22 Ekim 2007 Pazartesi

week 4a


The question most frequently raised during the 1960s and 1970s in the history of Translation Studies was the issue of equivalence: How could it be achieved, and how could a translator accomplish a well-devised, guarded against every possible mistake and straightforward translation were some of the common queries of the discussion among the scholars. The concept of equivalence was observed by Roman Jakobson, Eugene A. Nida, John C. Catford, Jean-Paul Vinay and Jean Darbelnet in their writings. During these decades, different notions of equivalence (i.e. formal and dynamic equivalence, introduction of the idea of shifts, etc) developed within the realm of translation theories. In addition to the preceding contributions to the newly emerging discipline, German scholar Katharina Reiss has taken the very term “functional equivalence” as a starting point for her work, and has carried the concept of equivalence one step further in her studies.

In her seminal article entitled “Type, Kind and Individuality of Text, Decision Making in Translation”, written in 1971, Reiss proposes a methodical text typology, a practical approach to text examination, and a “functional” viewpoint regarding translation. Additionally, Reiss discerns the stipulations affecting the decisions of the translator in her study.

In a manner evoking the studies of the previous scholars, say Roman Jakobson (cf. 2000: 113-118), with respect to the notion of equivalence, Katharina Reiss also takes the work of German linguist Karl Bühler’s book titled Die Sprachtheorie (Language Theory) as a point of commencement, and examines the text types which determine translation. Prior to her proposal of text types, Reiss distinguishes two kinds of “changes” during the communication process: unintentional and intentional changes. She defines the former kind as rising from different language structures whereas the latter kind inevitably involves a change of function in the act of communication and as a matter of fact, –according to Reiss–, contorts the functional equivalence between the source language and the target language. Moreover, during the course of her article, Reiss uses an abundance of examples in order to support her opinions regarding the togetherness of linguistic and non-linguistic action/s (i.e. gestures, facial expressions, etc) within the communication.

Translation, or in Katharina Reiss’ terms a written form of communication, requires the classification of certain text types which the scholar distinguishes as the informative text, the expressive text, the operative text, and the multi-medial text (cf. 2000: 163-165). By distinguishing specific types of texts, Reiss has also paved the way for a better understanding of the translation quality assessment or in other words, translation criticism. In her study entitled Möglichkeiten und Grenzen der Übersetzungskritik (Translation Criticism – The Potentials & Limitations) Reiss expounds on the notion of text typologies along with appropriate translation methods for each text category (cf. 2000: 16-46) and regards the text type “as a literary category of translation criticism” (ibid: 47). In this respect, Katharina Reiss can be considered as one of the pioneers within the history of Translation Studies who took the notion of translation criticism as one of her focal points.

The second stage of Reiss’ phase of analysis “aims at the establishment of the text variety, i.e. the classification of a given text according to specifically structured socio [-] cultural patterns of communication belonging to specific language communities” (2000: 165 italics original). In the third stage, being the crucial one, Reiss treats the translator as an individual due to the fact that a “translator’s ‘decisive battle’ is fought on the level of the text individual, where strategy and tactics are directed by type and variety” (ibid: 166). In this sense, Reiss can be regarded as one of the first scholars who dwelled upon the importance of “decision making” during the course of a translation process.

In light of the thesis pursued in “Type, Kind and Individuality of Text, Decision Making in Translation” together with Möglichkeiten und Grenzen der Übersetzungskritik, a “crucial shift of focus from the isolated lexical item in a language system to the differentiated handling of texts in the act of translation” (Snell-Hornby 1995: 81) has emerged within the realm of Translation Studies. Even though the extent of the text typology proposed by Katharina Reiss was criticized because of its “limited scope” (ibid) and its “lack of exactness in the practical field of the translation” (Göktürk 2002: 85), she has been very influential in focusing attention on the function of text both in the context of the original and in the context of the situation that demands a translation. Yet, the applicability of Katharina Reiss’ text classification to the practical field of translation –especially the domain of literary translation– remains problematic enough. Indeed, as André Lefevere argues, text typologies “draw an unwarrantedly sharp line between ‘literary’ and ‘nonliterary’ texts. They seem to postulate the existence of an ethereal verbal construction that uses only literary elements (what those might be is seldom specified) and that is then excluded from further analysis because it is ‘too complicated’ at the present [at that current] stage of research” (1994: 9).

As Katharina Reiss’ work has elucidated, translation can either be considered as a form of (written) communication, or as a type of human behaviour comprising characteristics pertaining to human actions. In this context, one can infer that the translation process is one of the most important parts for Reiss in her approach in regards to the translation. This approach has been elaborated on by Katharina Reiss’ colleague Hans J. Vermeer in the late 1970s and 1980s. As a consequence of his studies both with Reiss and individually, Vermeer has founded one of the most influential theories within the realm of Translation Studies: the skopos theory.

In his worthwhile article entitled “Skopos and Commission in Translational Action”, written in 1989, and intended by the scholar as a “short sketch” (Vermeer: 1989 173) of his skopos theory, Vermeer provides firstly a brief outline regarding the skopos theory, which is the part of a theory of translational action. It can easily be judged from the name of the umbrella which comprises skopos theory, that is to say, theory of translational action, that, Vermeer sees translation primarily as a type of action. Taking into account the fact that translation is a cultural interaction, Vermeer’s approach can be defined in a broader sense: Translation is a multicultural event. The most striking part of this outline is probably his approach to the translator, or in Vermeer’s words, to the “expert” in his/her field. Taking the translator as an expert for granted, Vermeer takes Reiss’ approach in regards to the translator one step further in his study. Additionally, Vermeer opposes the mainstream notion of regarding translation as a mere matter of language in his second part of the article. The target text, Vermeer writes, “The translatum, is oriented towards the target culture, and it is this which ultimately defines it adequacy” (1989: 175). It is exactly at this point where skopos (derived from the Greek word “ο σκοπός”) reveals itself during translational action. The aim, the goal, the purpose of the translator come into being at this crucial point of the translation process and determines the path which the translation, –and as a consequence the product–, will follow.

Vermeer continues his study by discussing two basic arguments which have been raised against the skopos theory. The first objection “maintains that not all actions have an aim: some have ‘no aim’” (1989: 177). Taking the literary texts as a focal point with respect to this objection, Vermeer goes back to the definition of the very word action and proposes his counter opinion: “if a given act of behaviour has neither goal nor function, nor intention, as regards its realization, result or manner, then it is not an action in the technical sense of the word” (ibid). The second objection “maintains that not every translation can be assigned a purpose, an intention” (ibid: 179) rests upon certain sub-arguments which Vermeer identifies as follows:
“a) The claim that the translator does not have any specific goal, function or intension in mind: he just translates ‘what is in the source text’,
b) The claim that a specific goal, function or intention would restrict the translation possibilities, and hence limit the range of interpretation of the target text in comparison to that of the source text,
c) The claim that the translator has no specific addressee or set of addresses in mind” (ibid).
By providing a set of examples ranging from advertising texts to the news texts from radio and television, Vermeer clarifies the objections which seem to be neglecting the fact that translation is always dependent on the circumstances under which the translation act is being taken. Moreover, this attitude of the objectors of the skopos theory can be taken as a token of their tendencies towards a static approach to the translation. Vermeer’s approach, on the contrary, provides a dynamic approach to the translation act.

Underlying the last part of his article, where Vermeer introduces the concept of translation commission is the fact that a translation should be undertaken in agreement with the translational commission: “One translates as a result of either one’s own initiative or someone else’s: in both cases, that is, one acts in accordance with a ‘commission’” (ibid: 182) and offers a brief analysis to the reader regarding the concept he has introduced. This aspect, intrinsic in the translation process, can also be considered as an initial step which allows for a discussion of the concept of “ethics” in translation.

The ethical aspect of translation was further discussed by Hans J. Vermeer in his studies. Even though almost thirty years have passed since Vermeer first introduced his skopos theory within the region of Translation Studies (published for the first time in 1978), it is still being talked and discussed about. This situation can be taken as a proof of how productive the theory has become due to the debates it has launched in the discipline. In a rather recent conference (held at 30th of May 2003 in the Department of Western Languages and Literatures of Boğaziçi University), for instance, Vermeer has taken the teaching(s) of Ferdinand de Saussure as a starting point, and has discussed the responsibilities and ethics of the translation act from different aspects in his declaration entitled “The Nature of Translating – A Summary”. This study contains an even-handed critique of Saussure’s theory in regards to the linguistic sign. The approach to the translator as an individual which has its roots in the writings of Katharina Reiss in the 1970s was announced/observed more explicitly in Vermeer’s declaration: “A translation depends on the translator’s decision to re-act to a source texteme according to his freedom and responsibility to choose a ‘skopos’ in order to achieve an adequate understanding of the target text (the skopos determined translation) by the intended recipients as expected by the translator” (Vermeer: 2004 265, emphasis added). Without a doubt, one can easily infer that Vermeer is giving priority to the responsibility of the translator, hence the ethics of translation.

Skopos theory as stated in “Skopos and Commission in Translational Action”, and in general terms skopos theory, has allowed the opportunity for scholars to focus on the target text essentially. Translation, formerly determined by a source text, began to be determined by its own purpose. According to Christina Schäffner, “the shift of focus away from source text reproduction to the more independent challenges of target-text production has brought innovation to translation theory. As attention has turned towards the functional aspects of translation towards the explanation of translation decisions, the expertise and ethical responsibility of the translator have come to the fore” (1998: 238-239).

All aspects considered, it can be observed that functional approaches in translation theories have launched new debates –along with certain criticisms of the functional approaches– within the realm of the discipline (cf. Nord: 1997 109-122). Furthermore, fruitful studies have been carried out from different perspectives (for instance, under the umbrella of systemic and descriptive approaches) as a consequence of the innovatory approach of the scholars analyzed here.


GÖKTÜRK, Akşit, Çeviri: Dillerin Dili, Yapı Kredi Yayınları, İstanbul, 2002

LEFEVERE, André, Translating Literature, Practice and Theory in a Comparative Literature Context, Second Edition, the Modern Language Association of America, 1994

NORD, Christiane, Translating as a Purposeful Activity, St. Jerome, UK, 1997

SCHÄFFNER, Christina, “Skopos Theory”, in Baker, Mona (ed.), Encyclopedia of Translation Studies, London and New York: Routledge, 1998, pp. 235-238

SNELL-HORNBY, Mary, “Linguistic Transcoding or Cultural Transfer? A Critique of Translation Theory in Germany”, in, Bassnett, Susan and Lefevere, André (eds.), Translation, History and Culture, Cassell, London, 1995, pp. 79-86

REISS, Katharina, “Type, Kind and Individuality of Text, Decision Making in Translation”, in, Venuti, Lawrence (ed.), The Translation Studies Reader, London-New York: Routledge, 2000, pp. 160-171

REISS, Katharina, Translation Criticism – The Potentials & Limitations, trans. Errol F. Rhodes, St. Jerome, UK, 2000

VERMEER, Hans J., “Skopos and Commission in Translational Action”, in, Readings in Translation Theory, (ed.) Andrew Chestermann, Oy Finn Lectura Ab, 1989, pp. 173-200

VERMEER, Hans J., “Çevirinin Doğası – Bir Özet” Çeviri: Şebnem Bahadır-Dilek Dizdar, Çeviri(bilim) nedir? Başkasının Bakışı, Rıfat Mehmet (der.), içinde, İstanbul: Dünya Kitapları, 2004, pp. 257-267

1 yorum:

sehnaz dedi ki...

Your lengthy introduction to Reiss' work is carefully written and well-researched. You refer to the main strengths and weaknesses of her work, which is the main purpose of these response papers. As for your comments on Vermeer, you could have gone deeper into the way Vermeer takes the translator's position as an expert for granted and contextualise this claim vis-a-vis the daily realities of translation. Your reference to Vermeer's 2003 lecture is surely worthy of a longer excursion. You seem to be impressed by the relevance of Vermeer's work for an ethics of translation. This is something that needs to be dealt with within a wider framework and is not only limited to the idea of translator's expert status and responsibility.