Framing, Drafting, Sketching

Hans J. Vermeer’s Theoretical Proposal to Translation Studies

23-25 November 2018


Registration is now open!


It was almost 40 years ago that Hans J. Vermeer published his ground-breaking article entitled “A Framework for a General Theory of Translation” [Ein Rahmen für eine allgemeine Translationstheorie (1978)] in which, for the first time, he outlined his functionalist approach for a wide specialised readership. After initially being the subject of considerable controversy, this approach has become a theoretical mainstay in Translation Studies. As a consequence of the canonisation of Vermeer’s work, his theoretical contribution is usually reduced to the systematic establishment of a functionalist framework. However, Vermeer himself opposed this reduction. In particular, his 'other' publications (in translation history, translation education, translation ethics, and the philosophy of Translation Studies) reveal his commitment to an open approach to theory development in Translation Studies. By entitling his works “attempts”, “drafts” or “sketches“, he explicitly refers to the provisional nature of scientific knowledge, and encourages thinking along with, thinking beyond, and thinking differently from his ideas.

This conference takes the upcoming 40th anniversary of Vermeer’s ‘framework’ article as an opportunity to address his call. Hence, its purpose is not to offer a mere appraisal and examination of Vermeer’s achievements. Instead, the objective is to select certain ideas that are not immediately associated with the canonised Vermeer and to use them as a vantage point for new, perhaps even surprising reflections that further his efforts to frame, draft, and sketch a theory of translation.

Instead of suggesting general topics to align the contributions with the design of the conference, we propose some direct quotes by Vermeer representing the variety and diversity of his work. These are not meant to be read merely with, but also against the grain. Hence, the focus of the conference will be placed on reading Vermeer differently; a reading that can be used for debate within the field of Translation Studies. What we are looking for are creative contributions which, starting from the perspective of one of the following quotations, deal dialogically with Vermeer’s work or specific aspects of it.

“Communication and translation are catalysts for the formation or dissolution of groups and societies.”

„Translationen. Grenzen abschreiten.“ Auf der Suche nach neuen Grundlagen für eine neue Translationstheorie. Erweiterte vorläufige Vorlesungsmanuskripte (2008/2009) Teil 1, p. 84, fn. 67. <http://www.fb06.uni-mainz.de/vermeer>


“Meaning arises from becoming. Those processes which are usually called interaction arise from interaction. Among them is translation.”

Versuch einer Intertheorie der Translation. Berlin: Frank & Timme, 2006, p.35.


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

„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>


“A translation has three (or even four) fathers.”

Die Welt in der wir übersetzen. Heidelberg: TEXTconTEXT Wissenschaft, 1996, p. 247.


“There are plenty of ‘defective’ but still entirely successful translations!”

„Ein Rahmen für eine allgemeine Translationstheorie.“ Lebende Sprachen 23, 1978, p. 101.


“Maybe this is what makes a good translator: amazement in the face of the foreignness of a different world.”

„Naseweise Bemerkungen zum literarischen Übersetzen.“ TEXTconTEXT, 1986, p. 146.


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

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.


„Is it not more constructive to ask ourselves what we as translators can do to try to contribute to an ever more humane life? What can we do? Must we not refuse to translate such texts? Should we not rather pass them over in silence, preferring to leave a gap, rather than actively helping to fill it?“

„No state of the art.“ Paper delivered at the conference Translation and translation – des faux amis. Boğaziçi University Istanbul, Department of Translation and Interpreting Studies, 5-8 April 2007, p. 11.


“The new motto [in the translation classroom] should be: ‘From interpreting to translation’.”

Entwurf eines Curriculums für einen Studiengang Translatologie und Translatorik, together with Margret Ammann, Schriftenreihe der allgemeinen Übersetzungs- und Dolmetschwissenschaft des Instituts für Übersetzen und Dolmetschen der Universität Heidelberg Bd. 4, Heidelberg: translatorisches handeln, 1990, p. 36.


“My aim is to lure the translator (and my listeners and readers) away from the carelessness and irresponsibility of letting oneself drift in the community.”

"Grenzen ausloten. Terminologische Skizzen." Auf der Suche nach neuen Grundlagen für eine neue Translationstheorie. Vorlesungsmanuskripte 2008/2009 Teil 2, p.291. < http://www.fb06.uni-mainz.de/vermeer>


“One can never look inside someone else’s head; one can only make assumptions about their thoughts, assessments, associations, and so on. But one can dedicate oneself completely, with one’s body, reason, emotions und assumptions. And one can – by thinking, dreaming, expecting, constructing myths, acting and interacting – overcome reductionist ratio, and stimulate oneself and the other.”

„Zeichenspiele.“ Und sie bewegt sich doch…Translationswissenschaft in Ost und West, edited by Ina Müller, Frankfurt a.M. u.a.: Lang. 2004, p.386.