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Research Paper on Translation Theory

Traditionally, translation played an extremely important role in different fields of human activities and affected them dramatically. In fact, it is possible to estimate that translation appeared along with the development of literary language and literacy in human societies. Moreover, it is even possible to estimate that in certain cases translation served as a tool of spread of literature, knowledge, human experience from one community to another.

At the time, it is necessary to emphasize that translation has not been shaped as a science since actually people did not really need to develop translation theories since it implies certain level of development and scientific views developed in the human society. Nonetheless, the spread of literature, great progress of human culture at large, couldn’t fail to affect translation.

Obviously, it was possible to use translation as the means of communication but it did not contribute to high relevancy and mutual understanding from the points of view of translating material and final version of a translator. Often it resulted in significant differences in connotation and, consequently, in the final understanding of the text which was translated.

Thus, there was a paradoxical situation when translation could really help in mutual understanding of different cultures and speakers of different languages but, on the other hand, it obviously lacked theoretical background in order to make the process and results of translation comprehensible enough to the extent, that the translated version would be practically identical equivalent of original version. In fact, this problem still remains relevant since “the task of the translator consists in finding that intended effect upon the language into which he is translating which produces in it the echo of the original” (Walter Benjamin). Thus, the basic goal of a translator is to make his translation as close to the original version as it is possible so that the translation was perceived by the community exactly like the original version is perceived by the native speakers.

History of translation

Speaking about the importance of translation, its basic goals and special demands to the translator, it is primarily necessary to briefly dwell upon the history of translation since it helps better understand the problems of translation that early translators faced and still have to solve at the present moment.

First of all, it should be said that translation initially concerned religious texts since religious themes were central for early human literature at large and, consequently, it was the primary concern of early translator. It is hardly possible to underestimate the role of translation of religious texts in the world history since they affected not only some communities but whole civilizations and its consequences are still relevant nowadays.

In order to better understand the historical significance of translation, it is possible to refer to the Buddhist monks translation of Indian sutras in the Chinese languages. They often skewed the translation to better adapt to China’s very different culture. As a result, such notions as filial piety were stressed (Kelly 1979).

Translation has played even more significant role in the development of Christianity. It should be pointed out that the Bible was initially translated in Greek and than it was translated in Latin by probably one of the most outstanding translators in history, who later became known as Saint Jerome. Actually, it was him who translated the Bible into Latin. His translation had been used for centuries but even this version turned to be quite contradictive when it was released.

Furthermore, the period of Reformation was marked by the translation of the Bible into the local national languages. This is why it is possible to speak about a significant role of translation that affected western civilization and practically divided it into Protestants and Catholics. In this respect it is worthy to note that the divergence between the Protestant and Catholic translation of particular words and passages of the Bible turned to be particularly important for the split of Christianity.

As a result, it is obvious that translation, especially contradictions in translation may lead to unpredictable consequences and affect many cultures that means that it is extremely important that translation was possibly closer to the original version and properly understood by people.

Translation as a part of communication and its concept

It is obvious that translation played an important role in the historical development of human civilization. This is why it is extremely important to find out why it is so important and what actually makes translation such an important tool that affects human culture.

In this respect, it is extremely important to return to the concept of translation as a part of communication. This would unquestionably reveal the role of translation and its impact on human psychology, perception and even behavior. At this point it is necessary to say that translation as an act of communication implies three dimensions: the Speaker (the author), the Message, and the Audience. It is noteworthy that all these dimensions should be closely linked and any break of the chain Speaker-Message-Audience is unacceptable, especially in translation, otherwise, the speaker’s message would not be perceived by the audience (Kelly 1979).

Consequently, it is of a paramount importance that a translator knows as much as possible about the original author, the actual message produced by that author and the original audience because it gets him acquainted with a particular act of communication. As a result, he is able to better understand the message and, consequently, properly translate it and convey to the audience the translation is done for. Thus, it is extremely important that the three dimensions converged and were properly understood by a translator and conveyed to the non-original audience. In such a way, the translator serves as a mediator between original and non-original audience and actually plays the role of the speaker creating the message for the audience different from what original speaker targeted at but, at the same time, the translator’s message should be a kind of equivalent of the original speaker’s message, otherwise, the convergence of the three dimensions would be impossible and, thus, translation would be inefficient.

Actually, this is one of the main reasons why certain contradictions in interpretation of different religious texts mentioned above appeared. As different translators translated the original message differently because of the lack of knowledge about the original speaker, his message and audience than misunderstanding of one and the same texts by different translators and their audiences was quite natural.

Probably, it is useful to briefly return to the concept and definition of translation in order to better understand its function and role. Etymologically, translation means a ‘carrying across’ or ‘bringing across’. In other words it is a vehicle between the original version and the final version created by the translator. As a result, one of the main goals of translation is to ensure that the original and the target texts communicate the same message.

In this respect, it is noteworthy to dwell upon two basic criteria which have been developed by early translator theorists and still remain relevant for a successful translation. The first criterion is faithfulness. This criterion is actually the “extent to which the translation accurately renders the meaning of the source text, without adding to it or subtracting from it, and without intensifying or weakening any part of the meaning” (Gutt 1991, p.105). In such a way, the translation should be as close or faithful to the original version as possible.

The second criterion of a successful translation is transparency which implies “the extent to which the translation appears to a native speaker of the target language to have originally been written in that language, and conforms to the language’s grammatical, syntactic and idiomatic conventions” (Gutt 1991, p.107). Thus, translation should correspond to the conventions of the target language and perceived by native speakers as if it were originally written in their mother tongue.

Translation problems

Naturally, translation is quite a complicated process and in order to achieve success, a translator should cope with a number of problems which were found out by early translation theorists since they got used to deal with the texts which were quite difficult to translate because of the number of problems which would be discussed further.

First of all, it is necessary to point out that often translators face the problem with the source text itself. For instance, in certain cases it is possible to find out that there are changes made to the text during the translation period. It means that these changes can affect dramatically the target text and even made it different from the source text.

Furthermore, earlier translation theorists had to work with ancient texts which could be practically illegible or difficult to read. As a result, it led to the lack of proper understanding of the original text that made proper translation extremely difficult. The same effect on the target text may have poor written source texts, or incomplete texts which also do not provide a translator with a possibility to fully understand the original message of the author.

However, there might appear additional problems a translator should cope with. For instance, often source texts contain references to some events, personas, or some special terms which are unique for the cultural context and could not be properly understood and consequently translated. Practically, it means that a translator should deal with the source text which is incomplete, for instance, consequently, in order to make a comprehensible translation he has to complete the text judging from the context or making presumptions of his own. In this respect, it is noteworthy to refer to the translation of the Bible mentioned above since often misinterpretations were caused by the lack of information about the original texts, socio-cultural context and the authors. For instance, the translation of such a word as ‘logos’ may differ dramatically that found its reflection not only in specialized literature but also in such an outstanding literary work as “Faust” by Goethe. In such a situation, differences in translation of one and the same texts turned to be too significant to the extent that the target texts provoked in a way split of the churches.

However, these problems are basically technical and related to the physical state of the source texts. At the same time, there are purely language problems which are also extremely important and make it very difficult for a translator to ‘echo’ the original text. For instance, it may be some dialect terms and neologisms which cannot be found anywhere but in this specific text. Or else unexplained acronyms and abbreviations can also cause a number of problems for a translator making proper and ‘faithful’ translation practically impossible.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of similar problems earlier translators as well as contemporary ones has to constantly deal with but sometimes, the problems of translation may be so significant that it is even possible to speak about ‘untranslatability’ of the source text. However, as a rule, only a few words from the source text may be characterized as ‘untranslatable’ while the whole text may be translated successfully. But in such a situation it is still necessary to remember the words of Walter Benjamin and made the target text as close to the original version as possible.


Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that translation is an extremely difficult process. At the same time, one of the main goals of any translator is to use a variety of methods attempting to convey to the target audience the translated texts as if it were the original text delivered to the original audience. Naturally, on achieving this goal, a translator should overcome a number of problems many of which may seem to be extremely difficult.

Nonetheless, the experience of early translators and translator theorists indicate at the possibility to stick a certain version which could be accepted by the vast majority of the audience as it used to be with the Saint Jerome’s translation of the Bible in Latin which remained the main, though not undisputable, translation of the Bible for many years.

Anyway, the translator cannot be successful enough without overcoming more and more difficult problems in his work making his target texts possibly closer to the original version and as understandable to the target audience as it used to be to the original audience.


1. Gutt, Ernst-August. Translation and Relevance: Cognition and Context. London: Blackwell, 1991.
2. Kelly, Louis G. The True Interpreter: A History of Translation Theory and Practice in the West. Oxford: Blackwell, 1979. Can Write a Research Paper on Translation Theory for You!

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