The explanatory power of descriptive translation studies in the machine translation era

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Machine translation (MT) accounts for the largest, and increasingly growing, proportion of translated text produced today, yet the most influential theoretical frameworks developed in translation studies had preceded the contemporary MT era by decades. The question arises as to whether these theories are well-equipped to capture the makeup of today's corpus-based MT. The current article examines and compares the explanatory power of different theoretical frameworks with regard to MT processes and phenomena. The article discusses the incongruences between corpus-based MT algorithms and major paradigms of (human) translation such as natural equivalence, Skopos theory, and poststructuralist approaches. The article then argues that Descriptive Translation Studies (DTS), in its classic formulation introduced and advanced by Gideon Toury, is the theoretical approach that best corresponds to, and is the most useful framework for conceptualizing, the features of corpus-based MT–and, consequently, of an overwhelming proportion of the translation produced today for multilingual communication and understanding.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)261-277
Number of pages17
JournalPerspectives: Studies in Translation Theory and Practice
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2024


  • Gideon Toury
  • Neural machine translation
  • corpus-based machine translation
  • descriptive translation studies
  • equivalence
  • translation theory

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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