Pym Discussion Questions

Pym refers to the idea of tertium comparationis, which explains a possible universal understanding for meaning that lies outside of individual languages. Therefore, as Snell-Hornby clarifies, it is assumed by natural equivalence thinkers that all languages posses the ability to be conveyed in a similar manner. However, doesn’t variance in culture imply that this cannot always be true? Pym rationalizes that if translation presents a new concept or way of thought to a culture, how can the introduction of this idea be deemed natural? There is also concern that major cultures feel dominance over the rest of the world in accordance to their belief that the world is a reflection of those civilizations that achieve power. Anthropologist, Stuart Hall, questions the concept of “the West and the Rest” and how this notion came to be. He comments that the European’s discovery and expansion into the New World brought with it the theory that industrialized Europe is what all societies strive to become. This belief then diminished their appreciation for the unique culture that they had encountered. In conclusion, based on which assumptions (if at all) is it fair for one society to determine their language is superior to that of another?

Discussion questions from Nina

As a theorist in translation field Pym represents us many other thoughts about it. The chapter starts by defending the equivalence paradigm. And he comes to decision that “preexisting equivalence is based on the historical conditions of print culture and national vernacular languages”.
He touches next questions:
-what should be translation?
-what could be a perfect paradigms for translating?
-what is in general translation theory?
-what means “use theory/paradigm” in this case?
-what do you need for the good/proper translation?
-is there any “ideal” type translating?
-why equivalence is different?
-how we need to translate the text to make it maximally closer to the original?

What might be the outcome of translation?

In Chapter 1 and Chapter 2, Pym mainly defends the necessity as well as the significance of the existence of translation activities. Though problematic, natural equivalence is also remarkable as a first step examining the central problems in translation studies. It is unlikely to achieve complete equivalence in all respects, but to some extent it is possible to reach equivalence in some ways, such as in form or in function, at the sacrifice of certain loss. There are different approaches to fulfill such goal. However, are translators and theorists work so hard to bring diversity or unity into different cultures?

It seems that those who aim to domesticate strive to bring unity while those who deliberately leave distance between ST and TT aim to emphasize the difference and thus produce diversity. However, the purposes of translation do not always match with the outcomes. On the one hand, it is understandable that when translators domesticate source culture they synthesize the foreign culture and represent it in a way that is common in target culture. By doing this they are trying to build up a world in the atmosphere of certain culture, for example, to enrich Chinese tradition with British ideas, to construct a Britain inside Chinese culture, and finally to achieve a unity of British and Chinese culture. However, for those translators who deliberately foreignize the work, I think they also help to build up a unified culture. What they do is to introduce different languages and world-views and allow them collide with each other; in the end, ideally, it seems to me that such collision will temporarily generate certain diversity for sure but in the long term will result in a relatively universal world-view and culture; even the difference among languages will diminish. What do you think of the outcome of translation activities?


Pym Questions

Translation is the carrying of a meaning/ idea from one language to another. Because there often times aren’t corresponding words to every two languages, it is important that the same meaning be conveyed by a different expression. In translation studies, there exist two branches of equivalence- formal equivalence and dynamic equivalence. The two differ in that formal equivalence relates to linguistic factors (word-word translation) and cultural factors (sense-sense translation). How does one maintain an equilibrium between both  aspects of linguistic equivalence and cultural equivalence regarding translation?

I was most intrigued by Jakobson’s theory regarding semiotics as it relates to translation studies. Jakobson examines the referential, emotive, conative, phatic, metalingual, and poetic functions as part of the factors of communication. When we examine the functions of language for a certain image, word, or text, we also examine the relationships that operates between the two along with the characteristics of these functions.

One factor I was particularly interested in are the different prosodic effects that arise in the translation from word to word between two languages. For instance, the word “chicken” in American culture signifies chicken as a live animal and chicken as meat/food. In Spanish, the signifier “pollo” signifies chicken as in meat/food while the word “gallita” signifies chicken as in a hen or rooster.

What does Translation Studies produce?

“Why study these theories? There is no empirical evidence (that a translator who knows about different theories will work better) and good reasons to doubt (that claim). Untrained translators may work faster and more efficiently because they know less about complex theories” – Pym, Chapter 1

Given the ambivalence Pym himself seems to feel about the relative utility of Translation Studies to translators and the difficulties involved in getting various schools of theory to come to consensus on issues springing from the infinite number of possible interpretations and the strategies that go into their production it seems worthwhile to ask the most immediate and obvious questions: What is this conversation about? What is the goal here? To whom do the tangible benefits of this debate go?

Pym questions

Pym makes the claim that we are always theorizing when we translate: we make subconscious choices on what word is a better fit; whether to foreignize or domesticate; whether to create a dynamic equivalent when there isn’t a natural one; whether to privilege the source text or the target text; how to navigate between the conceptual/cultural grids of the ST and TT.; are we thinking of the movement of meaning in spatial and maybe also temporal terms?

He also claims that all this theorizing doesn’t necessarily mean that we are using a “theory” of translation, but that we are talking within one or another “paradigm”.  The paradigm set forth in this class is one that is firmly rooted in hermeneutics.  Of primary importance are terms like “understanding”, “meaning”, and “equivalence”.


  • a relation of equal value between ST and TT and can be linguistic, stylistic, formal
    • natural equivalence is a priori to the act of translation
    • natural equivalence is non-directional
    • equivalence is an impossibility to those who see language as deeply embedded within the structure of society and culture
    • equivalence paradigm functions at many levels–it can overcome this structural problem by positing that all language systems can point to a referent that is a tertium comparationis; in the same way as metaphor works
  • We can illustrate some of the concepts of equivalence by using online translation machines.  Use Google Translate etc to see what is lost.  How can we break this up into components to see how the translation has occurred?