A Short History of Translation Studies

It has been acknowledged that at the very basic, translation is perceived as a written transfer of a message or meaning from one language into another. Dubois (in Bell 1991:5) states “translation is the expression in another language (or target language) of what has been expressed in another, source language, preserving semantic and stylistic equivalence". The emphasis on equivalence has led to prescriptive approach which convey that target text should imitate the source text so that there is no ‘betrayal’ in translation. This approach aims at providing guidances in executing a translation by way of linguistic theories and set normative rules in a bid to produce good translation. It is important to note that the parameter of prescriptive approach is the equivalence of target text to the source text.  

A number of translation scholars perceive the term “equivalent” problematic in translation studies (Mona Baker 1998, Peter Newmark 1988).  Prescriptive-equivalence based translation theories elaborate that translation has to mirror its original which is considered as impossible since no language has similar system or structure. Kruger and Wallmach (1997:121) states “the main shortcoming of prescriptive translation theories is the fact that they ignore the social-cultural conditions under which translations are produced in order to function in the receiving culture as acts of communication”.

In the 1970s, the debates focused on equivalence but then moved from binary opposition to broader questions of power relation between linguistic systems (Gentzler 2001). Furthermore, the focus also shifts to analysing translated texts in order to shed light on the processes of translation itself by elaborating the context in which a translation is made (Even –Zohar 1990, Toury 1995). In the same vein, the skopos theory introduced by Hans J Vermeer and developed by German translation scholars views functional equivalence as the turning point of translation strategies and places emphasis on the translator’s objective and target readers rather than similarities between languages (Nord 1997). Thus, there is a shift from placing the source text as the most important part of translation to the target text and its function. Translation studies theorist begin to analyse the product of translation in order to describe aspects of translation.


Translation Studies underwent what was termed as a ‘cultural turn’ in the 1990s in which the object of interest shifted again (Bassnett & Lefevere 1990). The research is focused more on translation norms that exist at different moments in different cultures (Baker 1998) as well as the development of post-colonial translation theory (Bassnett & Trivedi 1999).  A similar shift also developed in translation studies' focus of research. For a long time the focal point of discussion is literary canon while non-literary works as well as the translation process themselves are rarely touch.



At the beginning, Translation Studies is treated as a part of Applied Linguistics instead of an independent science field. It is not surprising that many translation theories and approaches were based on linguistics features and theories. It is after 1970s that the dominance of linguistics began to decrease and translation studies set its foot as a new field of study by bringing practical theories into its domain. According to Mary Snell Hornby there are two main schools of translation theory in Europe (Nord 1997). One school represents the linguistic approach and the other the functional approach to translation. The battle between concept of equivalence held by the linguistic translation theories and the function of translational action continues until today despite the spring of various approaches such as feminism, post-colonialism, deconstruction, and the like. Yet, direction appears to steer into more pragmatic and culture oriented approach since nowadays translation is perceived as “cross cultural event” (Snell-Hornby 1995).


1. DyyTDBKnhmnc

pada : 21 April 2012

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