Contemporary Western Translation


青年生活 2020年12期


Abstract:The Beginning of Contemporary Western Translation is marked by the World War II, after which translation study has undergone unprecedented changes and developments embodied as the emerging of new translation paradigms and methods. During this period translation begun to develop to an independent discipline including five main schools, namely American Translation Training School, Linguistic School, Early Translation Study School, Poly-system School and Deconstruction School (Gentzler 2004). This article will discuss the features of modern western translation and five main schools, followed by analysis as well as latest expectations toward future development.

Keywords:Contemporary Western Translation; Features Translation; Translation Schools


Translation used to be only a single linear cultural activity, but after the World War II it has increasingly becoming a tool for communication, the exchange and communication between western countries in various fields such as literature, art, science, technology, politics and economy. It is during this period that translation became an independent subject. The Name and Nature of Translation Studies is regarded as the declaration of the establishment of translatology, followed by Culture Turn of Susan Susan Bassnett and Andre Lefevere. This essay will give a brief introduction about contemporary western translation.



This school overthrows many traditional translation manifestations, and raises questions about the nature and definition of translation, which believes that the translation training course can enhance students knowledge and understanding of literature, language and interpretation, thus improving their translation skills and level through the exchange of translation experience. For example, Jonans Zdanys proposed the premise of establishing a translation training course; Richards studied the decoding-encoding mode of translation; Pound put forward the theory of detail translation; Weir paid more attention to the contradiction of translation.


Catford discusses the nature, types, methods, conditions and limits of translation from the perspective of systemic functional grammar for the first time, and uses the linguistic concepts like hierarchy, category and hierarchy to discuss the basis of interlingual conversion, proposing that translation equivalence refers to discourse equivalence and functional equivalence, which opens up a new way for translation theory research. Wells (based on descriptive linguistics and generative grammar) proposed that translation should be a cognitive, explanatory and associative science. Mary Snell Hornby put forward the concept of “prototypology”—the latest achievements in translation studies at that time, which is a kind of Gestalt-like system with fuzzy edges and more generality. He also proposed a very complicated layer mode, which includes multiple vertical and horizontal planes and evolves from the general level to the special level.

This school pays attention to linguistic interpretation and explanation toward Translation. A typical example is the five steps of translation proposed by the American Structural School from the perspective of language. Besides, Leipzig School studies translation theory with the help of Chomskys transformational generative grammars transformational rules of deep & surface structure and semiotic concepts. In addition, the Communicative Theory School, the Russian Language School, Hallidays Systemic Functional Grammar, Bloomfields Structural Linguistics, Prague School, London School and Sal School all interpret the translation process from the linguistic perspective.


This school takes the translation of literary works as its research object and emphasizes the literariness reflected by the superficial structural features of the works. Translation studies should extend from the narrow internal relationship between the original text and the translated text to the external one, that is, social and historical factors. The founder Holmes believed that the focus of translation research should be on the relationship between two literary self-sufficiency namely the translated text and the original text and the relationship between the translated text and the translated culture, rather than the traditional equivalence or faithfulness. Andre Lefevere claimed that the object of translation research is translation itself. Translation should be based on the meta-scientific development view, changing the focus of translation research, understanding more clearly the translation process, and then a (dynamic) comprehensive theory for guiding the production of translation will be established. Susan Bassnett regarded the two-level relationship between the original and the translated text as the bond between men and women, and opposes to view the original and the translated text as the dominant vs. subordinate. It is believed that translation should be bidirectional and the translator can exert subjectivity to achieve functional equivalence with the original.


The “Poly-system” school was founded by Even Zohar and studied the connection of literature within the system, that is, there are always major and minor literary systems in a certain culture, with elegant literature occupying the main position among them. If translated literature takes over a secondary role in a nation, the translator often needs to sacrifice the form of the original and tries his best to keep the translation consistent with the current standards of the target culture. The relationship between translated works and Poly-system cannot be simply divided into primary or secondary, but it is variable, which depends on the specific conditions of operation within the literary system. The advantages of Poly-system theory lie in leaving room for self-expansion, linking the study of literature with that of social and economic factors. Gideon Toury studied the cultural constraints of translation choices. Its theoretical center is "translation criteria", namely, primary, initial and operational criteria that affect stages of translation process.

The study of translation from poly-theoretical perspectives places translation in a broader space, paying attention to the relationship between literature within the system and the restrictive laws of culture on translation. This paradigm emphasizes that translation is a kind of cross-linguistic, cross-cultural and cross-social communication activity. The process of translation is the procedure of seeking functional equivalence in the target language, and translators role lies in being faithful to the source language in meaning and function as far as possible.


Deconstructionists believe that the structure and meaning of the text are uncertain and difficult to grasp, therefore they oppose the traditional views of translation: the polarization between the original text and the target text in translation; the master-servant like relationship between source text and target text; rather they believe that the original text and the translated text are in an interdependent symbiotic relationship. This school advocates a dialectical, dynamic and developmental philosophical view of translation. The purpose of translation is not to pursue equivalence or identity, but to pay more attention to the relationship between the original text and the translated text and the role of the latter under specific historical conditions. The emergence of deconstruction theory has fully affirmed the importance of translators and the necessity of giving full play to their subjective initiative, thus setting apart a space for creative translation. However, it is of strong negative sense and ignorance of the guidance of theory to practice. When advocating freeing the translator and the translated text, objective and effective standards of translators understanding and the measurement of the translated text are lost, which shows the limitations.


Translation as an independent subject can be viewed in the following aspects: First, The Name and Nature of Translation by James Holmes announced the establishment of translation discipline. The most important aspect of translation as a discipline is its theoretical construction, which leads translation to a systematic subject. During this period, various of translation theories emerged, such as Descriptive Translation proposed by Holmes, Poly-system by Even Zohar, Domestication vs Foreignization by Lawrence Venuti, Skopos theorie by Hans Vermeer. etc., all of which enriched the theoretical framework and laid a solid foundation for translations development toward an independent subject. Besides, the construction of theories also helps to eliminate doubts toward the scientific nature of translation. Second, domestic and abroad universities have applied translation in higher education, which is indeed an important symbol to measure whether a research is disciplinary or not. It has created favorable environment to the orderly training of translation theory talents So that that train and the trained have clear train objectives and development directions in mind. In the process of further development of translation theory, it is bound to play an important and lasting role in promoting. It is because the sound development of translation promoted the establishment of translation degree, and in return this reinforced translation development.

In terms of translation theory, the research focus shifted from reciprocity or equivalence to a cultural and social perspective. For example, Finnish famous scholar Yves Gambier put forward the shift from traditional equivalence to cultural paradigm. As for translation practice, the most distinct development is machine translation. Since American scientist Weaver and British engineer Booth put forward the idea of automatic language translation by computer, machine translation has not stopped developing. In the late 1970s, machine translation began to become practical. A series of practical machine translation systems such as EURPOTRA multilingual translation system, Weinder and TAUM-METEO have appeared successively. Looking at the latest development, Google introduced Google Recurrent Neural Machine Translation in in 2016; Facebook launched a language translation model—convolutional neural network in 2017; and today Artificial Intelligence is applied in translation, which has greatly promoted the efficiency of translation practice. The progress made in machine translation is obvious and it will go further definitely. Of course, the role of translators is indispensable due to the culture factors discussed in last part. Therefore, the future expectation of translation will be the mode of human-machine coupling.


Contemporary western translation has developed a relatively mature system with generally accepted five schools and corresponding paradigms. As translation developed to an independent discipline, it actually has been keeping relations with social and cultural factors at the same time. School studies help scholars to clarify the development process of translation theory, while “paradigm” provides a framework for translation research methods. The combination of theory and paradigm is of help to a more scientific, objective and flexible study of translation and cross-disciplines research, thus developing further and wider.


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