In this lecture we shall discuss the most common theoretical approaches to human translation paying special attention to their limitations and ability to explain the translation process.
Roughly, the human translation theories may be divided into three main groups which quite conventionally may be called transformational approach, denotative approach, and communicational approach.
The transformational theories consist of many varieties which may have different names but they all have one common feature: the process of translation is regarded as transformation.
According to the transformationalapproach translation is viewed as the transformation of objects and structures of the source language into those of the target.
Within the group of theories which we include in the transformational approach a dividing line is sometimes drawn between transformations and equivalencies".
According to this interpretation a transformation starts at the syntactic level when there is a change, i.e. when we alter, say, the word order during translation. Substitutions at other levels are regarded as equivalencies, for instance, when we substitute words of the target language for those of the source, this is considered as an equivalence.
In the transformational approach we shall distinguish three levels of substitutions: morphological equivalencies, lexical equivalencies, and syntactic equivalencies and/or transformations.
In the process of translation:
♦ at the morphological level morphemes (both word-building and word-changing) of the target language are substituted for those of the source;
♦ at the lexical level words and word combinations of the target language are substituted for those of the source;
♦ at the syntactic level syntactic structures of the target language are substituted for those of the source.
For example, in the process of translation, the English word room is transformed into Ukrainian words кімната or простір or French words chambre or espace or German words Zimmer or Raum.
The syntactic transformations in translation comprise a broad range of structural changes in the target text, starting from the reversal of the word order in a sentence and finishing with division of the source sentence into two and more target ones.
The most common example of structural equivalencies at the syntactic level is that of some Verb Tense patterns, e.g. English to German: (shall (will) go -> werde/werden/wird gehen).
The above examples of transformations and equivalencies at various levels are the simplest and, in a way, artificial because real translation transformations are more complex and often at different levels of languages involved in translation.
This kind of transformation is especially frequent when translation involves an analytical and a synthetic language, e. g. English and Ukrainian.
From the above you may conclude that according to the transformational approach translation is a set of multi-level replacements of a text in one language by a text in another governed by specific transformation rules.
However, the transformational approach is insufficient when the original text corresponds to one indivisible concept which is rendered by the translator as a text in another language also corresponding to the relevant indivisible concept.
For instance, the translation of almost any piece of poetry cannot be explained by simple substitution of target language words and word combinations for those of source language.
This type of translation is characteristic of any text, written or spoken, rather than only for poetry or high-style prose and the denotative approach is an attempt to explain such translation cases.
Though denotative approach to translation is based on the idea of denotatum (see above the relationship of signs, concepts and denotata), it has more relevance to that of a concept.
-► According to denotative approach the process of translation is not just mere substitution but consists of the following mental operations:
♦ translator reads (hears) a message in the source language;
♦ translator finds a denotatum and concept that correspond to this message;
♦ translator formulates a message in the target language relevant to the above denotatum and concept.
It should be noted that, according to this approach during translation we deal with similar word forms of the matching languages and concepts deduced from these forms, however, as opposed to the transformational approach, the relationship between the source and target word forms is occasional rather than regular.
To illustrate this difference let us consider the following two examples:
(1)The sea is warm tonight- Сьогодні ввечері море тепле.
(2)Staff only - Службове приміщення.
In the first instance the equivalencies are regular and the concept, pertaining to the whole sentence may be divided into those relating to its individual components (words and word combinations): sea - море, tonight -сьогодні ввечері, is warm - тепле.
In the second instance, however, equivalence between the original sentence and its translation is occasional (i.e. worth only for this case) and the concept, pertaining to the whole sentence cannot he divided into individual components.
The indivisible nature of the concept pertaining to the second example may be proved by literal translation of both source and target sentences - Тільки персонал and Service room. Service - Тільки or room -персонал are hardly regular equivalencies (i.e. equivalencies applicable to other translation instances).
The communicational theory of translation was suggested by O. Kade and is based on the notions of communication and thesaurus. So, it is worthwhile to define the principal terms first.
Communication may be defined as an act of sending and receiving some information, which is called a message
It should go without saying that this definition is oversimplified and not all communication terms used here are standard terms of communication and information theories. Our purpose, however, is to describe the act of communication in the simplest possible terms and to show translation as a part of this act.
Information, which is sent and received (communicated) may be of any kind (e.g. gestures, say, thumbs up), but we shall limit ourselves to verbal communication only, i.e. when we send and receive information in the form of a written or spoken text.
Naturally enough when communicating we inform others about something we know. That is in order to formulate a message, we use our system of interrelated data, which is called a thesaurus.
We shall distinguish between two kinds of thesauruses in verbal communication: language thesaurus and subject thesaurus.
Language thesaurus is a system of our knowledge about the language which we use to formulate a message, whereas subject thesaurus is a system of our knowledge about the content of the message.
Thus, in order to communicate, the message sender formulates the mental content of his or her message using subject thesaurus, encodes it using the verbal forms of language thesaurus, and conveys it to the message recipient, who decodes the message also using language thesaurus and interprets the message using subject thesaurus as well. This is a simple description of monolingual communication.
It is very important to understand that the thesauruses of message sender and recipient may be different to a greater or lesser degree, and that is why we sometimes do not understand each other even when we think we are speaking one and the same language.
So, in regular communication there are two actors, sender and recipient, and each of them uses two thesauruses (Although they use the same language their underlying knowledge bases may differ).
In special bilingual communication (i.e. translation), we have three actors: sender, recipient, and intermediary (translator).
The translator has two language thesauruses (source and target one) and performs two functions: decodes the source message and encodes the target one to be received by the recipient (end user of the translation).
О. Kade's communicational theory of translation describes the process of translation as an act of special bilingual communication in which the translator acts as a special communication intermediary., making it possible to understand a message sent in a different language.
One may note that the communicational approach pays special attention to the aspects of translation relating to the act of comniunication, whereas the translation process as such remains unspecified, and one may only presume that it proceeds either by a transformational or denotative path (see their relevant descriptions above).
However, it is difficult to overestimate the importance of the com-municational aspect in the success of translation.
To understand this better let us consider an example of message formulation (encoding), message translation (encoding/decoding), and message receipt (decoding).
Let the original message expressed by a native speaker of English (encoded using the English language as a code to convey the mental content of the message) be:
Several new schools appeared in the area.
Let us assume then that the message sender, being a fisherman and using relevant subject thesaurus, by schools meant large number of fish swimming together rather than institutions for educating children, and the correct translation then had to be:
У районі з'явились нові косяки риби whereas the translator who presumably did not have relevant information in his subject thesaurus translated schools as institutions for educating children:
У районі з'явились нові школи, which naturally lead to misunderstanding (miscommunication).
The above example shows a case of miscommunication based on the insufficiency of extralinguistic information. However, there are also cases of miscommunication caused by the insufficiency of linguistic information.
This example is, of course, an exaggeration, but it clearly illustrates a dividing line between linguistic and extralinguistic information in translation as visualized by the communicational approach to translation.
Thus, the communicational approach to translation, though saying little about translation as such, highlights a very important aspect of translation.
-► According to communicational approach translation is a message sent by a translator to a particular user and the adequacy of translation depends on similarity of their background information rather than only on linguistic correctness.
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4. Мирам Г. Е. Переводныe картинки. Профессия: переводчик. - К., 2001.
5. Мирам Г. Е. Профессия: переводчик. - К., 1999.
6. Нелюбин Л. Л. Переводческий словарь. - М., 1999.
7. Федоров А. В. Основы общей теории перевода. - М., 1975.
1. What are basic theoretical approaches to translation?
2. What is translation according to the transformational approach?
3. What are the steps involved in translation according to the denotative approach?
4. What are the principal differences between transformational and denotative equivalencies?
5. What is translation according to the communicational approach? What is the key to successful translation according to this approach?
6. What interrelated components does translation include as an object of linguistic study?
7. Give short definition of translation (after Komissarov).
8. what are the interacting elements in translation? What elements are observable? What elements are deducible?
9. What interrelated operations does one fulfill in the process of translation?
10. What three stages does one distinguish in translation?
LANGUAGE SYSTEM: PARADIGMS AND SYNTAGMAS | Elements Activated in the Sentence | Lecture 2. Сommunicative aspect of translation. | Lecture 4. TRANSLATION EQUIVALENCE AND EQUIVALENTS | A) Full Translation Equivalents | B) Partial Translation Equivalents | Lecture 5. TRANSLATION AND STYLE | Transformations in translation. | Gender Forms | Basic translation devices. |