CHAPTER 1. What Is Translation?

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CHAPTER 1. What Is Translation?




The second half of the 20th century has seen the in-depth study of translation, which is sometimes called Theory of Translation, Science of Translation, Translation Linguistics, or even Translatology.

It has been claimed abroad that translation studies began in 1972 with Holmes’s paper presented at the Third International Congress of Applied Linguistics, “The Name and Nature of Translation Studies”.1 However, unfortunately, European and American scholars seemed to have been unaware of the achievements of the Russian school of translation studies. Works by V. Komissarov, A. Shveitser, A. Fedorov and many others confirmed the status of translation studies as a discipline of its own even in the 1950s.2

The main concern of translation theory is to determine appropriate translation methods for the widest possible range of texts3 and to give insight into the translation process, into the relations between thought and language, culture and speech.

There are several aspects of this branch of linguistics:

· General theory of translation, whose object is general notions typical of translation from any language.

· Specific (or partial, in terms of Holmes) theory of translation that deals with the regularities of translation characteristic of particular languages - for example, translation from English into Russian and vice versa.

· Special (partial) theory of translation that pays attention to texts of various registers and genres.

There are two terms corresponding to the Russian word “перевод”: translation and interpretation. Those who discriminate between the terms refer the term ‘translation’ to the written text, and the term ‘interpretation’ to oral speech. However, the terms are polysemantic: to interpret might mean “to render or discuss the meaning of the text” – an outstanding British translation theorist P.Newmark, for example, states that “when a part of a text is important to the writer’s intention, but insufficiently determined semantically, the translator has to interpret”.4 The term to translate is often referred to any (written or oral) manner of expression in another language.

We should also differentiate the terms translating and rendering. When we translate, we express in another language not only what is conveyed in the source text but also how it is done. In rendering, we only convey the ideas (the what) of the source text.

Several approaches are used for defining translation.




Language system is the part of semiotics dealing with sign systems. Therefore, semiotic theories may be applied to language functioning. According to the semiotic approach, translation is language code switching. When translating, we switch from one language to another one.

American linguist Roman Jakobson in his article “On Linguistic Aspects of Translation”5 spoke of three possibilities of code switching:

1) Intralinguistic translation, or rewording, i.e. interpreting verbal signs through other signs of the same language. This can be done on diachronic level: Chaucer’s text is translated into modern English. When done on synchronic level, this kind of code switching is called a paraphrase. We often deal with paraphrasing when trying to explain or define things. For example, to explain the meaning of the phrase I am not much of a cook, we can paraphrase it by I do not like to cook, or I do not cook well. In the theory of translation, this type of code switching is called a transformation. Intralinguistic transfer can also be illustrated by stylistic differentiation, as is done in the following Russian text switching from the expressive publicistic register to a very formal style of the police report: Катя уже в полной горячке обрушилась на инспектора («обвинила работников милиции в равнодушии и жестокости»). И, боясь не выдержать и расплакаться, вскочила и убежала. («Разъяснительную работу провести не удалось ввиду крайней недисциплинированности девочки»).6

2) Interlanguage translation, i.e. substituting verbal signs of one language by verbal signs of another language, or switching from one language code to another one. This type of code switching is translation proper, the object of Translation Studies.

3) Intersemiotic translation, i.e. substituting signs of one semiotic system by signs of a different semiotic system. In its broad meaning, the term implies transmutation and can be illustrated by decoding some ideas and themes expressed, for example, in a poem through the “language” of music or dance.

Other linguists adhere to the semiotic approach to translation. J. Catford, for example, defines translation as “the replacement of textual material in one language (SL) by equivalent textual material in another language (TL).”7




We communicate to transfer information from one person to another. Translation helps people communicate if they speak different languages.

Thus, translation is a two-facet phenomenon: on the one hand, it is the process of transferring information; on the other hand, it is the result of this process. By the result is meant a new text created in translating.

The communicative situation consists of several elements:





A speaker or writer (an author) makes a meaningful utterance called the text and addresses it to the listener, reader, or receptor, who understands the purport of the text and reacts to it.

The translation situation doubles the elements of communication.8 The receptor of the original text in turn becomes a translator who makes a translated text, or target text intended for the receptor speaking another language:

The source text is the text to be translated. The target text is the end-product, the translated text.

For the translation to be adequate and effective, the target text should be equivalent to the source text. Indeed, when reading tragedies by Shakespeare in Russian, the receptor is but seldom aware that the words s/he sees in the text were not written by Shakespeare but by some other person, a translator. The form of the target text is new but the purport and the content are very close to the original. Paradoxically, the better a translator's work, the less his/her work is observed. The translated text is attributed to the author speaking another language and this text is used everywhere as if it were the original.

Thus translation unifies two different language speech acts in one communicative situation. It can be defined as a special type of communication intended to convey information between the participants speaking two different languages. As E. Nida and C. Taber put it, “translating consists of reproducing in the receptor language the closest natural equivalent of the source-language meaning and secondly in terms of style.”9




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