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Skopos Theory of Translation

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 5623 words Published: 11th Jul 2018

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1. Introduction

With the development of world economy and accelerating globalization, more and more companies have realized the significance of translating English trademarks. Trademark is a very special type of practical writing with high commercial value. The translation of English trademark names belongs to a kind of cultural communication with special purposes. A successful translation should be able to convey the current information of the commodity, attract the foreign consumers’ attention, stimulate their purchasing desire and promote their buying action. However, the traditional equivalence theory turns out to be increasingly inadequate and the rigid “faithful” translation will often produce negative effect. The Skopos theory has presented a new perspective to the study of trademark translation. With the guidance of this theory, the translator could use translation strategies flexibly to achieve the purpose of embodying the trademarks’ function. This thesis uses a lot of examples to put forward some techniques such as literal and free translation. And it also emphasizes that a translator should not only try his or her best to express the native connotation, but also keep in mind the adaptation to foreign culture. Only by doing so, can translation fulfill the purpose of the trademark?

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With increasing globalization of the world economy, more and more commodities spring up like mushrooms. As to win a superior place in an extremely competitive market, or a commodity, besides the high quality and a moderate price, its trademark name is also a vital factor. Billions of dollars are spent each year in efforts to make the public familiar with the name of the products which manufacturers are selling. Companies advertise by emphasizing the trademarks on television, radio, newspapers, magazines, etc. Customers can get a general idea or even the nature of the commodity. Those easy to read, understand and memorize can always stimulate customers’ purchasing desire and bring companies a great success and fortune from what they are striving as much as possible to sell. So a fine trademark name translation comes to play an important role in promoting the products and will earn more money than a common translation in the course of sales. Admittedly, translation is a very complex subject. By far, there have been many linguists who have carried on the research of “equivalence theory”-faithfulness, expressiveness and elegance. But these standards, however, are not completely fit to the translation of a trademark name. The main reason is that each language has its unique linguistic features and versatile cultural backgrounds, customs and thinking patterns, there hardly exists absolute equivalence, especially in the case of Chinese and English, which are from two completely different language families. For example, the faithfulness may not be reached by using only several simple English words. There are also many outstanding linguists abroad doing research in this field.

The Skopos theory, put forward in “Ground-work for a General Theory of Translation” (an article) by Reiss, Vermeer in 1984, emphasizes the functionality to achieve purpose of the target text in the target culture. Skopos theory was developed in Germany in the late 1970s, and which reflects a general shift from predominantly linguistic and rather formal translation theories to a more functionally and socioculturally oriented concept of translation. Skopos theory takes seriously factors which have always been stressed in action theory, and which were brought into sharp relief with the growing need in the latter half of the twentieth century for the translation of non-literary text types. In the translation of scientific and academic papers, instructions for use, tourist guides, contracts, etc, the contextual factors surrounding the translation cannot be ignored. These factors include the culture of the intended readers of the target text and of the client who has commissioned it, and, in particular, the function which the text is to perform in that culture for those readers. Skopos theory is directly oriented towards this function. Translation is viewed not as a process of transcending, but as a specific form of human action. Like any other human action, translation has a purpose, and the word skopos, derived from Greek, is used as the technical term for the purpose of a translation. Skopos must be defined before translation can begin; in highlighting skopos, the theory adopts a prospective attitude to translation, as opposed to the retrospective attitude adopted in theories which focus on prescriptions derived from the source text.(Baker, 2004: 235) In the article Reflections on Certain Methods of Translation based on functional concept of translation, Chen Xiaowei pointed out “the concept has provided theoretical basis for some translation practices used to be considered against the existing criteria of translation methods, such as abridgment and adaptation”(Chen Xiaowei, 2000).Yang Xiaorong(2001) also called for more attention to contemporary translation theories such as functionalist approach to translation. She stated in her article Traditional and Modern Perspectives on Translation Criticism that “by emphasizing the role played by the receptor, the translator and the cultural factors in the process of translation, functionalist approach is able to present a dynamic and multi-dimensional perspective on translation criticism.” In this thesis, the background and development of this approach as well as its basic concepts are discussed in light of their applicability in advertisement translation. In terms of Skopos theory, translators are encouraged to make full use of all the sources of the source text and are entitled to choose whatever translation strategies he thinks appropriate to achieve the functions of the translation. That is what we call “the end justifies the means”. Li Yuxiang (2006), a researcher of Tongji University, stated in her paper that “brand name translators should not only be well aware of the linguistic and cultural differences between source language and target language, but also be quite knowledgeable about marketing, psychology and aesthetics as well as full of imagination and creativity.” In the course of translation, the translator should pay attention to the adaptation to many aspects and should be highly imaginative. As such, the functionalist approach can offer a satisfactory explanation to the unconventional strategies applied in trademark translation, which the traditional equivalence-based theory fails to account for.

The body of this thesis is divided into six parts. At the very beginning of the introduction, the thesis presents the background, rationale, objectives, methodology and the organization of the thesis. Chapter 1 introduces the description including definition, characteristics and functions of trademark. Chapter 2 studies the Skopos theory and more attention will be paid to three rules which are skopos rule, coherence rule and fidelity rule. Chapter 3 analyzes the guidance of Skopos theory in English trademark translation with the proof of some instances. Chapter 4 exerts many examples to work out some applicable English trademark translation strategies or approaches based on the Skopos theory. Chapter 5 comes to conclusions, which gives the main findings about this thesis, identifies limitations of the present study and makes suggestions for future research.

2. The introduction about trademark

2.1 The definition of trademark

There are a lot of definitions about trademark. In Wikipedia, trademark means conventionally a distinctive sign of some kinds, whether that sign comprises a name, word, phrase, logo, symbol, design, picture, styling or a combination of one or more of these elements. A trademark is used by a business to identify itself and its products or services to consumers, and to set itself and its products or services apart from other businesses. A trademark is a type of intellectual property, and in particular, a type of industrial property. Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English (4th Ed) provides a definition like this: “a special mark on a product to show that it is made by a particular producer; a thing that is typical of a person or company.” A “trademark” is defined by law as any sign that distinguishes the goods or services of one undertaking from those of another. Most trademarks are words, names or logos – but more fancy trademarks include shapes, sounds and even smells. So long as your trademarks are capable of graphic representation, they can be capable of protection. Taking into account of all these explanations, trademarks can be defined as this: they are any word, term, name, symbol, or device, or any combination thereof that are used in commerce as brand names, domain names, tag lines, slogans, non-functional and distinctive packaging and labeling designs, etc. to indicate the source of goods or services and differentiate the products or services from those of the other. That is to say, a trademark has the characteristics of describing the features of a commodity; making the commodity more distinctive; assisting the consumers to memorize the products; conforming to the images of commodity as well as company and arousing customers’ associations about beautiful things.

2.2 The functions of trademark

2.2.1 Origin Function

A trademark helps to identify the source and those responsible for the products and services sold in the market as it includes the materialistic and abstract components of the product and reflect its marketing capabilities. Specifically, a trademark, the distinctive sign or indicator of some kind, used by an individual, business organization or another legal entity assists consumers to uniquely identify the source of its products or services, and to distinguish its products or services from those of other entities. So a trademark could guarantee the identity of the origin of marked goods or services offered to each consumer or end user by enabling the latter to distinguish, without any possibility of confusion, the origin of the goods or services in question.

2.2.2 Quality Function

Consumers choose a particular trademark for its known quality. Trademarks have the functions of guaranteeing and improving the quality of products. Therefore, quality means the foundation of a trademark’s reputation which convinces the consumers to buy that kind of commodity. The goods which are cheap in price and high in quality will meet the consumers’ objective needs and mental consumption, and establishing the good prestige for the trademark could win the consumers’ trust. Naturally, the market of products would be expanded and good economic returns for the enterprises would also be yielded. Once establishing the image in buyer’s mind, the manufacturers and sellers would do their utmost to ensure the quality, maintain the good faith of the well-known products so as to achieve obvious economic benefits.

2.2.3 Advertising Function

Trademarks play an important role in advertising. A trademark enables consumers to choose goods and services with ease under the influence of continuous advertising. As shown in the above, a trademark is the symbol of a product, distinguishing the commodity from another and making them easier for consumers to memorize, which is a very important part of the advertisement of the product. A good trademark should be simple and memorable, so it can, to some degree, influence and arouse their desire to buy the product. It is not uncommon for a customer to refuse to buy a certain product merely because of his or her dislikes of the trademark. Besides, via the media, including radio, television, newspapers, magazines and the Internet, enterprisers give wide coverage to trademarks in order to deeply impress the consumers, stimulate their interests to buy their products, at last, fulfill the purpose to advertise the product and create an image in the mind of the ultimate purchaser.

2.2.4 Marketing and Economic Function

A successful trademark can promote the international trade to attain the goals of boosting its market share. Served as the crucial tool to gain and dominate the market, trademark especially the famous one plays the significant role in opening up an outlet and occupying the global market. Now, with the development of international business, the higher reputation of a trademark means the better quality of the product. Even the same products have different prices because of different trademarks; of course, the profits brought by goods are also different. Thus, it’s clear that a well- recognized trademark has a better competitive power in markets.

Established trademark is a valuable asset. A trademark indicates competition, for its function is to distinguish one product from another, meanwhile, it is created by use, and remains valid only as long as it is used. For many manufacturers, the trademark is what turns people into customers. Perhaps money has been invested in advertising, or people have learned of the business through word of mouth. But no company would want to see another company opened up with a similar name and people got confused. If that really happened, the former one might very well lose potential or existing customers to the new company. It is the common sense that a famous trademark, even in tough economic times, strongly influences purchasing behavior as consumers would make more careful decisions, and often revert to “tried and trusted” brands. Today the trademarks may be licensed or franchised.

It can be concluded that the ultimate purpose of advertising is to persuade consumers to buy a certain product or service. The main functions in advertising at least include conveying information and persuasion. To describe it specifically, the basic functions of trademark are to present some information about goods, services or ideas to the public and influence and persuade people to make choices, at last to take some actions, especially to purchase the products.

3. Skopos theory

3.1 A brief introduction to Skopos theory

Skopos is the Greek word for “aim” or “purpose” and was introduced into translation theory by Hans J. Vemeer as a technical term for the purpose of a translation and of the action of translating by Jeremy Munday. (Munday, 2001: 65) In Vermeer’s approach, every translation is directed at an intended audience, since to translate means “to produce a text in a target setting for a target purpose and target addressees in target circumstances.”(Nord, 2001: 12) According to Skopos theory, any form of translational action, including translation itself, may be assumed as an action which is intentional and purposeful, and “the prime principle determining any translation process is the purpose (Skopos) of the overall translational action.”(Nord, 2001: 27) Skopos theory queries the primitive theory that centers on original texts. It explains the action of translation from a brand new angle. “Faced at aiming system, it is a descriptive and standard combined theory.”(Zhang Nanfeng, 2004: 121).

3.2 The development of Skopos theory

The functionalist translation theory was developed in the 1970’s in German. The main contributions and the contributors are Katharina Reiss with her functionalist translation criticism; Hans J. Vermeer’s Skopos theory and its extensions; Justa Holz-Manttari’s theory of translational action and Christiane Nord. They are all German scholars, so we call it “German school of functionalism”. (Nord, 1997:4)

Early in 1971, in her book Possibilities and Limits of Translation Criticism, Reiss develops a model of translation criticism based on the functional relationship between source and target texts.(Nord, 1997:5)To her, TL text should be equivalent to SL text in terms of conceptual content, linguistic form and communicative function. So obviously, she still took equivalence as her basis. However, in real life she found that sometimes equivalence was not possible and not even desired in some cases, for example, when the target text is intended to achieve a purpose or function other than that of the original. “In such situations, she thinks that the functional perspective takes precedence over the normal standards of equivalence. Then translation critic can no longer rely on features derived from source-text analysis but has to judge whether the target text is functional in terms of the translation context.” (Nord, 1997:9)

Then, Hans Vermeer made a breakthrough by putting forward his famous Skopos theory which is regarded as the landmark of functionalist approach to translation. Vermeer maintained that linguistics alone could not solve all the translation problems. Thus he put translation in a broader human context, embedding the theory of translation in a theory of human action or activity. He considers translation as a type of human action, “which is an intentional, purposeful behavior that takes place in a given situation; it is part of the situation at the same time as it modifies the situation.”(Nord, 1997:11)Thus Vermeer calls his theory Skopos theory. Actually, Skopos theory is the theory that applies the notion of Skopos to translation.

Manttari goes one step further than Vermeer. She even avoids using the term “translation” in the strict sense. She prefers to speak of “message transmitters”, which consist of textual material combined with other media such as pictures, sounds and body movements. In her model, translation is defined as “a complex action designed to achieve a particular purpose”. The generic term for the phenomenon is “translational action”. The purpose of translational action is to transfer messages across culture and language barriers by means of message transmitters produced by experts. (Nord, 1997:13)

Afterward, Nord summarized all these theories and made them more comprehensive by her book Translaitng As a Purposeful Activity-Functionalist Approaches Explained.

3.3 Three rules of the Skopos theory

3.3.1 The skopos rule

In Vermeer’s skoposthorie, the top-ranking rule for translation is the “Skopos rule”. The term Skopos usually refers to the purpose of the target text. (Nord, 2001: 28) translational action is determined by its Skopos: that is “the end justifies the means” (Reiss and Vermeer 1984:101) Vermeer explains the Skopos rule in the following way:

Each text is produced for a given purpose and should serve this purpose. The Skopos rule thus reads as follows: translate/interpret/speak/write in a way that enables your text/translation to function in the situation in which it is used and with the people who want to use it and precisely in the way they want it to function. (Nord, 2001: 29)

Translation is normally done “by assignment”. A client needs a text for a particular purpose and calls upon the translator for a translation, thus acting as the initiator of the translation process. In an ideal case, the client would give as many details as possible about the purpose, explaining the addressees, time, place, occasion and medium of the intended communication and function and which the text is intended to have. The information would constitute an explicit translation brief which means translation commission or translation assignment. (Nord, 2001: 30)

“BMW” was an acronym for Bayerishe Motoren Werke (the German famous auto company’s name). It has no meaning but shows the place where the car come form. (Chen Dongcheng, 2008)The translation of “宝马” is known to many Chinese customers. Because “B” and “M” are pronounced like “宝马” in Chinese, which “宝” means “precious” and “马” (horse) tells that it is an automobile as “马” is one means of transportations in ancient China. So it can reach the purpose of arousing the customers’ association of the swift horse and implies this kind of cars can go a long way with a high speed.

3.3.2 The coherence rule

This rule emphasis that the translation must be adequately coherent to allow the intended users to comprehend it, and provide them assumed background knowledge and situational circumstances. What the translator can do, and what he should do, is to produce a text that is at least likely to be meaningful to target-culture receivers. In Vermeer’s terms the target text should conform to the standard of “intratextual coherence” (Reiss and Vermeer, 1984: 109). This means the receiver should be able to understand it; it should make sense in the communicative situation and culture in which it is received. A communicative interaction can only be regarded as successful if the receivers interpret it as being sufficiently coherent with their situation. Accordingly, another important rule of Skopos theory, the ‘coherence rule’, specifies that a translation should be acceptable in a sense that it is coherent with receivers’ situation. (Reiss and Vermeer, 1984: 113)

“Safeguard”, a brand for soap and bathing lotion, means security and guardian. It is transliterated as “舒肤佳”. Here “舒” means “comfort”, “肤” means “skin” and “ä½³” means “good quality”. So this translation will leave the impression on people that this soap or lotion with good quality can bring comfort to the skin. Furthermore, Chinese people will have a basic conception about what kind of product it is and understand it very well when they first saw the translation.

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3.3.3 The fidelity rule

This rule touches upon the relationship between the source-text and target-text. Vermeer calls this relationship “intertextual coherence” or “fidelity” which is “fidelity rule”. (Reiss and Vermeer, 1984: 114) In Skopos theory, the source-text is not so crucial in the position of offering information especially in equivalence-based theories. Intertextual coherence should exist between source and target text, while the form it takes depends both on the translator’s interpretation of the source text and on the translation Skopos. (Nord, 2001: 32) The fidelity rule stresses that some relationship must remain between the target-text and source-text once the overriding principle of Skopos and the rule of coherence have been satisfied.

“Crown”(the trademark of a car)is translated literally into Chinese”皇冠” whether it is in English or in Chinese. “Crown” and”皇冠“both represent the superior social status,. The Chinese version can well express that the car is in good condition, the style is grand and the quality is first-rate. It is faithful to its original meaning of the brand which is and will undoubtedly be accepted by the consumers in China just the same as in the original country.

The three rules are organized based on their status. The fidelity rule is considered as the subordination to the coherence rule. Both of them are subordinate to the Skopos rule. Hence, the purpose of translation is the first concern for the translator. If the Skopos requires a change of function, the standard will no longer by intertextual coherence with the source text but adequacy or appropriateness with regard to the Skopos (Reiss and Vermeer, 1984: 139).

4. The guidance of Skopos theory in English trademark translation

As the statement in the first chapter about the functions of trademark, the translation of English trademark should attract the consumers’ attention, raise their interest, stimulate their desire, improve their memory and promote their action. The Skopos theory believes that the translating purpose decides the translating strategies and methods. As the translation of English trademark names is a project which has particular purposes, the Skopos theory is very suitable to the translation of English trademark names.

4.1 The Purpose of Embodying Characters of Commodity

The translation of an English trademark should endeavor to provide as much as information about the commodity for consumers. The translation should transmit the commodity’s positive information to attract the consumers’ attention and raise their interest.

Take Rejoice for example, it is translated to be”飘柔”in Chinese. The translation has pretty well expressed the information of the goods. From the name, consumers can get the information that the commodity may be something about flowing locks or gentle and smooth hair, because “飘”and “柔”often have been used to describe the feature of hair. So the consumers’ attention will be attracted by the goods immediately when they see the name. Surely enough, their interest is aroused and they will be willing to see some more elaborate information about the goods.

So the translation of an English trademark should express information to demonstrate the characters of a commodity.

4.2 The Purpose of Identifying Commodity

We know that one commodity has its distinctive character. A good trademark should represent the commodity and shows its uniqueness. If a name is distinctive enough to catch the consumers’ attention, it has been endowed with the discerning function. Then in a consumer’s memory, this distinctive name will be the most deep-going one. Of course, the purchasing action could be stimulated.

For instance, two commodities both have the same English trademark called “Liberty”. Actually, one product is a sportswear and the other is a carpet. In China, the former one is “自由” and the latter one is “利宝地”. “自由” means free and it can arouse the feelings of leisure and casualness which accord with the style of the cloth. “利宝地” conveys that this kind of carpet is good to protect the consumer’s precious plot. Besides, “宝地” is the propitious word popular with Chinese customers.

4.3 The Purpose of Stimulating Consumers’ Purchasing Desire

All the advertising campaign of a commodity is advancing towards to one destination– to move the consumers to buy the products. The trademark as a means of publicizing ways, its translation should serve the purpose, too.

“Carrefour” is a foreign invested supermarket in China. Its Chinese version of “家乐福”, tells us each family can enjoy happiness and pleasure in this supermarket. When seeing this name, they may go it and buy something there. This translation, making use of consumers’ purchasing psychology, has successfully appealed to consumers and has cleverly stimulated their purchasing desire.

Therefore, the translation of a trademark should be able to stimulate consumers’ buying desire.

4.4 The purpose of adaption to the customers’ culture

The famous British anthropologist E. B. Taylor (1871) defines culture as “a complex whole that includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, customs and other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.”(Danesi & Perron, 1999: 3) because trademark, obviously is part of the culture, so its translation, to a great extent, is influenced by culture. Foreign commodities’ trademarks inevitably contain different cultural characteristics. When they enter the Chinese market, they will mainly face Chinese consumers. Whether they can win the market share and the favor of Chinese customers depends greatly on their translation. Even they enjoy global fame, it will still be difficult for Chinese consumers to accept if they don’t have impressive translations into Chinese. A good translation will have enormous impact, though invisible, on consumers’ mentality. (Bao Huinan, 2001: 281) “For truly successful translating, biculturalism is even more important than bilingualism, since words only have meanings in terms of cultures in which they function.” (Nida, 1993: 110) hence, to contribute to the function of trademark, the translation must fulfill the purpose to go with the culture of customers.

Dragon means devil in western culture, while in Chinese culture, dragon(é¾™) is the symbol of power and heavenliness is something sacred and has been referred to as the ancestor of the Chinese nation, so Chinese people have a special preference for this animal which does not exist. “Citroen”, a French-made car brand, is translated into “雪铁龙” to adapt the customers’ culture in target market.

5. Translation strategies based on Skopos theory

Skopos theory considers translation as a complicated interactive behavior. The aim of translation is often determined after counsel between client and translator. It is the initiator or its agent who makes differences. They give explanation of time, place, situation, intermediary, aim as well as readers and function of translation. According to the specific translation requirement such as the writer’s interactive intention and expectation of the translated texts, as well as social knowledge background, interactive need of readers, etc. translator can determine any translating tactics, and does not have to care about the equality of translated text to the original text, for which would weaken the translated text’s interactive function in the environment of target language. Therefore, with the guide of translation purpose, the translator can consider the relative factors comprehensively and then decide the most suitable method. Approaches can be adopted by translators if it can realize the expected purpose well. The translator can change properly according to the connotation meaning of a trademark name. If it is transformed appropriately, it can be full of wit and humor. The consumers will certainly be attracted by such kind of a trademark names. So the realistic standard of trademark translation is whether it is recognized and accepted by consumers who would buy the products finally. Therefore, based on the Skopos theory, translation strategies are not restricted. According to the contents mentioned above, we can emphasize that “the purpose changes with the consumer varies.” (Wang Jianhui, Hu Dongping, 2007) “Translators can take any appropriate tactics in order to achieve different goals.” (Yin Xiaohong, 2006:171)

As discussed above, the successful translation of brand names refers to lots of factors. Among them the most important is the flexible employment of translation methods in practice. In this part, the author will focus on two main methods, the most common and practical used strategies, in brand name translation. They are literal translation and free translation.

5.1 Literal translation

The so-called literal translation in this paper is equivalent to Newmark’s semantic translation, which “attempts to render, as closely as the semantic and syntactic structure of the second language allow, the exact contextual meaning of the original.”(Newmark, 1988: 39). Literal translation involves translating meanings literally, keeping both the original form and the original sense. It is the primary way of trademark translation. It can better convey the original information of the product, indicate the author’s original wish, and can keep the conformity with the brand designs. There are many popular trademarks translated in this way around us. Although it is not feasible for every one to be translated literally, literal translation is still put to use by translators.

The translation of an electronic appliance brand, “Pioneer” into”先锋”can convey to the customers the message that it is the pioneer of the electronic appliance industry. “Microsoft”, the American software giant company, also adopts literal translation to register its Chinese brand. Translating “Micro” as “å¾®” and “soft” as “软” successfully transmit the implied meaning: a basic, tiny and delicate software. “Mr. Juicy” was translated as “果汁先生”, can give customers a very clear idea that it is a fruit juice brand while at the same time it forms a cartoon image in people’s mind.

5.2 Free translation

The free translation is also one of the most important techniques in the course of translating Chinese trademark names. We knew that literal translation would not achieve a perfect trademark translation all the time. Free translation is more complex and flexible. Free translation mostly could avoid the rigid feeling, comparing with mechanical transliteration. In fact, it is the translator’s imagination that is making an important impa


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