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The Theoretical Framework For The Translation English Language Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 5483 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The commentary will be divided into three sections. The first section will introduce the source text, establish the theoretical framework for the translation, define the translation brief and carry out a comparison of the functions of source and target texts. The next section will focus on defining and analyzing the strategies implemented in the translation by providing examples from within the translation. The final section will be a conclusion of the preceding sections.

Source Text

The source text is an article titled “Xin, Da, Ya”: On Yan Fu’s Translation Theories and was written in Chinese by Professor Wong Wang-Chi of the Chinese University of Hong Kong. The article was first published in the Journal of Translation Studies by the department of translation at the Chinese University of Hong Kong in 1997. Later it was published collection of works by author Wong in a book titled a Study of 20th Century Chinese Translation studies:Re-interpretation of xin, da and ya, by Shanghai Orient Press in 1999. The article contributes to the continuous academic debate among Chinese translation scholars on Yan Fu’s translation theory; “xin, da and ya”. Wong attempts to provide clearer interpretation of Yan Fu’s translation theory which had previously received much criticism claiming that it was flawed, inappropriate and contradictory. Due to the nature of text, it inevitably contains a large amount of theory-based content. The article was written with regard to Yan Fu’s translation preface of Tian Yan Lun, a translation of Huxley’s Evolution and Ethics (1893). In this preface Yan Fu introduced his translation theory and it is therefore for this reason that Wong’s piece contains large number quotations from Yan Fu’s preface; a preface which was written in classical Chinese prose in 1898, five years after the original was released. The fact that Yan Fu’s original translation was written in classical Chinese prose and obviously was published in the 19th century means that the way it is interpreted since then has been in constant debate. The combination of theory with both classical Chinese prose and modern Chinese means the task of translation was complex.

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The function of the original is to provide Chinese translation and literature fields with a fresh outlook on Yan Fu’s translation theory in response to previous criticism. It aims to change the critical way in which many scholars have looked upon this theory by allowing the reader to see Yan Fu’s theory in a different light. Deep down Wong’s motives are clearly to defend Yan Fu and put right those previously who have misunderstood Yan Fu’s theory and then gone on to misrepresent Yan Fu in the field of translation studies. The target audience of the source text are Wong’s fellow translation studies scholars and those students who are studying translation studies at least at undergraduate level. This is due to the heavy reliance on examples in classical Chinese prose throughout the text and the style of the author’s writing. The text possesses a corrective and educative nature.

Theoretical Framework

A Brief Background

A Functionalist Approach

The theoretical framework chosen for this translation is a functionalist approach. The functionalist approach was first suggested by Kathrina Reiss in 1971 (2000:92), it developed further in the 1970s and 80s in Germany and was focal to the shift from ‘predominantly linguistic and rather formal translation theories to a more functionally and socioculturally orientated concept of translation’ (Schaffner 1998:235). It was a shift that Gentzler described as one of the two most important theoretical developments in translation studies over the past two decades (2001:70). This aproach notably has been developed by a number of “scholars in german language countries, including Kathrina Reiss, Hans Vermeer, Mary Snell-Hornby, Christiane Nord and Justa Holz-Manttari” (2001:69). The functionalist approach not only allows for greater emphasis to be placed on the target text, but also provides a framework to evaluate better the role of the translator, something that previous theories failed to accommodate.

The functionalist approach consists of a number of fundamental principles;

All strategies are determined by the function of the translation.

The function is defined by the commissioner through the translation brief.

The function of the translation need not be identical to that of the original.

A translation that achieves its intended purpose is to be declared as functional.

(cf. Nord 2006)

Functionalist scholars believe that translation should always strive to achieve “optimal solutions within actual conditions” (Gentzler 2001:70-71). However, importantly functionalist advocates admit there is no such thing as a perfect translation. Controversially the functionalist approach can be criticized as being too vague and not being extensive enough, Despite the plausible flaws in the approach, it is still recognized for decisively brought about the “breaking of the two thousand year old chain of theory resolving around the faithful vs. free axis” (Gentzler 2001:71). The framework for this translation will focus on Reiss and Vermeer’s Skopos theory (1984), a theory that has been established within the parameters of the functionalist approach.

Skopos theory

The was Skopos theory was established by Reiss and Vermeer in 1984. The theory is based around the ‘skopos’ or the “function, purpose or aim of a translation” (Vermeer 1989:221). The main components of the theory are the overall aim (skopos), the purpose set in order to achieve the aim, the intention behind the aim and the eventual function of the target language text in terms of its readership. This means that any form of translation strategy implemented will be determined these four components of the skopos theory which in turn from the purpose that the translation will later go on to serve. Functionalists advocate that translation like any other activity in that behavior is determined by its intent, in other words, the ‘end justifies the means’ (Nord 1997:29). The skopos theory provides the translator with the means to justify their decision making. According to Vermeer, “every text has a given goal, function or intention” and that any text can adopt a different function when applied in different circumstances with a different audience (1989:227). Therefore the translation is no longer classified as loyal or disloyal, but measured in terms of how consistent translation is in relation to the purpose and intention of the target text, which are defined from the viewpoint of the receiver.

An important aspect of the skopos theory is that the source and target texts must be viewed separately to allow the theory to function. Reiss and Vermeer state that every text is an ‘offer of information’ and indicating that the source and target text a two separate entities (House 1997:16). The translator is simply offering certain information from the source text in accordance with the ‘skopos’ specified by the commissioner (Reiss and Vermeer 1991:76) By distinguishing clearly between the source and target texts it enables the a kind of translation to be carried out that does not place the source text at its realm. In other words, the text can take on a new function which can be viewed as an extension of the original, even though it might involve changing the function altogether, as Nord states “written texts can exist outside their original situation” (1991/2005:8). This means again means that the function target text it not restricted by the original, but most importantly is “pragmatically defined by the purpose of the intercultural transfer” (1991/2005:11).

One of the most significant aspects the Skopos theory is its approach to equivalence and adequacy. According to Reiss and Vermeer, equivalence can defined as an identical “communicative function” shared across both source and target texts (House 1997:12) and adequacy can be defined as being “the relationship between the source and translation where no functional match is obtained and the ‘skopos’ of the translation has been attended to” (1997:12). At the same time, the ‘skopos’ remains more important than any form of equivalence. In translating between Chinese and English, two contrasting cultures, it is pivotal that we highlight the fundamental principle that just in the same way that source text is bound to or embedded within the source culture, the target text should also be “orientated towards the target culture” (Vermeer 1989:222-223).

Following on from the initial establishment of the skopos theory by Reiss and Vermeer, Chrisiane Nord also contributes to the functionalist approach. Nord modifies the previous work on skopos theory by attempting to rebalance the excessively target text orientated skopos theory, claiming ‘the priority of the target text purpose does not mean that the source text is irrelevant, as it sometimes assumed’ (1997:62). Moreover, she points out that ‘the source text provides the offer of information that forms the starting point for the offer of information formulated in the target text’ (1997:62). Nord extends on the skopos theory by providing a model of source text analysis that Reiss and Vermeer had failed to cover, which in turn makes for a more comprehensive theory, a theory which is used as a framework for this translation.

It is also important to recognize as Nord concludes that optimum circumstances for carrying out translation is when ‘intention and function would be analogous or even identical’ (1997:28). In the case of this translation the intentions certainly are analogous, which signifies this theory is appropriate for this translation.

Other Relevant Approaches

Text Typology

This model of translation was based on Bulher’s typology. Reiss outlined her three text types: informative, expressive and operative. This model of translation is focuses on the functional relationship between source and target texts. It fundamentally involves the categorization of texts into either on of the three categories mentioned above(Reiss 1977), then dependent on which category the text falls under determines the translation strategies implemented by the translator.

Translational Action

This theory was introduced by Hola-Manttari, who defines translation as ‘a complex action designed to achieve a particular process’ (Nord 1997:12-13). Hola-Manttari focuses on specific aspects of the translation process such as the translator, the receiver of the message, time, place and medium. This approach has been praised by Schaffer, who recognizes the versatility in accommodating ‘all types of translation’ (1997:5). The theory considers highly the needs of the target text receiver. Although similar to the skopos theory it also bears the wrath of Nords criticism for neglecting the source text (1991:28).

Nord’s Model of Text Analysis

Nord’s model of text analysis consists of two main aspects; extratextual factors and intratextual factors. It gives a framework that allows both the source and potential target text to be analyzed. Nord divides translation problems into four categories; pragmatic, cultural, linguistic and text specific (1991:158-160).

Hypothetical Translation Brief

The translation brief is very influential in any translation, it is even more important in the functionalist approach. It gives both explicit and implicit information with regard to the intention, purpose and audience. It defines the conditions under which the translation is practiced. It is these conditions that influence the way in which the translator behaves. Munday states that it ‘allows the translator to prioritize what information to include in the target text and to see where the source text and the target text may diverge ‘ (2001:82).

This translation has been commissioned by Renditions, the leading international journal of Chinese literature in English language.  Based in Hong Kong, Renditions has striven to provide a unique yet rich variety of both classical and contemporary Chinese literature to the western world. It will be made commercially available in topical edition based on Chinese translation theory. The translation aims to present the latest standpoint on one of the most influential Chinese translation theories in translation studies history.  It will bring a more balanced, comprehensive understanding of Yan Fu’s translation theory among western translation scholars and students of translation.  The translation should ensure that those in the West are more sensitive to his theory. 

Source and Target Text Function

In order to effectively identify the strategies necessary to carry out the translation we must first establish the function of both the source and target texts. As it has been stated in the preceding paragraph the function of the source text is to outline the author’s interpretation of Yan Fu’s translation theory; correcting those previous misunderstandings and at the same time defend Yan Fu. Therefore, in certain aspects the text is fullfilling an informative function in that it is sharing the view of Professor Wong Kwok-Pung, but furthermore the text has a operational function in that it is arguing for the defense of Yan Fu’s translation theory and is attempting to convince its audience that Yan Fu has been misrepresented. It has then become apparent that he source text possesses a combination of two functions. It is important to point out that the audience for this text is very niche as it is an scholarly and theoretical text which contains classical Chinese prose even those with a university education will not necessarily be able to comprehend.

With regard to the function of the target text, the function is similar to that of the source text. The key difference is that it takes on more of an educative function. It intends to educate western scholars of translation through increasing their sensitivity to the on going Yan Fu debate among Chinese translation scholars. Consequently, the target text is content focused, therefore the ‘offer of information’ must be accurate in relation to the ‘offer of information’ in the source text (Nord :80). In order to ensure that the translator is able to effectively transfer this information accurately, it is recommended that a literal translation strategy is used providing it can reach a level of naturalness that guarantees clarity and the presentation of the ideas and understandings of a fairly complex translation theory. This important as presently there exists a diversity among the understandings of the main concepts that form the basis of the theory. At this moment there is a key difference between the source and target texts; the source text audience is limited by both style of writing (classical Chinese) and the actual contents. On the other hand, the target will be restricted only by its content and not by the writing style as it will be mainly plain English. Therefore it audience will be extended by a more reader friendly text. The target text is aiming to turn a complex source text into a target text that is much clearer

Strategies Used

I n this section the strategies used by the translator will be discussed. A functionalist approach, in particular the skopos theory will determine these strategies which applied in this translation. It has also been recognized that the text is both informative and operational. Therefore, a balance must be found between being highly content focused in which no loss of information can be accepted, but also ensure the function of text is achieved, the translator must render the text in so that it is readable and conforms to the target text language conventions.

Terminology Research

Dictionaries, glossaries and parallel texts provide a resource that allows vital terminology research. Dictionaries are a tool used by translators across the world. In this translation a number of dictionaries have been referenced; bilingual and monolingual – both modern and classic Chinese.

Bilingual dictionaries provide a comprehensive range of terms including examples in a number of contexts. Despite that, there are instances with certain terminology when the bilingual dictionary does not suffice. A monolingual dictionary is used in instances when the incompleteness and inconsistency of the bilingual dictionary mean that terminology cannot be referenced. A specialized ancient chinese dictionary was required in this translation as the source text contains substantial amounts of classical Chinese prose.

Dictionaries used

Due to the difficulty in dealing with sections of classical Chinese prose within the source text, It was unavoidable that the translator depend on the assistance of a specialists outside of the field of translation. Nord (1991:158-160) describes this as being a text-specific problem, which is one of the four translation problems, as the source was written by a specialist. Although the fact that area of specialization in the source text is translation, but the fact that it is a ‘technical text’ (1991:158-160) does still prove to be a problem. In terms of this translation, I sought the cooperation of a post graduate student from the University of Warwick who possessed an excellent knowledge of classical Chinese prose. He was able to help with difficulties in terminology and provide an evaluated opinion on the translated version of certain terms.


Omission is a strategy that is employed in instances when information is redundant and is non-beneficial to the function of the translation or the target reader. All forms of information must be able to make sense in the culture in which they exist. For example, the footnotes in the source text give reference to several Chinese authors and their work, all of which is in Chinese. I do not believe that supplying a translated version of these footnotes will provide any real support to the purpose of the text. Therefore, I have omitted all four of the footnotes which were present in the original. It is appreciated that some people believe the footnotes should be preserved in the translation and further explanatory information should accompany them. Despite this the decision to omit was made as the information was simply not significant enough to the target reader.


It is natural that the background knowledge of the source text audience and the target text audience may differ.  This means that the translator at times must employ strategies to either omit redundant or irrelevant information and also provide more information to supplement the the text in order to counteract the in balance in background knowledge, and in turn enable the target text reader to comprehend.

There are a number instances in which historical and culture points are referred to within the source text.  These points are crucial in the explanation of Wong’s standpoint and the understanding of Yan Fu’s theory. 

By providing supplementary information regarding those theoretical terms, historical and cultural references in the translation it ensures the English readers are able to understand.  In particular with the terms xin, da and ya which are used throughout the text.  It is very important to add supplementary explanations.  If these items are not made clear in the initial stages of the translation then they will lead to the reader being distracted which is detrimental to the development of the text.

Literal translation

Literal translation involves following closely the structure, form and lexical meanings of the source text. It is based converting text constructions into their target text equivalents. By translating each lexical word means they are often out of context in target text form. It allows for accuracy in the transfer of information that explains why many people have misunderstood Yan Fu’s ideas. The main issue with literal translation is that those implicit and contextual meanings are neglected. This could potentially be damaging to the effective transfer of information.


Source Text:


Target Text:

Due to the fact that Yan Fu himself did neither define nor explain in detail these three

characters immediately after proclaiming them, as a result it led to much subjective speculation and confusion.

In the example above a literal translation strategy has been implemented. The original forms and meanings have been preserved, or at least to some extent. In the first example, due to the fact that there is an equivalent available in the target text means the translation is straightforward. However, in the second example, to simply render the text in accordance with the source text would result in unnaturalness. As a result the it has been altered to conform with the target text norms.

As there is an evident inter-lingual difference between Chinese and English, there are instances in which it is not possible to translate literary. An attempt at literal translation will result in unnaturalness in the target language text. In my translation a number of pragmatic strategies have been employed, all of which promote naturalness and readability in the target text. Admittedly, accuracy may be sacrificed in order to ensure the target text audience are able understand and fully engage with the target text. There are a few examples below;

Example 1.01 Source Text: 割裂的手法

Literal Translation: Carving up technique

Target Text: Misrepresentation

Potential Alternative: Quote of context; garble his statement

Example 1.02 Source Text: GAP

Literal Translation: Eliminate

Target Text: Clear up

In the two examples above illustrates a certain loss in meaning. The source text expresses more strongly in a way that becomes unnatural in the target text. In the target text example 1.01 it shows a two version of translation. The translator had to decide not to use the ‘potential alternative’ because to a certain extent it seemed too toned down and neutral to truly represent the source text. The translator opted to use ‘misrepresentation’ as it is able to represent at least to some extent the strong connotation of the original. It is inevitable that strong connotation in the original is to be sacrificed in order to achieve naturalness in the target text. The next example (1.02) is a connotation similar to the previous example, but it was not possible to find an equivalent that possessed the same strong connotation as in the target text. The translator is left with no choice but sacrifice the connotation for a weaker, more natural target text equivalent. This kind of adaptation guarantees naturalness.

Example 1.03 Source Text: 順理成

Literal Translation: Following a logical chain of thought

Target Text: Reasonably

Potential Alternative: Naturally

Example 1.04 Source Text: 缘木求鱼

Literal Translation: climbing a tree to seek a fish.

Target Text: Fruitless approach

Potential Alternative: climbing a tree to seek a fish (a fruitless approach)

Although the two examples above (1.03 and 1.04) both can be translated literally, however, they seem to be too long-winded. The translation must conform to the norms of the target language. It is important to avoid any unnecessary unnaturalness that may be detrimental to the development of the target text. As the author’s intention is to defend Yan Fu’s theory, it is crucial that messages and meanings are transferred into the target text effectively.

Example 1.05 illustrates an example where a target version that strongly represents the meaning of the source is rejected due to its length and unnaturalness.

Source Text:


Rejected translation:

The use of certain methods specifically in accordance with the subject of the literary piece allows for enhanced cultural expression, faithfully expressing the real ideas and emotions of the original

Target Text:

An author’s writing allows for enhanced expression that should sincerely reflect his thoughts and emotions

In-text reference

As the name suggests, it is the providing of extra information within the text itself. It is a strategy used to explain a term that is alien to the readership such as “Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist Party)” or simply assist them in comprehending the text. In the translation this strategy was not used often as it confuses the reader, especially in theoretical based text.

Syntactical Convention

The syntactic structure of Chinese and English are different. In terms of this translation, this means that alterations to the sequencing elements of the source text so that it reads naturally in the target language. An example of the changes that need to be made is shown below;

Source Text:


Literal Transaltion:

The fact is that with original texts which contain abstruse contents and are written in the terse and allusive language, to use the lexicon and sentence structure of pre-Han Dynasty proves better in expressing the original texts.

Target Text:

The fact is that the lexicon and sentence structures of pre-Han Dynasty prose prove to better express original texts which contain abstruse contents and are written in the terse and allusive language.

The underlined part of each example highlights the change in structure. The text must function as an informative or educative and present an argument, in order to achieve this, the above adaptation has been made to emphasize readability.

The next example below demonstrates the problems with complex sentence structures. To allow the reader to understand the target text modification is inevitable.

Source Text:


Literal Translation:

Naturally, Yan Fu’s demands of using ‘lexicon and sentence structure of pre-Han Dynasty prose’ in carrying out translation, furthermore the belief that it can achieve da, today it seems unthinkable, but if we look at this problem from a historical point of view then we wouldn’t feel that there was any inappropriateness at all.

Target Text:

Naturally, today when we look back on Yan Fu’s belief of using ‘lexicon and sentence structure of pre-Han Dynasty prose’ to achieving da, it seems to be unimaginable. However, if we look at this problem from a historical point of view then we wouldn’t feel that there was any inappropriateness at all.

The lengthy sentence in the example above has not only been divided into two separate units or sentences, but also the order of the units have been rearranged for it to make sense.

Elsewhere, in Chinese the subjects are often unexpressed and the object can also occasionally be omitted. In particular, these instances occur more frequently in classical Chinese. It is left to the reader to determine the subject and object in any given sentence which can prove ambiguous. When rendering the text it is important the object or subject is inserted into the translated text to allow the reader to understand. This is shown in example 1.07 where the object is inserted in square brackets to ensure the reader is not confused. The channels that communicate the message of the original should be kept clear and concise.


The source does not only contain a number of paragraphs from Yan Fu’s original translation preface, the author also quotes on a number of occasions throughout his text. This means the task of translation becomes extremely difficult because the context changes slightly. The initial issue is that it is was not possible to translate the sections of classical Chinese literally, furthermore, as it was very important to make clear the original meanings in these sections as Wong bases his essay on them, the translation strategy adopted was loyal to the meanings and had to presented be clear, concise and natural in the target language. It is for this reason that literal translation was not possible. However, the problem arose when these translations had to fit into Wong’s main texts that were written in mainly in modern Chinese. Example 1.05 demonstrates that in the original classical Chinese it does contain the word ‘meaning’, but it is left out because it is not necessary in the context of the whole passage. As Wong quotes this line in a separate instance the ‘meaning’ is then required. In this instance the translator must use an in-text reference and not change the structure of the quotation in order to remain consistent. If a translation shows inconsistency then the reader will be confused.

Example 1.05

Source Text: 意义则不倍本æ-‡

Translated Passage of Classical Chinese: provided that the translation does not contradict of the original

Quotation from the Passage in Main Text: provided that the translation does not contradict [the meaning] of the original)


Footnotes are used to provide additional information that is necessary to further explain certain terms or concepts in the text. They are usually employed when the supplementary information needed is too long to provide a parenthetical reference. It must be noted that footnotes should be used minimally to avoid distracting the reader in a way which will negatively influence the development of the text. As Baker states, unnecessary addition of information will only lower the readability of the text (1992:40). This translation uses footnotes to enable the reader to understand the source text. In other words they ensure the reader maintains connected with the text. For example to present an alien term without giving a supplementary explanation to the reader leads them to be unable to maintain their connection with the text. In this text there are instances when footnotes are employed to make the target text clearer in areas in which the author of the source text has failed, example on page XX of the translation the translator uses footnotes to explain the term ‘expression of intention’ which is one of the main elements of Yan Fu’s theory.

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The original author has not made much effort to make the chunks of classical Chinese prose more comprehendible to someone who does not understand this form of ancient Chinese. By doing this the author expresses that he wishes his text to function only among a very niche audience, I mean Wong could have provided a modern Chinese version of those sections. In the translation, the use of clear, plain English eradicates this potential restriction on its audience. The translated text intends to be accessible to all those who have interest in or understanding of the theoretical content of the original. Therefore, in a way the translation extends the influence of the original.

In addition footnotes are used to counteract the lack of shared background knowledge between the source and target audience. The strategy shown below is an example of contextual amplification in which items, which source readers take for granted and that target readers do not understand, are explained.

Example 1

On Page XX an explanation of the Tong


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