Is There A Theory Of Translation English Language Essay

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The value of translation is based on the need to transform the original work written in a specific language, and then convert it to other languages in order to make the piece more accessible to a wider audience. Evidently, the need to translate is due to the diversity of languages in the world, whether these languages are ancient or relatively new. Another importance of translation is seen in the value of the many works that are written in languages that are not widely acceptable to everyone. For instance, ancient texts were written in ancient languages, hence, the means to "read" these texts were to translate them into versions that can be read by modern societies.

Although translation seems simple in a way that it merely converts a set of words into another language equivalent, the process is a complex field in which the platforms it operates from need to factor in many considerations. This now underlines the issue as to whether translation is merely a word-for-word or sense-by-sense task or if there is a greater amount of forces involved that are enough to formulate specific theoretical frameworks (Hodges, 2009). The author brought up whether translation should be founded on these theoretical platforms, thus, justifying the necessity and the establishment of translation theory.

This paper presents a discussion as to why there is a discourse as to whether there is a theory of translation or not. Citing some references on the translation practice, this paper highlights the important disciplines involved in the processes of translation, thus providing a channel that leads to the formulation of translation theories.

The Development of a Translation Theory


What is theory, and what is translation theory? In observation, translation is a very practical activity; a translator takes a set of texts and then translates it to another language. The approach to translation, however, can be simple or complex for some this is why translation is not just a practical activity. The theoretical aspect of translation can be therefore seen in the changing practices and approaches to this initiative, which Nida and Taber (1982, p. 1) took noted of:

'The older focus in translating was the form of the message, and translators took particular delight in being able to reproduce stylistic specialties, e.g. rhythms, rhymes, play on words, chiasmus, parallelism, and unusual grammatical structures. The new focus, however, has shifted from the form of the message to the response of the receptor. Therefore, what one must determine is the response of the receptor to the translated message. This response must then be compared with the way in which the original receptors presumably reacted to the message when it was given in the original setting'.

Apparently, translation has been an old practice which was also a topic of interests by the likes of Cicero and Horace. Hodge (2009) noted that for centuries, the attempts to come up with theories mostly addressed the most effective means to translate. From discussions on the literal to the free approach, the translation theory actually had problems defining a workable practice in the aspect of translating. Eventually, it was not until Western European theoreticians when they came up with a more scientific analysis to this practice. Translation was then subject to the following lenses: linguistic, literary, cultural, and philosophical (Munday, 2001).

Theories of Translation

Nord (1998) enumerated the following foundations for a theory on translation: translatological foundations and the text-linguistic foundations. The author described the translatological foundations based on the dynamics started by the initiator (INI) who approaches a translator (TRL) to translate a source text (ST) into a target text (TT) for a particular audience (TT-R). It can also happen that the INI wants to read a ST written in its source language (SL) in a target language (TL). These dynamics established by the translatolgical aspects do influence the translation process particularly when it comes to deigning the translation according to the target audience. For instance, some texts need to factor in some cultural-linguistic factors that may require this version significantly depart from the original. There is also the case of how the translator functions as the receptor of the original text, which can also significantly affect how he or she approaches the material.

In assessing the available literature on translation theory, there are actually certain fields which categorize translation according to its relevant theoretical grounds. Nida and Taber (1982) discussed translation in the context of the religious and historical texts, and Faiq (2004) discussed translation in the context of culture. In order to place the theoretical importance of translation, these two lenses serve as critical evaluation points as they represent the critical factors in translation that step outside mere "interpretation" or word-by-word, sense-by-sense approach.

Translating religious and historical content is usually faced with the challenge of having to translate these works written in dead languages or languages that almost does not exist. Hence, this form of translation requires a significant amount of factors which normally belongs in other disciplines like more in-depth exploration of linguistics, history and archaeology.

Nida and Taber (1982) cited the different versions of religious texts such as the Christian Bible in which the authors pointed that with the versions published today, it has been subject to a debate as to which translation from the original was "right". The Quran has been also the center of this controversy even though the sacred Islamic text has been translated to a number of languages; the issue here, however, is that some believe that as the Quran is a divine text based on the actual speech of Allah, it is unacceptable to translate it because its divine power will be lost (Aslan, 2008). In any case, these holy texts have been translated many times, and interestingly, there are versions which may be debated to have departed from the original content.

This example reflects the translatological foundations Nord (1998) discussed in the theoretical aspects of translation. In looking at the different versions of historical and religious texts, Nida and Taber (1982) pointed out that the differences can be attributed to the to the attitudes towards the receptor languages. Translators may view certain languages depending on the degree as to how the should translate the source text into the required target. In going back to the Quran, some translators may have avoided translating the original text altogether in recognition of the book's divine stature but some translators, whether Islamic or not, may have seen the importance of making this holy text more accessible thus the necessity to translate within the language capacity of the target audience without losing the essence of the scripture.

The text-linguistic foundations which Nord (1998) discussed translation based on the following restrictions: the communicative situation, the communicative signals that are integral to the text reception, and the communicative functions such as typologies, conventions (literary vs. non-literary) and equivalence. Koller (1995, as cited in Nord, 1998) further expounded on equivalence with 'denotative, connotative, text-normative, pragmaticand formal equivalence'. Based on these foundations, it can be gathered that the complexities of translation is based on certain external factors that may require these translations to follow a specific conditional context. In that regard, culture becomes an important consideration. Faiq (2004, p. 1) raises a good point as to the intercultural purpose of translation:

'Intercultural contacts that resulted in the great cultural shifts fom one civilization to another have been made possible through translation: this has meant a good deal of exchange, naturally through language. But while languages are generally prone to change over time --- phonologically, morphologically, syntactically and semantically --- cultures do not change fast. Cultures by and large are prisoners of their respective past'.

Fro these, the translation combines the technical requirements of language and linguistics, and the creative facet of meaning and composition. These technical and creative elements, however, are further subject to other forces and implications such as socio-cultural (audience) and political (usually from the initiator) (van Leeuwen, 2004).

Translation and the Arabic Language

To examine the translation in the Arabic language, an example to look at is Arabic literature; this is discussed by van Leeuwen (2004) who mentioned the strong cultural encounters as European texts were translated into Arabic, and vice-versa. The author pointed out that the cultural dynamics surrounding the process of translation was influenced by the target and source with the greater influence: European literature. At that time, which was noted the nahDa period, many Arab authors wanted to establish the traditional Arab novel, but when translated to Western languages, there was the underlined Orientalism in the translation thus making the material, from the perspective of the European reader, as an exotic reading that merely illustrates life in the Orient. On one hand, when European literature was translated to Arabic, there is a greater emphasis on the European style and sensibility thus influencing the Arab elites, who had access to these works, to be more or less assimilated to the text.


The presence of theory of translation serves as an important framework that translators, initiators and audiences should factor in when faced with material that is to be translated and material that is already translated. The strengths of having this theory puts translation, which is a function, in a landscape of combined principles with multidisciplinary foundations and social, cultural and political implications. As can be seen in the cited examples, translation is not just a literal and direct exercise because there are several levels that need to be factored in from the standpoints of the translator, the intention of the initiator, and the capacity of the audience to understand that there is a substantial amount of thought, process and dynamics when the source text is translated into specific languages for different receptors.