Translation Theories

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Discussions on Holmes’s Map of Translation Studies

The name and nature of translation has been a topic on which translation scholars debated. The map drawn by James Holmes in order to describe the nature of the discipline has been one of the sources of the discussion. Scholars like Pym and Toury have criticized certain aspects of the map.

Holmes (1988), in his paper on “The Name and Nature of Translation Studies”, points to several “impediments” (68) before discussing the branches of translation studies. One of those impediments is “the lack of appropriate channels of communication” (73). Holmes states that articles written on translation can be found in various journals whose audience involves scholars from other disciplines. For this reason, it is hard to reach the majority of translation scholars by publishing in such journals. The point Holmes is making here is clear and logical. There is certainly a need for journals that are specifically published to reach translation scholars. However, even after translation scholars’ articles have been published in translation journals, there will be articles on translation in other journals, as well. For example, while explaining process oriented descriptive translation studies, Holmes mentions “an area of study that might be called translation psychology or psycho-translation studies” (73), which studies what takes place in the mind of a person while doing translation. In addition to this, I think that papers written on topics like “ways to increase the motivation of students studying translation” or “the relationship between teachers’ and students’ motivation in the field of translation” can be published not only translation but also psychology, especially educational psychology journals. Thus, when such papers are published in translation journals, educational psychologists will probably miss the chance of reading those and this shows that the same problem holds true for all the other interdisciplinary fields.

The fact that the Holmes map is vertical is one of the two main reasons why Pym (1998) criticizes the map. He claims that maps “tend to make you look in certain directions; they make you overlook other directions” (3) and compares the forms of the charts drawn by Holmes and Lawrence Humphrey. Pym favors Humphrey’s map because of its horizontality. In order to draw a top-to-bottom map which is “like company organization charts” (4), translation studies need to be so developed that translation scholars working in the upper branches should not be doing the same job as the ones in the other branches are doing. Second, Pym stresses that translators have a central place in the process of translation and they cannot be omitted from the map. While the Holmes map focuses on the translated text, Humphrey gives equal importance to the translator and the translation. I also believe that if we are not talking about machine translation only, translators cannot be given a minor place in the map.

Although Holmes states that the relationship between the theoretical, descriptive, and applied translation studies is dialectical, Toury (in Baker, 1998) has opposing views on the subject. Toury argues that the relationship is unidirectional because he conceives the branches of applied translation studies, which are translation training, translation aids, and translation criticism, as secondary compared to the pure translation studies. I do not agree that pure translation studies precede the applied translation studies and I believe that all the branches provide information for each other and there is a dialectical relationship. However, Pym (1998) is right about criticizing the map again for its lack of a branch specifically for translation history. Claiming a dialectical relationship may not be sufficient in order to clarify the important place translation history has in the field of translation studies.

In brief, Holmes made a crucial attempt by publishing his map. Even though scholars like Pym and Toury do not agree with him on some certain aspects of the map, it is absolute that even opening these discussions is beneficial for the improvement of the field of translation studies.


Baker, Mona., ed. 1998. Encyclopedia of Translation Studies. London and New York: Routledge.

Holmes, James S. 1988. Translated: Papers on Literary Translation and Translation Studies. Amsterdam: Rodopi.

Pym, Anthony. 1998. Method in Translation History. Manchester: St. Jerome.


  • At 4:13 AM, Blogger nilalt said…

    Response to Elif’s paper on James S. Holmes
    I think Elif could accomplish to acquire a critical viewpoint towards the text. Her comparisons of Holmes to Toury and Pym reveals that she has a wide accumulation of knowledge on the matter and provides the reader with a broad perspective towards Holmes’ map. I totally agree with her conclusion, whereas I am not of one mind with her regarding her comments on “the lack of appropriate channels of communication”. She says Holmes’ comment on the necessity for journals that are specifically published to reach translation scholars is very logical, but goes on to say “ however even after translation scholars’ articles have been published in translation journals, there will be articles on translation in other journals, as well.” I believe this is an inevitable result of the contemporary interdisciplinary approach and these two ideas do not contradict, but correspond with each other.
    Nil Alt


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