Academic journal article Translation & Interpreting

From Translation Briefs to Quality Standards: Functionalist Theories in Today's Translation Processes

Academic journal article Translation & Interpreting

From Translation Briefs to Quality Standards: Functionalist Theories in Today's Translation Processes

Article excerpt

1. Translation markets and contemporary translation theories

This paper explores the possible connection between functionalist theories of translation and actual operating procedures within the translation industry. It also looks at possible relationships between the main concepts underlying these explanatory theories and real-life translation processes and standards. Translation Studies (TS) have always scrutinised and questioned the link between professional translation and translation theories. A key work in this field is the essay Can Theory Help Translators? (Chesterman & Wagner. 2002), which offers an interesting and in-depth discussion of the extent to which professional translation experiences (Wagner) are reflected in research, and theory-based approaches to translation (Chesterman). Wagner's initial scepticism is rooted in her day-to-day work as a translation project manager for European institutions, which leads her to question whether translation theories are useful for translators at all. In contrast, Chesterman focuses on the need, applicability and practicality of some translation theories. Since 2002, when the book was published, the translation industry has experienced dramatic changes in many different areas: technology, norms and standards, productivity factors, financial and profit-related aspects and the appearance of a wide range of value-added translation-related services. This evolution rekindles the long-standing debate over translation theory versus translation practice, particularly in the light of functionalist theories.

In previous works, a number of translation scholars have sensed possible connections between functionalist theories and different aspects of the translation industry:

Works by functionalists such as Reiss (1980), Reiss and Vermeer (1984),
and Nord (1997), particularly their notions of text types and of the
skopos of translation are useful for understanding and describing
whereby translation and localization project managers identify project
objectives and determine project scope. (Dunne & Dunne, 2011, p. 6)

One of the most important achievements of Skopos theory and
functionalism in translation was to take the translating and
interpreting profession seriously. (Nord, 2012a, p. 29)

Functionalist theories have had the greatest impact in the industry,
partly perhaps because functionalist theories are probably inspired by
observation of the translation market in operation. (Alonso & Calvo,
2015, p. 143)

The translation industry itself seems to change radically every few years due to technological advances, the transformation or diversification of preexisting translation-related services (see value-added services as in EN 15038, ISO 17100) and its growing status as a sector of economic activity. Professional translation services have progressively branched out into different activities such as localization, certified translation, transcreation, post-editing, multilingual content management, etc. This paper examines whether functionalist theories originally inspired by the translation profession as it was back in the 1980s and 1990s are still relevant and potentially influential in today's highly specialized, technified industry.

Assignments, briefs or commissions, as defined by Vermeer (1978; 1996), Nord (1991) and Fraser (1996), are theoretical constructs of particular interest in this study insofar as they determine the functional notion of quality in translation, as discussed below. The functionalist ideas behind brief and quality revolve around the core role played by the commissioner, or client, in the translation equation, together with the impact of their expectations and their communicative needs on the translation process (Parra, 2005, p. 67). Furthermore, at a more abstract and philosophical level, the central concept of skopos (Vermeer, 1996), understood as the aim or purpose of a translation, represents the fundamental principle behind the main functionalist approaches. …

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