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.