A Comparative Study of English Translations of the Sura Maryam by Christian and Muslim Translators with an Orientation of Skopos Theory | January 2015 | Translation Journal

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A Comparative Study of English Translations of the Sura Maryam by Christian and Muslim Translators with an Orientation of Skopos Theory

Translation journal English Translations of the Sura Maryam



While translating from one language into another, translators have to deal with many

challenges some of which are intertextual and the others are extratextual. We can

discover intertextual differences by comparing source text and translation textually,

but how can we discover extra textual differences between source text and



The Skopos of the translation was identified as one of the extra textual factors that can

affect the meaning of the original text .So, the factors that have effect on the Skopos

were analyzed. The researchers narrowed their analysis

about the mentioned problem to the English translations of the Qur’an by two

Christian translators and two Muslim translators. After that they, compared these

translations according to the CDA model of Farahzad. This comparison proved that

additions were more in Muslim translations than Christian ones while modulation

and omission were more in Christian translations in comparison to their Muslim

counterparts .


Key words: Translation, change the meaning , Skopos , CDA


Translation, according to a given purpose, conveys information in the original

language of the original culture to a target language in the target culture. So the

translation is not “transcoding” of textual features between languages but it is a

complicated action .A person through this action “gives information about a text under

new functional ,cultural and linguistic conditions…,while preserving formal aspects as

far as possible” (Snell-Hornby, 2006, p.53).


Translation is also viewed as a form of human action.


“Human action is intentional, but determinate, self-reflexively measured against social

rules ,resources, the heterogeneity of which allows for the possibility of change with

every self-reflexive action”( Wolf and Fukari, 2007,p.1).


“Translating is an action” that is done to attain a goal. This goal is not stable and any 

“social actor” has effect on it(Kuhiwczak & Littou, 2007, p.35).Toury(1995,p.249)

suggests that translation act occurs in the translator’s mind. Many factors such as: The

knowledge of the translator, his/her feelings, “attitude towards the task, his/her self-

image as a translator”, the attributes of the translator’s character and “life experience

as a whole” have influence on the translation act(Williams &Chesterman, 2002).


Any action has a result. The result of translation action is a “translatum, a specific

kind of target text” ( Baker, 2001, p.236).

Skopos theory and the role of translator in Skopose theory

In Skopos theory , purpose plays very important role to determine methods and

strategies of translation .Also the reason for translating the ST and the function of TT

in target society are important for translator (Munday, 2001). So, in Skopos theory,

recognizing why an ST is to be translated and the function of the TT are very

important for the translator .


Three types of translation according to Skopos are:

1) “Interlinear version” which was useful for Bible translators and did not follow

the laws of TL system.

2)“The grammar translation” which was applied to teach vocabulary and grammar of

TL .

3)“Adapting” or “Modifying” translation in which source text is considered as “raw

material” for specific goals(Snell- Hornby, 2006, p.52).

Because of Skopos variation with text receivers, the Skopos of source text and

target text may be different .When their Skopos is not different Reiss and

Vermeer speak of “Funktionskonstanz (functional constancy)” and when Skopos

differs for them , “Funktionsanderung(change of function )” (ibid) occurs.


Purpose must be determined before the start of translation, different purposes are

defined for translation by translation scholars. Addressees are one of the factors

which have effect on the choosing of one form of translation instead of another one.

For example, when we translate for children we use different strategies and methods

(Lefevere ,1992).


Skopos is useful for both “process” and “product” of translation and it can

be used in three manners, and therefore has three concepts, it can be related to:


a) “the translation process” and its aims

b) “the translation result” and “ the function of the translatum”

c) “ the translation mode” and its goal(Venuti, 2000, p.224).

According to Skopos theory, translation is production of a suitable target text based on

a source text, and the relationship between the two texts is determined according to

the Skopos of the translation. But any specific purpose, based on this

theory, is just “one among many possible ones”( Venuti, 2000, p.228).This idea is

expressed in another place when Vermeer says “the Skopos may of course also have

sub- Skopoi” (p.224).

So, if it seems logical or essential , the Skopos idea “can be used

with respect to segments of a translatum”. This belief helps us to say that it is not

necessary to determine an “action and a text as an indivisible whole” (p.222).

Thus a specific original text does not have “one correct or best translation only”


Function designers in translation

Function is a factor which guides “the language usefulness”. The function of a text is

its influence in reality(House, 1996, p.13).Reiss and Vermeer(1984) rely on this issue

that translator can determine the function of the translation too. This function is

determined in terms of translator’s attitude to the reader’s requirements(House, 1996,



Some translations are designed to fulfill a particular function, because of this

fact there are two or more translations for every word in dictionary and the translator

can choose the one that best suits his purpose. For example the translation of the

Hebrew Bible as a religious text is only one of the possible choices for the target text

to replace the original in this particular function, and even then ,there would still be a

difference between the functioning as a Jewish and a non-Jewish religious text. As a

result, not just any translation of the Bible would amount to biblical translation ;not

even a particular kind of translation (Toury, 1995,p.169).


Some researchers use meaning and function as synonym words. For instance, Nord

says “the meaning or function of a text is not something inherent in linguistic signs”;

it is not recognizable for every person who knows “code” (as cited in Schaffner&

Holmes, 1995, p.45).So, we can conclude that factors that change the function can

change the meaning too.

Nord(1991) believes “the function of the target text is not arrived at automatically

from an analysis of the source text but it is pragmatically defined by the purpose of the

intercultural communication”( as cited in Robinson, 2003, p.173).

The functions of translations are not “textual abstractions but extratextual actions” that

have effect on behavior of human beings “in a social context”. These functions are

not fixed and they can redefined “pragmatically” in any new situation. The Skopos of

the intercultural communication is the main reason for these redefinitions(ibid).So the

Skopos has important effect on the function of a text too.


Vermeer believes that a translation is performed to achieve a purpose. “Client” or

the translators determine this purpose (Kuhiwczak and Littau,2007, p.55).

Translator designs a function for translation as well as the author but translation is

conditioned with its source text and reader’s conditions in target language. These

constraints are related to equivalence relation(Venuti, 2000).Thus it is useful to review

some ideas about equivalence. There are three types of meaning that are important to

reach equivalence:

1) “the semantic aspect of meaning” ,that includes linguistic units relationship

with their referents in real world.

2) “the pragmatic aspect” that includes relationship between linguistic units and

their user in a defined condition.

3) “the textual aspect” that refers to different text elements such as theme-rheme

patterns and everything that affects on the cohesion of the text (as cited in

House,1996, p.31). The semantic dimension of meaning is concerned to “the

relationship of linguistic units or symbols to their referents in some possible world”.

This component of meaning is easy to understand, and identification of “equivalence

in translation” in this dimension is very easy(p.30).

But the pragmatics dimension of meaning is related to the relationship

between “linguistic units and the user(s) of these units in a given communicative

situation” or according to Edmondson it is related to “discourse” ( as cited in

Fairclaugh, 2010, p.457). It is also related to “the illocutionary force that an utterance

is said to have”. This force is identified in terms of the “grammatical features such as

word order, mood of the words” and so forth ,but the most important factor for

identification of this force in real conditions is “context”( House, 1996, p.31).

The Skopos of the Qur’an translations

The Skopos of holy texts translation differs on the basis of “motivations” for

translation (Long, 2005, p.13). There are more than one Skopos in translations of holy

texts, because each translator has specific motivation for his/her translation.


The Qur’an belongs to all people, because in different verses in the Qur’an this

point is repeated and emphasized that it is for all mankind and it confirms the prior

Scriptures (Saffarzadeh, 2002, p.1538).Thus different people from different

religions have translated the Qur’an to their own languages. But this kind of

translation is not easy and it needs knowledge in both languages and cultures of the

ST and TT(ibid).


Some examples at Micro-level analysis of four English translations of thirty-nine

verses of the Sura Maryam.

Farahzad (2007) believes the purpose of comparing the source text(“prototext”) and

the target text(“metatext”) is “to see whether or not” they have “similar/different

ideological implications”(p.42) .She thinks the texts must be analyzed in “two levels”:

micro level and macro level. At micro level, textual features such as “lexical and

grammatical choices” are analyzed. Tense, modality, positive/negative,

passivization /activization and so on are surveyed in this level.

َا زَكَرِيَّا إِنَّا نُبَشِّرُكَ بِغُلَامٍ اسْمُهُ يَحْيَى لَمْ نَجْعَل لَّهُ مِن قَبْلُ سَمِيًّا ﴿7﴾


ای زکریا !ماتورابه پسری که نامش یحیی است مژده می دهیم که قبلا هم نامی برای اوقرارنداده ایم

1. Saffarzadeh:
│Allah stated:│ “O, Zakariya! We do bestow you glad-tidings of a son ,his name will
be Yahya and We did not give that name1 to any Messenger before him.”.

2. Starkovsky:
*.-O Zechariah! We are announcing to you[the birth] of your son John, the first one
We are calling by this name

3. Arberry :
O Zachariah, We give thee good tidings of a boy ,whose name is John. No namesake
have We given him aforetime.’.

4. Bakhtiar:
O Zachariah! Truly We give you the good tidings of a boy. His name will be John
and We have not assigned it as a namesake for anyone before.

All the translators emphasized on the name of the son of prophet but
Starkovsky ignored that, He also used “announcing” for 

.      "مژده می دهیم"

All the translators except Saffarzadeh used “John” instead of original noun
In (یحیی)which does not convey the implications of original noun
Islam (semantic features).
Starkovsky used modulation and changed negative voice to the positive
one by writing “the first one We are calling by this name” for

"قبلا هم نامی برای اوقرارنداده ایم"


وَيَقُولُ الْإِنسَانُ أَئِذَا مَا مِتُّ لَسَوْفَ أُخْرَجُ حَيًّا ﴿66﴾


وانسان می گوید:آیاوقتی مردم،راستی ازگور زنده بیرون آورده خواهم شد؟

1. Saffarzadeh:
And the disbelieving man says: “ Once I am dead and buried shall I then be brought
forth alive?”

2. Starkovsky:
Man says: “Shall I really be raised after I die?”

3. Arberry:
Man says , ‘ What, when I am dead shall I then be brought forth alive?’

4. Bakhtiar:
And the human being says : When I am dead, shall I be brought out living?

"زنده" is omitted in Starkovsky translation, therefore he destroyed the main "زنده"
concept of original. Saffarzadeh added “buried” and also “disbelieving” to
her translation and her last addition emphasized on an absent negative concept
in the original text. Bakhtiar and Arberry added “what” and “when” in
their translations which increased the exclamatory load in their

Two following tables show the frequency of three translation strategies in Muslim
and Christian translations of thirty –nine verses of Sura Maryam:

Table 1 Frequency of strategies used in translation of the Qur’an by Muslim




      Translation strategy 

Muslim Translators                  

















Table 2 Frequency of strategies used in translation of the Qur'an by Christian




      Translation strategy 

Christian Translators



















The frequency of strategies shows that the translations are more explicit than the

original text. But the ratio of this feature between translations by Muslim and

Christian’s translators is different. Tables show that Muslim translations are longer

than Christian ones, the percentage of additions in Muslim translations are more than

Christian ones. But the percentages of omission and modulation in Christian

translations are more than of them in Muslim ones.


It was also identified that Skopos can be attributed to the process, result and mode of

the translation. Therefore each translation has more than one Skopos .

Translator is a significant factor for designing Skopos types. Function constancy is

dependent to the Skopos of the translation. So before determining the function

constancy, even in the translation of religious texts, the kind of Skopos must be

appointed .


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Arberry, A. J. (1955). The Koran. United States: Macmillan Publishing.
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Baker, M .(2001). Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies. London: =
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Bakhtiar, L. (2009). The Sublime Quran(6th ed.). United States: Kazi Publications.

Fairclough, N. (2010). Critical Discourse Analysis The Critical Study of Language
(2end ed.). UK: Pearson Education Limited.

Farahzad , F.(2007). Translation Criticism: A CDA Approach.Translation studies.17, 45.

Farahzad, F.(2012). Translation Criticism: A Three-Dimensional Model Based on
CDA.Translation studies. 36, 35.

Hornby, S. M. (2006). The Turns of Translation Studies. Amsterdam:John Benjamins.

House, J. (1996). Translation Quality Assessment a Model Revisited. Tehran: Gunter NarrVerlagTubingen

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Lefevere, A. (1992).Translation. History. Culture. London: Routledge.

Munday, J. (2001). Introducing Translation Studies. London: Routledge .

Robinson, D.(2003). Becoming a Translator an Introduction to the Theory and Practice of Translation(2end ed.). London : Routledge.

Saffarzadeh, T. (2002). The Holy Qur’an (4th ed.). Tehran: Sooreh-Mehr. Savory, T. (1968). The Art of Translation. Great Britain: The Writer INC.

Schaffner, C., & Holmes, K. H. (Eds). (1995). Cultural Function of Translation. Clevedon:MultilingualMatters

Starkovsky, N. (2005). The Koran Handbook An Annotated Translation. New York: Algora.

Toury, G. (1995). Descriptive Translation Studies and Beyond .Amsterdam:John Benjamins.

Venuti, L. (Ed.). (2000). The Translation Studies Reader. London: Routledge.

Wolf , M., & Fukari, A. (2007). Constructing a Sociology of Translation.Amsterdam: John Benjamins

Williams, J., & Chesterman, A. (2002). The Map a Beginner’s Guide to DoinResearch in Translation Studies. Manchester: St. Jerome Publishing.

About Salar Manafi Anari

Salar Manafi Anari Translation Journal

Salar Manafi Anari, Ph.D, is English professor at Allameh Tabataba'I University. He is involved in teaching English as well as research in translation and writing. e-mail:(amanafi55@yahoo.com)

About Ashraf Mohammadi

Ashraf Mohammadi Translation journal

Ashraf Mohammadi is translator and teacher .She received an M.A. in Translation Studies from the Islamic Azad University, South Tehran Branch.e-mail:(amohammadi5@yahoo.com)

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