MET workshops

Translation theory for the pathologically practical

Translation theory has a bad rep – and it’s not entirely undeserved. Academics are often viewed as detached scholars who toss less-than-useful advice from their ivory towers. But rather than dismissing all theory outright, we translators can benefit from some of it, especially functionalism. In this workshop, we’ll see how a fully practical approach could help us recentre – or reaffirm – how we translate.

Facilitator: Helen Oclee-Brown

Purpose: To explore if and how functionalist translation theory can help working translators dissect source texts and craft effective translations.

Description: We’ll begin in the classroom, (re)visiting Skopos theory and Nord’s functionalist translation model and examining how we – consciously or unconsciously – apply them to our existing work. 

According to functionalism, the target text determines the choices we make in translation and influences how “transformative” our approach can be. It forces us to turn off auto-pilot and perform a comparative analysis of the source- and target-text requirements. 

How will we do this in practice? With corpora. We’ll study texts in their original languages (and in translation) and use Chesterman’s translation strategies to evaluate our findings. 

We’ll end with a discussion on the limitations of translation theory in our professional lives and debate how academics and practitioners could support each other better.

The workshop will be highly practical in nature, with exercises and discussion throughout. As translators, we lead busy professional lives; this workshop will allow us to slow down and reflect on our deep-rooted translation strategies.

Participant profile: This workshop is for translators who want to take a considered and analytical look at how and why they translate. Prior knowledge of translation theory is not essential, but those who have studied the theories we will be discussing are also welcome. Examples will be taken from Spanish and French, although simple machine/literal English translations will also be provided.

Outcome: Participants will leave with renewed insight into their translation process. The workshop is not intended to inspire lifelong devotion to theory but rather to allow participants time to pause and reflect on their own practice.

Preparation: None: all relevant theory will be presented at the workshop.

Optional reading before and after the workshop

Chesterman, Andrew (1997). Memes of Translation: The Spread of Ideas in Translation Theory. Amsterdam: John Benjamins (especially Chapter 4). 

Chesterman, Andrew and Wagner, Emma (2002). Can Theory Help Translators? A Dialogue Between the Ivory Tower and the Wordface. London: Routledge.

About the facilitator: Helen Oclee-Brown is a translator, translation teacher and editor. She works for the International Brigade Memorial Trust, editing the Trust’s triannual magazine ¡No pasarán!, and teaches at the University of Westminster, where she once studied. A career-long linguist, she has been translating for nearly two decades.