6 contemporary theories to translation

The six main principal translation theories: sociological, communicational, hermeneutic, linguistic, literary and semiotic.

Today we’re going to get a little theoretical…after all, the blog of a translation agency should also venture into the drylands of translation theory. Right? There are six main approaches within contemporary translation theory: the sociolinguistic approach, the communicative approach, the hermeneutic approach, the linguistic approach, the literary approach and the semiotic approach. Are you ready? Here we go…

1. The sociolinguistic approach

According to the sociolinguistic approach to translation, the social context defines what is and is not translatable and what is or is not acceptable through selection, filtering and even censorship. According to this perspective, a translator is inevitably the product of his or her society: our own sociocultural background is present in everything we translate. This approach is associated with the School of Tel Aviv and figures such as Annie Brisset, Even Zohar and Guideon Toury.

2. The communicative approach

This perspective is referred to as interpretive. Researchers like D. Seleskovitch and M. Lederer developed what they called the “theory of sense,” mainly based on the experience of conference interpreting. According to this perspective, meaning must be translated, not language. Language is nothing more than a vehicle for the message and can even be an obstacle to understanding. This explains why it is always better to deverbalize (instead of transcoding) when we translate.

3. The hermeneutic approach

The hermeneutic approach is mainly based on the work of George Steiner, who believes that any human communication is a translation. In his book After Babel he explains that translation is not a science but an “exact art”: a true translator should be capable of becoming a writer in order to capture what the author of the original text “means to say.”

4. The linguistic approach

Linguists like Vinay, Darbelnet, Austin, Vegliante, and Mounin, interested in language text, structuralism, and pragmatics, also examined the process of translating. According to this perspective, any translation (whether it’s a marketing translation, a medical translation, a legal translation or another type of text) should be considered from the point of view of its fundamental units; that is, the word, the syntagm and the sentence.

5. The literary approach

According to the literary approach, a translation should not be considered a linguistic endeavor but a literary one. Language has an “energy”:  this is manifested through words, which are the result of experiencing a culture. This charge is what gives it strength and ultimately, meaning: this is what the translation-writer should translate.

6. The semiotic approach

Semiotics is the science that studies signs and signification. Accordingly, in order for there to be meaning there must be a collaboration between a sign, an object and an interpreter. Thus, from the perspective of semiotics, translation is thought of as a way of interpreting texts in which encyclopedic content varies and each sociocultural context is unique.

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