METM14 plenary talk

Localising functionalism for a “global” audience


Christiane Nord

University textbooks, particularly in linguistics and translation studies, often include a large number of examples intended to illustrate hypotheses, arguments or technical terms. The examples are usually chosen from what the authors assume to be their audience’s linguistic, cultural and general knowledge, because they think – and rightly so – that an example works best if it activates the reader’s previous knowledge.

Translators very often lack the courage to make the same kind of choice – they prefer to (faithfully!) “translate” the examples provided in the original, adding an explanation or a footnote, but failing to achieve the “eye-opening” effect of a good example.

In this presentation I illustrate this thesis using two translations of the seminal work on functionalism in translation, Grundlegung einer allgemeinen Translationstheorie, co-authored by Katharina Reiss and Hans J. Vermeer: Fundamentos para una teoría funcional de la traducción, Madrid 1996, and Towards a General Theory of Translational Action, Manchester 2013.

Both translations are addressing a “global” readership, which is not limited to native speakers of Spanish or English all over the world, but include anybody interested in translation studies who does not read German and has a reasonable proficiency in Spanish or English. This makes it difficult to define the audience and adjust the examples to what can be assumed to be their culture-specific knowledge, which is an important requisite of functionalism in translation.


Christiane Nord trained as a translator for Spanish and English at Heidelberg University (B.A. Honours). She obtained a PhD in Romance Studies and qualified for a full professorship in Applied Translation Studies and Translation Pedagogy. From 1967 she was involved in translator training at the universities of Heidelberg, Vienna, Hildesheim, Innsbruck and Magdeburg. She has been invited for short-time teaching appointments by universities and translator training institutions in Europe, the Middle East, America, Asia and Africa. She has about 200 publications about theoretical, methodological and pedagogical aspects of "functionalism" in translation. Since 2007, she has been a research associate and professor extraordinary of the University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa.

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