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Nord’s Translation Theory: Reflective Essay

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Updated: May 12th, 2020


This essay focuses on the analysis of Nord’s translation theory, including its main functions and elements. It also provides the rationale for applying this model to the practical translation of the chosen article. Within this context, specific benefits and weaknesses will be identified in comparison to other theoretical studies on translation.

Christiane Nord’s Translation Theory in Linguistics

Nord’s model of translation has been in existence because of the urgent need to introduce a universal theoretical framework that would enable translators to understand the functional elements presented in the content and the structure of the source text (ST) (Nord 2005).

Translators can use one specific language pair as a platform for the translation process (Nord, 2005). Nord’s translation-oriented model, therefore, is specific enough to consider as many common translation difficulties as possible. Concerning the above, here are several reasons why I have chosen this approach (Nord’s theory of translation). Firstly, it is suitable for the translation of all types of texts.

Secondly, the model encourages translators to take a broader view of what translation entails. Third, the model is multipurpose and, therefore, it can be applied to both translator training and professional settings. Besides, the Nord’s translation theory does not depend on the translator’s competence, but on the language-independent aspects of culture, communication and translation(Nord 2005, p. 2)

Different theories have different perspectives on translation, for instance, Richard’s model of proper translation, which appeared in the late 1970s (Gentzler 2001). In particular, the model shows that the translation process should base on the value of meaning. Nord’s model of translation relates Richard’s theory , whose principles do not depend on subjective factors either. However, the approach is more efficient in terms of greater reliance on cultural factors that enrich the meaning of the source text.

Four Functions of Language

Christiane Nord’s theory of translation originated from Karl Buhler’s Organon functional translation theory created in 1954. It states that there are three basic functions of language: referential, expressive, and appellative (Buhler et al. 1990). Hence, according to this model, speech is an instrument for a person to render a message or thought to a receiver (Buhler et al. 1990).

The expressive and appellative functions of language, therefore, enable one to understand the tone of the speech without understanding the content and meaning of the message. As per the referential function, one can describe a message using the means of his or her native language (Buhler et al. 1990, p. 39). Nord adopted these three functions and added a fourth one, known as the phatic function. Its emergence was due to improvements made to the theory. The function serves to establish, to prolong, or to discontinue communication between a sender and a receiver, to check whether the channel works, to attract the attention of the interlocutor, or to confirm his continued focus (Nord 2005, p. 47).

The function was added due to its possibility to develop strong relationships between the speaker and the addressee (Nord 2005). According to Nord, translation does not occur out of context. Instead, it is a communicative action carried out for achieving a communicative purpose, as it lets different people understand a text.

Generally, the theory argues that translation must be based on context, for better understanding. Nord believes in a functional translation theory, where the target text (TT) determines the kind of choice and strategy adopted in the translation process (Nord 2005, pp. 43-48).

Nord’s theory of translation also stems out of Vermeer and Katharina Reiss translation study, known as the ‘skopos theory.’ The ‘skopos theory’ originated from the Greek word ‘skopos,’ which means aim and purpose (Pym 1993, p. 184). “Reiss and Vermeer developed Skopos” theory in 1984. It focused on the purpose of translation (Reiss & Vermeer). Nord’s translation model was developed several years later, at the end of the 1980s (Nord 1997). The essence of the ‘skopos’ theory is applied by Nord to convey a description of the target situation.

Therefore, the translator sets the purpose of the target text based on the instructions given by the initiator of the translation. In contrast, Nord does not provide the translator with the freedom to decide what aspects of the text should be fixed. Significant attention is also given to the role of the initiator’s decision concerning ST (Pym 1993, p. 185). Thus, Nord incorporates the concept of loyalty, which means that the translator should always remain committed to both the ST sender and TT receivers (Pym 1993, p. 185).

As discussed above, Nord (2005) provides the four functions of a language: referential, expressive, appellative, and phatic. These functions are of varying importance in enhancing effective translation through Nord’s translation theory.

First, the referential function is considered among the most important ones because it ensures that nothing changes the text’s content or meaning.Nord argues that the referential role of an utterance involves reference to the objects of the world. Text analysis in Nord’s translation model depends on the nature of the respective objects of the world (Nord 1997, pp. 38-40).

The problem with the function, however, is that if the source and the target receivers do not share common knowledge about the objects and the phenomena referred to, then it is difficult to create rapport in the text (Nord 1997, p. 41). The expressive function refers to the emotions and attitude of the sender towards the referred object, thought, or idea. It also stresses the sender’s personal opinion.

The function aims to persuade the receiver to agree or disagree with a specific activity, to establish contact with the receiver, which leads to the phatic function of communication (Nord 2005, p. 55). The appellative function is concerned with the direction of the text toward the addressee, as well as with the degree of expression that a speaker uses.

Finally, the phatic function relates to the speaker’s intent to establish contact with the receiver, as well as to keep the communication channels open. This function reflects a sociological dimension in correlation with the linguistic ones. It also allows the translator to go beyond linguistic frames to understand the situation context within which the text is placed.

The choice of the best and most suitable strategy and model may also ensure that the meaning of the original text or its content is not changed but maintained. Therefore, it assists translators to decide on the best translation strategy to use regarding the respective language to be translated.

Despite different approaches and models introduced to foster the translation process, they all define translation as an action. Thus, Reiss and Vermeer’s theory argues that translation is based on the translator’s position in the translation process, as well as on the evaluation of objectives of a translation.

In contrast, Nord’s translation theory has a functional approach to the translation process. In particular, applying to the phatic function, the theorist manages to apply extratextual factors to explain and understand the purposes and meaning of ST. Therefore, both extratextual and linguistic aspects should be taken into consideration while proceeding with the translation.

Extratextual Factors in Nord’s Translation Theory

According to Nord (2005), extratextual factors are communicative and situational factors that use ST. These factors constitute a text’s external structure, and they include the Sender, Sender’s intention, audience, medium/channel, place, time, motive, and function (Nord 2005, p.81).

Essentially, the sender is the author, the audience is the target group, and the sender’s intention is the content of the text to be translated. All of these factors are interdependent upon each other, and they affect the translation process. The translator might not know the intentions of the author while translating the text.

In the article by Roland, the author decides the target group to which the text will be directed, mainly tennis fans from the English speaking world. Knowing the audience enables one to find the sender’s intention and the most suited medium to communicate with the audience. The chosen medium of communication influences time and place where a text is produced, and time and place of text creation influence the choice of a communication medium to reach the audience.

The theme and purpose of this article by Roland (2011) are quite clear as it is intended to capture the attention of tennis fans. On a more profound level, the journalist could be expressing his love for and interest in the game or merely doing his job as a reporter. When analyzing most texts, there are always issues related to ST (Armstrong 2005, pp. 43-49).

Because the translation process is considered both as an act of communication and as a linguistic phenomenon, ST text analysis in Nord’s translation theory involves several parameters, including setting, genre, participants, norms, instruments, and act sequence (Armstrong 2005, p. 43).

When translating, there are always problems related to the analysis of the ST, which must be solved in order to set up the purpose before beginning a translation. Nord (1997) has identified the following factors that affect extratextual analysis.

First of all, the theorist focuses on the function and text type, the characteristics of the receiver, as well as the relevance of the place and time of message rendering. Such important situational aspects as social, cultural, and economic backgrounds of the language users are closely connected to the competences of both the translator and the recipient.

Moreover, Nord (2005) strongly focuses on the communication function of the text through the universal functions of the language. Also, a reader participates in creating meanings when reading a text-based on his or her assumption and imagination, and the author might not even have intended the meanings.

When a text contains many different meanings, it is difficult for a translator to fully understand the layers of the text intended by the author, which means that the translator can experience difficulties in deciding how the translation is perceived by the target reader (Nord 2005, pp. 67-73).

One of the biggest challenges for a literary translator is the cultural element inherent in every publication and text production. It can only be evaluated how difficult it is to detect every cultural aspect or reference. Because languages bear different cultural contexts, the translator is challenged to find equivalent resources to convey a specific notion from the ST.

The translator will know much about his/her own culture (the TT culture) while knowing as much about the author’s culture (the ST culture). It will enable the translator to make translation choices that will convey and adapt the ST cultural information into information that will make sense in the TT culture.

The knowledge of the ST culture will enable the translator to recreate the possible reactions of the ST receivers, and the translator’s understanding of the TT culture allows the translator to expect the possible responses to the TT receivers (Nigel 2005, p.12-13). To support the idea, Nord (2005) argues,

the translator is not the sender of the ST message but a target culture text-producer who adopts somebody else’s intention to produce a communicative instrument for the target culture, or a target-culture document of source-culture communication (p. 13).

In this respect, the TT is the result of communicative interaction between two cultures. The above-described extratextual factors affect the text-production into a TL, which is the principal linguistic instrument in the translation process. Therefore, intratextual factors should also be considered to define how they restrict translation.

Intratextual Factors in the Theory of Translation by Nord

The intratextual factors are mainly concerned with the internal factors of the translated text itself. They include subject matter, content, and composition of the text, presuppositions, lexis, sentence structure, and even non-verbal elements (Armstrong 2005, p.42). The intratextual factors, just like the extratextual factors, are interdependent to a certain extent. That is because, in a text, the subject matter influences the content, and the content, in turn, influences the presuppositions made by the author.

Nord’s theory of translation may not be appropriate to my particular translation considering stylistic differences among languages. Much of the time required to undertake this cumbersome activity is usually not available. Translators spend a lot of time trying to understand the content that they are going to translate. Nord argues that this process also implies many problems and peculiarities that are usually caused by two factors.

First, the translation from French to English is challenged by existing differences in grammar, gender representation, and verb and adjective agreements. Second, the syntactical rules of the French language are less rigid compared than those in English, for example, the sentence structure of French is rigid and can be complete without a verb while English sentences require a verb to be finished and or meaningful (Vinay and Darbelnet 1995, pp. 83-84).

In conclusion, Text analysis in Nord’s translation model emphasizes the necessity of analyzing the situational context and considers the translation process as an act of communication. All these interpretations are justified by the function that the translation bears, including referential, appellative, expressive, and phatic.

Regarding the above-presented factors and peculiarities, French-English translation implies consideration of various extratextual and intratextual factors that have a potent impact on the outcome. The implementation of Nord’s theory of translation, however, can make the process more systematic because these factors are taken into the most in-depth consideration.

Reference List

Armstrong, N. 2005, Multilingual Matters, Buffalo.

Buhler, K., Goodwin, D. F., &Eschbach, A 1990. Theory of Language: The Representational Function of Language. John Benjamins Publishing Company, Amsterdam.

Gentzler, E. 2001, . Multilingual Matters, Buffalo.

Nord, C. 1997, Translating As A Purposeful Activity: Functionalist Approaches Explained. Manchester: St. Jerome.

Nord, C. 2005, Text analysis in translation: theory, methodology and didactic application of a model for translation-oriented text analysis. Rodopi, Amsterdam.

Pym, A. 1993, ‘Text Analysis in Translation,’ Traduction, Terminologie, Rédaction, vol. 6, no. 2, pp. 184-190.

Reiss, K., & Vermeer, H. V. 1984, Grundlegung einer allgemeinen Translations theorie, Niemeyer, Germany.

Roland, R. 2011. Deux titans en finale maisc’est Rafael Nadal qui l’emporte à Roland Garros. La Tribune du Sport [online] Web.

Vinay, J. P. & Darbelnet, J., eds. 1995, Amsterdam, Philadelphia: J. Benjamins.

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