms, and text users thus expect norms to be
broken. That is, norm-breaking can become the norm, as in extreme Modernism.
The idea of norms and norm-breaking has been important for the way
descriptive research relates to the other paradigms of translation theory. If we apply the
concept of norms seriously, we should probably give up the idea of defining once and
for all what a good translation is supposed to be (although it is perhaps still possible to
say what a good or bad social effect might look like, and thus evaluate the way norms
work, cf. Pym 1998b). In fact, the very notion of what a translation is must become very
relative. As we have said, this relativism would be a major point of compatibility with
the Skopos paradigm (and indeed with the paradigm of uncertainty that we will meet in
a later chapter). However, the same relativism runs counter to much of the linguistic
work done in the equivalence paradigm. When a linguist analyzes a source text to see
how it can or should be translated, the basic assumption is that the answers will come
from the nature of that source text, and the nature of translation is thus a very clear
thing; there is not much relativism involved. In the Skopos paradigm, the answers will
come from the situation in which the translation is carried out, to the extent that it
matters little whether a text is a translation or a liberal re-write. In the descriptive
paradigm, however, any questions about the borders between translations and non-
translations can be answered in terms of norms, which in turn express values from the
wider system within which the translator is working. In this sense, the theory of norms
positions translation somewhere between the relative certainty of equivalence and the
relative indifference of Skopos theory.
Such comparisons of paradigms could be exploited in the 1980s, when the
various approaches were starting to congeal into a tentative discipline called Translation
Studies. Scholars working in the descriptive paradigm, usually with a background in
literary studies, could legitimately criticize the narrow “prescriptive” work being done
in the equivalence paradigm. How could a theory set out to tell someone how to
translate, when the very notion of translation varied so much from epoch to epoch and
from culture to culture? The call for descriptions was thus initially a more or less direct
negation of the kind of prescription associated with the equivalence paradigm.
Similarly, whereas the equivalence paradigm invited analysis to start from the source
text and its role in the source situation, the descriptive paradigm tended to favor the
target text and its position in the target system. Toury (1995a) explicitly recommends
starting analysis from the translation rather than from the source text; he thus creates
space for research that takes no account of the source text at all. For example, you can
simply compare different translations, or compare translations with non-translations
within the target system. That kind of full-frontal opposition helped to make Toury the
enfant terrible of his day.
The notion of norms, however, allowed a kind of prescriptivism to be introduced
into descriptive studies, almost through the back door. Even if the role of theory was not
to tell translators how to translate, a descriptive approach could identify the norms by
which a translation could be considered good by people in a certain place and time. This
has allowed for a certain application of descriptive studies in the training of translators
and interpreters. Toury (1992) has suggested, for example, that trainees be asked to
render the same text according to different norms (e.g. translate as one might have done
in twelfth-century Toledo, or under conditions of censorship). The trainee will thus be
made aware that there are many different ways to translate, each with certain advantages
and disadvantages. Of course, the same kind of exercise can be recommended within the
purpose-based paradigm: translate the one text in different ways in order to achieve
different purposes. The different paradigms can lead to the same kind of training
Seeking an alternative mode of compatibility, Chesterman (1999) proposes that
the study of norms will enable the teacher and learner to predict the relative market
success of one strategy or another. No teacher can tell any student there is only one
way to translate (since many norms are available), but empirical research can make it
possible to predict success or failure when dominant norms are met or violated.
Chesterman (1999) formulates his compatibilist position as follows:
Statements like “In principle, in authoritative and expressive texts [original
metaphors] should be translated literally” (Newmark 1988: 112), or “translations
should aim to have the same effect on their target readers as the source texts had
on the source readers,” or “translators should translate transgressively, not
fluently”) can be paraphrased approximately like this: “I predict that if translators
do not translate in the way I prescribe, the effect will be that readers will not like
their translations / that the publisher will reject the text / that intercultural relations
will deteriorate” or the like.
In all these ways, the concept of norms has helped bridge some of the gaps between
descriptivism and prescriptivism.
A more methodological problem concerns the way norms can be discovered. A
bottom-up approach might gather together many translations, look for the shifts, and
regard any high-frequency patterning of the shifts as a “norm.” That is a lot of work; it
cannot say very much about why the norms are there; but it might be a valuable
contribution. Alternatively, Toury (1995a) pays special attention to
pseudotranslations,” understood as texts that are presented as translations but are in
fact original creations. In Hungarian, for example, science fantasy novels are usually
presented as translations from American English, even though they are written straight
in Hungarian, with invented authors, invented biographies, and all the trappings of a
foreign product (Sohár 1999). Such pseudotranslations are found in a wide range of
cultures, with numerous different functions (Santoyo 1984). Their particular interest for
Toury, however, is that they can indicate what a target culture expects translations to be
like, and often how that culture relates to other cultures in terms of prestige. This may
provide a short-cut to the identification and possible explanation of norms.
A more top-down approach to the discovery of norms would start from peri-
textual data such as reviews and critiques, which would tell us about the expectancy
norms involved in the reception of a translation. More highly focused research can
economize resources by concentrating on particular public debates about norms and
norm-breaking, thus identifying and analyzing moments when norms are undergoing
change (cf. Pym 1997). Such an approach helps connect descriptive theory with more
dynamic (and perhaps less systemic) views of cultural history.
The concept of norms has thus helped bring several approaches closer together,
at the same time as the empirical discovery of norms has undoubtedly increased our
historical understanding of the way translations operate. The fundamental concept,
however, is not as clear-cut as it may seem. Consider, for example, the way the German
sociologist Niklas Luhmann (1985) describes legal norms as “counterfactual
expectations,” in the sense that they do not take account of the way people actually
behave. When these expectations are defeated (we find that there are criminals), the
legal norms do not adapt accordingly (criminals must still be punished, no matter how
many criminals there are). Many expectancy norms concerning translations could be of
this counterfactual kind. For example, no matter how often we find that translations are
domesticating (or foreignizing, or explanatory, or full of shifts, etc.), users of
translations might still insist that they should not be. If some norms are working like
this, then the bottom-up counting of facts and frequencies will never connect with the
social pronouncements of what is acceptable or unacceptable. This is one very basic
reason why a descriptive approach to norms requires theoretical concepts. And that is
another reason why, in turn, the descriptive paradigm is full of theories.
Whenever theorists tell us about norms, we should ask exactly how they have
discovered those norms. If bottom-up, the empirical patterns may not all have equal
status as psychological or social facts. And if top-down, then we should ask where the
theorist found the categories of analysis, and why.
5.4.4 “Assumed” translations
Here is another theoretical problem that cuts to the heart of empirical methodologies. If
we set out to discover the historical and cultural diversity of translation norms, can we
pretend to be sure from the outset what is meant by the term “translation”? If so, exactly
what criteria should we use for collecting a set of things called “translations”? And if
not, how can we possibly avoid imposing our own translation norms on other cultures
and periods? This is one of the classical theoretical aporias that tend to worry
researchers in dominant Western cultures.
Toury’s solution to the problem has been to leave the defining to the people we
study. For him, “a ‘translation’ will be taken to be any target-language utterance which
is presented or regarded as such [i.e. as a ‘translation’], on whatever grounds” (Toury
1995a: 20). In other words, we wait to see what each culture and each period has to say
about what is or is not a translation. The solution is the operative concept of “assumed
translations,” which simply means that a translation is indeed a translation only for
as long as someone assumes it to be one. A pseudotranslation, for example, might then
be held to be a translation only for as long as the trick works, and it becomes a non-
translation for those aware of the false pretence.
That solution remains fraught with logical difficulties. For example, if each
language has different words for “translation,” how do we know those words are
translations of each other? In order to select the words, we would surely need our own
concept of translation, if not some clear ideas about what good and bad translations are.
The debate over that issue has been one of the most fundamental but recondite activities
in Translation Studies (cf. among others Gutt 1991; Toury 1995b; Hermans 1997, 1999;
Halverson 2004, 2007; Pym 1998a, 2007a). For some, the problem is basically without
solution, since if we use our normal terms to describe another culture’s term “we
naturally translate that other term according to our concept of translation, and into our
concept of translation; and in domesticating it, we inevitably reduce it” (Hermans 1997:
19). At the other extreme, we might argue that the empirical data are so diverse and
unruly that we have to make some initial imposition and selection, simply in order to
get research moving (cf. Pym 2007a; Poupaud et al. forthcoming). The best we can do is
to be honest and self-critical about our initial principles and criteria, and open to the
discovery of new concepts in the course of the research process. As different as these
two options may appear, they both accept that concepts of translation are culturally and
historically relative and can be described in explicit terms. They are thus both within the
descriptive paradigm. Interestingly, both approaches differ from Toury’s concept of
assumed translations. The fundamental difference between the two sides has more to do
with the role attributed to indeterminism, which we will discuss in a future chapter.
5.4.6 Target-side priority
As we have noted, Toury upset linguistics-based studies of translation not only by
opposing prescriptivism, but more profoundly by insisting that translations should be
studied in terms of their target contexts rather than in relation to their sources (see
Toury 1995b: 136). This led to an extreme position: in Toury’s words, “translations
should be regarded as facts of target cultures” (1995b: 139; cf. 1995a: 29). This
proposition should be understood as part of a specific research methodology; it does not
mean that translations somehow never have source texts (which would absurdly imply
that all translations are actually pseudotranslations). Toury’s argument is that the factors
needed to describe the specificity of how translations work can all be found within the
target system. This is based on the assumption that translators “operate first and
foremost in the interest of the culture into which they are translating” (1995a: 12), either
in order to reinforce the norms of the target culture or to fill in perceived “gaps.”
Those general methodological precepts have born fruits. When one studies, for
example, a corpus of English theater translated into Spanish (Merino 1994) or censored
translations in Franco’s Spain (Merino and Rabadán 2002), even when the material is
organized in terms of English-Spanish pairs, the shifts make sense in terms of the norms
of the Spanish host system, especially when it comes to the Franco regime’s systemic
censorship and its various historical avatars (for notes on the wider project on
translation and censorship, see Merino Álvaraz 2005; for research projects associated
with the earlier development of the descriptive paradigm, see Lambert 1988, 1995). In
these and similar case studies, translations are indeed approached as facts of target
cultures, and much quantitative data has been produced in those terms.
The principle of target-side priority has nevertheless been contested. The
researchers working on literary translation at Göttingen in the 1990s generally
preferred a “transfer” model, which explicitly traced movements between particular
source and target cultures. Others have objected to the separation of the two cultures,
arguing that translators tend to work in an “intercultural” space in the overlap of
cultures (cf. Pym 1998a). More generally, as with the problem of defining translations,
the binary opposition of source and target has been increasingly criticized from within
the indeterminist paradigm, as we shall see later.
5.5 Translation Studies as an academic discipline
The descriptivist call to science is in many respects a structuralist aspiration, crafted in
the belief that methodological research will reveal hidden relations. There is supposed
to be a wider logic beneath observable facts. That call to science is sometimes taken
further; “Sciences qua sciences,” says Toury, “are characterized by an incessant quest
for laws” (1995a: 259, finding support in Even-Zohar 1986). The aim of Translation
Studies is thus assumed to be to discover laws, and in the next chapter we will consider
a few of the laws proposed so far. What interests us here is more the way this
orientation has been able to shape a movement. On Toury’s view, Descriptive
Translation Studies not only has a starting point (the methodological identification and
analysis of facts) but also a general collective goal (the formulation of abstract laws
based on numerous observed facts). This is a paradigm able to lead somewhere.
In its historical setting, the general belief in science and its goals allowed
strangely little space for self-critical analysis of the scholarly community, or indeed of
the social effects of the research itself. At the time the descriptivist paradigm was
developing, such questions were of little concern. There was such confidence in the
project, and presumably self-confidence in the researchers, that this became the first
paradigm able to position itself in relation to other paradigms. Indeed, it was from this
positioning that the discipline of Translation Studies itself was envisaged as a
coordinated collective undertaking. This can be seen in Figure 5, which shows
Holmes’s original proposal for Translation Studies (although the diagram was actually
drawn by Toury):
Translation Studies
'Pure' Applied
Theoretical Descriptive
General Partial Product
Figure 5. Holmes’s conception of Translation Studies (from Toury 1991: 181; 1995: 10)
We reproduce the diagram here in order to note three things. First, the initial division of
“Pure” vs. “Applied” means that the place of the equivalence and purpose-oriented
paradigms would lie quite far from descriptive work: they are presumably somewhere
near the “applied” side of business, while the “Descriptive” branch is “pure” enough to
form a pair with “Theory” all by itself. If the quest for laws is seen as the prime purpose
of the discipline (rather than the improvement of translations or of translators, for
example), then the discipline becomes purer as its categories become more abstract. In
fact, the diagram justifies the very reasons why translators and trainers tend not to like
translation theory. Second, we are very hard-pushed to find published work for many of
the slots allowed for here. Even within the Descriptive branch, for example, we have
remarkably little that could be called “function oriented,” presumably dealing with what
translations actually do within cultures and societies, or with how translations are
actually received. As for the series of “Partial Theoretical” compartments, are there any
studies that slide in neatly? And third, there is no real place for people in the schema,
neither for translators nor for researchers or theorists. The descriptive paradigm thus
seems fundamentally ill-equipped to reflect on its own epistemological shortcomings.
Not surprisingly, the descriptive paradigm has not been able to impose its
disciplinary map on all other paradigms. As an academic discipline, Translation Studies
was indeed born from within this paradigm, but the space thus created was soon
described as an “interdiscipline” (after Toury and Lambert 1989: 1), as a place where
many other models and methodologies can be drawn on. The proponents of description
were not entirely closed to the rest of the world.
5.8 Frequently had arguments
We will now try to gather together a few general observations concerning the historical
development of the descriptive paradigm.
The following are points that would generally be considered positive aspects of
the paradigm:
1. The historical variety and vitality of translation has been revealed.
2. The paradigm has played a central role in the legitimization of Translation
Studies as an academic discipline.
3. It has created knowledge that is potentially useful for all aspects of
Translation Studies, including the prescriptive approaches it originally
4. It breaks with many of the prescriptive opinions of the equivalence
paradigm, albeit at the expense of creating its own illusions of objectivity.
The counterweight to these positive points must be a series of arguments about
the apparent failings of the paradigm:
1. The descriptivist enterprise is ultimately positivist, without awareness of its
own historical position and role. It suffers the same drawbacks as the rest of
2. The definition of “assumed translation” is circular, and must at some stage
rely on the theorist’s own criteria.
3. Descriptions do not help us in the training situation, where we ultimately
need prescriptions.
4. The models all concerns texts and systems, but not people (see the Holmes
map, where there is no room for studies of translators).
5. The target-side focus cannot explain all relations (particularly the case of
translation in postcolonial frames, or wherever power asymmetries are so
great that the source side simply cannot be hidden from view).
6. The focus on norms promotes conservative positions, allowing “ought” to
be derived from “is.” This blocks off work on critical ethics.
Various scholars have responded to these points. Toury (1992), for example,
points out the usefulness of descriptions in the training situation, since one can always
present alternatives in order to illustrate that “everything has its price.” We have noted
above how Chesterman (1999) also argues that empirical research should reinforce
training, since it can be used to predict the success or failure of certain strategies. As for
the apparent promotion of conservatism, Toury proposes that we train students how to
break norms, as indeed he himself has done within Translation Studies.
With respect to the supposed lack of a human dimension, Toury’s abstract
concept of norms is offset by serious interest in how translators become translators
(1995: 241-258), and recent moves within the descriptivist project have been toward the
incorporation of sociological models, particularly Bourdieu’s concept of “habitus”
(variously after Hermans 1999 and Simeoni 1998). This would meet up with moves to
write the history of translation as a history of translators (cf. Delisle and Woodsworth
1995, Pym 1998a). It also connects with the many translation scholars who have been
engaged in writing literary history, often in a humanist mode where translators play
leading roles.
Those arguments notwithstanding, there has been considerable resistance to
descriptivism within training institutions, which have generally obtained better mileage
from the Germanic theories of purpose. At the same time, the basic thrust of target-side
studies threatens to relieve traditional departments of modern languages of what they do
best (teaching source languages and literatures), and is thus unlikely to curry favor
there. Descriptivist theory has thus tended to operate on the fringes of the more
established training communities, guiding PhD theses useful for employment purposes.
So where will the descriptive paradigm go from here? Recent calls have been for
a “sociological turn,” for some kind of alliance with a discipline better equipped to
handle contextual variables. Theo Hermans (1999), for example, closes his account of
the paradigm by pointing the way to the sociologies of Bourdieu and Luhmann. And
so one turns that corner; but what do we find? Usually a plethora of data, on numerous
levels, with very few categories able to organize the data in terms of cross-cultural
communication. The great Modernist sociologies are based on the same structuralism
that informed the history of the descriptive paradigm itself, albeit now with more scope
for self-reflexivity (the sociologist can do the sociology of sociologists). More
problematic, these sociologies are overwhelmingly of single societies only, of systems
in the “one side or the other” sense that has reigned within the paradigm. They fit in so
well with the target-side orientation of descriptive approaches that they risk bringing in
little that is new. Indeed, the descriptive literary studies of the 1970s and 1980s were
already doing systematic sociology of a kind. A new “sociological turn” could risk
bringing us back full-circle.
This chapter has sketched out the historical and intellectual background of the descriptive
paradigm of translation theory. The paradigm was mainly developed by literary scholars
working in relation to smaller cultures. Although based on empirical research, it has a set of
properly theoretical concepts, many of which can be traced from the Russian Formalists to
work done in central Europe, to the Tel Aviv School, and to scholars in Holland and Flanders.
The academic discipline of Translation Studies began to take shape from the exchanges
between those groups. In general, the descriptive theories oppose the equivalence paradigm in
that they aim to be non-prescriptive, their prime focus is on “shifts” rather than types of
equivalence, and they do not undertake extensive analysis of the source culture. They tend to
be like purpose-based Skopos approaches in that they emphasize the target-culture context
and the function of translations within that context. They nevertheless differ from purpose-
based approaches in that they see functions in terms of the positions occupied by translations
within the target systems, rather than with respect to a client or a brief. Descriptive theories
also tend to concern what translations are usually like in a particular context, rather than he
ways in which particular translations might differ. They are thus able to talk about the
consensus-based “norms” that inform the way translations are produced and received. The
paradigm is thus relativistic in that it is very aware that what is considered a good translation in
one historical context may not be rated so highly in a different context. The research based on
those concepts has done much to reveal the vast diversity of translation practices in different
historical periods, different cultures, and different types of communication.
Sources and further reading
A good historical account of systems-based theories can be found in the first chapters
of Theo Hermans’ Translation in Systems (1999). The proceedings of the various
conferences in Bratislava in 1968 (ed. Holmes, de Haan, Popovič, 1970), Leuven in
1976 (ed. Holmes, Lambert, van den Broeck, 1978), Tel Aviv in 1978 (ed. Even-Zohar
and Toury 1981) are full of ad hoc insight into the disjointed development of the
paradigm, although the books are hard to find. The same could be said of the seminal
collection The Manipulation of Literature (ed. Hermans 1985), which is rather more
profound than its misleading title. Anyone undertaking empirical research on
translations should have tackled Gideon Toury’s Descriptive Translation Studies and
beyond (1995), if only to use it as a point of reference. Numerous papers on various
aspects of methodology are available online at the sites of Itamar Even-Zohar
( and Gideon Toury ( A
more entertaining descriptive approach to literary translation is André Lefevere’s
Translation, Rewriting, and the Manipulation of Literary Fame (1992). For insights on
the various sociocultural aspects of descriptive studies, see the selection of José
Lambert’s articles in Functional Approaches to Culture and Translation (ed.
Delabastita, D’hulst & Meylaerts, 2006). For a critical account of systems and norms,
see Pym (1998a). A broad update on recent work in the descriptive paradigm can be
gleaned from the volume Beyond Descriptive Translation Studies (ed. Pym, Shlesinger,
Simeoni, 2008).
Suggested projects and activities
1. Consider the all the language situations you participate in on a typical day, not only
in newspapers, television and web sites but also in shops, banks and public services.
How much of this linguistic material must have been translated in one way or another?
(Consider news events that have happened outside of your language.) How much of
that material is actually marked as translational?
2. Where do translators and interpreters work in your town or city? What laws or
policies orient their work?
3. Look up translations in your language of John 1, similar to these (taken from Nord
a) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
b) Au commencement était le Logos; et le Logos était près de Dieu, et le Logos était
c) En el principio existía el Verbo, y el Verbo estaba con Dios, y el Verbo era Dios.
d) Al principio era el Verbo, y el Verbo estaba en Dios, y el Verbo era Dios.
e) No principio era o Verbo, e o Verbo estaba com Deus, e o Verbo era Deus.
f) In principio era il Verbo, e il Verbo era presso Dio e il Verbo era Dio.
g) Im Anfang war das Wort, und das Wort war bei Gott, und Gott war das Wort.
h) Zuerst war das Wort da, Gott nahe und von Gottes Art.
Which translations make sense, and which do not? Could these differences be
described in terms of norms?
The last-listed German translation (h) is from Berger and Nord (1999). It could be
translated into English as something like “First the Word was there, near God and in
the manner of God.” This radically changes the widely memorized phrases of the
Lutheran version (g), which might be rendered as “In the beginning was the Word, and
the Word was with God, and God was the Word.” What might be the reasons for such a
change? Could those reasons be described in terms of norms?
4. Use the Internet to find out about the Mexican interpreter La Malinche (also called
Malineli Tenepatl or Doña Marina). What systems would she have been operating
within? What was her relation with the systems? What norms would have regulated her
work? Are these systems and norms different depending on whether her story is told by
feminists, or by Mexican nationalists? (The same exercise can be done for any number
of high-profile translators, preferably working in situations of conflict.)
5. Find a code of ethics for translators. Could any of the principles be described as
norms? If so, what kind of norms are they? How would they relate to an empirical
study of what translators actually do? (For a critical analysis of codes of ethics, see
Pym 1992a, Chesterman 1997.)
6. Find an authoritative history of your favorite national literature (e.g. French
literature, Russian literature). Are translations part of the history? Are they mentioned
in a separate chapter? In the index? Should they be? Would the inclusion of translations
make any sense in the case of minor literatures in major languages (e.g. Australian
literature)? Can periods of great change, such as the Italian Renaissance, really be
written without reference to translations?
7. Locate one page of a literary text and a professional translation of it. Try to divide it
into paired segments (one ST unit corresponds to one TT unit) and identify the
translation shifts. Are the shifts easily categorized? Can they all be described in terms
of equivalence? For how many of the shifts could we say there are social or political
factors involved? Should we talk about “shifts” or “variations,” or perhaps
“deviations,” or even “errors”?
8. Find out about The Works of Ossian (1765). Could this text be described as a
translation? If not, what is it? Should it be analyzed within the field of Translation
9. Check the definition of pseudotranslations. Can you find any pseudotranslations in
the literatures of your languages? What would their cultural function be? Why have
they been presented as translations?

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Ubrzan razvoj tehnologije utemeljene na strojnom učenju dovodi do velikih promjena u jezičnoj industriji, koje se mogu promatrati na nekoliko razina. Na društvenoj razini, poslovni modeli mijenjaju se u pravcu "uberizacije" profesije, a prevoditeljima se oduzima dio moći i kontrole nad radnim okruženjem te autorstva i vlasništva nad prijevodnim i jezičnim resursima, čiji su sustvaratelji. Dostupnošću strojnih prijevoda u javnosti se stvara privid lakoće prevođenja, čime se dodatno smanjuje ekonomski i simbolički kapital prevoditelja. Na kognitivnoj razini, tehnologija više nije tek izvanjsko pomagalo; ona u tolikoj mjeri prožima prijevodni proces da nije uvijek moguće odrediti jasnu granicu između ljudskog djelovanja i tehnologije. Također je nejasna i nestabilna granica između prevođenja u njegovu prototipnom obliku, koji je u praksi sve rjeđi, i "prevođenju sličnih aktivnosti" (poput redakture strojnih prijevoda, transkreacije ili audiodeskripcije). Jednako je fluidna i uloga prevoditelja, koji su istodobno ili naizmjence redaktori, terminolozi, kontrolori kvalitete, autori kreativnih tekstova, evaluatori jezičnih sadržaja i dr. Mnoge etičke dvojbe koje proizlaze iz navedenih trendova uključuju potrebu trajnog preispitivanja odnosa čovjeka i tehnologije. Na metarazini, redefiniranje samoga pojma prevođenja u skladu s novom stvarnošću postaje goruća potreba teorije prevođenja. U ovome radu predstavljaju se relevantni tehnološki trendovi i njihove posljedice za praksu i teoriju prevođenja, kao i ključne etičke dileme budućeg razvoja. Naznačuju se i neke implikacije za obrazovanje prevoditelja.
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The dissertation aims mainly to develop a descriptive and quantitative framework to analyze the morphosemantic features of EVALs in view to obtain measurable parameters that can be applied cross-linguistically in EM studies, both descriptive and contrastive. Accordingly, the following tasks have been established to achieve various individual objectives: 1. To review critically EM literature and survey up-to-date theoretical perspectives to assess the state of affairs in the study field. 2. To identify and discuss terminological and conceptual discrepancies in the relevant literature, and to adopt a set of terms that may be applicable cross-linguistically. 3. To define and characterize EVALs as a distinctive lexical type within the larger group of evaluative constructions. 4. To establish a set of analytical variables associated with productivity and diversity in EVAL-formation, and to provide quantitative measurements of how each variable is represented in a language’s EM system. 5. To carry out a detailed review and critical analysis of existing literature on Spanish and Latvian EM, as well as a systematic description and contrastive analysis of their respective EM resources.
In mathematics education, translation of resources from one language to another occurs in a wide range of situations. This paper explores how conceptual and technical apparatus from contemporary translation studies may be of use in guiding and analysing such translation. Key concepts—including those of source, target and intermediate text, of paradigms of equivalence, purpose, uncertainty and localisation, and of semantic, syntactic and epistemological equivalence—are introduced and illustrated, primarily with reference to translation of a series of school mathematics workbooks. Significant types of tool to assist translation—translation protocols and machine translation—are examined. A more detailed case study illustrates techniques (and associated tools) for analysing translation shifts and terminological translatability, applying them to examine translation of documentation of a framework for researching teachers’ interaction with resources—the Documentational Approach to Didactics. Specific insights that emerge are how translation is shaped by attention not just to fidelity to the source text but to the audience for, and function of, the target text; and how challenging it can be to formulate terms translatable across languages in such a way as to consistently anchor meaning in existing wordforms.
We aim to examine Ebussüreyya Sami’s Relentless Avni, the Turkish Sherlock Holmes, the first Turkish crime fiction series in the Turkish literary system published in the late Ottoman Era, with a focus on allegory translation in crime fiction. Despite being considered as original in the Turkish literary system, the series under investigation raises the issue of whether it is “original” due to its similarities to western crime novels. Studies on crime fiction translation show that the genre is an important tool for creating national allegories which can be transformed into other allegories through translation. We argue that the series, albeit having been considered “original” in the Turkish literary system, constitutes an example of allegory translation produced through creative mediation due to the absence of an established crime fiction tradition in the Turkish literature at the time. The comparative analysis of the series and their western counterparts reveals that Ebussüreyya Sami, the author-translator, transformed a Western-oriented allegory into a new national allegory for the readers to create a culture repertoire with a specific emphasis on Turkishness in line with the National Literature Movement and nationalist modernization in the Turkish target culture and the protagonist Relentless Avni, the Turkish Sherlock Holmes functioned as a contributor to “culture planning” by providing a role model of a nationalist modern Turkish citizen. • Allegory in crime fiction is not static but can be transformed into an allegory of another culture through translation, which can be called allegory translation. • The first Turkish crime fiction series is in fact an allegory translation produced through “creative mediation.” • “Creative mediation” can be considered as a translation technique used to create a new national allegory for a target society.
تُعدُّ هذه الدراسة محاولة لاستخدام استراتیجیة ترجمة الترجمة لتقویم الترجمات ما بین اللغة العربیة والإِنجلیزیة، وقد طبّقت على أَربعة نصوص إِنجلیزیة تقنیَّة وعلمیَّة من مجلة نیوزویک مع الترجمات باللغة العربیة المأخوذة من نسخة المجلة باللغة العربیة، وأُعیدت ترجمة النصوص باللغة العربیة على ید ثلاثة مترجمین محترفین فی قسم الترجمة فی کلیة الآداب فی جامعة الموصل, وعوینت النصوص الإِنجلیزیة الناتجة على ضوء النصوص الأَصلیَّة، وینصب ترکیز المراجع فی التحلیل على الترجمات الأُولى . ولقد توصَّل البحث إِلى إِمکانیة إِجراء الترجمة العکسیة أَو ترجمة الترجمة بین اللغتین العربیة والإِنجلیزیة وهذه الطریقة نافذة ومفیدة فی تقویم ترجمات النصوص غیر الأَدبیة، فضلًا عن ذلک فقد وجد أَن طریقة تبسیط النص قبیل ترجمته, وهی واقعة على عاتق المترجم الأَوَّل, مفیدة ومنیرة للذهن، ویظهر التحلیل أَنَّ هناک العدید من أَمثلة المکافئ بین النصوص الأَصلیَّة والمترجمة، ولقد أَظهرت الدراسة أَنَّ المترجمین العکسیین أَکثر کفاءة ومعرفة من المترجمین الأَوائل .
Translator professionalism is seldom studied in an empirical way in Asia, not to mention the similarities and differences in the perception of the topic as exhibited by practitioners versus clients. The present study examines translator professionalism as a multidimensional term covering practitioners' language competence, translation skills, ethics, attitudes, and behaviour in and outside the workplace setting. It compares the viewpoints of 425 practitioners and 72 clients in Asia. Data suggest that both parties have a rather positive attitude towards the professional status of translators although significant divergent viewpoints were found on whether the occupation is vital to society; whether becoming a translator requires a high degree of expertise and knowledge; and whether translators can exercise their own judgment in their jobs. However, both practitioners and clients have similar opinions on translators' proactive behaviour at work. Moreover, they attach great importance to translators' adherence to the principles of ethical practice. The findings not only contribute to research on the client-translator relationship but also provide translation teachers and students with knowledge of the latest development of translator professionalism as well as current and upcoming challenges in the industry.
In this study the Turkish translation of the figurative language in the novel “The Day The Leader Was Killed” written by Egyptian writer Nejib Mahfouz has been analyzed in the context of translation theories developed by Vinay and Darbelnet, Newmark, Pym and Toury. The fundamental reason of analyzing this novel is because of the usage of brilliant eloquence in the figurative language. Another reason is the fact that Nejib Mahfouz is considered to be one of the preeminent writers in Arabic Literature. This research will only analyze the translation from Arabic to Turkish. In this study the indirect translation from English will not be discussed. The reason of this is due to the fact that great amount of loss of meaning might prevail in an indirect translation. Furthermore another reason is that the analysis of targets texts translated from a mediated language can not be successful. The fundamental argument of this research is the fact that a translation criticism is obliged to be carried out on the basis of a theoretical framework in order for it to be scientific. The methodoogy of this study is document analysis. In this study the fact that translation criticism that does not have a theoretical framework will only be error-hunting has been discussed. Moreover the fact that this kind of a translation analysis will not fulfill the requirement of being scientific in other words thoroughly academic has also been emphasized. This study is crucial in terms of demonstrating the systematic process of a scientific translation analysis. In this research the theories that constitute the theoretical framework of the analysis have been explained, the analysis has been carried out and the findings that were obtained were discussed in the conclusion respectively. The fundamental finding which was obtained in the conclusion of this study is the fact that the translator has aimed to produce an acceptable translation as the Initiai Norm.
An adequate measure of translation transformations is a distinctive feature of a good translation. It allows to realise the two major requirements to the target text – equivalent regulatory effect of source and target texts and maximum possible semantic and structural similarity of source and target texts. A faithful translation should be made in keeping with the three principles determining the adequate measure of transformations in translation: the motivation principle, the minimalism principle and the boundedness principle. A particular research interest is taken in the degree of translation transformations in the science text in conformity with these principles. To produce a quality translation with (an) identical pragmatic effect, the translator should clearly define the measure of translation transformations – when certain translation modifications are necessary and admissible. It is important for translators to be knowledgeable about the functions of each determinant principle and avoid unmotivated transformations, reasonable but excessive modifications, and motivated transformations that go beyond the admissible translation limits. The translator should also avoid extremes – literal and free translations, which hamper the perception of the text. The adequate measure of translation transformations is in the middle between literal and loose translations. To take an appropriate translation solution, the translator of a science text should be trained in using translation techniques and bring the source text in conformity with the norms of the language of science. A specific admissible measure of transformations in translation is impossible to determine as it varies in different text genres and different contexts. The translator should be competent enough in the branch of knowledge the translation text belongs to. Our analysis of the Ukrainian translation of the history (historical) monograph “The Celts: A Chronological History” by Dáithí Ó hÓgáin, aims to establish the degree of semantic and structural divergences between the source and target texts and to evaluate the translation solutions that were used to achieve the pragmatically equivalent translation.
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This paper provides an empirical investigation of shifts in hedges in an Arabic translation of A Farewell to Arms (1929). The results reveal a tendency to add rather than omit hedges. This is associated with several discourse effects, such as a move toward an increased level of awareness of information quality and relevance, greater attenuation/mitigation, more politeness, improved interpersonal relations, increased reinforcement, greater speaker responsibility/commitment, higher cognitive and emotional involvement, and stronger textual relations in the translated narrative. These effects reflect a more cooperation/dynamic role on the (literary) translator's part during his second verbal materialization and re-narration of the original story. The addition of relevance hedges points to an explicitation pattern that improves the text's readability and reflects the translator's mediating voice in the translated narrative. The increased attenuation and reinforcement are indicative of a movement toward standardizing (appropriating) a war novel that has a less emotive style to an emotionally remote (Arabic) reader, pushing for more universalized interpretations and more normalized literary translations. Such movements, which cannot be linked at least in this study to any sociopolitical factors (e.g., language status, power relations), are better regarded as visible traces pointing to the translators' (conscious or subconscious) orientation toward a greater literary uniformity and more cross-cultural/universal understanding.
This article is based on an ethical vision of the role of the translator in the context of globalization. It stresses the necessary ethical behaviour of the translator in a global world where humans and human knowledge are competing with the commercialization of interpersonal relations. This assumption is developed through three philosophical notions which translators should be aware of in their professional practice: the necessity of increasing the desire of "Being-together" (I'être-ensemble) as reported by Paul Ricoeur according to the works of Hannah Arendt; their responsibility for the protection and sharing of written "the common good" (le bien commun); and, last but not least, the importance of "the philosophy of dialogue" as introduced by Buber and Marcel and elaborated by Levinas, in order to preserve, in this time of worldwide exchange, the uniqueness of the human relation.