Translation Theory and Practice


Good theory is based on information gained from practice. Good practice is based on carefully worked-out theory. The two are interdependent. (Larson l991, p. 1)

The ideal translation will be accurate as to meaning and natural as to the receptor language forms used. An intended audience who is unfamiliar with the source text will readily understand it. The success of a translation is measured by how closely it measures up to these ideals.

The ideal translation should be…

Translation is a process based on the theory that it is possible to abstract the meaning of a text from its forms and reproduce that meaning with the very different forms of a second language.

Translation, then, consists of studying the lexicon, grammatical structure, communication situation, and cultural context of the source language text, analyzing it in order to determine its meaning, and then reconstructing this same meaning using the lexicon and grammatical structure which are appropriate in the receptor language and its cultural context. (Larson l998, p. 3)

Overview of the translation task

Diagram from Larson l998, p. 4

In practice, there is considerable variation in the types of translations produced by translators. Some translators work only in two languages and are competent in both. Others work from their first language to their second language, and still others from their second language to their first language. Depending on these matters of language proficiency, the procedures used will vary from project to project. In most projects in which SIL is involved, a translation team carries on the project. Team roles are worked out according to the individual skills of team members. There is also some variation depending on the purpose of a given translation and the type of translation that will be accepted by the intended audiences.

translators working

Books by SIL authors that present translation theory and practice include the following which are available on line at the International Academic Bookstore. There are also many articles on translation theory and practice listed in the SIL bibliography.

Of interest to all professional translators:
Callow, Kathleen, l999, Man and Message
Gutt, Ernst-August, l992, Relevance Theory
Larson, Mildred L., Meaning-based Translation (Also in Indonesian, Spanish, and Russian.)

Of special interest to Bible Translators:
Barnwell, Katharine, l986, Bible Translation (Also in French and Russian)
Beekman and Callow, l974, Translating the Word of God (Also in Spanish)
Larson, Mildred L., with Ellis E. Deibler and Marjorie Crofts, l998, Meaning-Based Translation Workbook: Biblical Exercises

Larson, Mildred L., editor. 1991. Translation: theory and practice, tension and interdependence. American Translators Association scholarly monographs, 5. Binghampton, NY: State University of New York. 270 p.

Larson, Mildred L. 1998. Meaning-based translation: A guide to cross-language equivalence. Lanham, MD: University Press of America and Summer Institute of Linguistics. x, 586 p.