Purpose in Practice: what do you want to do with your translation?

What is translation purpose? Most common definitions would agree that the purpose of translation is to “convey the original tone and intent of a message, taking into account cultural and regional differences between source and target languages” (Globalization and Localization Association), but how does this reflect the relationship between translator and client in practice?

“Skopos” is a Greek word for “aim” or “purpose” that was introduced into translation theory in the 1970s by Hans Vermeer. This went on to become the technical term for translation purpose and the act of translating for that purpose. It refers to the understanding that each text is produced for a given purpose and as such should be translated in a way that enables it to function in the situation in which it is used, with the people who want to use and in the way they intend it to function. Translators create texts for clients who may be around the corner, in the same city or on the other side of the world, but these clients are not always good at communicating with translators in terms of explaining what they want or need when asking for a translation (sometimes they don’t actually know themselves!).

So in terms of translation purpose, the most important and basic question it seems is: what is it that you want to do with your translation? The second most important aspect to consider is how will a translator help you achieve your purpose?

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Interpreters and culture: a close knit relationship

As any language professional knows, language is inextricably linked to culture. An interpreter needs to have knowledge and understanding of both to communicate across cultures. This includes knowledge of norms and idioms that can often be deeply culturally bound. For example if an Australian says, “no worries, it’s a piece of cake”, they are not offering to make you a cake, they are actually saying that something is easy. Or if someone says you are “on the ball”, they don’t mean literally, they mean that you are energetic, organised, attentive and knowledgeable. How would you render that in another language? One of the greatest challenges for interpreters is conveying terms and expressions that are so culturally bound that they don’t exist in the other language. It is in such cases that

“interpreters do far more than bridge language gaps. They enable people from extremely different cultures to understand each other” (Found in Translation p.20).

So how do interpreters navigate culture and cultural differences? Read more