The Name and Nature of Translation Studies by James S. Holmes

The Name and Nature of Translation Studies is the title of a paper by James S. Holmes who is considered to be the founder of translation studies as an independent field of study and coined the name of ‘Translation Studies’ for the field. Before that, the translation was considered a sub-branch of linguistics and didn’t have any names by its own and different scholars were using different titles to refer to this field. But now, thanks to James Holmes, we have a name for our field of study.

Holmes, a Netherlands-based scholar, draws attention to the limitations imposed at the time for this discipline, this paper generally accepted as the founding statement for the field. Gideon Toury developed a framework and a famous Map found in Jeremy Munday’s Introducing Translation Studies Book. Some versions of the figure (such as Toury’s) omit the branch on translation policy, which is nevertheless explicitly listed in the article itself.

This article is a part of a series of articles we are doing on Introducing Translation Studies and is the summary of the paper James Holmes originally wrote.

Introducing Translation Studies - The Name and Nature of Translation Studies by James Holmes

Summary of The Name and Nature of Translation Studies

After centuries of random and desultory attention from a scattering of authors, philologists, and literary scholars, and theologians or idiosyncratic linguists, the subject of translation has enjoyed an increase in interest on the part of scholars (particularly from the adjacent fields of linguistics, linguistic philosophy, and literary studies) in recent years, with the Second World War as a kind of turning point. Each of them carrying with them paradigms, quasi-paradigms, models, and methodologies that they felt could be brought to bear on this new problem.

scholars are not even so much agreed on the very name for the new field and there are lots of disagreement between scholars on different aspects of this field.

A reason for such a disagreement is the lack of communication channel. Papers and articles about this discipline get published in different and scattered areas of knowledge and scholarly journals.

One other main reason is the lack of a name [as a channel of communication] for this discipline. Throughout years, various names got used for this discipline. The most recent and appealing names were ‘theory of translation’ and ‘science of translation’ (used by Nida, not for entire discipline, but for one aspect of Process of translation). But science is not appropriate, especially in literature. We can think of ‘Translation Studies’ to be a good title in English and choosing this name can eliminate confusion and misunderstanding.

Another obscurity in developing this field is the lack of any general consensus on the scope and structure of the discipline. ‘translation studies’ is, as no one I suppose would deny, an empirical discipline. Such disciplines have often been pointed out, have two major objectives, which Carl G. Hempel has phrased as “to describe particular phenomena in the world of our experience and to establish general principles by means of which they can be explained and predicted.” As a field of pure research, that is to say, research pursued for its own sake, quite apart from any direct practical application outside its own terrain, translation studies thus has two main objectives: (1) to describe the phenomena of translating and translation(s) as they manifest themselves in the world of our experience, and (2) to establish general principles by means of which these phenomena can be explained and predicted.

Pure Side

Descriptive Translation Studies (DTS) or Translation Description (TD):

  • Product-Oriented DTS: that area of research which describes existing translations. A second phase is that of comparative translation description, in which comparative analyses are made of various translations of the same text, either in a single language or in various languages. such descriptive surveys can also be larger in scope, diachronic as well as (approximately) synchronic, and one of the eventual goals of product-oriented DTS might possibly be a general history of translation.
  • Function-Oriented DTS: interested in the description of translations’ function in the recipient socio-cultural situation: it is a study of contexts rather than texts. It concerns where what and when something got translated and what were their influences. Greater emphasis on it could lead to the development of a field of translation sociology.
  • Process-Oriented DTS: concerns itself with the process or act of translation itself – The problem of what exactly takes place in the “little black box” of the translator’s “mind” when translating. psychologists have developed and are developing highly sophisticated methods for analyzing and describing other complex mental processes, and it is to be hoped that in future this problem, too, will be given closer attention, leading to an area of study that might be called translation psychology or psycho-translation studies.

Theoretical Translation Studies (ThTS) or Translation Theory (TTh)

This branch is interested in using the results of descriptive translation studies, in combination with the information available from related fields and disciplines, to evolve principles, theories, and models which will serve to explain and predict what translating and translations are and will be. The ultimate goal of the translation theorist in the broad sense must be to develop a full, inclusive theory accommodating so many elements, that it can serve to explain and predict all phenomena falling within the terrain of translating and translation, to the exclusion of all phenomena falling outside it. Most of theories to date are either so much ‘general’ or too ‘specific’. [By general, Holmes is referring to those writings that seek to describe or account for every type of translation (one example is Gideon Toury’s General ‘laws’ of Translation) and to make generalizations that will be relevant for translation as a whole.] Partial theories can be grouped into six categories:

  • Medium-restricted theories: concerns with the medium of translation. Weather translation is done by a machine or a human, or human alone or machine-aided?
  • Area-restricted theories: this can be two types; restricted to language, or culture with varying degrees. This restriction can be language pair, language group, language group pair, one culture, culture pair, one cultural group, cultural group pair. Language-restricted theories have close affinities with the work being done in comparative linguistics and stylistics. It is moreover no doubt true that some aspects of theories that are presented as general in reality pertain only to the Western cultural area
  • Rank-restricted theories: theories that deal with discourses or texts as wholes, but concern themselves with lower linguistic ranks or levels. Traditionally, a great deal of writing on translation was concerned almost entirely with the rank of the word, and the word and the word group are still the ranks at which much terminologically-oriented thinking about scientific and technological translation takes place. Most linguistically-oriented research, on the other hand, has until very recently taken the sentence as its upper-rank limit, largely ignoring the macro-structural aspects of entire texts as translation problems.
  • text-type (or discourse-type) restricted theories: dealing with the problem of translating specific types or genres of lingual messages. In recent years some effort has been made to develop a specific theory for the translation of scientific texts.
  • time-restricted theories: fall into two types: theories regarding the translation of contemporary texts, and theories having to do with the translation of texts from an older period (which can be called ross-temporal translation with much disagreement among theorists)
  • problem-restricted theories: theories which confine themselves to one or more specific problems within the entire area of general translation theory.

Theories can frequently be restricted in more than one way. I should like to turn to that branch of the discipline which is, in Bacon’s words, “of use” rather than “of light”: applied translation studies.

The Name and Nature of Translation Studies by James Holmes - Pure Map

The Pure side of the translation studies map

Applied Side

First area relating to applied translation studies is teaching. Teaching translating is of two types. One, translating has been used for centuries as a technique in foreign-language teaching and a test of foreign-language acquisition. Second, translating is taught in schools and courses to train professional translators. This second situation has raised a number of questions that have to do primarily with teaching methods, testing techniques, and curriculum planning (or design).

A second area has to do with the needs for translation aids. These needs fall into two categories: (1) lexicographical and terminological aids and (2) grammars.

The third area of applied translation studies is that of translation policy. The task of the translation scholar in this area is to render informed advice to others in defining the place and role of translators, translating, and translations in society at large: questions as determining what works need to be translated in a given socio-cultural situation, what the social and economic position of the translator is and should be, or what part translating should play in the teaching and learning of foreign languages [Chesterman notes: the tone here seems to be prescriptive].

Another area of applied translation studies is translation criticism. Closer contact between translation scholars and translation critics could do a great deal to reduce the intuitive element to a more acceptable level.

the relation between these three branches (descriptive, theoretical, applied) is a dialectical one, with each of the three branches supplying materials for the other two, and making use of the findings which they in turn provide it. the needs of a given moment may vary, attention to all three branches is required if the discipline is to grow.

in each of the three branches, there are two dimensions that I have not mentioned, dimensions having to do with the study, not of translating and translations, but of translation studies itself. One of these dimensions is historical: there is a field of the history of translation theory, also one of the history of translation description and of applied translation studies (largely a history of translation teaching and translator training). Likewise, there is a dimension that might be called the methodological or meta-theoretical, concerning itself with problems of what methods and models can best be used in research in the various branches of the discipline, and also devoting its attention to such basic issues as what the discipline itself comprises.

This paper has made a few explorations into the first of these two dimensions, but all in all it is meant to be a contribution to the second. It does not ask above all for agreement. Translation studies has reached a stage where it is time to examine the subject itself.

The Applied side of the translation studies map

Some notes on The Name and Nature of Translation Studies

Munday: the divisions in the maps as a whole are artificial and influence each other. An expansion of applied side of the map can be like this which encompasses recent advances. Holmes himself wanted to overcome the split between theory and practice of the discipline.

Toury: There should be a discourse-type restricted theory too.

Pym: Holmes map omits any individuality of style, decision making and practice of translation. Pym points to the absence of historical research on the map.

Some scholars think that Holmes should not include interpreting as a subcategory of translation in medium restricted theories.

Lambert: the map should have given more weight to contextual and pragmatic factors. Snell-Hornby: argued that the categories of “partial”, restricted studies are outdated, and proposed a different kind of map.

Gile: points out several problems concerning the “descriptive” category: applied research can also be descriptive.

Basil Hatim and Jeremy Munday: Holmes mapped out the new field like a science, dividing it into ‘pure’ Translation Studies and ‘applied’ studies which more priority is afforded to the ‘pure’ side.

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Introducing Translation Studies - Theories and Applications by Jeremy Munday Book Cover

This article is a part of a series we started on Introducing Translation Studies by Jeremy Munday. For more summaries and more elaborations on subjects of this book, please refer to the portal.

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