Nord's text analysis
Christiane Nord. Text
Analysis in Translation. Theory, Method, and Didactic Application
of a Model for Translation-Oriented Text Analysis. Translated
from the German by Christiane Nord and Penelope Sparrow. Amsterdam/Atlanta
GA: Rodopi, 1991. 250 pp. ISBN: 90-5183-311-3.
Publication in TTR 6/2
You've been translating
for years, you arrive in class armed with examples, experience,
communicative methods, didactics and dialectics, and soon your
students are floundering in a sea of disparate problems, competences
and skills. Some kind of life raft is needed, for both teachers
Christiane Nord's model of
translation-oriented text analysis, translated and adapted from
her Textanalyse und Übersetzen of 1988, is a very
useful raft in such situations. Designed for application to all
text types and language pairs, Nord's approach aims to provide
"criteria for the classification of texts for translation
classes, and some guidelines for assessing the quality of the
translation" (2). It has numerous clear examples, some very
complete box-and-arrow diagrams, and coffins around the key statements
that students tend to underline anyway. It should be of extreme
interest to anyone seeking a solid basis for the training of translators.
The book has five sections.
Part one outlines a series of theoretical principles relating
source-text analysis to German Skopostheorie. Part two describes
the role of source text analysis. Part three then runs through
the extratextual and intratextual factors involved in the analysis.
Part four discusses the didactic applications of the model. Part
five applies the model to an analysis of three texts and their
translations. The approach is nothing if not systematic.
Nord's adherence to what German
knows as Skopostheorie means she ranks target-text purpose (the
"skopos") above all other determinants on a translation.
For Nord, the skopos is "a more or less explicit description
of the prospective target situation" (8). It is thus to be
derived from the instructions given by the "initiator,"
the person for whom the translator is working (not to be confused
with authors or readers, although authors and readers may become
initiators). The skopos is in a sense the pragmatic content of
the initiator's instructions. As such, Nord's use of the term
differs from previous usages in Vermeer, for whom the translator
fixes the skopos on the basis of the initiator's instructions.
Nord does not accord the translator the freedom to decide such
things alone. For her, the skopos remains "subject to the
initiator's decision and not to the discretion of the translator"
(9). Although no reasons are given for this variant on other versions
of Skopostheorie, one suspects that the relatively subordinate
position of Nord's translator is due to the classroom situation
for which she is writing. Perhaps her translator is ultimately
At this point Nord negotiates
at least one theoretical problem. If the main factor determining
a translation is the target-text function as fixed by the initiator,
why should any translator engage in extensive source-text analysis?
Surely it would be enough to analyze the prospective target-text
function and then take whatever elements are required from the
source text. Indeed, if the two texts are to have different functions
anyway (Nord argues that equivalence or functional invariance
is merely an exceptional case), why venture into the previous
function of the source text at all? This argument is not entirely
perverse for those of us who have had to translate texts that
are so badly written as to be inadequate even to their ascribed
source-culture functions. And yet Nord, here differing from Holz-Mänttäri,
excludes free rewriting from the domain of translation (28), without
asking if it is something we should nevertheless be teaching.
Although Nord justifies this exclusion on the basis of "the
conventional concept of translation that I have grown up with"
(28), her position is also strategically necessary for a source-text
analysis aspiring to "provide a reliable foundation for each
and every decision which the translator has to make in a particular
translation process" (1). Yet even granting the exclusion,
if the initiator's purpose is truly dominant, how can source-text
analysis also be sufficiently dominant to make translation an
entirely determinate process? An Aristotelian might accuse Nord
of opting for both initial and final causation at the same time.
Nord's solution to this problem
is to insist on a specifically "translation-oriented"
mode of text analysis. When establishing the function of the source
text, the translator "compares this with the (prospective)
'function-in-culture' of the target text required by the initiator,
identifying and isolating those source-text elements which have
to be preserved or adapted in translation" (21). The most
concrete illustration of this method is a three-column table (143)
in which the various text-analysis categories are applied to the
source, the target, and the moment of transfer as a comparing
of functions. By filling in the three columns the student should
discover the changes to be made. All practical and theoretical
problems are thus solved.
Or are they? Consider the
effort required for anyone to work through Nord's categories.
The model incorporates 17 levels or factors; her checklists present
some 76 questions to be asked in order to produce a text profile,
and all this should perhaps be done for at least two of the three
columns. Nord cannot be accused of having left much out. The problem
is rather that she has put everything in. As useful as 76 questions
might be the first time around, students also have to be trained
to work quickly. The model's main virtue is thus that it can eventually
lead to some kind of global awareness that texts carry out functions.
Consider, too, the way the
theoretically dominant role of the initiator's purpose gradually
disappears as Nord advances into the practical aspects of source-text
analysis. This shift first appears in the idealist postulate that
there must be "compatibility between source-text intention
and target-text functions if translation is to be possible at
all" (29). We then discover that, given this compatibility,
"the translator must not act contrary to the sender's intention"
(48). And when analyzing the final examples of literary translation
we find that "the translation skopos requires equivalence
of effect" (202). All these statements go against the absolute
primacy of initiators' purposes and the theoretically exceptional
nature of equivalence. Further, they are all explicitly located
as norms of "our culture" (29, 72), as "our culture-specific
concept" (73), and even, lest anyone suspect this "our"
is specifically German, "our 'average Western cultures'"
(182). Within this frame, Nord's text analysis becomes a way of
applying the prevailing norms. There is little question of translators
changing these norms in the name of some higher or future rationality.
As in Snell-Hornby's "integrated approach," Nord's final
analyses turn out to be pedagogically normative, conveniently
forgetting the initial theorizing about specific initiators and
the exceptional status of functional invariance. She is a teacher
Although the nature of translation
norms is mostly intuited in this book, Nord's more recent work
(1993) uses the case of translating titles in order to indicate
how norms can be located, systematized, and integrated into her
general approach. The analyses are solid and stimulating. In both
books, however, the main hermeneutic component is a pronounced
will to system. Nord sometimes seems afraid to recognize any indeterminism
or subjectivity in translation. Indeed, the fact that individuals
might actually interpret texts in individual ways is regarded
as a difficulty to be averted: "The only way to overcome
this problem is, in my opinion, first to control source-text reception
by a strict model of analysis [...] and second, to control target-text
production by stringent 'translating instructions' which clearly
define the (prospective) function of the target text" (17).
All this "control" should enable the translation class
to produce anonymous technicians able to apply the same method
to come up with the same or similar answers. Without such control,
says Nord, the "function and effect of target-text structures
will be purely accidental" (236). Heaven forbid!
Nord's theoretical insistence
on the dominance of the skopos, although not carried through in
practice, could yet be seen as a masterful way of keeping indeterminism
at bay. If the teacher alone no longer has the authority to say
how a text should be translated (since many target functions are
possible), authority is displaced towards initiators, who must
then be trained to specify exactly what kind of translation they
require. Just as translators are accorded the relatively subordinate
position of students, initiators virtually become teachers at
large. And their ideally determining role in turn supports the
authority of teachers in class, who can now assume or set their
own explicit instructions (justified as norms of "our culture")
in supposed imitation of generalized initiators. But can anyone
prove that actual translation processes, like most translation
instructions beyond the classroom situation, are not significantly
In this regard, some note
should be made of a certain indeterminism underlying this book's
status as a translation itself. Despite Nord's statement that
"the translator [...] is a text producer in the target culture"
(11), her own work on this translation has obviously been carried
out in an intercultural position formed by collaboration. This
interculturality is absent from Nord's theory but does enter her
practice, particularly with respect to English renderings of the
more technical German terms. Her use of "instructions"
for "Übersetzungsauftrag" is better than "commission,"
which could suggest the translator receives a cut of the profits
(not a bad idea). But the neologism "skopos" for the
German-Greek "Skopos" is more uncertain, since Nord
occasionally uses "scopos" (4) and the very misleading
"scope" (72, 79, 197). Such variants constitute a general
problem in the movement of Skopostheorie into English. Vermeer
has elsewhere directly glossed a twentieth-century use of the
English term "scope" as equivalent to his German "Skopos"
(1992 II: 72) and Pöchhacker gives us the English "T&I"
(for translation and interpreting) because he believes the German
superordinate "Translation" is not covered by the English
"translation" (1993: 88). German-speakers can do what
they like with their own language. But as far as I'm concerned,
"scope" is a synonym of "range," "translation"
is easily made to include interpreting, Nord's use of "skopos"
can in most cases adequately be covered by "purpose,"
and no effort should be spared to keep English terminology as
accessible as possible. At the same time, however, considerable
effort should be put into having more Skopostheorie available
in English, since it has many valuable things to say.
As one of the few translations
attempting this movement, Nord's book could not avoid a certain
gap between one theoretical tradition and another. Particularly
regrettable here is the lack of bridging references to discourse
analysis as we find it in Delisle or, had time permitted, Hatim
and Mason (or more generally to Halliday). More problematically,
her repeated insistence on auctorial intentions ("we are
mainly interested in the intention which the author is trying
to realise", 15) fits in badly with the legacy of New Criticism,
and even worse with deconstructive approaches to textuality, especially
those recognizing Freudian subjectivity. Nord's simple acceptance
of intention will seem rather naïve to many English-language
readers. But it might nevertheless be adequate to the restricted
concerns of certain translation classes.
There then remain a series
of minor theoretical issues that Nord fails to address because
of her focus on translator training. These are best formulated
as three quick questions:
- Do the "skopos"
principles apply to all translation by definition or to translation
as it should be? Failure to address this question enables considerable
sliding between descriptive and normative statements.
- If the skopos is truly dominant,
should it not determine the very categories of each particular
source-text analysis? This could provide an elegant way of reducing
the effort put into analysis. But it would also mean that each
skopos requires a different theory. To avoid this outcome Nord
tries to base her analysis on "the categories by which we
perceive the world" (42), which are somehow recruited in
one page and summarized as "space," "time,"
"culture," and "text functions." Is Nord saying
that cultures are not spatiotemporal, or that space and time are
not perceived in culturally determined ways?
- How can Skopostheorie resolve
ethical conflicts between the initiator's purpose and the translator's
expertise? Nord tells us the translator remains "responsible"
for work carried out according to someone else's criteria (9)
and further posits that the translator's "loyalty" is
to both senders and receivers (27). All these concepts fit together
nicely for as long as the principle of compatibility reigns. But
surely ethical principles are only required in situations of incompatibility,
when translators have to decide one way or the other?
Perhaps these points would
only worry someone with training in philosophy (?). They should
not detract from the specific aims and purposes of most translation
classes. Nor do they detract from the excellent practicality of
Nord's general approach. In fact, avoidance of imponderables keeps
this book healthily free of the arcane abstraction, gratuitous
belligerence and paperback mysticism that occasionally spice certain
other Skopostheorie writings.
Despite relatively slight
problems in her theorizing, I have used and benefited from Nord's
models and checklists in my own translator-training classes. They
do not solve all the problems encountered in particular texts.
But they do provide very valuable help for students struggling
to grasp functionality, as well as a solid basis for oral discussion.
As such, they wholly justify Nord's reputation as one of the few
specialists who can really help us consolidate and refine our
© Anthony Pym 1998
Nord, Christiane. 1993. Einführung
in das funktionale Übersetzen. Tübingen/Basel: Francke.
Pöchhacker, Franz. 1993.
"From Knowledge to Text: Coherence in Simultaneous Interpreting."
Yves Gambier & Jorma Tommola (eds) Translation and Knowledge
(SSOTT IV). Turku: University of Turku Centre for Translation
and Interpreting. 87-100.
Vermeer, Hans. J. 1992. Skizzen
zu einer Geschichte der Translation. Vols 1 & 2. Frankfurt/Main:
Verlag für Interkulturelle Kommunikation.
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