Translation Studies and Its Turns

Translation Studies and Its Turns

Research, Ideas, Issues

In my blog, I am going to publish fragments of my current research, or share my ideas about what I come across in the publications I read or in the materials I study, or discuss issues in Translation Studies which, I think, call for a discussion. My posts do not claim to be anything more than work in progress and are inevitably of fragmentary nature. I count on my readers and their expertise to fill in the blanks and to contextualize discussions, whenever necessary. All borrowings must be acknowledged.
NB: The posts are published so that the newest one comes first and shown on the main page, therefore the older ones are to be found the section "Previous Posts." The New Testament principle is at work: the first will become the last.

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TranslationPosted by Sergey Tyulenev Thu, July 11, 2013 10:45:46

In their monograph Functionalism (1979), Jonathan H. Turner and Alexandra Maryanski proclaimed the apparent death of functionalism:

[The promise of functionalism was to provide a] greater insight into the operation of social systems […] It offered so much; and yet […] functionalism promised more than it could deliver. Functional analysis often confused rather than classified; and in time, scholars became increasingly disenchanted with functionalism’s promise. Today it is not unusual to find commentators arguing that functional analysis has nothing to offer the social sciences. This sentiment is so pervasive that few contemporary social scientists would be willing to proclaim themselves ‘functionalists’. They seemingly have died as an intellectual breed, or retreated into academic closets. This book is about the emergence, ascendance, and apparent fall of functionalism. Why did it emerge? Why did it prosper and dominate sociology and anthropology? Why did it become the subject of intense criticism?

The death is, however, only ‘seeming’, because as a neofunctionalist Jeffrey C. Alexander argues every sociologist is functionalist to this or that extent. Indeed the proclamation of the death of fuctionalism above is couched in functionalist terms: all the questions asked point to the main functionalist question—what does a social phenomenon do for the social whole? What function does it fulfil?

Translation students are definitely functionalists too. They study translation which means that they recognize, sometimes unconsciously, that translation is a particular institutionalised social activity which can be defined as a body of practices which, by virtue of their fulfilling a particular function in society, can be subsumed under one name (in English—‘translation’). If translations did not have something similar, they would not be called translations (or whatever other name in whatever language). They may be very different from one another, yet they all translate.

What does it mean ‘to translate’? We can hear different answers, but all of them would have some core characteristics. Whatever they are, they allow translation students have a subject matter for studies. Whether text or translator are put in the centre of translation studies, functionalist approach is unmistakeable. A text qualifies as a subject matter of the translation student because it fulfils a particular social function. A translator qualifies as a subject matter of the translation student because that person practices a social activity which fulfils a particular social function.

Perhaps the patent sociological/anthropological functionalism, if we align our latent functionalism in TS, could help us... I am investigating this aspect now.

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