What is the Russian for „scopos“? Vermeer’s scopos theory as a travelling theory in the discourses of the contemporary Russian Translation Studies

Anastasia Shakhova (Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz)

“There are no fixed rules because there are no fixed borders. Borders are drawn by the translator on a momentary basis.”

Hans J. Vermeer. „Grenzen der Translation ausloten.“  Paper delivered at the conference Translation als Schlüsselbegriff der Interdisziplinarität on 22th November 2008 in Germersheim, p. 7. <http://www.fb06.uni-mainz.de/vermeer

“What is the purpose of historiography? What is the purpose of studying translations and past translatorial action?”

Hans. J. Vermeer. Skizzen zu einer Geschichte der Translation. Bd. 2. Altenglisch, Alt- und Frühmittelhochdeutsch: Literaturverzeichnis und Register für Band 1 und 2. Frankfurt a. M.: Verlag für Interkulturelle Kommunikation, 1992, p. 13.

The present paper examines how Vermeer’s skopos theory is making its way through the discourses of contemporary Russian Translation Studies. The analysis is carried out in terms of Edward Said’s notion of “travelling theories”, which is based on the assumption that theories travel through time and space, crossing the boundaries between discourses and cultures, being transformed and adapted according to the needs of the receiving system. The travelling processes are possible thanks to rewriting. Rewriting in Lefevere’s terminology, i.e. creating a new text based on an already existing text for a certain purpose, and its particular form, translation, plays a crucial role in the travelling process, being a means of knowledge transfer and a powerful tool of a theory’s transformation. Through rewriting, a theory can be discovered and rediscovered. Meanwhile, a particular image of the travelling theory is created through rewriting, i.e. a certain presentation of the theory in the receiving discourses which influences its reception.

As the scopos theory reached the discourses of the Russian Translation Studies for the first time in the 1990s, its negative image created by rewriting prevented its approval and integration. The theory was reduced to the idea of the primacy of scopos and criticized. Deprived of its argumentation and unable to fit any of the established paradigms, it was rejected and almost forgotten.

The analysis of contemporary publications shows that the image of the theory is changing positively nowadays, enabling its integration and development and literally stimulating the rediscovery of the scopos theory by Russian scholars. The absence of a full text translation of any of Vermeer’s publications into Russian leads to a large variety of interpretations of the scopos theory in the works of Russian scholars, as different scholars focus on different aspects of the theory for different purposes.

The present paper aims to show how the scopos theory travelling to the Russian discourses is changed through rewriting, how its image is formed in the receiving discourses, as well as how the internal policy of the receiving discourses influences the travelling processes of external theories and ideas.


Garbovskiy, Nikolaj (2012): „Sem' voprosov didaktiki perevoda ili scopos-didaktika perevodčeskoj dejatel'nosti“ [„Sieben Fragen der Translationsdidaktik oder Skopos-Didaktik des translatorischen Handelns“], in: Vestnik moskovskogo universiteta: Teorija perevoda 2012/4, 36-54.
Komissarov, Vilen (1999): Obščaja teorija perevoda: Problemy perevodovedenija v osveščenii zarubežnyh učonyh [„Allgemeine Translationstheorie: Probleme der Translationswissenschaft in Werken ausländischer Wissenschaftler“]. Moskau: ČeRo.
Lefevere, André [1985] (2009): “Interpretation, Übersetzung Neuschreibung: Ein alternatives Paradigma”, in: Deskriptive Übersetzungsforschung. Eine Auswahl. Hagemann, Susanne (ed.) Translationswissenschaftliche Bibliothek 4. Berlin : Saxa S. 63-92.
Prunč, Erich (2007): Entwicklungslinien der Translationswissenschaft. Von der Asymmetrien der Sprachen zu den Asymmetrien der Macht. Berlin: Frank&Timme.
Reiss, Katharina, und Hans J. Vermeer (1984): Grundlegung einer allgemeinen Translationstheorie. Eds. Hans Altmann u. a. Linguistische Arbeiten 147. Tübingen: Niemeyer.
Said, Edward W. (1983): “Traveling Theory”, in: The Text, the World and the Critic. Cambridge/Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, S. 226-247.
Sdobnikov, Vadim (2015): Kommunikativnaja situazija kak osnova vybora strategii perevoda. [Kommunikative Situation als Grundlade der Wahl von Translationsstrategie] Nižnij Novgorod.