Skopos Theory

Skopos Theory

The Skopos theory has been selected for discussion because it links language and context, emphasizes the significance of the real world situations and indicates how choices made by the translator depend on the client. The disparity between theory and practice influenced the discussion of this theory. Before 1970s and early 1980s, source text was mainly concerned with correspondence centered translation theory. Emphasis was directed towards the translation products. To evaluate translation products, source texts and target texts were researched and then compared. However, this caused a lot of confusion as conflicting standards were involved in the selection of transfer procedures which have different particular text and genres types. This created a huge gap which can be addressed by consideration of functionalism (Jensen, 2009; Jabir, 2006). The paper will explain skopos theory and the scholar behind it. The scholars who used and further advocated the theory will be mentioned. The criticism facing the theory will be discussed. The reason for supporting the theory will be then be discussed. Lastly a personal reflection of how the theory has influenced my translation strategies will be mentioned. Equivalence theory and action theory which be mentioned to support the theory.
The Skopos Theory
The Skopos theory’s formulation has been mainly attributed to German Scholar Hans J. Vermeer. Prior works by Katharina Reiss are acknowledged as the starting point for the theory. She noted that the aim in the target text is equivalent to the linguistic form and communicative aim of the source text. The theory is called skopstheorie in German. Aim of the Target Text is the main focus of this theory. One of the important aspects when deciphering the aim of a translation is the recipient of the target text. Since translation is expressed as a useful activity, there must be an intended recipient. With functionalism, translation was viewed as communication act rather than a mere transcoding act. All texts serve a particular purpose hence the translator has to translate in a manner which ensures that the text function in the circumstances that is being used and with the audience who need to use it and in a manner they require it to serve the intended function (Reiss & Vermeer, 2014).
The theory was formulated by consideration of six rules. The first rule states that target text is influenced by its purpose hence forming the crucial determinant for the chosen translation strategies and methods. The second rule illustrates that target text is a submission of information in a target language and culture. They are in turn based on the Source Text and Source Language and culture. Rules three of the theory states that a target text is not distinctly reversible. This shows that the purpose of the target text doesn’t automatically compliment the function of the source text. This implies that back translation cannot always lead to translation that is completely same as the original source text. Fourth rule states that the recipients of the target text must understand it. It must be meaningful in the target culture and communicative situation. The fifth rule requires that target text and source text be correlated and coherent with each other. The information deciphered by the translator, the interpretation that is made and the information that is encoded for the recipients must be in coherent. The sixth rule states that the five rules occur in hierarchy. The first rule is given priority (Nord, 2014).
The translator is tasked to ensure translation satisfies cultural norms and values of the recipient because target text and source text functions may not be the same. This outlines that the theory doesn’t single out one macro strategy over others but instead the translator’s decision is crucial in such situations. The theory doesn’t give translators guidelines on how to make this decision since it is dependent on the circumstance in question. These circumstances might not be the same all the time hence micro strategy categorization is not possible. The theory reflects general deviation from predominantly formal and linguistic translation theories to a more sociocultural oriented and functionality approach to translation. This deviation was inspired by the inspiration from text, text linguistics, and transactional theories. The shift of literary studies in favor of reception theories may have also had an influence (Jensen, 2009).
Contributions from other Scholars
The other scholars who advocated and further worked in the paradigm are Justa Holz- Manttari, Christiance Nord, Kusmaul and Honig. They complimented earlier works of Katharina Reiss and Hans J. Vermeer. Manttari acknowledge the effect of action theory and as a result of intercultural transfer. He put forward translational action that analyzed the influence of participants and situational circumstances. The aim of translational action is to eliminating cultural and language challenges. Nord acknowledged that situation influences the translation process and developed loyalty principle to further support the theory. The principle will be mentioned in the criticism section. The necessary degree of precision Principe was developed by Kusmaul and Hönig to clarify the extent of a translator’s liberty. Functionalist approaches outcomes show that the translator is obliged to provide more information when undertaking a translation. However, the liberty of the translator is not specified hence the principle seeks to stipulate that the intended meanings depend on the function of the translation. The function in a specific context influences the cultural meaning that should be explicated (Munday, 2014; Reiss & Vermeer, 2014).
Skopos theory has received numerous criticisms especially from the linguistic based scholars. The definition of translation as used in the theory is criticized by some critics. Critics state that there is no evidence to suggest that all target texts in correlation to source texts can be referred to as translations. The theory is perceived to make no concrete distinction between adaptation and real translation. This creates a situation of non-translation. The focus on the target text undermines the intrinsic purpose of the translation. The pro-functional scholars are called to fully differentiate between translation and non-translation. However, translation is viewed by the functional scholars from a broad perspective. Source text is seen as integrated in both target language and culture. These scholars therefore believe that linguistic-based definition of translation is restrictive and it needs expansion to accommodate different situations which a translator might be exposed to ((Koller, 1995; Munday, 2014).
The perceived source text’s importance and focus on the aim that influence the translation process is also used by the critics to undermine the theory. It is suggested that translators are empowered to generate any type of target text and label it as translation. It can be explained by the introduction of the loyalty concept. This concept restricts translator’s liberty since they are obliged to be loyal to the authors of the source text and other partners in the translation process. Elaborate analysis of source text can be carried out to better understand the source text and culture. This will increase the coherence correlating both target text and source text (Pym, 2014).
The theory has been criticized for lacking academic element. An academic scientific theory should be created as a hypothesis that has a capability of being empirically tested. However, the theory states prescriptions which have not been empirically tested. It only describes ideals of these prescriptions in a too simplistic manner. These ideal prescriptions might not be practical. However, the theory has incorporated aspects from equivalence theory and Action Theory in an effort to reduce the difference between theory and practice. Action theory acknowledges human action in a specific situation influences the purpose of translation (Du, 2012).
The theory has also been mainly criticized for permitting the end to validate the means in the translation procedure. This allows the probability of mistakes in religious and literary translations that are mainly influenced by personal intention of the author. All actions do not necessarily have an intention. For instance, art work productions are presumed to be generally literary texts .There is no guarantee that all translations are viewed as purposeful. Moreover, the translator does not normally have a particular intention when translating. Having predetermined intention will reduce the available translation procedures and affect the interpretations of the target text (Jensen, 2009). However, the literary works are usually created with a given purpose in mind. The level of desired understanding by the recipient must be pointed out by the client Reiss & Vermeer, 2014).

Argument for the Skopos Theory
Despite the criticisms which have been raised against skopos theory, it enhances the understanding of the translation process. It has generated a concept that links target text and source text hence improving the understanding of the translation process. According to the theory, translation is defined as a deliberate, interactive and partly intercultural content that is built on a source text. This allows the probability of the same text to be translated in numerous ways which can be adapted to specific situations. Translation is done according to some principle which takes into consideration particular cases. However, specific principle and guidelines are not stipulated hence the translation can be done to suit each particular case (Mundany, 2014).
The translator is not restricted in any way since the theory considers source text as offer of information and the emphasis is more directed at the target text. This does not impose restrictions on the translator thus increasing the range of translation strategies which can be employed based on different situations. The theory widened the narrow visions of the criticism imposed by the linguistically based scholars who may only be desperate to make their theories remain relevant. There is no single source text that perfect translations. The possibilities of translation are thus expanded by this theory to give more liberty which ensures generation of better translations. Translation can be regarded as sufficient or insufficient based on the communicative purpose which is delegated to the target audience (Chesterman, 1998).
The theory offsets the deficiencies in traditional translation theories. Skopos theory does not consider translation tasks as faithfulness or unfaithfulness, right or wrong and the function is given priority. Translation based on linguistic- based approaches only concentrates on systematic correlation between language systems units. This does not fulfill the communicative function which is essential to ensure the intended meaning is passed across (Chesterman, 1998).

Personal Reflection
The theory has greatly influenced my translation tasks in a positive manner. With the application of Skopos theory in my translation tasks, I have developed different translation strategies to use. These strategies have been helpful in improving my translation assignments. For instance, when I was translating a Swahili document my translation process was not limited. Swahili is one of the principle languages in East Africa. I consulted my colleagues and friends who had knowledge of the Swahili culture which enabled me to have a deeper understanding. With this understanding I was able to improve coherence of the source text and target text. This proves that more focus is directed towards the target text. Some of them had done Swahili translations before. I was also luck to have a native Swahili speaker who gave me an instinct into some specific questions. I translated the document twice before and after consultation with my colleagues and friends. I then compared and found disparities which I could have missed to capture if I had restricted myself. Since then we have developed a network through which we consult, revise and monitor our translations.

Skopos theory is mainly attributed to Hans Vermeer but its development was bases on prior works by Katharina Reiss. The theory is based on six rules with the first rule be the priority. It states that target text is influenced by the intended purpose of the translation. The theory has shifted thinking to more focus on the target text. The other scholars who advocated the other are Justa Holz- Manttari, Christiance Nord, Kusmaul and Hönig. Manttari acknowledged the influence of culture in translation. Kusmaul and Hönig clarified the liberty of the translator. They complimented earlier works of Katharina Reiss and Hans J. Vermeer. Skopos theory has limitations just like any other theories. Nord is credited with the introduction of loyalty principle. The theory doesn’t restrict translators hence they can develop varied translation strategies. This variety ensures better translations. It forms the pillar of the theory that defends the theory against criticism from other scholars. Based on personal reflections, the theory is invaluable as it makes translation more realistic.

Chesterman, A. (January 01, 1998). Hans J. Vermeer.A Skopos Theory of Translation: (Some Arguments For and Against). Target, 10, 1, 155-159.
Du, X. (2012). A Brief Introduction of Skopos Theory. Retrieved May 24, 2014 from
Jabir, K. J. (2006). Skopos Theory: Basic Principles and Deficiencies. Retrieved May 24, 2014 from
Jensen, N.M. (2009). Professional Translators’ Establishment of Skopos- A ‘Brief’ Study. Retrieved May 24, 2014 from
Koller, W. (January 01, 1995). The Concept of Equivalence and the Object of Translation
Studies. Target Amsterdam-, 7, 2, 191-222.
Munday, J. (January 01, 2014). Text Analysis and Translation. 67-81.
Nord, C. (2014). Translating as a Purposeful Activity: Functionalist Approaches Explained. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis.
Pym, A. (2014). Exploring Translation Theories. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis.
Reiss, K., & Vermeer, H. J. (2014). Towards a General Theory of Translational Action: Skopos Theory Explained. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis.



Leave a Reply