Web Translation Projects/Translation theories

Translation theoriesEdit


This page is created for a Web Translation Project course held by the Institute of British and American Studies at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland.

This project describes a chosen few of existing translation theories as describing all of them would be a very extensive task. The topic of translation theories would be enough to supply several books, thesis and publications.I decided to concentrate on translation studies and Holmes framework for this discipline and three different approaches to translation: the linguistic approach, the communicative approach and the sociosemiotic approach.

Definition of translationEdit

It is believed that the English term 'translation' derives either from Old French translation or from the Latin translatio (‘transporting’), coming from the verb transferre (‘to carry over’).

Translation can be understood as:

  1. the general subject field or phenomenon
  2. the product – translated text
  3. the process of producing the translation [1]

Categories of translationEdit

The three categories of translation were described by Roman Jakobson and are as follows:

name of the category definition example
intralingual translation or ‘rewording’ using the same system of signs within one language summarising text, producing children encyclopedia or rephrasing within the same language
interlingual translation or ‘translation proper’ using signs of one language to present signs of another language translation of Polish recipe book into English
intersemiotic translation or ‘transmutation’ non-verbal signs are used to present verbal signs of a language [2] written text is translated to different mode (film, music)

Translation studiesEdit

Holmes map of translation studiesEdit

Holmes map of translation studies

In his paper „The name and nature of translation studies” Holmes described two main areas of research, namely „pure” and „applied”.

Pure branch

In his famous map, the „pure” branch is divided into „theoretical” and „descriptive”. The „theoretical” branch is further divided into „general” and „partial” and the latter one consists of medium restricted, area restricted, rank restricted, text-restricted, time restricted and problem restricted area of research. The „descriptive” branch is divided into product-oriented, process-oriented and function-oriented area of research. The descriptive part is known as descriptive translation studies (DTS). In the product-oriented field of research, the already existing texts are examined. The research may be conducted on a pair of the target text and source text or several translations of one source text. Function-oriented DTS concentrates on the context of the translation, namely the function of the translated text in the target culture – which texts were translated and where did it happen. The impact of the translations is also a subject of these studies. Process-oriented DTS examines processes that are happening in the human mind when translating. The research methods are think-aloud protocols (when translations are asked to verbalize what is happening in their heads) and eye-tracking.

Applied branch

The „applied” branch consists of translator training, translation aids and translation criticism. Translator training is focused on teaching methods, curriculum design and testing techniques. On other words how to effectively train future translators. Translation aids are dictionaries and grammars. Translation criticism focuses on evaluating the translations, assessing translations by students and reviewing existing translations.

This extensive map is viewed as a fundament and a framework for translation studies. However, some of the divisions seem to be artificial and Holmes mentions, that theoretical, applied and descriptive areas tend to influence each other. This map allows to divide labour of different areas of translation work and avoid confusion. It is easily expandable as technological advancements can be added (such as translating applications or machine translation).

Translation theoriesEdit

The linguistic approachEdit

This approach concentrates on distinctive and similar features between source and target languages. It is based on interlingual relations among languages and their structures. The linguistic approach concentrates not only on carrying the same meaning, but also on substituting language structures from source language to target language. The translator is required to have a broad understanding of grammar and idioms of both languages.

The communicative approachEdit

This approach focuses on communication chain, namely message, receptor, source and medium. It concentrates on encoding and decoding a message. This approach pays special attention to features of languages, be it of oral or written messages. Tone of voice, how loud someone speaks, gestures ans eye contact are crucial in oral communication. Meanwhile, important factors may be distinguished in a written communiaction, such as format of the text, style, even the quality of paper[3]. The form of the text may carry meaning so it can not be omitted. According to communicative approach, a translation may be considered succesful whe readers of the translated text may respond to it in the same way the readers would respond to the original text. Readers of the translation should be able to respond in a cognitive and emotional way similar to those of the original readers and then maximal adequacy of translation is achieved. Minimal adequacy of translation is possible when texts come from very different cultural background, so similar responses from readers would not be possible.

The sociosemiotic approachEdit

Words tend to occur with additional features, paralinguistic or extralingustic. When listening to speaker, people do not only listen to the message, but also debate on sincerity of this message, its thruthfullnes, knowledge and attitude of the speaker, social and ethnic background, even hers or his appearance. The impact of verbal message seem to be connected with the previous issues as they are always present (in ora lor written communiction). However, there are extralinguistic codes that are optional (not always present) and those are: „the action in a drama, the music of a song, and the multiple visual and auditory features of a multimedia essay” [4]

In order to understand the sociosemiotic perspective, the language must be perceived as „shared set of habits using voice to communicate” [5]. The language is learned in socjety and distributed by socjety. Language is used to communicate with others in a social setting while decoding and encoding the message. There is a link between source and receptor when we anticipating the possible reaction and an actual feedback which may be observed in a verbal and nonverbal codes.

Sociosemiotic approach to translating has few advantages, namely:

  1. „employing a realistic epistemology which can speak relevantly about the real world of everyday experience, since its basis is a triadic relation between sign, referent, and interprétant,
  2. being at the cutting edge of verbal creativity, rather than being bound by reductionist requirements which depend on ideal speaker-hearers, who never exist,
  3. recognizing the plasticity of language,
  4. being essentially interdisciplinary in view of the multiplicity of codes.” [6] Nida, E. A. (1991). Theories of translation. TTR: traduction, terminologie, rédaction, 4(1), 19-32.


Equivalence - Eugene Nida defined two types of translation: formal equivalence and dynamic equivalence. The first type is concerned with revealing as much of the original message (its form and context) as it is possible, while the second one concentrates on the response of the reader [7]. Dynamic equivalence should aim at reflecting the meaning and the context of the source (Nida, 19xx). Natural equivalent was preceived as best, because it fit not only the context of target text but also target culture. Rabassa [8] compared natural equivalence with painting on numbered canvases. The canvases direct the painter where to put which color. This is similar to machine translation as machines concentrate on the formal equivalence. They are instructed to change words according to „numbers”, precise instructions, given to them.

type of equivalence definition
Formal equivalence Formal equivalence focuses on the message, its form and content. Formal correspondences such as word to word or sentence to sentence are important. Translating with formal equivalence consists of translating verbs by verbs or adjectives by adjectives etc., leaving sentence structure as it is (without changing or readjusting), formal indicators are left as they are (punctuation marks are left where they are, so are the paragraphs).
Dynamic equivalence Dynamic equivalence is connected with „equivalent effect”, namely that the translated text will have the same impact on the reader as the original version had on its reader. Dynamic equivalence concetrates on naturalness of expression. It should be as close to the original text as possible in terms of preserved meaning. By naturalness one should understand that the translation fits the target culture and final recipient, and that the context of original text is also preserved.


  1. Munday, J. (2016). Introducing translation studies: Theories and applications. Routledge.
  2. Munday, J. (2016). Introducing translation studies: Theories and applications. Routledge.
  3. Nida, E. A. (1991). Theories of translation.TTR: traduction, terminologie, rédaction, 4(1),19-32.
  4. Nida, E. A. (1991). Theories of translation.TTR: traduction, terminologie, rédaction, 4(1),19-32.
  5. Nida, E. A. (1991). Theories of translation.TTR: traduction, terminologie, rédaction, 4(1),19-32.
  6. Nida, E. A. (1991). Theories of translation.TTR: traduction, terminologie, rédaction, 4(1),19-32.
  7. Nida, E. A. (1991). Theories of translation.TTR: traduction, terminologie, rédaction, 4(1), 19-32.
  8. Panou, D. (2013). Equivalence in translation theories: A critical evaluation. Theory and Practice in Language Studies, 3(1), 1.