The Role and Status of the Translator: Friedrich Schleiermacher’s Formula

Friedrich Schleiermacher’s Formula as a Core for the Role and Status of the Translator in the Media Field: A Comparative Analysis

In his famous lecture “On the Different Methods of Translating” (1813, translated by Waltraud Bartsch) Friedrich Schleiermacher puts in front of the translator one of the most famous topics of the translator’s choice: “Either the translator leaves the writer alone, as much as possible, and moves the reader toward the writer, or he leaves the reader alone as much as possible and moves the writer toward the reader.” And based on the choice concerning the dominant side between Schleiermacher’s distinction of the author or reader, the translator will come down in favor of what will later be defined by Lawrence Venuti as domesticating and foreignizing strategies of translation. 

In Schleiermacher’s scheme, the translator has a certain task to bring together two different persons: the author and the reader. And here stands the next question: “For what purpose?” In this regard, Schleiermacher’s answer is very challenging but pragmatic: “to assist…in obtaining the most correct and complete understanding and enjoyment possible[1].” Thus regardless of which strategy the translator may choose, it will serve one purpose: to reach a more culturally-nuanced and complete understanding between the author and the reader. But what roads are open to attempt this approach? How may it change the “conflicting balance” that develops between the author, the translator, and the receiver? To what extent can this approach gain us in a new field, such as the media, that was unknown to Schleiermacher back in 1813?  Those are the questions I intend to find out for this paper. 

When Schleiermacher was formulating this “mission of translator,” he had two fields in mind. Although he opens his lecture by considering translation as a general feature of understanding and language but then narrows it to the spheres of arts and scholarship as those requiring higher “precise and profound penetration into the spirit of the language and into the characteristic traits of the writer[2].” Nowadays, there is a new field that “occupies” a wide range of societies as readers, authors, and translators with the same perspective of “reaching an understanding,” perhaps even more critical and comprehensive than in the fields of arts and scholarship. We are talking about the media and news articles in particular, where ideally the text belongs directly, without any mediation of sense, with its unequivocal necessity for literalness, to a universal language and to the truth – a purpose that requires absolute translatability. One of such articles will be a cornerstone for this comparative analysis. It is one of ARMENPRESS’s special projects: “The Operation Ring: International Response” by Vanuhi Karapetyan, published on the homonym site on 7 May 2020. But before turning to the analysis of the article, let us state our problem in more detail. 

Compared to texts in the fields of scholarship and arts, news articles allow the translator very little freedom “to interpret” the meanings of the original, because the media reporting itself is not meant to explain but to reflect ongoing realities like a mirror, and to allow the reader to perform further analysis.

 These circumstances seem to require a strict tendency of evaluation of the media translations as precise or imprecise, valid, or invalid. Eventually, in this area, reputational risks are higher since it’s not only the author’s reputation that is at stake but the entire news agency’s. I dare say that this comes from the distinct role of the individual in the media on one side and in the fields of arts and scholarships on the other side. Particularly if in the case of journalists, their reputation depends on the mission of their profession, and their news agency (the reader often does not know the name of the author before reading the journalistic article, and for receivers, his/her personality is secondary to his/her profession) then in the case of the other two fields, neither the writer nor the scholar is a profession and their responsibility is mainly individual as creators and not witnesses as for the journalists. It is this circumstance that makes the emphasis on credibility in the evaluation of journalistic materials, for the news is made/ascertained, not invented, and requires a “disinterested” approach to information and knowledge completely contradictory to the author’s role in compared fields.

 Secondly, news articles are concerned with pre-given linguistic structures, volume restrictions, templates conditioned by journalistic ethics, censorship, etc. And even the author may not have the freedom to practice the sovereign transformative power of individual thought (not to mention the translator).

 And most importantly, the purpose of journalistic materials is to have a clear reader orientation: to provide information to the audience. If we look in-depth, we will notice that the media is called not to open up but to reflect for people the current order of society, a shared social world with its definition of  “public” and “private.” All news is injected into people on daily basis by dissemination, circulation, and propagation-an array of activities that make the media so powerful. Plus that in an age of global media, the translators negate the language barrier, with information-theoretically available to anyone with access to the Internet. Hence, it is not in vain that this information environment makes us think that: ‘the whole world is watching us’ and all news is directed to us as readers.

 All these challenges the conception of the two-sided author-reader relationship of Schleiermacher’s formula of translator task, but it seems that in terms of the translator’s purpose to assist readers in obtaining the possibly most correct and complete understanding, this format is the most feasible if we may say so. 

To test these two hypothesis, I am going to consider the above-mentioned media article of ARMENPRESS (it is available in several languages, including English) which summarizes the international response to the military campaign of Armenian pogroms and ethnic cleansing by Azerbaijan which became the beginning of war unleashed by Azerbaijan against Artsakh in 1991-1994. As you might guess, even from this short description, the material has a documentary nature, but still, in some details, the author’s attitude has also  been expressed. For instance, already in the first sentence, the author mentions that the events of 1991 started with “a criminal agreement” of USSR and Azerbaijan, (… ԽՍՀՄ-ի և Ադրբեջանի հանցավոր համաձայնությամբ մեկնարկեց…) the wording which was “neutralized” by the translator in the English version of the text ascertaining only its beginning and not nature of those events:

On the night of April 29 to April 30, 1991, USSR and Azerbaijan launched a large-scale military operation named “Ring” against the peaceful Armenian population of a great number of Armenian villages…

 And this is not a coincidence as the same wording was bypassed by the translator once again in another part of the article:

However, these responses did not prevent either the Center or even more so the authorities of Soviet Azerbaijan from giving up on the pre-planned operation (original also suggests: by a criminal agreement[3]). 

There are also many omissions and oversights. In particular, the translated version leaves out details of the violence that has taken place in a number of Armenian settlements since the beginning of April 26[4].

  As we can see in the example of the title, the quotation marks that identify the name of the operation (The Operation Ring: international response-«Օղակ» գործողություն․ միջազգային արձագանքը) and the author’s version of the organization of sentences and paragraphs were not always preserved, e.g., part of  “Washington Post” (USA) where the whole section is deliberately divided into three parts[5]:

“Washington Post” (USA): “According to the data provided by both of the sides, the fighting began after Azerbaijani militia special forces, accompanied by tanks and armoured vehicles, entered the Armenian-populated areas in the Western part of Azerbaijan… Most Armenians believe that the Kremlin, protecting Azerbaijan, wants to put pressure on them for refusing to participate in the signing of the Union Treaty”. 

The above-mentioned excerpts are from the National Archives of Armenia. 

It is worth noting that Armenia, unlike Azerbaijan, refused to join the new Union Treaty on March 15, 1990, at the 3rd Congress of People’s deputies of the USSR. Armenia also refused to participate in the all-Union referendum on March 17, 1991, aimed at preserving the USSR, whilst 93.3% of the population of Azerbaijan voted for it.


All these shortcomings can only be considered as careless or negligent work. A problem that cannot be avoided in a translator’s work in such a field as the media associated with issues of speed and as a result with lack of quality control and editorial supervision. This should in no way be taken as an excuse for the translator’s slovenly work. However, this shows that unlike the journalist, who has the “support of the editor,” this second view does ignore the translator and testifies his/her uncertain role in the media field. On the one hand, driven by the objective need of news agency to cover the fast-changing realities as well as by the culture of consumerism of today’s media that is motivated by a strive for a higher level of readability and requires quick coverage of any event. Circumstances in which the translators may lose sight of many nuances and details of the source text, bending under such requirements. 

But on the other hand, without the quest for more qualitatively manageable production of translations (e.g., without editorial supervision of translations or consultations with the author-journalist), the force of persuasion of translated news often is diminished rather than enhanced for the foreign audience. As such, the need for the translated texts in our common conceptualization of news articles’ purpose in ideal may no longer be meaningful. Hence this uncontrollable, undefined role and “free” status of the translator in the media agency eliminates him/her as an individual who translates a text based on personal experience, while with the lack of any editorial guidance and the choice of the texts for translation materials, relieves him/her not only of any opportunity to influence the work of news agency but also of professional responsibility – reducing translation practice in the media field to the routinized and impulsive presentation of the news in a given target audience without ensuring its accuracy and authenticity, not to mention preserving of traces of the singularity of journalistic experience and witness. 

Besides that, there are also cases allowing us to suggest that those changes are done by the translator arbitrarily. To verify this, we should have the following example under consideration:

As stated in the resolution, the US Senate reconfirms the commitment of the United States to the success of democracy and self-determination in the Soviet Union and its various republics, by expressing its deep concern about any Soviet action of retribution, intimidation, or leverage against those Republics and regions which have chosen to seek the fulfilment of their political aspirations. In other words, the Senate also states that the USSR and Azerbaijan committed massive violations of international humanitarian law like the forced deportations, crimes of aggression, the indiscriminate use of force, military actions against the civilian population, the use of violence against women, children and the elderly. At the same time, the Senate expressed its support for the realization of the right to self-determination[6]

In comparison with the original, the part in bold type is fully added by the translator and under the guise of explanation, he/she creates a significant semantic deviation that dissolves the emphasis of the right to self-determination in the context of pogroms in Nagorno-Karabakh in the “call” for the aspirations of all Soviet republics.

All these points give a solid basis to say that despite the documentary nature of the article, which had already left little room for the author to mediate her individual approach, the translator of the article didn’t have the intention to make the author speak in English the way she did in the Armenian language. Thus the translator’s task in the coordinate system of Schleiermacher wasn’t directed to bring the author toward the reader but it hasn’t served the readers too as it isn’t providing the correct and complete understanding of the described events. This all challenges the relationship between the author, translator, and reader in a thought-provoking way. And here arises the need to analyze the uncertain role and place of the translator in the media field which derives not only from the organizational problems that we have already noticed.

  In particular, as can be seen on the site of ARMENPRESS the name of the translator of the material is not mentioned which is practically specific to the media field all over the world. In the media field, more than in the case of spheres of scholarship and arts, the demand for impartiality expected from the media makes faceless not only the translators but also the authors. This, in its turn, numbs the sense of responsibility and individuality of the translator, deprives him/her of the necessity to put oneself ‘inside’ an author, and awaken meanings summarized in the writer’s works, not talking about the cultural distance and differences between languages. This is completely contradictory to the role that Schleiermacher has put on the shoulders of the translator as in the face of whom he saw the master of “art of understanding:”

“Of course, whoever has acquired this art of understanding, through the most diligent treatment of language, through exact knowledge of the whole historical life of a nation, and through the most rigorous interpretation of individual works and their authors —he, of course, but only he- can desire to open up to his compatriots and contemporaries that same understanding of the masterworks of art and scholarship[7].” 

Summing up the comparison, let us state that none of the hypotheses we put forward was substantiated:

-Despite the presumption stemming from the nature of the media field, the analyzed translated version of the article wasn’t reader-oriented as the translator have deliberately added and left out some nuances from the original that affect the content (nor it is writer-oriented as shown in the cases of neutralization of author’s assessments and chosen structure style)

-Assumptions that media restrictions may not allow the translator to make a choice between Schleiermacher’s reader-oriented or writer-oriented strategies, but the same restrictions should make works in the media field more convenient to reach the purpose of the translator was neither true, as even the pre-given frames and documentary nature of work had not transmitted the most precise and complete comprehension of the text. 

But on the other hand, based on the comparison of the documentary article of ARMENPRESS’s special projects: “The Operation Ring: international response” with its English translation, we have a reason to say that Schleiermacher’s conception of the translator can and should be seen as a directive to change, for all the problems we have taken out in the media field.

 His formulation of the translator’s task “to assist…in obtaining the most correct and complete understanding and enjoyment possible” can become a clever move towards shaping the destiny and responsibility of the translator and underline his/her important place in the work of the media field at the same time mostly sticking to a strategy of “moving the writer toward the reader.” This, however, can be balanced by preserving the writer’s individual assessments of outlined events grasping in this way the individuality and the language of both the author and translator.As a precondition for all this should be the translator’s visibility, his or her person, and I insist that the translator’s name should be next to the author’s of the news article.

  First of all, it will demonstrate the visibility of the translator’s participation in the works of media agencies and the importance of ‘media translation’ in the media field as a whole.

  This will enforce to take their visibility and accountability seriously and form the individual responsibility of the translator for his/her work, and in the conditions of very different perceptions of “translator’s role” in the media field as well as in an unequal relationship of the translator with the editor, the reader, and the journalist, to define his/her own ethical standards (which as I’ve already mentioned I suggest to base on Schleiermacher’s formula) and based on that already employ different strategies of translation to present the news properly to the outside audience as well.

[1] From ‘On the Different Methods of Translating’ by Friedrich  Schleiermacher, translated by Waltraud Bartsch, p.41.

[2] From ‘On the Different Methods of Translating’ by Friedrich  Schleiermacher,  translated by Waltraud Bartsch, p. 39 

[3] Սակայն այդ արձագանքները չխանգարեցին ո՛չ Կենտրոնին, ո՛չ էլ առավել ևս ԱԽՍՀ-ին հետ կանգնել հանցավոր համաձայնությամբ նախապես պլանավորված գործողության իրականացումից:

[4] Ապրիլի 26-ից խորհրդա-ադրբեջանական ուժերը պարբերաբար հարձակվել են ՀՀ-ի Գորիսի, Նոյեմբերյանի, Իջևանի և այլ շրջանների սահմանամերձ գյուղերի վրա…

[5]«Վաշինգթոն փոսթ» (ԱՄՆ). «Երկկողմանի տվյալների համաձայն՝ մարտական գործողությունները սկիզբ են առել այն բանից հետո, երբ ադրբեջանական միլիցիայի հատուկ ջոկատայինները տանկերի և զրահատեխնիկայի ուղեկցությամբ շարժվել են Ադրբեջանի արևմտյան մասում գտնվող հայաբնակ վայրեր… Հայերի մեծամասնությունը կարծում է, որ Կրեմլը, Ադրբեջանին պաշտպանելով, ուզում է ճնշում գործադրել իրենց վրա այն բանի համար, որ հրաժարվել են մասնակցել միութենական դաշնագրի ստորագրմանը» [ՀՀ ազգային արխիվ, ֆ. 1159, ց.11]։ Կարևոր է ավելացնել, որ 1990թ. մարտի 15-ին ԽՍՀՄ ժողպատգամավորների 3-րդ համագումարում որոշում կայացվեց ԽՍՀՄ փլուզման գործընթացը կասեցնելու նպատակով քննարկել Միութենական նոր պայմանագիր կնքելու հարցը, որին Հայաստանը, ի տարբերություն Ադրբեջանի, հրաժարվեց միանալ: Հայաստանը հրաժարվեց նաև մասնակցել 1991թ. մարտի 17-ի՝ ԽՍՀՄ պահպանմանն ուղղված համամիութենական հանրաքվեին, որին Ադրբեջանի բնակչության 93,3 տոկոսը կողմ քվեարկեց։

[6] Բանաձևում նաև նշվել է, որ Սենատը վերահաստատում է ԱՄՆ շահագրգռվածությունը ԽՍՀՄ-ում ժողովրդավարության և ինքնորոշման հաջողության հարցում: Այսինքն՝ Սենատը ևս փաստում է, որ ԽՍՀՄ-ը և Ադրբեջանը թույլ են տվել միջազգային մարդասիրական իրավունքի զանգվածային խախտումներ՝ բռնագաղթեցում, ագրեսիայի հանցագործություն, ուժի չտարբերակված կիրառում, մասնավորապես, քաղաքացիական  բնակչության նկատմամբ  ռազմական գործողությունների իրականացում, բռնության գործադրում կանանց, երեխաների և ծերերի նկատմամբ: Միաժամանակ Սենատն իր աջակցությունն է հայտնում ինքնորոշման իրավունքի իրացմանը:

[7]From ‘On the Different Methods of Translating’  by Friedrich  Schleiermacher, translated by Waltraud Bartsch, p. 39

Author: Heghine Aleksanyan © All rights reserved.