Can Theory Help Translators? Should Theory Help Translators? Why/Why not?
Theory is an English word came originally from the word theoria in Greek according to Oxford English Dictionary website (2016). One of its definition is: “A set of principles on which the practice of an activity is based” (OED Online, 2016). Therefore, translation theory can be defined as the set of principles on which the practice of translation is based. According to the previous definition I am going to explain three main translation theories with their advantages and disadvantages. I will also highlight the benefits of these three theories to translators. Although translators can translate without any knowledge of the theories and sometimes while not knowing them, they can work faster because they are not wasting time thinking about complex matters according to Pym (2014), it is still very important to study the theories in my opinion. The reasons for that is what I am going to discuss by explaining Nida’s theory in equivalence first, then Reiss theory and the three types of texts, and last Vermeer’s skopos theory.
According to Nida (1964), there are two types of equivalence in translation. One is the formal equivalence and the other is the dynamic equivalence. He explained that on one hand, the formal equivalence should be as much as possible close to the source text in terms of form and content. On the other hand, Nida explained that the dynamic equivalence should have the same impact on the target audience within the frames of their culture as the source text have for its audience in their culture in the most natural way.
One of the main disadvantages of Nida’s theory in dynamic equivalence specifically is how exactly possible for two texts with different languages in different period of time to have the same impact for its audience according to Panou (2013) in expressing Broeck thoughts about Nida’s theory. Although, Nida’s theory has disadvantages, it is still a very important theory because it brought to the light the importance of the target audience expectations with their culture according to Panou (2013). Therefore, it is clearly an important theory for translators because it helps them determine the appropriate target text for suitable audience and translate accordingly. A clear example of that is what Jaber Alshammari (2015) shows in his study of translating Arabic proverbs into English. One of his example was the Arabic proverb: “Ahl makka adra bi shi’abaha”. The formal equivalence would be “The people of Makkah know their own streets best” as Alshammari translated it. He also gave a dynamic equivalence for the same Arabic proverb which was “Know something like the back of your hand” as translated in his study. This proverb means that the people who are living in a place knows their own place better. In my opinion, I would choose the formal equivalence if the text that contains this proverb supposed to be for Muslims their native language is English on one hand. On the other hand, if the target audience is more generic like if it is for English speakers regardless of their religion I would choose the dynamic equivalence. The reason for choosing these options is that the city of Makkah is where Muslims from all around the world do their pilgrimage. It is wildly known that any visitor can get lost easily in the city of Makkah if he was not careful and that explains the proverb. It also shows why not choosing to translate this proverb formally for general English speakers. Because even if they heard of the city, they mostly would not know that any visitor can get lost easily there. Therefore, they would not be able to understand the meaning of the proverb clearly. While if translating it dynamically, they will be able to grasp a little bit of the meaning behind the proverb.
The above mentioned example shows how important is the theory of equivalence to translators. Otherwise, they might just translate the proverb formally for all types of audience which will cause confusion for non-Muslims. Or translate the proverb dynamically for all audience as well which will not give the Muslims a chance to have a glimpse of the cultural background of the proverb.
Another important theory is Reiss theory and the three types of text. According to Reiss (2014), there are three types of text in which each one has its way of translating. One is the informative text like news reports which is content focused. Another one is the expressive text like literary works which is form focused. Last one is the operative text like preaching which is appeal focused. But why there is only three types of texts. Why not adding another text type which function is phatic according to Munday (2016). This was one of the criticisms that Reiss theory’s received. Although the theory was heavily criticized, it is still an important theory according to Munday (2016) because it shows the importance of the communicative function in translation. One of the examples is how the expressive verses of one of Al-Mutanabbi’s poems was translated by Ibrahim Al-Mumaiaz.
The original text transliterated by using English Alphabetic:
“alrray qabl shajaeat alshshujeani
hu ‘awwal wahi fi almahall althani
fa’iitha huma ajtamaea linafs marrtan
balaghat min alealya’ kl makani”
The translated text by Ibrahim Al-Mumaiaz (2006):
“Courage to reason second place must take
For valour should not balanced judgment shake
But if both in a hard soul united are
Then Glory?s realms their own demesne shall make”
The above example shows clearly the importance of Reiss theory especially for expressive text. The reason for that is because the translator manages to keep the form and the style as in the original text as the method of translating expressive text stated. He kept the first, second, and fourth verse with one rhythm as in the original poem and excluded the third one. It is clearly shown in the last word of each verse in the original text: “alshshujeani, althani, makani”. They all end with “ni” as a rhythmic sound. Also, in the target text: “take, shake, make” as a one rhythmic end. One of the benefits which the translator gains by translating according to Reiss theory is to back up his way of translating. If he was asked why did you excluded the third verse from the rhythmic form? He will be able to answer clearly that is to reserve the original style of the poet as Reiss theory suggested.