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  • Monday, June 21, 2010
  • My initial encounter with the deceased professor Hans Vermeer
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  • Professor Hans Vermeer




    My initial encounter with the deceased professor Hans Vermeer


    My contact with the deceased Hans Vermeer began during the last conference at An-Najah National University which was held in 2009.   At that very conference I made an acquaintance with the deceased and if my memory does not deceive me I would dare to say that Professor Vermeer made a short notice of my presence on account that it was our initial meeting or contact with a distinguished figure in Translation & Philosophy.   However, Vermeer\'s impression of and about me gradually and drastically changed right after I had given my presentation on a topic which obviously appealed to him.  The title of my topic was \"the family resemblance between translation and intercultural communication encounter\".   As I was delivering my presentation, I noted that the deceased was looking and listening to me with great admiration and enthusiasm at that point I felt then that I was doing just fine and my topic of discussion appealed greatly and profoundly to him.   Right after I had finished with my presentation, Professor Vermeer rushed to the podium where I was standing and shook hand with me and gave me his personal card.  At that point I had realized that I must have impressed him with my presentation otherwise why should he bother with it.   I felt so enthusiastic and gratified by his courteous gesture of acknowledgement and recognition.


    As you can see my acquaintance with this fine and highly reputable scholar started last year during the conference on the Role of Translation in Intercultural Dialogue, then developed on scholarly basis and as a relation between a mentor and his advisor.   Now when I look back on what has transpired between us I feel so much indebted to this respectful scholar for his scholarship and intellect.    On a personally level I had known him to be kind, generous in giving his students the advice they need at that same time he was so much interested in his students as much as his students were/ had been interested in him.   Humility was one his explicit and most visible feature or characteristic of his personality.  



              To do him and my self justice I am not fully acquainted with all his works on translation theory and therefore I shall not forgive myself for that.  However, I shall dedicate my presentation for the up-coming conference on the contribution of his theory \' Skopos\', and its overall impact on translation theories. And on count of his intellect and scholarship, Vermeer deserves a word of gratitude for his instrumental contribution in this field.   I assume that most of Professor Vermeer’s published works are in German language and therefore I would not be embarrassed to say that I have had little exposure to his famous translation theory but it was abundantly clear that Hans Vermeer had been influenced by some scholars whom I have had so much admiration and been influenced by them too.  





    Hans Vermeer had been impressed and influenced by the prominent American linguist, Noam Chomsky and the German philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein in adopting a universal vision- a vision which is grounded in Hellenistic philosophy and a vision whose ideas and ideologies are consistent with the assumptions which underscore the similarities of human species on a macro-level and minimize the overwhelming differences on a micro level.      Vermeer strongly believed that such micro-level differences seem to exert a lot of influence on our perception of seeing the same thing differently and thus it is responsible for the type and overwhelming disparities which might arise in our perception and interpretation of any communicated message in interpersonal/intercultural communication.




    What was Vermeer’s translation theory about?


    Hans Vermeer was not only a proponent of the post-structuralism approach, an approach whose proponents made light of the role of the author of any a particular text and consider the translation to be more important than the original text.   Vermeer went a bit further to spell what his translation theory was about when he introduced \"Skopos Theory\", a technical term which refers to the real aim and purpose of translation in his perception.   Vermeer believed that translation is a communicative act.  It is a social action which has its real intention and primary point and what is at stake to Vermeer was not the decoding of the linguistic code or the \'signifier\" but rather the meaning which the signifier stands for.   And by virtue of that Vermeer had distanced himself from the prominent Linguistic Equivalence Approach and its perspectives.    To Vermeer the act of translation is \' an offer of information\' or a communication delegation\' where the recipient has to attend to as carefully and discreetly as possible.   Vermeer\'s vision was that the author of the original text is not only irrelevant but of little importance to the outcome of translation transaction since the translator plays a major role in uncovering the intention of the text and thus the translator becomes autonomous and independent.   


    As one can see that Vermeer had a applied a paradigm change to the overall Theory of Translation when he introduced his theory of translation and by virtue of that he subscribed to the Functionalist Approach- an approach which entertains the value of the meaning of the message being communicated and its purpose rather than its linguistic form.  Just by examining Vermeer’s skopos theory of translation I feel induced to believe that he had applied some sort of paradigm change to the overall general theory of translation by distancing himself from both the linguistic equivalence and equivalence theory on the ground that Vermeer saw little value in adopting such a stance or subscribing to the views and perspectives of such theories.   


    Therefore, Vermeer was both a proponent of both the post-structuralist and a functionalist so he found himself an optimal niche very much comforting and at the same time mitigating that heightened tension which has always existed between two European schools of thoughts: the deconstructionist and the hermeneutics.    He was able to buttress and substantiate his view on the ground that the striking differences which manifest themselves in the translation of a particular text seem to warrant his claim that it would be safer and more realistic to look at the process of translation as a information delegation with a primary point once one captures such primary point then translation is rendered fairly and squarely.   Vermeer believed that the structure and nature of the cognitive system of human species and all organisms would induce one to arrive at a distinct interpretation and there lies the big issue and the focus of the controversy which seem to trigger a great deal of debate over debate and interpretation over interpretation.   Consequently, Vermeer was able to provide the proper warrant to justify the philosophy behind a theory which he founded- Skopos theory.

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Ayman Rafeeq Husein Nazzal
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