Hans J.

Vermeer - SKOPOS AND COMMISSION IN TRANSLATIONAL ACTION THIS PAPER IS a short sketch of my skopos theory 1 Synopsis The skopos theory is part of a theory of trans ationa action! Trans ation is seen as the partic" ar #ariety of trans ationa action $hich is %ase& on a so"rce te't! Any form of trans ationa action( inc "&in) therefore trans ation itse f( may %e concei#e& as an action( as the name imp ies! Any action has an aim( a p"rpose! The *or& skopos, then( is a technica term for the aim or p"rpose of a trans ation! +"rther, an action ea&s to a res" t( a ne$ sit"ation or e#ent( an& possi% y to a -ne$. o%/ect! Trans ationa action ea&s to a -tar)et te't. 0not necessari y a #er%a one12 trans ation ea&s to a translatum 0i!e! the res" tin) trans ate& te't1( as a partic" ar #ariety of tar)et te't! The aim of any trans ationa action( an& the mo&e in $hich it is to %e rea i3e&( are ne)otiate& $ith the c ient $ho commissions the action! A precise specification of aim an& mo&e is essentia for the trans ator! The trans ator is -the. e'pert in trans ationa action! He is responsi% e for the performance of the commissione& task( for the fina translation. Insofar as the &" y specifie& skopos is &efine& from the trans ator4s point of #ie$( the so"rce te't is a constit"ent of the commission( an& as s"ch the %asis for a the hierarchica y or&ere& re e#ant factors $hich " timate y &etermine the translatum. One practica conse5"ence of the skopos theory is a ne$ concept of the stat"s of the so"rce te't for a trans ation( an& $ith it the necessity of $orkin) for an increasin) a$areness of this( %oth amon) trans ators an& a so the )enera p"% ic! The trans ator is s"ch an e'pert! It is th"s "p to him to &eci&e( for instance( $hat ro e a so"rce te't p ays in his trans ationa action! The &ecisi#e factor here is the p"rpose( the skopos( of the comm"nication in a )i#en sit"ation! 2 Skopos and translation The skopos concept can a so %e "se& $ith respect to se)ments of a translatum, $here this appears reasona% e or necessary! This a o$s "s to state that an action( an& hence a te't( nee& not %e consi&ere& an in&i#isi% e $ho e! A so"rce te't is "s"a y compose& ori)ina y for a sit"ation in the so"rce c" t"re2 hence its stat"s as -so"rce te't.( an& hence the ro e of the trans ator in the process of inter c" t"ra comm"nication! This remains tr"e of a so"rce te't $hich has %een compose& specifica y $ith transc" t"ra comm"nication in min&! In most cases the ori)ina a"thor acks the necessary kno$ e&)e of the tar)et c" t"re an& its te'ts! It is th"s not to %e e'pecte& that mere y -trans6co&in). a so"rce te't( mere y -transposin). it into another an)"a)e( $i res" t in a ser#icea% e translatum! As its name imp ies( the so"rce te't is oriente& to$ar&s( an& is in any case %o"n& to( the so"rce c" t"re! The tar)et te't( the translatum, is oriente& to$ar&s the tar)et c" t"re( an& it is this $hich " timate y &efines its a&e5"acy! It therefore fo o$s that so"rce an& tar)et te'ts may &i#er)e from each other 5"ite consi&era% y( not on y in the form" ation an& &istri%"tion of the content %"t a so as re)ar&s the )oa s $hich are set for each( an& in terms of $hich the arran)ement of the content is in fact &etermine&! It )oes $itho"t sayin) that a translatum may a so ha#e the same f"nction

0skopos1 as its so"rce te't! 7et e#en in this case the trans ation process is not mere y a -trans6co&in). 0"n ess this trans ation #ariety is act"a y inten&e&1( since accor&in) to a "niform theory of trans ation a translatum of this kin& is a so primari y oriente&( metho&o o)ica y( to$ar&s a tar)et c" t"re sit"ation or sit"ations! Trans6co&in)( as a proce&"re $hich is retrospecti#e y oriente& to$ar&s the so"rce te't( not prospecti#e y to$ar&s the tar)et c" t"re( is &iametrica y oppose& to the theory of trans ationa action! To the e'tent that a trans ator /"&)es the form an& f"nction of a so"rce te't to %e %asica y a&e5"ate per se as re)ar&s the pretermine& skopos in the tar)et c" t"re( $e can speak of a &e)ree of -interte't"a coherence. %et$een tar)et an& so"rce te't! This notion th"s refers to a re ation %et$een translatum an& so"rce te't( &efine& in terms of the skopos! +or instance( one e)itimate skopos mi)ht %e an e'act imitation of the so"rce te't synta'( perhaps to pro#i&e tar)et c" t"re rea&ers $ith information a%o"t this synta'! The point is that one m"st kno$ $hat one is &oin)( an& $hat the conse5"ences of s"ch action are( e!)! $hat the effect of a te't create& in this $ay $i %e in the tar)et c" t"re an& ho$ m"ch the effect $i &iffer from that of the so"rce te't in the so"rce c" t"re! Trans atin) is &oin) somethin), -$ritin) a trans ation.( -p"ttin) a 8erman te't into En) ish.( i!e! a form of action! 9ermeer 0:;<=1 &escri%es an action as a partic" ar sort of %eha#io"r, for an act of %eha#io"r to %e ca e& an action( the person performin) it m"st 0potentia y1 %e a% e to e'p ain why he acts as he &oes a tho")h he co" & ha#e acte& other$ise! +"rthermore( )en"ine reasons for actions can a $ays %e form" ate& in terms of aims or statements of )oa s! 3 Arguments against the skopos theory O%/ections that ha#e %een raise& a)ainst the skopos theory fa into t$o main types! 3.1 O%/ection 0:1 maintains that not a actions ha#e an aim, some ha#e -no aim.! This is c aime& to %e the case $ith iterary te'ts( or at east some of them! >n ike other te'ts 0?1( then( s"ch te'ts are c aime& to %e -aim ess.! In fact( the ar)"ment is that in certain cases no aim exists, not mere y that one mi)ht not %e a% e e'p icit y to state an aim@the atter sit"ation is sometimes ine#ita% e( o$in) to h"man imperfection( %"t it is irre e#ant here! As mentione& a%o#e( the point is that an aim m"st %e at east potentia y specifia% e! Let "s c arify the imprecise e'pression of actions -ha#in). an aim! It is more acc"rate to speak of an aim %ein) attributed to an action( an a"thor believing that he is $ritin) to a )i#en p"rpose( a rea&er simi ar y believing that an a"thor has so $ritten! O%/ection 0:1 can %e ans$ere& prima facie in terms of o"r #ery &efinition of an action, if no aim can %e attri%"te& to an action( it can no on)er %e re)ar&e& as an action! A"t it is a so $orth specifyin) the key concept of the skopos in more &etai here( $hich $e sha &o in terms of trans ation proper as one #ariety of trans ationa action! The notion of skopos can in fact %e app ie& in three $ays( an& th"s ha#e three senses, it may refer to a! the trans ation process( an& hence the )oa of this process2 %! the trans ation res" t( an& hence the f"nction of the translatum; c! the trans ation mo&e( an& hence the intention of this mo&e!

A&&itiona y( the skopos may of co"rse a so ha#e s"%6skopoi! O%/ection 0:1( then( can %e ans$ere& as fo o$s, if a )i#en act of %eha#io"r has neither )oa nor f"nction nor intention( as re)ar&s its rea i3ation( res" t or manner( then it is not an action in the technica sense of the $or&! If it is ne#erthe ess c aime& that iterat"re -has no p"rpose.( this pres"ma% y means that the creation of iterat"re inc "&es in&i#i&"a moments to $hich no )oa ( no f"nction or intention can %e attri%"te&( in the sense sketche& a%o#e! O"r %asic ar)"ment m"st therefore remain intact, e#en the creation of iterat"re in#o #es p"rposef" action! One recent #ariant of o%/ection 0:1 is the c aim that a te't can on y %e ca e& - iterat"re. if it is art( an& art has no p"rpose an& no intention! So a $ork $hich &i& ha#e a )oa or intention $o" & not %e art! The o%/ection seems to %e %ase& on a mis"n&erstan&in)! No$a&ays it is e'treme y 5"estiona% e $hether there is( or has e#en %een( an art $ith no p"rpose! 3.2 O%/ection 0B1 is a partic" ar #ariant of the first o%/ection! It maintains that not e#ery translation can %e assi)ne& a p"rpose( an intention2 i!e! there are trans ations that are not )oa 6oriente&! There are three specifications of o%/ection 0B1 that merit f"rther &isc"ssion, a! The c aim that the trans ator &oes not ha#e any specific )oa ( f"nction or intention in min&, he /"st trans ates -$hat is in the so"rce te't.! %! The c aim that a specific )oa ( f"nction or intention $o" & restrict the trans ation possi%i ities( an& hence imit the ran)e of interpretation of the tar)et te't in comparison to that of the so"rce te't! c! The c aim that the trans ator has no specific a&&ressee or set of a&&ressees in min&! Let "s consi&er each of these in t"rn! a! A&#ertisin) te'ts are s"ppose& to a&#ertise2 the more s"ccessf" the a&#ertisement is( the %etter the te't e#i&ent y is! Ne$spaper reports an& their trans ations a so ha#e a p"rpose, to inform the recipient( at east2 the trans ation th"s has to %e comprehensi% e( in the ri)ht sense( to the e'pecte& rea&ership( i!e! the set of a&&ressees! There is no 5"estion that s"ch -pra)matic te'ts. m"st %e )oa oriente&( an& so are their trans ations! It mi)ht %e sai& that the post" ate of -fi&e ity. to the so"rce te't re5"ires that e!)! a ne$s item sho" & %e trans ate& -as it $as in the ori)ina .! A"t this too is a )oa in itse f! In&ee&( it is %y &efinition pro%a% y the )oa that most iterary trans ators tra&itiona y set themse #es! %! The ar)"ment that assi)nin) a skopos to e#ery iterary te't restricts its possi%i ities of interpretation can %e ans$ere& as fo o$s! A )i#en skopos may of co"rse r" e o"t certain interpretations %eca"se they are not part of the trans ation )oa 2 %"t one possi% e )oa 0skopos1 $o" & certain y %e precise y to preser#e the %rea&th of interpretation of the so"rce te't! c! It is tr"e that in many cases a te't6pro&"cer( an& hence a so a trans ator( is not thinkin) of a specific a&&ressee 0in the sense of, Cohn Smith1 or set of a&&ressees 0in the sense of, the mem%ers of the socia &emocrat party1! In other cases( ho$e#er( the a&&ressee0s1 may in&ee& %e precise y specifie&! > timate y e#en a comm"nication -to the $or &. has a set of a&&ressees! As on) as one %e ie#es that one is e'pressin) onese f in a -comprehensi% e. $ay( an& as on) as one ass"mes( a %eit "nconscio"s y( that peop e ha#e $i&e y #aryin) e#e s of inte i)ence an& e&"cation( then one m"st in fact %e orientin) onese f to$ar&s a certain restricte& )ro"p of

a&&ressees2 not necessari y conscio"s y@%"t "nconscio"s y! One s"re y often "ses one4s o$n 0se f6e#a "ate&1 e#e as an imp icit criterion 0the a&&ressees are 0a most1 as inte i)ent as one is onese fD1! The pro% em( then( is not that there is no set of a&&ressees( %"t that it is an in&eterminate( f"33y set! A"t it certain y e'ists( #a)"e in o"t ine %"t c ear y present! An& the c arity or other$ise of the concept is not specifie& %y the skopos theory! 3.3 O%/ection 0B1 can a so %e interprete& in another $ay! In te't in)"istics an& iterary theory a &istinction is often ma&e %et$een te't as potentia an& te't as rea i3ation! If the skopos theory maintains that e#ery te't has a )i#en )oa ( f"nction or intention( an& a so an ass"me& set of a&&ressees( o%/ection 0B1 can %e "n&erstoo& as c aimin) that this app ies to te't as rea i3ation2 for a te't is a so potentia in the -s"pers"mmati#e. sense ( in that it can %e "se& in &ifferent sit"ations $ith &ifferent a&&ressees an& &ifferent f"nctions! A)ree&2 %"t $hen a te't is act"a y compose&( this is ne#erthe ess &one $ith respect to an ass"me& f"nction 0or sma set of f"nctions1 etc! The skopos theory &oes not &eny that the same te't mi)ht %e "se& ater 0a so1 in $ays that ha& not %een foreseen ori)ina y! It is $e kno$n that a translatum is a te't -in its o$n ri)ht.( $ith its o$n potentia of "se, a point o#er ooke& %y *i ss! +or this reason not e#en potentia te'ts can %e set "p $ith no partic" ar )oa or a&&ressee@at east not in any a&e5"ate( practica or si)nificant $ay! 3.4 I ha#e a)ree& that one e)itimate skopos is ma'ima y faithf" imitation of the ori)ina ( as common y in iterary trans ation! Tr"e trans ation( $ith an a&e5"ate skopos( &oes not mean that the trans ator must a&apt to the c"stoms an& "sa)e of the tar)et c" t"re( on y that he can so a&apt! This aspect of the skopos theory has %een repeate& y mis"n&erstoo&! *hat $e ha#e is in fact a -hare6an&6tortoise. theory 0K a"s M"&ers%ach( persona comm"nication1, the skopos is a $ays 0a rea&y1 there( at once( $hether the trans ation is an assimi atin) one or &e i%erate y marke& or $hate#er! *hat the skopos states is that one m"st trans ate( conscio"s y an& consistent y( in accor&ance $ith some princip e respectin) the tar)et te't! The theory &oes not state $hat the princip e is, this m"st %e &eci&e& separate y in each specific case! The important point is that a )i#en so"rce te't &oes not ha#e one correct or %est trans ation on y! *e can maintain( then( that e#ery reception or pro&"ction of a te't can at east retrospecti#e y %e assi)ne& a skopos( as can e#ery trans ation( %y an o%ser#er or iterary scho ar etc!2 an& a so that e#ery action is )"i&e& %y a skopos! If $e no$ t"rn this ar)"ment aro"n& $e can post" ate a priori that trans ation@%eca"se it is an action@a $ays pres"pposes a skopos an& is &irecte& %y a skopos! It fo o$s that e#ery trans ation commission sho" & e'p icit y or imp icit y contain a statement of skopos in or&er to %e carrie& o"t at a ! E#ery trans ation pres"pposes a commission( e#en tho")h it may %e set %y the trans ator to himse f! 4 The translation commission Let "s &efine a commission as the instr"ction( )i#en %y onese f or %y someone e se( to carry o"t a )i#en action@here, to trans ate! No$a&ays( in practice( commissions are norma y )i#en e'p icit y, a tho")h se &om $ith respect to the " timate p"rpose of the te't! In rea ife( the specification of p"rpose( a&&ressees etc! is

"s"a y s"fficient y apparent from the commission sit"ation itse f! A commission comprises 0or sho" & comprise1 as m"ch &etai e& information as possi% e on the fo o$in), 0:1 the )oa ( i!e! a specification of the aim of the commission2 0B1 the con&itions "n&er $hich the inten&e& )oa sho" & %e attaine& 0nat"ra y inc "&in) practica matters s"ch as &ea& ine an& fee1! The statement of )oa an& the con&itions sho" & %e e'p icit y ne)otiate& %et$een the c ient 0commissioner1 an& the trans ator( for the c ient may occasiona y ha#e an imprecise or e#en fa se pict"re of the $ay a te't mi)ht %e recei#e& in the tar)et c" t"re! Here the trans ator sho" & %e a% e to make ar)"mentati#e s"))estions! A commission can 0an& sho" &1 on y %e %in&in) an& conc "si#e( an& accepte& as s"ch %y the trans ator( if the con&itions are c ear eno")h! The trans ator is the e'pert in trans ationa action2 as an e'pert he is therefore responsi% e for &eci&in) $hether( $hen( ho$( etc!( a trans ation can %e rea i3e&! The realizability of a commission &epen&s on the circ"mstances of the tar)et c" t"re( not on those of the so"rce c" t"re! *hat is &epen&ent on the so"rce c" t"re is the so"rce te't! A commission is on y in&irect y &epen&ent on the so"rce c" t"re to the e'tent that a trans ation( %y &efinition( m"st in#o #e a so"rce te't! One mi)ht say that the rea i3a%i ity of a commission &epen&s on the re ation %et$een the tar)et c" t"re an& the so"rce te't2 yet this $o" & on y %e a specia case of the )enera &epen&ence on the tar)et c" t"re, a specia case( that is( insofar as the commission is %asica y in&epen&ent of the so"rce te't f"nction! If the &iscrepancy is too )reat( ho$e#er( no trans ation is possi% e! The skopos of a trans ation is therefore the )oa or p"rpose( &efine& %y the commission an& if necessary a&/"ste& %y the trans ator! In or&er for the skopos to %e &efine& precise y( the commission m"st th"s %e as specific as possi% e! If the commission is specific eno")h( after possi% e a&/"stment %y the trans ator himse f( the &ecision can then %e taken a%o"t how to trans ate optima y( i!e! $hat kin& of chan)es $i %e necessary in the translatum $ith respect to the so"rce te't! This concept of the commission th"s ea&s to the same res" t as the skopos theory o"t ine& a%o#e, a translatum is primari y &etermine& %y its skopos or its commission( accepte& %y the trans ator as %ein) a&e5"ate to the )oa of the action! +orm" ate& in this $ay( neither skopos nor commission are ne$ concepts as s"ch@%oth simp y make e'p icit somethin) $hich has a $ays e'iste&! 7et they &o specify somethin) that has hitherto either %een imp icit y p"t into practice more "nconscio"s y than conscio"s y( or e se %een ne) ecte& or e#en re/ecte& a to)ether, that is( the fact that one trans ates accor&in) to a partic" ar p"rpose( $hich imp ies trans atin) in a certain manner( $itho"t )i#in) $ay free y to e#ery imp" se2 the fact that there m"st a $ays %e a c ear y &efine& )oa ! The t$o concepts a so ser#e to re ati#i3e a #ie$point that has often %een seen as the on y #a i& one, that a so"rce te't sho" & %e trans ate& -as itera y as possi% e.! Ne) ectin) to specify the commission or the skopos has one fata conse5"ence, there has %een itt e a)reement to &ate a%o"t the %est metho& of trans atin) a )i#en te't! In the conte't of the skopos or the commission this m"st no$ %e possi% e( at east as re)ar&s the macrostrate)y! The skopos can a so he p to &etermine $hether the so"rce te't nee&s to %e -trans ate&.( -paraphrase&. or comp ete y -re6e&ite&.! S"ch strate)ies ea& to termino o)ica y &ifferent #arieties of trans ationa action( each %ase& on a &efine& skopos $hich is itse f %ase& on a specifie& commission! Are $e not /"st makin) a ot of f"ss a%o"t nothin)( thenE No( insofar as the

fo o$in) c aims are /"stifie&, 0:1 the theory makes e'p icit an& conscio"s somethin) that is too often &enie&2 0B1 the skopos( $hich is 0or sho" & %e1 &efine& in the commission( e'pan&s the possi%i ities of trans ation( increases the ran)e of possi% e trans ation strate)ies( an& re eases the trans ator from the corset of an enforce&@ an& hence often meanin) ess@ itera ness2 an& 0F1 it incorporates an& en ar)es the acco"nta%i ity of the trans ator( in that his trans ation m"st f"nction in s"ch a $ay that the )i#en )oa is attaine&! This acco"nta%i ity in fact ies at the #ery heart of the theory, $hat $e are ta kin) a%o"t is no ess than the ethos of the trans ator! The so"rce te't &oes not &etermine the #ariety of the tar)et te't( nor &oes the te't #ariety &etermine ipso facto the form of the tar)et te't 0the te't #ariety &oes not &etermine the skopos( either12 rather( it is the skopos of the trans ation that a so &etermines the appropriate te't #ariety! A -te't #ariety.( in the sense of a c assificatory si)n of a translatum, is th"s a conse5"ence of the skopos( an& there%y secon&ary to it! In a )i#en c" t"re it is the skopos that &etermines $hich te't #ariety a translatum sho" & conform to!