You are on page 1of 15


Although the act of interpreting is traced back to ancient times, it had

no theory of its own and did not begin to take shape as we know it today until
the late 1970s. By distancing itself from previous studies, the Interpretive
Theory of Translation (aka, the Theory of Sense), founded by Danica
Seleskovitch, an interpreter and researcher at the Ecole Suprieure
dInterprtes et de Traducteurs (henceforth ESIT) at the University of Paris III
the so-called Paris School, explains the translation and interpretive process
differently from that of the traditional linguistic approaches, involving a
combination of developmental and experimental psychology,
neurophysiology, and linguistics.
The Theory of Sense (see INTERPRETIVE APPROACH) played a
pioneering role and had a significant contribution in the field of translation
studies traiting todays' interpreting practice and teaching. It has certainly not
been the first to tackle this issue (Pochhacker, 1992, but the main thrust came
out of ESIT personnel, for most researches conducted before its appearance
were purely speculative, i.e, theoritical.

Literature review
1. Definition of terms
1.1 Introduction
Over the past several years, practitioners have been mixing many
terms and using them interchangeably to refer to distinct concepts like
sense and meaning, interpretation and understanding, and because the use
of superordinate can lead to confusion and misconception, we have seen
that it is of a necessity to clearly distinguish them apart.
Page | 1

1.1.2 Sense Vs Meaning

The individuation of the sense of any discourse from the translation studies
point of view:
Aleksandr Davidovich Shvejcer analyzed this problem and
recognized the difference between the two. Meaning as such is derived
from the concrete structure of the language, and is to be searched for solely
in the framework of the code language signals it is part of. Since words are
the product of the community and its culture, it does not make sense to look
for what a word can express in another language, another culture. Every
word has one relatively exact meaning represented exclusively in the code
of language it belongs to.
Taking this point to heart, it would be presumptuous to try to
translate literally and expect the meaning to stay intact; how could it be
possible to find a word with the exact same meaning in another linguistic
and cultural cadre if not referring to approximation?
However, Sense does not depend on the differences between the
languages; it can be expressed through different linguistic means in
different languages (L'vovskaja1985, p. 81-82) for this, it is called The
Theory of Sense (La Thorie du Sens). Sense in discourse consists of two
parts, an explicit part constituting the written or the spoken, and an implicit
part (where it gets tricky) constituting what is unsaid but nevertheless
meant by the interlocutor and understood by the other party, the latter not
to be confused with the author's intentions.
Briefly, language knowledge is not enough to fully grasp the sense
(Mona Baker, 2009), there are other parameters interfering in this process,
which we shall discuss later on in this paper.

Page | 2


Interpretation Vs understanding
Omar Kouch (2012) says in this respect that interpretation during

translation process aims to collect the meaning of the text but must not
exceed the interpretation of the meaning that comes with the original text
not the supposed meaning intended by the author.

1.2 Theoretical background

1.2.1 Introduction
Drawing on psycholinguistic and cognitive approaches, Seleskovich
and Lederer study interpreting and translation using empirical research
emphasizing chiefly on the cognitive process involved in this practice. The
basic tenet of their theory is that translation and interpreting are based on
meaning (sense), as opposed to lexical (verbal) meaning (ibid).
Although both translation and interpreting manifest differently, they
both obey to the same rule, translate the message not the language.
Needless to say that when a translator get to understand the discourse, the
occurrence of traps like polysemy and ambiguity are easily prevented, for
literal translation is bound to distort the original meaning, as per this
school, the aim of interpretation is to achieve the communicative sense.
"Croire qu'interprter consiste passer
directement d'une langue l'autre
postule des savoirs, dire qu'interprter
consiste passer par le sens postule en
outre de l'intelligence." (Seleskovitch, 1983)

Page | 3

Notice that conversational language belongs to the domain of social

interaction, it has to be established in a shared conceptual terrain (shared
knowledge), representing the human capacity in reproducing a meaningful
use of language. Translation, hence, is far from being a simple task of
switching from one language to another (ibid), the translator/interpreter is
supposed to make the equation of sense/effect by reconstructing it with
respect to the TL so that the product can be read without revealing its true
colors, being a translation.
The cultural differences or others have to be attentively calculated,
because whatever the control of languages interpreters/translators may
have, language problems would remain unresolved. This activity implies a
great deal of difficulty, even with a mastery of the S language, the TL
molding will be subject to distortions, and hence, failure in capturing the
core sense of what has been produced in the other language.
All these obstacles and commentaries lead to some intriguing questions:

Is it a literal match or equation of sense between the translated text

and the original text?

Is it a transmission of meaning or a reconstruction of a new vision?

The Interpretive Theory departs from the notion of transcoding in

interpreting then sets the basis of a new model disassociating by that the
translator/interpreter's performance from the use of Catford's formal
correspondence. In this approach, interpreting is regulated by the principle
of equivalence of sense, the process, according to Seleskovitch, is based
on language-free (de-verbalization) conversion procedures.

Page | 4

Equivalence of sense is not an easy concept to define. Some attempts

have led to Hatim and Masons (1990:7) dynamic equivalence construct
implying that the original message is conveyed in a way that TL receptor's
response is like that of the SL receptors, which leads us again to the seven
standards of textuality and intentionality; the author's intention equals the
interpreter's perception of the intended sense in the given discourse, which
Pochhacker defines as the equivalence of effect.
Choi Jungwha (2004, p01), in his article Translation and its Current
Applications mentioned the four pillars this theory is built on, which are:

Command of the native language


Command of the source language,


Command of relevant world and background knowledge


Command of interpreting methodology

The broader the cognitive complements, he says, the less ambiguity and
polysemy there is in language, and the more thoroughly speech is
understood. Additionally, he states that translation needs information
additional to language meaning .This is how the Interpretive Theory of
Translation introduces the process of translation into the vast area of
cognitive research.

1.2.3 D. Seleskovitch and M. Lederer's Model of Translation

One of the main breakthroughs of Interpreting Studies is
Seleskovitchs Sense Theory, represented graphically in the following
ternary composition model of translation (Pchhacker, 2004: 97):

Page | 5

The hypothesis of interpreting triangular

model implies the following: interpreting is
a ternary process, first comes the activity of
listening in L1; the meaning and sense of
the discourse (the object of interpreting)
then, is perceived, afterwards comes the
final stage (the most important one in
interpreting) the reformulation of the
acquired meaning in L2. Transcoding,
however, only applies to the simultaneous interpreting of terms, numbers,
and names.
For Selescovitch, interpreting is unquestionably about sensation, on
the one hand, a sense of "internal" language system, on the other hand feel
the "external", thence, the translation process is not straightforward, but the
pass through various phases. From here we conclude that it is an active
process clustered around the "understanding" and then "re-expression" of
1.2.4 Delisle's Model of Interpreting
Language and thought are separate entities. According to Delisle,
interpreters decode the discourse at the participation of their cognitive
knowledge, flay the meaning they acquire from its original linguistic form,
and store it their brain in a non-verbal form. He divides this process into
three stages:
1. Understanding ()
a) The interpretation of discourse in SL
On the whole, the writer does not explicitly express what s/he wants to
transmit, since situation or context play a major role in the interpretation of
Page | 6

the implicit. Translators/interpreters differ from the ordinary reader, for

they have this skill of capturing the meaning embodied between the lines
by reference to the contextual value of each word, which makes them able
to collect the full meaning without any shortage.
b) Contextualization to collect the possible meaning of the ST
To translate means to cross the bridge between different cultures and
language systems and here come the role of the cognitive complements: the
non-linguistic elements that contribute in the process of understanding,
they include all that is conceptual, cultural and aesthetic-emotional, added
to the text forming its general contextual dimensions (verbal context,
situational and cognitive context). Let us say then that translation requires a
sharp understanding of the original beyond lexical constrains, but it goes
far beyond the linguistic framework to evoking his/her knowledge and
skills on analyzing the discourse in its general context.
2- De-verbalisation ()
In this stage, sense is freed from all linguistic structures of the SL,
the interpreter/translator is then in the quest for new linguistic structures
matching the TLs. This is a very important step, in view of the fact that it
enables its user to avoid overlap between the two languages during the reexpression stage, hence, resulting with a smooth and fair translation that
does not smell like one. So, during re-expression, the translator must pay
attention to the problem of overlap, and reformulate by avoiding as much
as possible the interference that exists between the different systems of

Page | 7

3- Reformulation ()
One may ask what is re-expressed exactly. Is it a reformulation of the
cultural component? Or is it a reformulation of the linguistic one? Or is it,
rather, a reformulation the communicative meaning? Well, the answer is
simple, the interpreter may enclose more than what was originally said in
the text and explain if necessary, but without adding anything new to the
core meaning, s/he can change the cultural image to approximate the
content to the receiving public, but without changing the function of this
very image. What is important, hence, is to reformulate what the writer of
the original text has successfully conveyed to his SL readers.
When the translator does not succeed in grasping that meaning, the
product falls inevitably into vulgarity and pettiness. To prevent this from
happening, the following types of translations are to be avoided (Omar
kouch, 2014):
The literal translation: Transcodage:
The over-translation: Sur-traduction:
The under-translation: Sous-traduction :

Page | 8

General applicability of the theory of sense

The Interpretive Approach (see Theory of Sense) is used in many
fields vue its interdisciplinary nature. This approach has been adopted in
applied linguistics, translation studies, sociology, psychological studies and
many others, for it is used mainly in the analysis of human behavior and
interaction; how the environment is interpreted, by reference to the
different values, beliefs and thoughts of the subjects, and most importantly,
by reference to context (Walsham 1993).
A great amount of ink has been poured in the attempt to investigate
the applicability of this theory in translation practice, and it is important to
understand that the applicability of the Theory of Sense does not only cover
translation practice but goes farther to evaluating faithfulness and
equivalence, in other words, an approach to quality assessment of
translations. Choi, in this respect, introduces the point of views and criteria
of the theory of sense on the dilemma, and has successfully proved its
applicability in the Masters thesis he submitted on 2010 (see The
Interpretive Theory of Translation and Its Current Applications).

Page | 9


This theory has emerged as a reaction to some notions of the late 70s
regarding interpreting and translation being merely a representation of
linguistic meaning. The proponent of this theory is that interpreters and
translators have to take into account such factors as cognitive and
situational context of what has been produced and their own world
knowledge (Levault, 1996). The focus thence should derive from words to
the intended meaning (sense).
Overall, translation is a complex process requiring an evocation of
knowledge and many cognitive and social parameters. The general
emphasis at the outset is that translation should not be literal, but should
seek to transfer the essence of meaning after imbibing the ideas and
intentions of the original.

Page | 10

Bibliographical References

CALVINO I. (1979). If on a Winter's Night a Traveller. London: Random

Christine Bartels, (2014). The Intonation of English Statements and
Questions: A Compositional Interpretation. 2nd ed. England: Routledge.
Hannelore Lee-Jahnke, (2005). Processus et cheminements en traduction et
interprtation. Journal des traducteurs, 50 (2), 682-695
Logos Group (2014). Meaing and sense. [ONLINE] Available at: [Last Accessed 27/11/2014].
L'VOVSKAJA Z. D. (1985). Teoreticheskie problemy perevoda, Moskv,
SCVEJCER A. D. (1988): Teorija perevoda: status, problemy, aspekty.
Moskv: Nauka.
Mona Baker, (2003). Encyclopedia of Translation Studies. 2nd ed.
England: Routledge.
Pchhacker, F. (1992). The Role of Theory in Simultaneous Interpreting,
Teaching Translation and Interpreting. Training, Talent and
Experience (C.Dollerup and A. Loddegaard, eds). Amsterdam and
Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 211-220.
Roy, C. B. (2000). Interpreting as a Discourse Process. Oxford: Oxford
University Press.
Seleskovitch, D. (1962). Linterprtation de confrence Babel, 8-1, 13-18

Page | 11

Seleskovitch, D. (1976). Interpretation, A Psychological Approach to

Translating, Translation: Applications and Research (R. W. Brislin, ed.).
New York: Gardner Press, 92-116.
Seleskovitch, D. and M. Lederer (1984). Interprter pour traduire. Paris :
Didier rudition.
Steve Hendley, (2000). From Communicative Action to the Face of the
Other: Levinas and Habermas on Language, Obligation, and
Community. 2nd ed. USA: Lexington Books.
VYGOTSKIJ L. S. (1956). Izbrannye psihologicheskie issledovanija.
Hassib Ilyes Hodid (2008). . [ONLINE] Available at:
/ [Last Accessed
Interpretings (2011). Interpretive Theory. [ONLINE] Available at: [Last Accessed
Interpretings (2011). Interpretive Theory. [ONLINE] Available at:
/ [Last Accessed 1/11/2014].
M. Ahmed tejo (2010). . [ONLINE]
Available at: / [Last Accessed
Scribd (2011). . [ONLINE] Available at: [Last Accessed 7/11/2014].
Wikipedia (2011). Danica Sekleskovitch. [ONLINE] Available at: [Last Accessed

Page | 12

List of Abbreviations

AKA: Also known as

ESIT: Ecole Suprieure dInterprtes et de Traducteurs
SL: Source language
ST: Source text
TL: Target language
TT: Target text

Page | 13


Introduction 1
Literature review ... 1

Definition of terms
1.1.1 Introduction .. 1
1.1.2 Sense Vs meaning . 2
1.1.3 Interpretation Vs understanding ... 3


Theoretical background
1.2.1 Introduction .. 3
1.2.2 Relationship to other approaches.. 4
1.2.3 D.Seleskovitch and M. Lederer Model of Interpreting . 5
1.2.4 J. Delisle Model of Interpreting 6

General application of the Theory of Sense 9

Conclusion .. 10
Bibliographical references
List of abbreviations

Page | 14

Page | 15