Defining patterns in Translation Studies: Revisiting two classics of German Translationswissenschaft

Gernot Hebenstreit

A definition can be seen as a central working tool for researchers, since it leads to a new conceptual construction. At the same time a multitude of definitions, especially if competing with each other, is quite often perceived as a typical symptom of fields of research that have not yet developed their theories to the necessary level of sophistication. A relatively young field of research, Translation Studies and its proponents have repeatedly been the target of criticism in that respect, i.e. working with concepts whose definitions do not comply with commonly accepted standards of definition. That kind of critique serves as the starting point for this paper, which tries to analyze definitions in two seminal publications in the history of German Übersetzungswissenschaft, representing two opposing approaches to translation, namely Zufall und Gesetzmäßigkeit in der Übersetzung by Otto Kade (1968) and Grundlegung einer allgemeinen Translationstheorie by Hans J. Vermeer and Katharina Reiß (1984). The paper gives an account of standards of definition, commonly found in philosophy of science and terminology, addresses central aspects of scientific concepts (theoryboundness, types of concepts, determinacy, vagueness) and presents the findings of a study focusing on defining patterns.

Table of contents

Over the last years, metatheoretical issues seem to have been receiving an increasing amount of interest from Translation Studies scholars, a development reflected in an ever-broadening variety of activity. Thus we can choose from a growing [ p. 198 ]range of new or newly revised editions of introductions to Translation Studies (for the English and German markets : Gentzler 2001, Hatim 2001, Prunc 2002, Salevsky 2002, Stolze 2001, Hatim and Munday 2004, Katan 2004, and of course the monographs from the St. Jerome series Translation theories explained), as well as guides to research methodology (Williams and Chesterman 2002, partly Hatim 2001). Probably of greater interest to scholars in the field are specialized conferences like Research models and Translation Studies (Manchester 2000) or Translation theory and methodology (Saarbrücken 2004) and of course publications focusing explicitly on theoretical models and methodological issues (cf. the discussion on “Shared grounds in Translation Studies” in Target in 2000 and 2001, Olohan 2000, Hermans 2002, Prunc 2004). Although Translation Studies may still be a “relatively young” academic field, these findings mark some kind of consolidation of the field. It seems no longer necessary to limit metatheoretical discussions to a discourse of emancipation from linguistics and literature studies. Instead it is considered more worthwhile to take a systematic, evaluative look at what has been achieved so far (cf. Hebenstreit 2007).

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