18 June 2010

TSR: Hans J Vermeer

Maybe I'm missing something, but this piece, "Skopos and commission in translational action", seems to be a glaring example of dressing up the bleeding obvious in long words.

Vermeer seems to have developed his theory of skopos and commission over a long time. I'll try to explain it.

Translation is a specific kind of translational action - which I think is similar to the concept of refraction. An action is defined as behaviour that has an aim or purpose, and Vermeer calls that a skopos. (He says "skopos is a technical term for the aim or purpose of a translation" - dodgy use of the word "technical" there, I think - he's claiming a shared use of something he is essentially proposing as a technical term.)

The skopos for any particular translation is negotiated with the client who commissions the translation. Thus, the commission may specify that the translation is intended to show how the source language works, for example, or may give as an aim to entertain. The translation strategy adopted by the translator will depend on the skopos defined in the commission. This is why we shouldn't expect all translations to be the same.

So, what it amounts to is this: translation strategy depends on the intended purpose of the translation. I really don't think you need to have recourse to "technical" terms.

But have I missed something? The middle part of the essay raises and disposes of some objections to the theory. Basically the objections are that works of literature and/or translations don't necessarily have a purpose, so aren't actions, and can't have a skopos. It seems like an unnecessary discussion. A more serious objection might be that the choice of skopos is itself part of the translation process, and so translation theory needs to discuss and account for it.

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