Systems approaches

Sergey TYULENEV, Wenyan LUO

Research output: Book Chapters | Papers in Conference ProceedingsBook ChapterResearchpeer-review


One of the ways to conceptualize translation is to describe it as a system or as a part of a system. A systemic approach to studying translation allows contextualizing it within larger structures within which it exists; translators can be presented as complex agents interacting in complex ways with other agents; finally, translation can be seen as one of the mechanisms of sign creation and exchange. In what follows systemic approaches will be traced back to their earlier manifestations, yet the emphasis will be laid on the latest developments in Translation Studies (TS). This dynamic reflects the evolution of considering translation – from theorizing it almost exclusively as an interlingual transfer to seeing it as part of social interactions and as a semiotic phenomenon.

A system can be defined as a whole that consists of mutually interrelated elements. Any systemic structure depends on elements and a relationship between elements. Translation, thus, can be viewed as a whole with some elements the interrelation of which subsists the whole, or as an element interrelated with other elements within a whole. For instance, translation may be viewed as a complex system which includes different types of mediation, verbal (between different languages), extraverbal (in gesticulative communication, one might think here of how people interpret gestures or of sign language interpreting) or even extrahuman (how do ants or bees interpret their fellow creatures’ messages?). All these variegated manifestations of mediation can be viewed as belonging to the system of translation. Considering translation as a system allows describing it as a complex phenomenon that manifests itself in a variety of forms, that is, various types of activities that fall under the category ‘translation’ (no matter how defined). Considering translation as a part of a larger structure – as a part of a system – allows describing it in relation to other phenomena, which operate as parts of the overall system, and/or in relation to the overall system itself. As an example, one might imagine translation as part of the art system: in music or literature or painting or sculpture, the artist translates his/her ideas or impressions into a material manifestation, a piece of music, a literary work, a watercolor or a statuette, which can be appreciated by the audience. In all its multifarious manifestations, translation belongs to a larger system, be it art as a whole or any of its branches, such as music or literature, or plastic arts. Whether viewed as a part of the system of arts or as a part of one of the arts, translation is looked at from the point of view of its relationship to other parts of those systems or to the system as a whole. For instance, in literature, translation can be studied in relation to non-translated belles-lettres; in music, translation can be studied in relation to how it works in the case of the composer and in the case(s) of the score’s interpreters, the musicians who perform it; in visual arts, translation can be discussed in relation to the original inspiration of the artist and in relation to the final product – a painting with oils on the canvas or a carved stone. Based on such observations, one might conclude how one might define translation in arts and what role(s) translation plays in them.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Handbook of Translation Theory and Concepts
EditorsReine MEYLAERTS, Kobus MARAIS
PublisherRoutledge Taylor & Francis Group
ISBN (Electronic)9781003161448
ISBN (Print)9780367752002
Publication statusPublished - 31 May 2023
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NameRoutledge Handbooks in Translation and Interpreting Studies


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