Disclaimer: This is an example of a student written essay.
Click here for sample essays written by our professional writers.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of UKEssays.com.

Different Translation Theories

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 5336 words Published: 29th Jul 2019

Reference this

Translation is to render the meaning of a text into another language in the way that the author intended the text. The translation cannot simply reproduce, or be, the original. The first business of the translator is to translate. There is a body of knowledge about translation which, if applied to solving translation problems, can contribute to a translator’s training. Everything without exception is translatable. There is no such a thing as a perfect, ideal or “correct” translation.

In a narrow sense, translation theory is concerned with the translation method appropriately used for a certain type of text. In a wide sense, translation theory is the body of knowledge that we have about translation. Translation theory is concerned with minute as well as generalities, and both may be equally important in the context.

What is translation

Translation is the communication of the meaning of a source-language text by means of an equivalent target-language text. Whereas interpreting undoubtedly antedates writing, translation began only after the appearance of written literature; there exist partial translations of the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh (ca. 2000 BCE) into Southwest Asian languages of the second millennium BCE.

Translators always risk inappropriate spill-over of source-language idiom and usage into the target-language translation. On the other hand, spill-overs have imported useful source-language calques and loanwords that have enriched the target languages. Indeed, translators have helped substantially to shape the languages into which they have translated.

Due to the demands of business documentation consequent to the Industrial Revolution that began in the mid-18th century, some translation specialties have become formalized, with dedicated schools and professional associations.

Because of the laboriousness of translation, since the 1940s engineers have sought to automate translation (machine translation) or to mechanically aid the human translator (computer-assisted translation). The rise of the Internet has fostered a world-wide market for translation services and has facilitated language localization.

The function of translation

(1) Translation is a means of communication;

(2) Translation is instrumental in transmitting culture;

(3) Translation is also a transmitter of the truth;

(4) Translation is a technique for learning foreign languages.

What a translation theory does is

(1) to identify and define a translation problem

(2) to indicate all the factors that have to be taken into account in solving the problem

(3) to list all the possible translation procedures

(4) to recommend the most suitable translation procedure, plus the appropriate translation.

Translation Methods

The central problem of translating has always been whether to translate literally or freely. The argument was theoretical. Now the context has changed, but the basic problem remains.

The Methods are as follows:

  • Word-for-word translation
  • Literal translation
  • Faithful translation
  • Semantic translation
  • Adaptation
  • Free translation
  • Idiomatic translation’
  • Communicative translation

In all those above, only semantic and communicative translation fulfill the two main aims of translation: accuracy and economy. In general, a semantic translation is written at the author’s linguistic level, a communicative at the readership’s. Semantic translation is used for “expressive” texts, communicative for “informative” and “vocative” texts.

So, next we talk about the equivalent effect. Equivalent effect (produce the same effect) is the desirable result, rather than the aim of any translation. In the communicative translation of vocative texts, equivalent effect is not only desirable, it is essential. In informative texts, equivalent effect is desirable only in respect of their insignificant emotional impact. The more cultural a text, the less is equivalent effect even conceivable.

Different Types of Translation Theories

Literal Translation

According to the linguistic theory of discourse analysis, any deviation from literal translation van be justified in any place appealing to the text as an overriding authority. In fact, literal translation is correct and must not be avoided, if it secures referential and pragmatic equivalence to the original.

Literal translation is different from word-to-word and one-to-one translation. Literal translation ranges from one word to one word, group to group, collocation to collocation, clause to clause, sentence to sentence. It is to be the basic translation procedure, both in communicative and semantic translations, I that translation starts from there.

The translation of poetry is the field where most emphasis is normally put on the creation of a new independent poem, and where literal translation is usually condemned. However, a translation van be inaccurate, it can never be too literal.

We must not be afraid of literal translation. For a TL word which looks the same or nearly the same as the SL word, there are more faithful friends than faux aims (false friends).Everything is translatable up to a point, but there are often enormous difficulties.

We do translate words, because there is nothing else to translate. We do not translate isolated words, we translate words all more or less bound by their syntactic, collocational, situational cultural and individual idiolect contexts.

Elegant variations on literal or one-to-one translation are common, but they may not be justified in semantic or even communicative translation.

The validity of literal translation can sometimes be established by the back-translation test. The back-translation test is not valid in the case of SL or TL lexical gaps.

Some institutional terms are translated literally even though the TL cultural equivalents have widely different functions. Some concept-words are translated literally and often misleading, as their local connotations are often different.

There are all kinds of insidious resistances to literal translation. It is sometimes advisable to retreat from literal translation when faced with SL general words for which there are no “satisfactory” one-to-one TL equivalents even though one is over-translating. That is the so called Natural Translation.

Literal translation is the first step in translation. Re-creative translation is possible, but “interpret the sense, not the words” is the translator’s last resort. The modern literary translator continually pursue what is to them more natural, more colloquial than the original. But Their idiomatic English may be in flagrant contrast with a neutral original.

Traditional Chinese Translation Theory

Chinese translation theory was born out of contact with vassal states during the Zhou Dynasty. It developed through translations of Buddhist scripture into Chinese. It is a response to the universals of the experience of translation and to the specifics of the experience of translating from specific source languages into Chinese. It also developed in the context of Chinese literary and intellectual tradition.

Get Help With Your Essay

If you need assistance with writing your essay, our professional essay writing service is here to help!

Essay Writing Service

In those five regions, the languages of the people were not mutually intelligible, and their likings and desires were different. To make what was in their minds apprehended, and to communicate their likings and desires, (there were officers), – in the east, called transmitters; in the south, representationists; in the west, Tî-tîs; and in the north, interpreters. (王制 “The Royal Regulations”, tr. James Legge 1885 vol. 27, pp. 229-230)

A Western Han work attributes a dialogue about translation to Confucius. Confucius advises a ruler who wishes to learn foreign languages not to bother. Confucius tells the ruler to focus on governance and let the translators handle translation.

The earliest bit of translation theory may be the phrase “names should follow their bearers, while things should follow China.” In other words, names should be transliterated, while things should be translated by meaning.

In the late Qing Dynasty and the Republican Period, reformers such as Liang Qichao, Hu Shi and Zhou Zuoren began looking at translation practice and theory of the great translators in Chinese history.

Asian Translation Theory

There is a separate tradition of translation in South Asia and East Asia (primarily modern India and China), especially connected with the rendering of religious texts – particularly Buddhist texts – and with the governance of the Chinese empire. Classical Indian translation is characterized by loose adaptation, rather than the closer translation more commonly found in Europe, and Chinese translation theory identifies various criteria and limitations in translation.

In the East Asia Sinosphere (sphere of Chinese cultural influence), more important than translation per se has been the use and reading of Chinese texts, which also had substantial influence on the Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese languages, with substantial borrowings of vocabulary and writing system. Notable is Japanese Kanbun, which is a system of glossing Chinese texts for Japanese speakers.

Western Translation Theory

Discussions of the theory and practice of translation reach back into antiquity and show remarkable continuities. The ancient Greeks distinguished between metaphrase (literal translation) and paraphrase. This distinction was adopted by English poet and translator John Dryden (1631-1700), who described translation as the judicious blending of these two modes of phrasing when selecting, in the target language, “counterparts,” or equivalents, for the expressions used in the source language.

When words appear literally graceful, it were an injury to the author that they should be changed. But since what is beautiful in one language is often barbarous, nay sometimes nonsense, in another, it would be unreasonable to limit a translator to the narrow compass of his author’s words: ’tis enough if he choose out some expression which does not vitiate the sense.

This general formulation of the central concept of translation – equivalence – is as adequate as any that has been proposed since Cicero and Horace, who, in 1st-century-BCE Rome, famously and literally cautioned against translating “word for word” (verbum pro verbo).

Despite occasional theoretical diversity, the actual practice of translation has hardly changed since antiquity. Except for some extreme metaphrasers in the early Christian period and the Middle Ages, and adapters in various periods (especially pre-Classical Rome, and the 18th century), translators have generally shown prudent flexibility in seeking equivalents – “literal” where possible, paraphrastic where necessary – for the original meaning and other crucial “values” (e.g., style, verse form, concordance with musical accompaniment or, in films, with speech articulatory movements) as determined from context.

In general, translators have sought to preserve the context itself by reproducing the original order of sememes, and hence word order – when necessary, reinterpreting the actual grammatical structure. The grammatical differences between “fixed-word-order” languages (e.g. English, French, German) and “free-word-order” languages (e.g., Greek, Latin, Polish, Russian) have been no impediment in this regard.

When a target language has lacked terms that are found in a source language, translators have borrowed those terms, thereby enriching the target language. Thanks in great measure to the exchange of calques and loanwords between languages, and to their importation from other languages, there are few concepts that are “untranslatable” among the modern European languages.

Generally, the greater the contact and exchange that have existed between two languages, or between those languages and a third one, the greater is the ratio of metaphrase to paraphrase that may be used in translating among them. However, due to shifts in ecological niches of words, a common etymology is sometimes misleading as a guide to current meaning in one or the other language. For example, the English actual should not be confused with the cognate French actual (“present”, “current”), the Polish aktualny (“present”, “current”), or the Russian актуальный (“urgent”, “topical”).

Find Out How UKEssays.com Can Help You!

Our academic experts are ready and waiting to assist with any writing project you may have. From simple essay plans, through to full dissertations, you can guarantee we have a service perfectly matched to your needs.

View our services

The translator’s role as a bridge for “carrying across” values between cultures has been discussed at least since Terence, the 2nd-century-BCE Roman adapter of Greek comedies. The translator’s role is, however, by no means a passive, mechanical one, and so has also been compared to that of an artist. The main ground seems to be the concept of parallel creation found in critics such as Cicero. Dryden observed that “Translation is a type of drawing after life…” Comparison of the translator with a musician or actor goes back at least to Samuel Johnson’s remark about Alexander Pope playing Homer on a flageolet, while Homer himself used a bassoon.

If translation be an art, it is no easy one. In the 13th century, Roger Bacon wrote that if a translation is to be true, the translator must know both languages, as well as the science that he is to translate; and finding that few translators did, he wanted to do away with translation and translators altogether.

The translator of the Bible into German, Martin Luther, is credited with being the first European to posit that one translates satisfactorily only toward his own language. L.G. Kelly states that since Johann Gottfried Herder in the 18th century, “it has been axiomatic” that one translates only toward his own language.

Compounding the demands on the translator is the fact that no dictionary or thesaurus can ever be a fully adequate guide in translating. The British historian Alexander Tytler, in his Essay on the Principles of Translation (1790), emphasized that assiduous reading is a more comprehensive guide to a language than are dictionaries. The same point, but also including listening to the spoken language, had earlier, in 1783, been made by the Polish poet and grammarian Onufry Andrzej Kopczyński.

The translator’s special role in society is described in a posthumous 1803 essay by “Poland’s La Fontaine”, the Roman Catholic Primate of Poland, poet, encyclopedist, author of the first Polish novel, and translator from French and Greek, Ignacy Krasicki:

“Translation is in fact an art both estimable and very difficult, and therefore is not the labor and portion of common minds; it should be [practiced] by those who are themselves capable of being actors, when they see greater use in translating the works of others than in their own works, and hold higher than their own glory the service that they render their country.”

Serious Literature Translation

Poetry is the most personal and concentrated of the four forms, no redundancy, no phatic language, where, as a unit, the word has greater importance. And if the word is the first unit of meaning, the second is not the sentence or the proposition, but usually the line, thereby demonstrating a unique double concentration of units.

The translator can boldly transfer the image of any metaphor where it is known in the TL language. Original metaphors have to be translated accurately, even if in the target language culture the image is strange and the sense it conveys may only be guessed. Sound-effects are bound to come last for the translator.

The translation of Short Story/Novel: From a translator’s point of view, the short story is, of literary forms, the second most difficult, but he is released from the obvious constraints of poetry – meter and rhyme. Further, since the line is no longer a unit of meaning, he can spread himself a little – his version is likely to be somewhat longer than the original though, always, the shorter the better.

The translation of the Drama: A translator of drama inevitably has to bear the potential spectator in mind. A translation of a play must be concise – it must not be an over-translation. He must word the sentence in such a way that the sub-text is equally clear. He must translate into the modern target language. When a play is transferred from the SL to the TL culture it is usually no longer a translation, but an adaptation.

Some kind of accuracy must be the only criterion of a good translation in the future – what kind of accuracy depending first on the type and then the particular text that has been translated.

The Definition of Literature Translation

Translation of literary works (novels, short stories, plays, poems, etc.) is considered a literary pursuit in its own right. For example, notable in Canadian literature specifically as translators are figures such as Sheila Fischman, Robert Dickson and Linda Gaboriau, and the Governor General’s Awards annually present prizes for the best English-to-French and French-to-English literary translations.

Other writers, among many who have made a name for themselves as literary translators, include Vasily Zhukovsky, Tadeusz Boy-Żeleński, Vladimir Nabokov, Jorge Luis Borges, Robert Stiller and Haruki Murakami.

Brief Comparison of the Application of Western and Eastern Theories

The first important translation in the West was that of the Septuagint, a collection of Jewish Scriptures translated into Koine Greek in Alexandria between the 3rd and 1st centuries BCE. The dispersed Jews had forgotten their ancestral language and needed Greek versions (translations) of their Scriptures.

Throughout the Middle Ages, Latin was the lingua franca of the western learned world. The 9th-century Alfred the Great, king of Wessex in England, was far ahead of his time in commissioning vernacular Anglo-Saxon translations of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History and Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy. Meanwhile the Christian Church frowned on even partial adaptations of St. Jerome’s Vulgate of ca. 384 CE,the standard Latin Bible.

In Asia, the spread of Buddhism led to large-scale ongoing translation efforts spanning well over a thousand years. The Tangut Empire was especially efficient in such efforts; exploiting the then newly invented block printing, and with the full support of the government (contemporary sources describe the Emperor and his mother personally contributing to the translation effort, alongside sages of various nationalities), the Tanguts took mere decades to translate volumes that had taken the Chinese centuries to render.

Large-scale efforts at translation were undertaken by the Arabs. Having conquered the Greek world, they made Arabic versions of its philosophical and scientific works. During the Middle Ages, some translations of these Arabic versions were made into Latin, chiefly at Córdoba in Spain. Such Latin translations of Greek and original Arab works of scholarship and science helped advance the development of European Scholasticism.

The broad historic trends in Western translation practice may be illustrated on the example of translation into the English language.

The Application of Asian and European Translation Theories

The first fine translations into English were made in the 14th century by Geoffrey Chaucer, who adapted from the Italian of Giovanni Boccaccio in his own Knight’s Tale and Troilus and Criseyde; began a translation of the French-language Roman de la Rose; and completed a translation of Boethius from the Latin. Chaucer founded an English poetic tradition on adaptations and translations from those earlier-established literary languages.

The first great English translation was the Wycliffe Bible (ca. 1382), which showed the weaknesses of an underdeveloped English prose. Only at the end of the 15th century did the great age of English prose translation begin with Thomas Malory’s Le Morte Darthur-an adaptation of Arthurian romances so free that it can, in fact, hardly be called a true translation. The first great Tudor translations are, accordingly, the Tyndale New Testament (1525), which influenced the Authorized Version (1611), and Lord Berners’ version of Jean Froissart’s Chronicles (1523-25).

Meanwhile, in Renaissance Italy, a new period in the history of translation had opened in Florence with the arrival, at the court of Cosimo de’ Medici, of the Byzantine scholar Georgius Gemistus Pletho shortly before the fall of Constantinople to the Turks (1453). A Latin translation of Plato’s works was undertaken by Marsilio Ficino. This and Erasmus’ Latin edition of the New Testament led to a new attitude to translation. For the first time, readers demanded rigor of rendering, as philosophical and religious beliefs depended on the exact words of Plato, Aristotle and Jesus.

Non-scholarly literature, however, continued to rely on adaptation. France’s Pléiade, England’s Tudor poets, and the Elizabethan translators adapted themes by Horace, Ovid, Petrarch and modern Latin writers, forming a new poetic style on those models. The English poets and translators sought to supply a new public, created by the rise of a middle class and the development of printing, with works such as the original authors would have written, had they been writing in England in that day.

Recent Development and Application of Western Translation Theory

The Elizabethan period of translation saw considerable progress beyond mere paraphrase toward an ideal of stylistic equivalence, but even to the end of this period, which actually reached to the middle of the 17th century, there was no concern for verbal accuracy.

In the second half of the 17th century, the poet John Dryden sought to make Virgil speak “in words such as he would probably have written if he were living and an Englishman”. Dryden, however, discerned no need to emulate the Roman poet’s subtlety and concision. Similarly, Homer suffered from Alexander Pope’s endeavor to reduce the Greek poet’s “wild paradise” to order.

Throughout the 18th century, the watchword of translators was ease of reading. Whatever they did not understand in a text, or thought might bore readers, they omitted. They cheerfully assumed that their own style of expression was the best, and that texts should be made to conform to it in translation. For scholarship they cared no more than had their predecessors, and they did not shrink from making translations from translations in third languages, or from languages that they hardly knew, or-as in the case of James Macpherson’s “translations” of Ossian-from texts that were actually of the “translator’s” own composition.

The 19th century brought new standards of accuracy and style. In regard to accuracy, observes J.M. Cohen, the policy became “the text, the whole text, and nothing but the text”, except for any bawdy passages and the addition of copious explanatory footnotes. In regard to style, the Victorians’ aim, achieved through far-reaching metaphrase (literality) or pseudo-metaphrase, was to constantly remind readers that they were reading a foreign classic. An exception was the outstanding translation in this period, Edward FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (1859), which achieved its Oriental flavor largely by using Persian names and discreet Biblical echoes and actually drew little of its material from the Persian original.

In advance of the 20th century, a new pattern was set in 1871 by Benjamin Jowett, who translated Plato into simple, straightforward language. Jowett’s example was not followed, however, until well into the new century, when accuracy rather than style became the principal criterion.

The Application of Serious Literature Translation

Poetry presents special challenges to translators, given the importance of a text’s formal aspects, in addition to its content. In his influential 1959 paper “On Linguistic Aspects of Translation”, the Russian-born linguist and semiotician Roman Jakobson went so far as to declare that “poetry by definition is untranslatable”.

In 1974 the American poet James Merrill wrote a poem, “Lost in Translation”, which in part explores this idea. The question was also discussed in Douglas Hofstadter’s 1997 book, Le Ton beau de Marot; he argues that a good translation of a poem must convey as much as possible of not only its literal meaning but also its form and structure (meter, rhyme or alliteration scheme, etc.).

In 2008, Taiwanese linguist Grace Hui Chin Lin suggests communication strategies can be applied by oral translators to translate poetry. Translators with cultural backgrounds can oral translate poetry of their nations. For example, poetry of Tung dynasty can be introduced to people outside of Chinese communities by oral translation strategies. Also, several communication strategies for facilitating communicative limitations are applicable as oral translation strategies for interpreting poetries.

Translation of a text that is sung in vocal music for the purpose of singing in another language – sometimes called “singing translation” – is closely linked to translation of poetry because most vocal music, at least in the Western tradition, is set to verse, especially verse in regular patterns with rhyme. (Since the late 19th century, musical setting of prose and free verse has also been practiced in some art music, though popular music tends to remain conservative in its retention of stannic forms with or without refrains.) A rudimentary example of translating poetry for singing is church hymns, such as the German chorales translated into English by Catherine Wink worth.

Translation of sung texts is generally much more restrictive than translation of poetry, because in the former there is little or no freedom to choose between a versified translation and a translation that dispenses with verse structure. One might modify or omit rhyme in a singing translation, but the assignment of syllables to specific notes in the original musical setting places great challenges on the translator. There is the option in prose sung texts, less so in verse, of adding or deleting a syllable here and there by subdividing or combining notes, respectively, but even with prose the process is almost like strict verse translation because of the need to stick as closely as possible to the original prosody of the sung melodic line.

Other considerations in writing a singing translation include repetition of words and phrases, the placement of rests and/or punctuation, the quality of vowels sung on high notes, and rhythmic features of the vocal line that may be more natural to the original language than to the target language. A sung translation may be considerably or completely different from the original, thus resulting in a contrafactum.

Translations of sung texts – whether of the above type meant to be sung or of a more or less literal type meant to be read – are also used as aids to audiences, singers and conductors, when a work is being sung in a language not known to them. The most familiar types are translations presented as subtitles or surtitles projected during opera performances, those inserted into concert programs, and those that accompany commercial audio CDs of vocal music. In addition, professional and amateur singers often sing works in languages they do not know (or do not know well), and translations are then used to enable them to understand the meaning of the words they are singing.

Implication and Conclusion


In the 1970s a literary approach to translation theory began to emerge, partly as a response to the prescriptive linguistic theories that had monopolized thinking for the previous two decades. Key elements of this new literary approach are the writings of the Manipulation School; systems theories; and Gideon Toury’s descriptive translation studies (DTS), which tries to identify laws in translation, of which Itamar Even-Zohar’s Polysystem Theory (PS) forms a vital part (Nam Fung Chang). At the Leuven Conference in 1976, Even-Zohar presented a paper entitled “The Position of Translated Literature in the Literary Polysystem” where he considers the position of translated literature within the literary, cultural and historical contexts of the target culture. He does not advocate the study of individual translations, but rather views the body of translated works as a system working within and reacting to a literary system, which, in turn, is working within and reacting to the historical, social and cultural systems of the particular target audience. Therefore, there is a system within a system within a system i.e. the polysystem.

The notion of “system” does, perhaps, need some clarification at this point. Literature viewed as a system can be traced back to Russian Formalist thinking of the 1920s when Yury Tynjanov is credited with being the first person to describe literature in these terms (Hermans, 1999, 104). Translated literature itself is also considered to operate as a system in at least two ways – firstly in the way that the TL chooses works for translation, and secondly in the way translation methodology varies according to the influence of other systems (Munday, 2001 109). Even-Zohar himself emphasizes the fact that translated literature functions systemically: “I conceive of translated literature not only as an integral system within any literary polysystem but as an active system within it.” (1976, 200).

Translation theory shares a number of concerns with what is commonly called communication theory. Perhaps the most important observation which the communication theorists have produced for translators is the recognition that every act of communication has three dimensions: Speaker (or author), Message, and Audience. The more we can know about the original author, the actual message produced by that author, and the original audience, the better acquainted we will be with that particular act of communication. An awareness of this tri-partite character of communication can be very useful for interpreters. Assuming that an act of communication is right now taking place, as you read what I wrote, there are three dimensions to this particular act of communication: myself, and what I am intending to communicate; the actual words which are on this page; and what you understand me to be saying. When the three dimensions converge, the communication has been efficient.


Different theories show different meanings. While not everyone who drives an automobile needs to understand the theory behind the internal combustion engine, someone does need to know this theory. I may be able to drive my Pontiac without any knowledge of internal combustion engines, until the Pontiac breaks down. Then, I must find someone (presumably a mechanic) who does in fact know enough theory to get the Pontiac running again.

The same is true of translation theory. It is not necessary for everyone to know translation theory, nor is it even necessary for pastors and teachers to know everything about translation theory. It is necessary for pastors and teachers in the American church at the end of the twentieth century to know something about translation theory.


Cite This Work

To export a reference to this article please select a referencing stye below:

Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.

Related Services

View all

DMCA / Removal Request

If you are the original writer of this essay and no longer wish to have your work published on UKEssays.com then please: