Functions in Translation

What is the nature of translation? The nature of translation is akin to the nature of language itself. The function of translation – like language – is to communicate. The general over-riding function of translation is communicative. This should always be at the fore-front of our minds. Therefore theories of translation should mirror theories of language. In this respect, we can look at linguistics and the functions of language put forward by two well-known linguists – Karl Buhler (1934) and Roman Jakobson (1960).

Karl Buhler put forward three functions of language: (1) representational – referring to objects in the real world; (2) expressive – referring to the writer of the text; (3) conative – referring to the reader of the text.

Jakobson took Buhler’s three functions but expanded on them to give us six linguistic functions: (1) referential – referring to objects in the real world; (2) expressive – referring to the writer of the text; (3) conative – referring to the reader of the text; (4) phatic – where the function of language is to establish, maintain, prolong or discontinue communication; (5) metalinguistic – referring to when the text is focused on the code itself; (6) poetic – when the text is focused on the message for its own sake.

The translator’s task is not only to transfer a message from one culture to another but to assess the functions of both the original and translated text and assess the level of functional equivalence between the two.

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16 Responses to “Functions in Translation”

  1. Łukasz Says:

    Granted, while translating one has to bear in mind the fact that functional equivalence is also vital, but to my mind in many cases it’s almost impossible to join the two( cultural and functional aspect). Therefore, in my view, it is necessary to strike the right balance. One should probably assess which of the two aspects is more important and beneficial in a particular instance. Obviously a “makeshift and rough taxonomy” can be given in advance, namely, the functional equivalence is very important when it comes to poetry and literary texts, whereas the transfer of a message is more important in rather informative texts such as scientific or journalistic ones.

  2. transubstantiation Says:

    “Granted, while translating one has to bear in mind the fact that functional equivalence is also vital”

    The above list are FUNCTIONS of language, thus, in short all the points above are sub-categories of a much larger functional equivalence.

  3. Pawel Suwara Says:

    “The general over-riding function of translation is communicative. This should always be at the fore-front of our minds.”

    I fully agree with this one. When I translate or interpret something I don’t fully understand, then I usually just summarize in some way, just to let the reader learn just what the tet is about.

  4. Emma Says:

    “The translator’s task is not only to transfer a message from one culture to another but to assess the functions of both the original and translated text and assess the level of functional equivalence between the two.”
    I totally agree with this sentence. Sometimes you read something and you know straight away that it’s a translation… the sentences are awkward, words are weird and by this I think the function of the text is lost… We really should do our best when we translate.

  5. transubstantiation Says:

    “Sometimes you read something and you know straight away that it’s a translation… the sentences are awkward, words are weird and by this I think the function of the text is lost…”

    Yes. Moreover, we might suggest even that the function is not, in fact, ‘lost’ but altered, perverted or distorted.

  6. Agnieszka Krysztofik Says:

    Surely, each translation should communicate the meaning of the original to the target readers and all the translators should aim at achieving the communicative function of their translations and have the target readers in mind as it is they who are the recipients of the message of the original. All the translators mediate between the author and the target readers therefore they bear the responsibility of rendering the content of the original as faithfully as possible and preserving the communicative function in the target text. Finding an appropriate functional eqivalent is, undoubtedly, of high significance, however, it is not always possible as languages and cultures differ.

  7. transubstantiation Says:

    Functional equivalence vs. Communicative equivalence

    Is there such a difference?

  8. Marta Zawilska Says:

    ‘The translator’s task is not only to transfer a message from one culture to another but to assess the functions of both the original and translated text and assess the level of functional equivalence between the two.’

    I fully agree with the concluding sentence of the article. Before we translate, we should try to think what the author of the source text had in mind when writing his or her text. Therefore, we should translate the text’s function, and not only the words that comprise the source text. Although it’s not always possible, we should at least try to get into the target readers’ minds, and try to see if our translation will fulfill the same functions as the source text. Obviously, it’s not feasible to aptly predict the target reader’s reaction to the target text every time, but we should with no doubt give it a thought. Neither is it always possible to guess the author’s intentions, but again – one should definitely try.

    The second issue described in the article that I agree with is that translation is like language itself. When translating, one should attempt at reflecting as many language functions as possible.

  9. Marta Says:

    It is interesting that the function of both the language and translation is communication. In my opinion the linguistic functions by Buhler and Jakobson are very helpful for translators, since they tell them what they should pay attention to when they are translating a text.

  10. transubstantiation Says:

    Any theory that gives us a little more insight into the ‘art’ of translation must surely help…

  11. Iza S. Says:

    ‘The translator’s task is not only to transfer a message from one culture to another but to assess the functions of both the original and translated text and assess the level of functional equivalence between the two.’ I fully agree with this conclusion, the translator in order to translate the text must try to understand it as well as possible and then write it in the target language. A creation of some equivalent to language-specific word plays found in the original text is possible, even though if there is a need for choosing words which are not the literal equivalents of the words found in the original text. Communication between cultures becomes more efficacious if its participants have a wide knowledge of each other’s cultural factors and peculiarities. Moreover, according to Venuti: “… an important aspect in translating literature is that translated texts can be influential in the construction of national identities for foreign cultures.” The translator in order to create a good translation have to transfer a given message from one culture to another, assess the functions of the original and translated text, assess the level of functional equivalence between source and target language and also the translator have to get a deeper knowledge about a foreign culture.

  12. transubstantiation Says:

    The Venuti quotation is absolutely spot on. Agreed.

  13. Anna Araszkiewicz Says:

    One of the most important things in translation is to translate in such a way that the translated text conveys the message the original does but in a way it is communicative and sounds good to its reader, because “the function of translation (…) is to communicate”. Therefore translators do not have to focus on the original text so much and they cannot translate word by word. Their task is to understand what the original text is about and write it in the target language, making it as communicative to the target reader as possible.
    Actually the most important information is contained in the last (very clever!) sentence:“The translator’s task is not only to transfer a message from one culture to another but to assess the functions of both the original and translated text and assess the level of functional equivalence between the two.” – I totally agree and I’ll bear it in mind whenever translating!

  14. transubstantiation Says:

    The point is that assessing functional equivalence is actually the most difficult task for the translator.

  15. Marzena Says:

    I agree with the author. The translation should mainly be communicative and comprehensible for readers. It is also important to convey by the text main funcions of the language including also the context and style.


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