Translating Vermeer

A Vermeer Reader

Professor Dilek Dizdar and Dr. Şebnem Bahadır felt that a Vermeer Reader would be a valuable contribution to the world of translation studies and invited Anna-Lena Bubenheim and myself, Marina Dudenhöfer, to take part in a project to put together a Vermeer Reader for publication. After much discussion between the four of us, various key texts were selected for each Reader and the translation work could begin. Professor Dizdar and Dr. Bahadır will be writing an introduction for each Reader and Anna-Lena and I are in charge of coordinating and carrying out the translation work. All translations will go through a rigorous rereading process involving the whole team.

The aim is to put together a Reader in German and a Reader in English which will not be identical in structure and content, but which will provide students and scholars with access to key texts written by Hans J. Vermeer. There is a tendency to reduce Hans J. Vermeer's contribution in Translation Studies to skopos theory and the Readers will address this issue by introducing students not just to skopos theory but also to his work on the philosophy of language, translation history, cultural studies, ethics and so on.

In addition, Ülker Ince has volunteered to do some "relay" translation work and she will take our translations into English and, in turn, translate them into Turkish for a Reader in Turkish.

Our project

The readers in English and Turkish will involve the most work. Although some of the texts selected were written in English by Hans J. Vermeer, he preferred to write in German. This means that we will be translating some of his key texts from German into English (and from English into Turkish). We will be doing this in three ways:

  • Some texts are being translated by students in my (Marina Dudenhöfer's) German to English translation class (naturally with my full support, guidance and feedback). To make things even more interesting, I decided that we would translate Vermeer whilst applying Vermeer's skopos theory to the translation process.
  • Other texts will be translated by me for the English Reader, with Anna-Lena as rereader. Anna-Lena will also be translating some texts for the German Reader, with me as rereader.
  • All texts translated into English will be translated into Turkish by Ülker Ince.

Translation class


As we are translating Vermeer in line with skopos theory, the students were given a translation brief (Auftrag) by me as their client or commissioner (Auftraggeber):

- Translation brief.

The students negotiated a style guide and other details with me:
- Style guide.

We translated two source texts:
- "Naseweise Bemerkungen zum literarischen Übersetzen" (In: TEXTconTEXT 1, 1986, 145-150),
- "Text und Textem" (In: TEXTconTEXT 5, 1990, 108-114).

To improve their understanding of important concepts and research vocabulary, the students worked with various parallel texts.

We would like to share our experiences of applying skopos theory to a real translation project:

- Client's report,

- Team's report.

Finally, we would also like to share our glossary with you:

- Vermeer Reader glossary (link to be added soon)

Translation team: Rami Ashhab, Colleen Chapman, Sebastian Daniell, Maša Dolanc, Elizabeth du Preez, Patricia Graham, Pascaline Gwarmba, Pamela-Nina Kühn, Zia Papar, David Sakic, Beth Skinner, June Straghan, Caitriona Tracey

Terminology team: Rami Ashhab, Colleen Chapman, Patricia Graham, Zia Papar

Rereaders: Şebnem Bahadır, Anna-Lena Bubenheim, Colleen Chapman, Marina Dudenhöfer

Research: Anna-Lena Bubenheim, Elizabeth du Preez, Pamela-Nina Kühn, David Sakic

Style guide: Beth Skinner

Formatting: Pamela-Nina Kühn

Team report: June Straghan, Caitriona Tracey

Test reader: Christiane Nord

It was a proper team effort.


In this semester, we translated a longer source text:

- "Übersetzen als kultureller Transfer" (In: Übersetzungswissenschaft - eine Neuorientierung. Zur Integration von Theorie und Praxis, Mary Snell-Hornby (ed.). Tübingen: Francke Verlag (1994), 30-53)

As before, the students received a translation brief.They used the style guide which had been put together in the previous semester and the existing glossary was expanded.

The parallel texts remained mostly the same with two new additions:

- “Is translation a linguistic or a cultural process?” by Hans J. Vermeer. In: Ausgewählge Vorträge zur Translation und anderen Themen. Berlin: Frank & Timme (2007), 19-29

- “The theory of translatorial action (Holz-Mänttäri)” by Christina Schäffner. In: Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies, first edition, Mona Baker (ed.). London/New York: Routledge (1998/2001), 3-5

Again, we would like to share our experiences of translating to a skopos whilst translating Vermeer:

- Client’s report,

- Team’s report,

- Report by the translator of this web page.

Translation team: Anna-Lena Bubenheim, Elizabeth du Preez, Caitliona Gallagher, Patricia Graham, Prajakta Kuber, Elena Murgolo, Nicola Murray, Beth Skinner

Terminology: Beth Skinner

Rereaders: Şebnem Bahadır, Anna-Lena Bubenheim, Marina Dudenhöfer

Research: Whole team

Formatting: Whole team

Team report: Whole team

Most students in the group were towards the end of their studies but they still commented on how much they had learned from being involved in this project.


This semester, another Vermeer text was also translated by a sole student. She greatly benefited from the fact that the style guide and glossary had already been compiled by other students. In this case, she also needed a good knowledge of French.

Source text:

- “Einige Antworten auf Derridas Fragen, was eine relevante Übersetzung sei” (In: Lebende Sprachen, 3/2005, 116-119)

Additional parallel texts:

- “Qu’est-ce qu’une traduction ‘relevante’?” by Jacques Derrida. In: Quinzièmes Assises de la Traduction Littéraire (Arles 1998). Actes Sud 1999, 21-48

- “What is a ‘relevant’ translation?” by Jacques Derrida, translated by Lawrence Venuti. In: Critical Inquiry, Vol. 27, No. 2 (Winter 2001), 174-200

- Sections on “deconstruction”, “hermeneutics” and “translatability”. In: Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies, second edition, Mona Baker and Gabriela Saldanha (eds). London/New York: Routledge (2009/2011)

- “Translating Derrida on Translation: Relevance and Disciplinary Resistance” by Lawrence Venuti. In: The Yale Journal of Criticism (2003), vol. 16, no. 2, 237-262

Translation and formatting: Annie Scrugli

Research: Anna-Lena Bubenheim, Marina Dudenhöfer, Alexandre Hubert, Annie Scrugli

Rereaders: Şebnem Bahadır, Anna-Lena Bubenheim, Marina Dudenhöfer

This was a slightly different exercise, with only one translator for the entire text. All translations for the Reader are reread by the three rereaders.


In this semester, we translated a shorter but quite difficult source text:

- "Erst die Unmöglichkeit des Übersetzens macht das Übersetzen möglich" (In: Übersetzung als Medium des Kulturverstehens und sozialer Integration, Joachim Renn, Jürgen Straub, Shingo Shamada (eds). Frankfurt/New York: Campus Verlag (2002), 125-143)

The parallel texts remained mostly the same with three new additions:

- "Function plus loyalty". In: Translating as a purposeful activity by Christiane Nord. Manchester/New York: St. Jerome (1997), 123-128

- "Langue and parole". In: Translation - an advanced resource book by Basil Hatim and Jeremy Munday. London/New York: Routledge (2004), 27-28

- "Translation als Oberbegriff". In: Entwicklungslinien der Translationswissenschaft - von den Asymmetrien der Sprachen zu den Asymmetrien der Macht by Erich Prunč. Berlin: Frank & Timme (2007), 13-14

Again, we would like to share our experiences of translating to a skopos whilst translating Vermeer:

- Client’s report,

- Team’s report.

Translation team: Anna-Lena Bubenheim, Mark Casey, Sebastian Daniell, Ekaterina Gurova, Jeremy Herry, Miodrag Mijatovic, Richard Pearson, Amanda Stanfield, Anna Steilen, Konstantina Stergiou, Emily Wattison

Terminology: Anna Steilen (head terminologist), whole team

Rereaders: Şebnem Bahadır, Anna-Lena Bubenheim, Marina Dudenhöfer

Research: Whole team

Formatting: Whole team

Team report: Whole team

The team in this semester involved mostly students in their first semester with little or no translation experience. They all came away having learned a great deal about Vermeer and about working on a real translation project. In the words of one student:

"Truthfully, even now at the end of this particular project, it would be nothing less than presumptuous of me if I were to claim I now understand Vermeer and how he – his mind – works: I do not. But what I can say is that I now do have a better understanding of him and his ideas and of skopos theory in its essential elements."


In this semester, we translated the most complex source text so far, a chapter from one of Vermeer's last publications:

- "Die Aporie des Translators - Die Freiheit des Translators" (In: Chapter 10, Versuch einer Intertheorie der Translation, Hans J. Vermeer. Berlin: Frank & Timme (2006), 367-376)

Translation team: Bobbye Abney, Kristopher Brame, Silke Knieling, Amanda Stanfield, Anna Steilen, Prerna Walhekar

Terminology: Anna Steilen

Rereaders: Şebnem Bahadır, Anna-Lena Bubenheim, Marina Dudenhöfer

Research: Whole team, Susanne Hagemann

Formatting: Whole team

Team report: Amanda Stanfield, Anna Steilen

The additional parallel texts were:

- "Luhmann's theory of autopoietic social systems" by David Seidl. Munich Business Research, LMU Munich School of Management (2004). See:

- "Sociological approaches" by Moira Inghilleri. In: Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies, 2nd ed. London/New York: Routledge (1998, 2009, 2011), 279-282

- "Sociology of translation" by Michaela Wolf. In: Handbook of Translation Studies, vol. 1. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: Benjamins (2010), 337-343

- "The implications of a sociological turn" by Michaela Wolf. In: Translation Research Projects 2. Tarragona: Intercultural Studies Group (2009), 73-79

This was our final text translated as part of a blended-learning class, which is reflected in our reports:

- Client's report,

- Team's report.

To finish in the words of one student:

"[Vermeer's] skopos theory is something I feel is a very pragmatic approach to translating, and yet the impression remains that Vermeer (maybe even wilfully) disguises its practicability with grandiose rhetoric and arcane words. Having battled with his style and discovered the meaning behind his obscure words, and having done so more than once, I have come to appreciate the challenge of translating Vermeer. Testing one’s own German vocabulary, adapting to his mathematical logic and trying to recreate a similarly (if not quite equally) impressive masterpiece, rich in expression and highly sophisticated in thought in English requires comprehension, patience and skill, which is where we (as mere translation students) frequently fall short. Translating Vermeer is an education in every sense of the word, one I have discovered I will miss."



Two other Vermeer texts were translated within the framework of this project, one into German and one into English.

1. Anna-Lena Bubenheim translated one of the rare texts to have been written in English by Hans J. Vermeer into German.

Source text:

- “No ‘State of the Art’” (manuscript of lecture held at Boğaziçi University, Istanbul in April 2007 as part of the “Translation and Translation – des Faux Amis” conference)

Additional parallel text:

- “Auf der Suche nach (neuen) Grundlagen für eine Translationstheorie“ by Hans J. Vermeer (manuscript of lectures held in summer semester 2008 at FTSK in Germersheim)

Translation, formatting and research: Anna-Lena Bubenheim

Rereaders: Şebnem Bahadır, Marina Dudenhöfer

2. Marina Dudenhöfer translated Vermeer’s foundational 1978 text into English.

Source Text:

- „Ein Rahmen für eine allgemeine Translationstheorie“ (In: Lebende Sprachen, 3/1978, 99-102)

Additional parallel text:

- The Linguistics Encyclopedia, second edition, Kirsten Malmkjær (ed.), London/New York: Routledge (2004)

Translation, formatting and research: Marina Dudenhöfer

Rereaders: Şebnem Bahadır, Anna-Lena Bubenheim, Dilek Dizdar

Test reader: Christina Schäffner

To conclude, Lawrence Venuti wrote the following about translating a text by Jacques Derrida:

"To be sure, translating the work of this contemporary French philosopher requires that one be a specialist in a certain sense, possessing a knowledge not only of the French language, but of continental philosophical traditions, and not only of translation practices between French and English, but of the discursive strategies that have been used to translate Derrida’s writing over the past thirty years. Yet these different kinds of specialized knowledge are not sufficient for the task: one must also desire to translate Derrida."

[“Translating Derrida on Translation: Relevance and Disciplinary Resistance”. In: The Yale Journal of Criticism (2003), vol. 16, no. 2, 237-262]

Vermeer’s German academic style is somewhere between philosophy, history, literature, linguistics and translation theory and is not easy to translate. One must also desire to translate Vermeer. We do.

You can find out more about our experiences of translating Vermeer as part of this project in the following report:

- Report on our translation work outside the classroom.