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Functional Theories of Translation

Functional Theories of Translation

The situation with the concept of literary style proves to be complex to the extent that it is not only variously misunderstood, but also sufficiently intractable of definition. Translation studies have focused on the concepts of style and stylistics at diverse levels on the regular basis. Functional theorists have focused on the integration of diverse theories of translation. In the development of this review, the focus will be on four critical functional theories of translation: text type and genre, Snell-Hornby’s integrated approach, translatorial action, and Skopos theory.

Katharina Reiss’ Text Type & Genre Model

Katharina Reiss comes out as a linguist and translation scholar. According to Reiss, the achievement of communication is possible at the text level. Additionally, Reiss believes on the need to pursue or seek equivalence. Reiss focused on formulating a functional model of genre and text type while drawing from Karl Buhler’s earlier categorization of the three functions of language. The model is critical in describing three types of text: informative, operative, and expressive. Categorically, each of the text tends to require a different type of translation method or mechanisms. Evidently, the translation of the predominant function of the ST should be the determining factor guiding the translation. In understanding Reiss’ model, it is ideal to focus on the evaluation of three critical elements (Xiaowei, 2000).

In the first instance, the model focuses on evaluation of the concept of informative, which provides the platform for the plain communication of facts in the form of information or knowledge opinions. From this perspective, the model believes that language is logical. Additionally, communicating the content of the text is one of the major functions of the language, thus, the influence of the informative element in this model. In the second instance, the model integrate expressive element, which concentrates on the creative texts. Reiss believes that the aesthetics of the language applicable is important. Moreover, the model foregrounds the message and author in understanding literature work. In the third aspect, there is the concept of operative text, which aims at persuading the receiver to execute something (Xiaowei, 2000). Consequently, the language comes out as dialogic, as well as appellative. This is highly evident in issues such as the business advertisements, as well as the numerous political speeches in the modern context. In the audio-medial context, the text tends to include written and spoken material such as music and visual elements in the entertainment industry, thus, the development or creation of films, TV ads, political programs, and documentaries in the industry.

There are diverse criticisms relating to the exploitation of the Reiss’ model of translation. In the first instance, critiques tend to question why there should only be three types of language functions in the model of translation. Secondly, the critiques also question whether the preferred translation methods are reversible. Thirdly, critiques focus on questioning the potentiality of differentiating text types and genres based on the primary focus. Finally, critiques question the feasibility of the divisions of the model. In spite of these criticisms, the model proves to be effective and efficient in understanding the concept of translation from the functionalism perspective.

Snell-Hornby Model

Mary Snell-Hornby is an Austrian-based scholar and translator. One of her reputable works is the Translation Studies: An integrated approach. The work plays a critical role in the course of reviewing and integrating diverse linguistic and literary concepts within the context of an overarching ‘integrated approach’ towards basing translation on the text types. Snell-Hornby’s integrated approach is critical in the course of integrating six valuable levels. In the first level, level A, the model focuses on the continuum of literary, thus, platform for the assessment of special and general language (Snell-Hornby, 1987). In the second level, level B, the model incorporates prototypical text types as evident in literary works such as the Bible, film, and poetry. Thirdly, the model provides the platform for understanding level C, which aims at enhancing relevancy of non-linguistic disciplines inclusive of the specialized translation (Snell-Hornby, 1988). Fourthly, the model incorporates level D, which elaborates on the function of the translation. The level is valuable understanding the ST’s function, the TT focus, and communicative function. In the next level, level E, there is the focus on the linguistics as the theory of translation. Finally, the model integrates level F, which provides the opportunity for understanding phonology with reference to rhythm, alliteration, and speakability for the concept of dubbing (Snell-Hornby, 2006).

Translatorial Action (Holz-Manttari) Model

Justa Holz-Manttari is a Finnish-based German theorist. In the course of understanding the concept of translation, this linguistic practitioner focused on adopting and implementing a model of translation, which perceives translation as purpose-driven or outcome-oriented human interaction. In the midst of achieving effective and efficient translation, the model calls for integration of the intercultural transfer (Schäffner, 2011). The model plays a critical role in the process of facilitating the shift from communication theory to action theory, thus, the platform for identification of the roles and players with primary and secondary goals. In the first instance, her model plays a critical role in the course of illustrating the contribution of the initiator to achieve effective and efficient translation. Secondly, there is also the commissioner aiming at aiding realization of the shift from communication to action (Pöchhacker, 1994).

In the third instance, there is the ST producer as a critical contributor regarding the primary and secondary aspects of translation. Additionally, the model integrates the TT producer as another vital play in the course of understanding and digesting the concept of translation. Furthermore, the model highlights the roles and influences or implications of the TT user in the achievement of the goals and targets of the result-driven communication. Finally, there is the concept of the TT receiver as another play promoting the realization of the translation goals, thus, enormous influence in the shift from the communication to action theory.

Skopos Theory

In the final aspect of the review, the focus was on the assessment of the Skopos theory as one of the functional theories of translation in the modern linguistic studies. In the course of understanding this theory, it is ideal to highlight the role and influence of Hans Vermeer as the developer of the model in facilitating effective understanding of translation. Vermeer is a German linguist and translator who sought to work with or liaise with Reiss in the development and presentation of the Skopos theory as one of the functional theory of translation (Schäffner, 1998). The model aims at presenting the general translation theory for all texts. The first part of the model is critical in illustrating or explaining Vermeer’s Skopos theory.

On the other hand, the second part is critical in the illustration of the ability of the model to adapt to Reiss’ functional text-type model towards promoting aspects of the general theory. Skopos refers to the aim or purpose of translation. It is ideal for the translation to fit for the purpose, thus, the concept of dethroning ST (Reiss & Vermeer, 2014). the model demonstrates the fact that Skopos is a stipulation by the client, commissioner, and initiator with the ability and potentiality of determining the method or technique of translation. The stipulation is also valuable in the course of determining the strategy to undergo implementation with the intention of offering functionally adequate text in the target culture.

From this perspective, the theory or model is critical in enabling the possibility of the translation of similar or same text in diverse approaches in accordance with the purpose or objective of the TT. According to the model, there is need to execute substantive judgment of the TT in accordance with the functional adequacy. In this context, there is need for the intra-textual coherence and inter-textual fidelity. In the first instance, intra-textual coherence plays a critical role in ensuring that TT undergoes translation in such a manner that it makes substantive sense for the TT receivers (Vermeer, 1996).

Alternatively, inter-textual fidelity provides the need or platform for coherence between the TT and ST for the realization of effective and efficient translation. The model also provides the platform for the concept of functionality, as well as loyalty to the ST author intentions. Evidently, Skopos model demands explicit stating in the brief or commission. For the TT to be functionally and communicatively adequate, it must fulfill the Skopos in accordance with the perceptions of the commission. This model provides the platform for the increased assessment of the functional aspects of translation.

Conclusively, the review focused on four critical functional theories of translation: text type and genre, Snell-Hornby’s integrated approach, translatorial action, and Skopos theory. These four theories form the basis of functional perception of the concept of translation, thus, the need to evaluate recent developments in accordance with the theoretical principles.


Pöchhacker, F. (1994). Simultaneous interpretation:‘cultural transfer’or ‘voice-over text’?. Snell-Hornby, M., Pöchhacker., F., Kaindl, K.(eds.), Translation Studies. An Interdiscipline, Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 169-178.

Reiss, K., & Vermeer, H. J. (2014). Towards a general theory of translational action: Skopos theory explained. Routledge.

Schäffner, C. (1998). Skopos theory. Routledge encyclopedia of translation studies, 17.

Schaffner, C. (2011). Theory of translatorial action. Handbook of translation studies, 2, 157.

Snell-Hornby, M. (1987). Translation as a Cross-cultural Event: Midnight’s Children-Mitternachtskinder. Indian Journal of Applied Linguistics, 2, 91-105.

Snell-Hornby, M. (1988). Translation studies: An integrated approach. John Benjamins Publishing.

Snell-Hornby, M. (2006). The Turns of Translation Studies: New paradigms or shifting viewpoints? (Vol. 66). John Benjamins Publishing.

Vermeer, H. J. (1996). A skopos theory of translation:(some arguments for and against). TextconText-Verlag.

Xiaowei, C. (2000). Reflections on Certain Methods of Translation Based on Functional Concept of Translation [J]. Chinese Translators Journal, 4, 001.