4.1 Semantic vs communicative translation part 1
Translator scholar Mona Baker explains how interest in translation is practically as old as human civilisation, and that there is a vast body of literature on the subject which dates back at least to Cicero in the first century BC (2001, p. 277). Baker also highlights, however, that the academic discipline of Translation Studies is relatively young, only a few decades old, and that although translation has been used and studied in academic environments in the past (e.g. comparative literature or contrastive linguistics), ‘it was not until the second half of the twentieth century that scholars began to discuss the need to conduct systematic research on translation and to develop coherent theories of translation’ (2001, p. 277).
Translation studies brings together work from a wide variety of other academic fields, including linguistics, literary theory, communication theory, history, anthropology, psychology, philosophy and cultural studies.
In this section you are going to do a translation activity, but first you will familiarise yourself with a key concept in translation theory that will help you to understand some of the challenges of translation.
The key concept in translation theory that we will focus on is the concept of equivalence. When you translate a text into another language, can you say that the two are equivalent? Or, to say it another way, when you translate a text, are you simply replacing the word in the source language by the ‘equivalent’ word in the target language? Scholars have grappled with these question, and offered several ways to understand the notion of equivalence, and indeed, some have also questioned the idea of equivalence itself, arguing that thinking of translation in these narrow terms reduces translation merely to a linguistic exercise (replacing words in one language by their equivalent in another) rather than taking into account the cultural context in which the translation takes place, the type of text and its purpose, who has commissioned the translation and the needs of the audience of the translated text, among other issues.