Translation Studies
1. Introduction to the theory
of translation
Krisztina Károly, Spring, 2006
Sources: Klaudy, 2003; Baker, 1998
The nature of the translator’s
activity = creative activity
The translator faces a number of choices and
decisions are partly subjective, partly
objective (some of the translator’s subjective
choices are based on objective factors)
“their ambition to explain translation
phenomena and create theories is closely
related to the very nature of this activity,
regulated, on the one hand, by certain
objective rules, and permitting, on the other,
a number of subjective choices” (Klaudy,
2003, p.23)
The medium of the translator’s
activity = two languages
communicating in two Ls at the same time
can never be as instinctive and
unconscious as communicating only in one
in translation, even the most instinctive
translator develops ideas about the
relationship between the two Ls, their
similarities and differences, their
relationship with reality, the similarities and
differences in the way the two Ls segment
reality linguistically, etc.
The object of the translator’s
activity = the text
Theories are related to the object of the
translator’s activity, i.e. the text, because
every text (e.g., a piece of literature, a
scientific research article, an advertisement
or an editorial), allows for several possible
the translator often has to defend his own
interpretation of the text against the
potentially differing interpretations of critics,
readers, and the public at large.
Is there continuity in the theory
of translation?
Practicing translators will often make
spontaneous contrastive linguistic observations
(”Hungarian prefers verbs as opposed to Indo-European
languages which prefer nouns.”)
spontaneous text-linguistic observations (”The
sentences of Indo-European languages start with a longer
introductory part than the corresponding Hungarian
sentences and have to be shortened in the Hungarian
translation” or ”English, German, and Russian texts are
more impersonal than Hungarian texts.”)
spontaneous stylistic observations (”English scientific
texts are like small talk compared to German scientific
text”), or
spontaneous sociolinguistic observations (”Russians
like diminutive suffixes better than Hungarians.”)
 were not pooled for centuries!
The idea of an uninterrupted
and organic development of TS
must be rejected for 3 main
(1) Translation as a profession
Earlier: translation was mostly done for
pleasure by writers, poets, statesmen,
priests, and scholars to satisfy their
individual literary, political, and scientific
Second half of the 20th century: translating
became a mass activity (source of earning
a living)
 has become a profession in its own
(2) Translation as a subject in
Second half of the 20th century: many
translator and interpreter training
institutions established 
theoretical training became necessary
(practice was not enough)  required
certain generalizations on the basis of
experience gathered by translators  the
formulation of some objective rules
terminology and conceptual apparatus
was needed  need for theoretical
research aimed at providing a principled
basis for the teaching of translation.
(3) Translation as an object of
Earlier: theorizing = privilege of nonprofessional translators (writers, poets,
statesmen, priests, scientists, etc.)
Second half of the 20th century: translation
scholars (e.g., linguists) separated from
practicing translators
Today’s scholars: also interested in the
process of translation (modeling the
activity + describing regularities)  applied
and basic research
The main reason for the 3
= radical shift in the ratio of literary to nonliterary translation ( = rapid increase in the
amount of non-literary translation: political
speeches, international contracts, court
records, business letters, recipes, price
lists, etc.)
 the separation of the science of
translation from theories of literature
 thinking about translation has shifted from
literature to the science of linguistics
Differences between the (traditional)
literary and the (new) linguistic
(1) Literary approach: studies the translation of works of
art (i.e. works of outstanding writers, poets)
Linguist: interested in a wide variety of text types
(e.g., technical and scientific texts,
advertisements, users’ manuals, as well as
literary texts)
(2) Lit.: examines the work of outstanding translators
Ling.: (also) interested in the everyday work of
great masses of translators and interpreters.
(3) Lit.: focuses on individual, sometimes even
unusual, original and surprising solutions
Ling.: considers “mass” solutions worthy of inquiry
too, trying to describe and explain all of the
operations (transformations) carried out by the
Cont. lit./ling. approach:
(4) Lit.: concentrates on the product of translation
Ling.: also explore the process of translation
(what goes on in the mind of the translator)
(5) Lit.: normative (prescriptive) by nature  what
translation should be like, what translators
should do
Ling.: descriptive  what the translation is
like and what the translator does while
(6)  Lit.: contains evaluation
Ling.: avoids evaluation and regards
everything that is intended as a translation by
the translator or the publisher as a legitimate
object of study.
Translation theory and
contrastive linguistics (CL)
birth of the former almost exactly coincided with that
of the latter (CL  language teaching)
CL developed research methods for the synchronic
analysis of languages (vs. traditional comparative
linguistics = historical (diachronic) comparison of
CL often worked (and still work) on translated
materials, because the effects of the two principal
categories of contrastive linguistics, ”transfer”
(Jakobovits 1969, Selinker 1972), influencing the
process of FLL positively, and ”interference” (Juhász
1970), influencing it negatively, can easily be
detected in translations.
frequently applied method of CL: ”error analysis”
(Corder 1973)  often conducted on (trainees’)
Differences between TS and CL
(1) CL: contrasts the systems of the two languages
TS: comparison involves the realizations of the
two linguistic systems, i.e. texts.
(2) CL: contrasts the total system of the two language
TS: selective, only deals with phenomena that
pose problems in translation.
(e.g., although the system of verb tenses in
English is different from Hungarian, since it does
not cause problems in translation, it does not form
part of the research on translation.)
(3) CL: compares elements in the two languages
occurring on the same level of language (e.g.,
infinitives in German and Hungarian)
TS: does not necessarily focus on elements on
the same level.
(e.g., the comparison of infinitives in German and
finite clauses in Hungarian).
Cont. TS/CL
(4) CL: comparison may be bidirectional
TS: comparison is generally unidirectional,
comparing elements occupying different
levels in the two languages.
(5) Due to the fact that in translational
comparison it is not abstract Lic systems but
specific SL and TL texts that are contrasted,
TS will have its own categories, many of
them unknown in CL, such as the concept of
(6) CL: intends to provide relevant information for
teachers of FLs
TS: helps the work of translators and
Translation theory and
contrastive text linguistics (CTL)
studies in CTL:
based on texts that are not the translations of
one another (independent texts in Ls A and B)
translation theory
contrasts the realizations of two Lic systems
that depend upon each other (!) (T = render an
idea formulated in language A in language B)
is interested in the extralinguistic elements of
the situation of translation, too (e.g., role of
human participants in the situation: SL sender,
TL receiver, translator; context: geographical,
historical, cultural, political, religious, etc.)
Translation theory as an
interdisciplinary field of study
explore the relationship between the two Ls, the
SL and the TL  contrastive linguistics
compare the two texts (SL+TL)  text
linguistics (terminology: anaphors, cataphors,
deixis, ellipsis, etc., developed for the study of
reveal the behavior and mental processes of
people participating in the situation of
translation, especially those of translators and
interpreters  psycholinguistics
provide a precise description of the historical,
cultural, and social circumstances of the
situation of translation  sociolinguistics
Translation theory as applied
Applied sciences  social
usefulness and interdisciplinary
nature (Szépe, 1986)
TS = interdisciplinary field 
applies the results, terminology,
research methods, etc. of various
disciplines to investigate the
processes, products and functions of
TS = useful science  its results
may be applied widely:
in designing curricula for translator and
interpreter training institutions,
developing materials for interpretation and
in devising criteria for the assessment of
in unifying the documentation of multinational
in forming the professional profile of translators
and interpreters, in designing market strategies
for translator and interpreter agencies,
in calculating prices for translation and
in producing translator desks and interpreter
booths, etc.
The definition of translation
theory/translation studies
is a sub-discipline of applied
studies the processes, products,
and functions of translation,
taking into account all of the
linguistic and extra-linguistic
elements of the situational context
of translation.
The linguistic components of
the situation of translation are:
the source language,
the target language,
the source language text,
the target language text.
The extra-linguistic components
of the situation of translation are:
the source language sender,
the target language receiver,
the translator (who, in one person,
combines the function of SL receiver
and TL sender), and
the historical, geographical, social,
and cultural context of the SL and the
Kinds/types of translation
(including “interpretation studies”):
1. written translation of a written text
2. oral translation of a written text (sight
3. oral translation of a spoken text
(a) simultaneous translation of a spoken
text (simultaneous interpretation)
(b) consecutive translation of a spoken
text (consecutive interpretation)
4. written translation of a spoken text
Factors influencing
translators’s decisions:
 not primary (monolingual)
= secondary communication 
influencing factors are duplicated  is
also influenced by the interrelations
between these factors 
translational language use
Secondary L2 L1 L2
system of L1 system of L2 systems of L1 and L2
use of L1
use of L2
usage in L1 and L2
context of L1 context of L2 contexts of L1, L2
relations betw. systems
of L1 and L2
e.g., missing gr.-cal
relations betw. usage in
L1 and L2
e.g., D structuring
relation betw. contexts
of L1 and L2
e.g., political systems,
power relations
Relation betw.
translational use in L1L2
e.g., experience of
previous translators
Translation Studies
(Baker, 1998) – synonyms:
“science of translation” (Nida, Wilss)
“translatology” (Goffin)
“translation studies” (James Holmes,
1972: The Name and Nature of
Translation Studies)
TS (Baker, 1998, p.277)
“the academic discipline concerned with
the study of translation at large,
including literary and non-literary
translation, various forms of oral
interpreting, as well as dubbing and
covers the whole spectrum of “research
and pedagogical activities, from
developing theoretical frameworks to
conducting individual case studies to
engaging in practical matters such as
training translators and developing
criteria for translation assessment”
And now let’s see the tasks…

Translation Studies