Selected Aspects of Drama and Film Translation

Thesis (M.A.), 2009

49 Pages, Grade: 6.0











This paper aims to show how Skopos theory functions in literature type text context. It suggests some useful tips as to adapt this given theory while translating literature such as plays, comedies, dramas and screenplays. The media world is focused especially on the recipient of its products such as theatre performances and films. What is more, the audience’s applause and recognition decides about existence of this world. Therefore the translation theory such as Skopos which concentrates on the receiver’s needs and expectations trying to meet their demands is the most appropriate theory for translation such texts as plays and screenplays. Furthermore, the Skopos theory involves the assumption that it is the reader whose consciousness is taken into consideration while formulating messages in a text. This consciousness is created by some special circumstances, which are the country of origin, its culture, society and media developed in this community. Therefore a text produced according to the Skopos theory should match all the above-mentioned criteria in order to function successfully in a given society which is a group of people with one common attitude towards such aspects of life as policy, works of art, cuisine, tradition and history of a country.

Translation is adapting source consciousness of a writer towards target consciousness of a reader taking all the above circumstances into account. It is matching culture to the culture, tradition to tradition and the history to the history in order to obtain the full understanding of a reader. Therefore it may be stated that when the intercultural dimension as well as cultural integration are taken into account, the Skopos theory is the one which meets all the demands of the successful translation and causes full comprehension of a reader. In expressive type literature this theory is the most useful because it matches the criteria required by media market in almost every country when a recipient of a cultural product is the most important aspect.

Chapter One of this diploma paper deals with the dilemma of the history of translation as well as the Skopos theory in the historical context. It provides a reader with the historical background which states a basis for development of the Skopos theory being the summary of all the existing theories, involving all of them and using them appropriately according to a translator’s purpose. It suggests as well why this particular theory is the most useful one when translation of expressive type literature is taken into consideration.

The second chapter copes with the problem of expressive type literature translation and provides a reader with useful theory regarding all the aspects of translation in general as well as with dilemmas of translation this particular genre which are theatrical plays and screenplays, involving such aspects of translation like work for theatre industry, media world and film productions.

Chapter Three aims at showing which hitherto prevailing English-Polish and Polish-English translations have been the most successful ones including analysis of the greatest masterpieces both of English as well as Polish literature. It deals with many problems known in translation such as adjusting to a reader and preserving form while the message itself is not distorted.

In conclusion all the theses provided in the course of the three chapters are summarised and discussed in general stating one more time why the Skopos theory happens to be the most useful and reader friendly in such a field of literature as theatrical plays and screenplays.

The aim of this paper is to be a kind of guide for all the people dealing with drama and film translation who are aiming at successfully achieving their readers’ understanding. What is more, this paper tries to link experience derived from the world of theatre with translation knowledge connected with English Philology. It gives profound description of theatre environment and indicates how a translator can meet the demands and expectations of actors, theatre and film directors as well as their audience. It summarizes the experience of the greatest Polish translators such as for example Stanisław Barańczak with acting and rehearsing theory provided by Constantin Stanisłavski, the father of the most accomplished acting and directing system. Knowledge of these proceedings introduced by Stanisłavski is of the utmost importance for all film and theatre translations if their work aims to be understandable by the audience.


1.1 Introduction

Translation is rendering of a message contained in a language using the means of another language. Among many problems of translating we may differentiate a number of constraints, to which belong verbal and situational contexts. Two languages have different contexts. During the process of translation we take into consideration the type of a text and what is more - the cultural context. Taking into account the context of the given culture a translator must have knowledge about this field. It is not possible to translate a source text into a target text without orientation relating to the basic assumptions of a source and target culture. Skopos theory is taking benefit from the knowledge about given cultural context and introduces such interpretation of a translated material that its message and form is conveyed to the recepient in accordance with his or her needs and expectations. This theory does not assume reinterpreting the messages included in the text and giving any misconceptions. The above-mentioned theory adapts a source text to the demands of the consciousness of a reader in order not to produce a fallable product. Language is the extension of human subconscious and conscious. It expresses nature of a human which has created it. Every language has its own code and message. The aim of the Skopos theory is to transfer a message from one language code into another in order to make a reader a participant of the same assumptions which were given while a text was constructed in its original language. (Munday, 77-81:2001)

In this chapter I will produce an analysis of the history of translation in the context of a problem of adapting one language system and constructed within its framework message into a code of another language. I will try to present how the idea of translating which is communication has developed in the course of centuries since antiquity through the Middle Ages to modern times. Translation is an attempt of human beings to communicate over borders and cultural as well as geographical constraints. How this communication has developed in the history of mankind is the subject of the first part of the hereby chapter.

1.2 Skopos Theory in the Historical Context

Susan Bassnett (1991:43) states that according to Eric Jacobsen translation is a Roman invention. Susan Bassnett (1991: 43) claims that:

The views of both Cicero and Horace on translation were to have great influence on successive generations of translatators, and both discuss translation within the wider context of the two main functions of the poet: the universal human duty of aquiring and disseminating wisdom and the special art of making and shaping a poem.

The above-mentioned information provides the evidence that translation in ancient times was a tool to disseminate and spread wisdom, knowledge and artistic messages in order to enable people from different cultures to communicate freely the highest achievements of their art such as poetry which conveyed crosscultural values. Bassnett (1991, 44) states as well:

The art of the translator, for Horace and Cicero, then, consisited in judicious interpretation of the SL text so as to produce a TL version based on on the principle non verbum de verbo, sed sensum exprimere de sensu (of expressing not word for word, but sense for sense), and his responsibility was to the TL readers.

From this approach one may draw a conclusion that the TL reader is subjected to acquire information derived from the text and that message should be transferred in such a form that this reader can comprehensively adapt this information, being the aim of translator’s work who strives to formulate the message in such a way that a reader will understand it and accept within own code of language and cultural signs. Therefore, a translator must take into account not only target language but as well - cultural context of this language and its speakers. Susant Bassnett (1991: 45) describes this as follows:

Roman translation may therefore be perceived as unique in that it arises from a vision of literary production that follows an established canon of excellence across linguistic boundaries.

In Bible translation the role of a translator extends. The author of a translation not only disseminates common human wisdom and knowledge. He or she disseminates the word of God. Susan Bassnett describes this phenomenon in the following way: “A religion as text-based as Christianity presented the translator with a mission that encompassed both aesthetic and evangelistic criteria.” (1991:45-46) According to Susan Basset the product of a translator’s work should be “a text that could be utilized by the layman”. What is made in theological seminaries may be called a Bible interpretation in order to provide laymen from the outside world with the basic knowledge about the codes and systems of values included in the Biblical texts. An author of any translation has to act in the same way. According to the culture for which a Bible translation is designed - he or she must make a choice between many language codes in order to provide a target reader with a comprehensive systems of meanings which will be understandable in the target language and culture. That is why it was considered in the modern approach whether the phrase lamb of God should not be replaced by Bible translators by seals of God when the target language was the language spoken by Eskimos. This kind of Bible interpretation is connected with the Skopos theory which assumes that a target reader and his expectations are of the most value while aquiring the information included in the text. As Susan Basset states - in ancient times translators strived to provide a reader with such a product that “could be utilized by the layman”. This may serve as the evidence that ideas presented by the authors of the Skopos theory have their roots in the beginnings of the history of translation and throughout the centuries have developed to obtain present form consciously formulated by the inventors of this theory.

In the course of the Middle Ages, the lingua franca was Latin obligatory to be acquired in the western world of art, literature and science. Translation efforts, however, were not limited to the borders of European countries. The spread of Buddhism in Asia led to many translation works containg over a thousand years old literary tradition of Asian societies. Arabs as well undertook then large-scale efforts at translation. Due to the fact that they conquered the Greek world, they translated into Arabic Greek works in such fields as philosophy and science. In Europe it was Geofrey Chaucer who made the first English translations from French, Italian and Latin (Wikipedia). In those centuries language adapatations served as international and crosscultural means of spreading not only information but artistic and scientific achievements. Due to the fact that there was no other tool to disseminate knowledge - translated works were a medium for contact between international masters in the above-mentioned fields. Such translations were a booster enabling European civilisation to make progress and develop as comunication in the fields of science was extended not only between scholars but was able to reach minds of average citiznes who did not speak foreign languages such as for example Latin. Translations enabled crosscultural exchanging thoughts and ideas helping societies in the Middle Ages to take benefit from outstanding achievements of other countries and building links between whole nations and their cultures. However, we may consider the Skopos theory as the highest achievement of all the translator’s efforts. In this chapter different variantions will be provided of translation of the text which in European countries is considered to be the same being subjected to changes only due to the language development throughout the centuries. Let us take into account translations of the best known prayer in the European countries which is Pater Noster. Here are provided examples of translation of the same text of this prayer from Aramaic into English. One of the versions is as follows:

The Prayer to Our Father

“ Oh Thou, from whom the breath of life comes, who fills all realms of sound, light and vibration May Your light be experienced in my utmost holiest.

Your Heavenly Domain approaches.

Let Your Will come true - in the universe (all that vibrates) Just as on earth (that is material and dense)

Give us wisdom (understanding, assistance),for our daily need, detach the fetters of faults that bind us, (karma)

like we let go the guilt of others.

Let us not be lost in superficial things (materialism, common temptations), but let us be freed from that what keeps us off from our true purpose.

From You comes the all-working will, the lively strenght to act, The song that beutifies all and renews itself from age to age. Sealed in trust, faith and truth.

(I confirm with my entire being) ”

Another translated version of the same text from the same language into English is:

Our Father

O cosmic Birther of all radiance and vibration. Soften the ground of our being and carve out a space within us where your Presence can abide.

Fill us with your creativity so that we may be empowered to bear the fruit of your mission.

Let each of our actions bear fruit in accoedance with our desire.

Endow us with the wisdom to produce and share what each being needs to grow and flourish.

Untie the tangled threads of destiny that bind us, as we release others from the entanglement of past mistakes.

Do not let us be seduced by that which would divert us from our true purpose, but illuminate the opportunities of the present moment.

For you are the ground and the fruitful vision, the birth, power and fullfilment, as all is gathered and made whole once again.

The third version of translation of the same text from the same language (Aramaic) into English is the following one:

Lords Prayer

O Birther! O Father-Mother of the Cosmos Focus your light within us - make it useful. Create your reign of unity now-

through our fiery hearts and willing hands Help us love beyond our ideals

and sprout acts of compassion for all creatures. Animate the earth within us: we then feel the Wisdom underneath supporting all.

Untangle the knots within

so that we can mend our hearts ’ s simple ties to each other. Don ’ t let surface things delude us,

But free us from what holds us back from out true purpose. Out of you, the astonishing fire,

Returning light and sound to the cosmos. Amen.

(Neil Douglas-Klotz at

These above changes of the translated texts do not derive only from many different interpretations of the same text and the process of changing translations over the centuries. The basic assumption in this case is that (Translations from Aramaic, Origins and History of The Lord ’ s Prayers):

The Aramaic language has (like the Hebrew and Arabic) different levels of meaning. The words are organized and defined by a poetical system where different meanings of every word are possible. So, every line of the Lord’s Prayer can be translated into English in many different versions. As an example of how the intent of a passage can be changed, here are some translations of the Lord’s Prayer directly translated from the ancient Aramaic into modern English.

( )

In this context we may perceive the Skopos theory as a way of organising material included in the source text into the target text. There are no other presumptions of translating a given prayer than the own interpretation of a translator and his belief as to what will be interesting and subject to approval by a reader. Three different variations of the same source text may serve as evidence that according to the recipient’s demands and expectations the text may change its form conveying its message by means of different words. The spirit and the holistic idea of the given prayers have been saved, however, their linguistic structure and choice of words to express the message differ from each other. Munday ( 2001: 38) formulated similar ideas in the following way:

Central to Nida’s work is the move away from the old idea that an ortographic word has a fixed meaning and towards a functional definition of meaning in which a word ‘acquires’ meaning through its context and can produce varying responses according to culture. Munday (2001: 38)

This statement would be in accordance with the Skopos theory which adjusts particular texts to its readers’ needs and the structure of their consciousness being condtitioned by the cultural and geographical contexts. What is more, the above- mentioned examples of three prayers being translated from the same language into different language constructions may be the evidence that the Skopos theory serves as a tool of extended communication of a message accordingly to the target reader’s expectations and presented by him intellectual and emoctional system of perceiving things. Language is a stream of human consciousness expressed in words. Therefore we may treat individual translation as adaptation of systems and codes of one consciousness into another human consciousness. That is why, the Skopos theory meets the demands and expectations of psychological structure of all human beings because it adapts the universe of one consciousness into the world of another conditioned and created by different cultural, historical, geographical and philosophical circumstances and approaches.

Following the history of translation and the process of developing of translation methods one has to focus on the person of Martin Luther (1483-1546), who in his Letter about translation stated that a perfect translation depends on its sense and its recipients. It is in accordance with the Skopos theory which determines the accuraccy of translation as such which conveys a message according to the reader’s needs. Among other acomplished translators there could be differentiated Juan Lui Vives as well as Schleiermacher and Alexander Fraser Tytler who defined many useful theories concerning translation, however, Alexander Fraser Tyler opted for being faithful to the original text without changing it and adopting to the reader’s expectations. What is more, these authors considered whether translation should be deemed as a practical subject of consideration or an artistic one (Kierzkowska, 2007:37) According to the Skopos theory the text is reader oriented and the style of the writing depends on the way of perceiving the world by the receiver.

In modern times it is a translator who consciously chooses the way according to which she or he acts. The role of translator may be defined by many factors. According to Eugene Nida the process of translation is always marked by the personality of a person who translates a text. There are two ways of perceiving the translation. It may be deemed as a clear-glass translation where the target text is taken into consideration as an original text in the target linguistic setting or it may be a tinted- glass translation where the non-original nature of the product is revealed. Doing translation one may concentrate on form (manner) or meaning (content). What is more there may be differentiated literal translation as well as free translation. (Piotrowska, 1997: 19-21) According to the above-mentioned methodes in the XX century appeared two schools of translations based on two different approaches characterised either by the linguistic one or by the functional one. Each of these theories possesses a wide range of representatives among whom are: Jakobson, Catford, Nida and Newmark (linguistic theories of translation) as well as Reiss, Vermeer, Holz-Mantarri, Nord, Honig and Kussmaul (functional theories of translation). These both above-mentioned approaches are two remarkable ways determining the process of translation in the 20th century. They constitued two different attitudes towards the role of a translator producing two methodes of treating a translated text. The first of them, linguistically oriented ones are equivalence-based theories whereas the second are focused on the function of the text and according to this model the translation is done. Within each of these approaches there are a number of various attitudes which depict the fact that a limited framework for each of them is not possible. Each of them focusing on one approach accepts many different variations which make possible the fact that achievements of every of them are partly admitted and considered in every particular theory. What is more, these models enable a translator to choose from a wide range of solutions offered in order to produce a text either lexicaly or functionally oriented. They adopt a method of translation to the needs of the reader producing either equivalence- based or functionally organised text. That is why a modern translator is mainly a person who consciously or unconsciously adapts all the methodes of translation and uses them according to the receipient’s expectations. Therefore it may be stated that the Skopos theory is the dominant one in the present world because it involves all the other methods within its framework giving a translator freedom to choose the appropriate one according to the receiver’s needs.

Therefore it may be stated that the Skopos theory is the highest achievement in the history of translation because it involves all the other theories enabling a translator to choose among them in order to produce a reader-oriented target text. The major assumption of this translation model is the fact the the author of translation adjusts his or her work in such a way that he or she produces what a recipient expects according to aim of the given text and its cultural context. This theory has been created by Hans J. Vermeer and Katharina Reiss in the 1970s. Skopos is in Greek ‘aim’ or ‘purpose’ and it became adapted by the authors of this method in order to indicate the purpose of translation and of the action of translating. As Jeremy Munday states:

It deals with a translational action which is ST-based, which has to be negotiated and performed, and which has a purpose and a result (Vermeer 1989/2000: 221). Skopos theory focuses above all on the purpose of the translation, which determines the translation methodes and strategies that are to be employed in order to produce a functionally adequate result. This result is the TT, which Vermeer calls the translatum.


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Selected Aspects of Drama and Film Translation
University of Lodz  (Philology)
English Philology
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Magdalena Siemieńczuk (Author), 2009, Selected Aspects of Drama and Film Translation, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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