Posts Tagged ‘hariyanto’

Text Linguistics and Skopos Theory and their Application in Translation Teaching

by Sugeng Hariyanto (State Polyetchnic of Malang)


Translation industry is developing very fast with the economic globalization and digital/internet technology development. Unfortunately, the teaching of translation in universities has not adopted techniques that can response this situation. This paper  aims to propose a translation teaching technique to train the students to produce target texts demanded in the translation business. The technique is proposed by considering two influential concepts in translation theory, i.e., Text Linguistics and Skopos Theory.

Text linguistics is a branch of linguistics that deals with texts as communication systems. Text linguistics takes into account the form of a text and its setting, i.e. the way in which it is situated in an interactional, communicative context. In relation to translation, it can be said that translation is not only the business of analyzing the source text sentence by sentence. Instead, the author and the intended audience and the purpose of communication should also be considered.

Skopos theory is closely related to text-types and also emphasizes the importance of translation purposes. With these ideas as the basis, this article gives example how to apply text linguistics and skopos theory in classroom context to teach functional text translation. The translation teaching materials are selected based on the text type and difficulty levels, students are trained to do text-analysis and be made aware of the purpose of the source text is not always the same with the purpose of the target text. Prior to giving a translation practice, therefore, the teacher writes the clearest translation brief possible

Keywords: text linguistics, skopos theory, classroom teaching, translation teaching



Translation has been done since long time ago. The activities have created a new profession, i.e. translator. According to Hariyanto (2006), there are two markets for translation business, i.e. publishers (national level) and translation agents (international level). Publishers publish translated books for several reasons. At least there are three motivations: academic, empowerment and business motivations. With academic motivation, the publishers translate books to meet academic demand. For example, Resist Book translates and publishes a book on Chomsky to meet the need for literature on Chomsky in Bahasa Indonesia. They also translate and publish books to empower the readers, for example, in the fields of democratization, human rights, entrepreneurship and other fields. Finally, as the most dominating motivation, publishers translate and publish books for economic reasons. Publication of translated books is more profitable rather than publishing local works. As a comparison, local writer’s royalty is 10% to 20%; and royalty for translated book is only 6% to 7%. Hence, publishers pay less when they publish translated books than when they publish books written by local writers. This is not to mention “copy left” publishers who publish book translated book without first buying the copyright. In terms of quality, usually local writer’s quality is low; while great writers are, unfortunately, co-opted by big publishers. In terms of marketing, some translated books are already backed up with international success. This is illustrated by the high demand of the translation version of Harry Potter, the best seller novel ever.

The translation business in the international market is boosted by the globalization needs. With globalization, many manufacturers want to sell their products in other countries. They need to talk to the people of other countries in their local languages. The text types vary now. They do not only cover novels and textbooks but also websites and software interfaces.


The Practice in Translation Teaching

The great challenges of translation business illustrated above, however, are not paralleled with the fact found in educational institutions producing potential translators. Chriss, as cited by Nababan (2007:2), states that up to these days the basic approach in translation teaching seems to remain unchanged from the time of the School of Scribes in Ancient Egypt. The teacher gives out a source text to the students and then without any briefing and notes asks them to translate the text in the class or at home. Upon completing, the target text is then discussed in great depth and detail by the whole class to find out what is lack in the translation. In other words, the translation class is searching for “good” translation. A question to ask is then “good for whom?” or “on what criteria or bases”? As a consequence, such practice can hardly produce potential translator who can take the challenge of the translation business in which a target text should firstly meet the purpose of translating the source text.

This paper, therefore, aims to propose a translation teaching technique which hopefully can train the students to produce target texts demanded in the translation business. The technique is proposed by considering two influential concepts in translation theory, i.e., Text LinguisticsandSkopos Theory. Thus, in its discussion this paper explicates some concepts of Text Linguistics,Skopos Theory andits Translation-oriented text analysis and then describes the translation teaching technique proposed.



Text Linguistics

            It is mentioned in the background of this paper that texts to be translated in translation business nowadays are various. For Indonesian publishers, translators translate textbooks, popular books, novels, children books, books on Information Technology (IT) and many others; as for many international and a few national translation agents, Indonesian translators work on texts like technical manuals, websites, software interfaces, advertisements, legal documents, annual reports, and many others.

In relation to text-type, Snell-Hornby (1988) classifies translation into three general categories: literary translation, general translation and special language translation. Literary translation is the translation of literary works and Bible, and general translation is translation of newspaper, information text and advertising. Finally, special language translation covers the translation of legal, economic, medicine and science/technology texts. For all of these translation types, text linguistics is necessary. This can be seen in the following chart.

texttype-relevent criteria

Chart 1: Text Types and Relevant Criteria for Translation


What is text linguistics anyway? In general, it can be said that text linguistics is a branch of linguistics that deals with texts as communication systems. Text linguistics takes into account the form of a text and its setting, i.e. the way in which it is situated in an interactional, communicative context. Thus, author of a text and its addressee are studied in their respective social and/or institutional roles in the specific communicative context.[1] [It is worth noted that Halliday (1978 and 1994) and his followers also talk about the similar concept of analysis under the discussion of genre.] In relation to translation, it can be said that translation is not only the business of analyzing the source text sentence by sentence. Instead, the author and the intended audience and the purpose of communication should also be considered.

In relation to this, Reiss (1977/1989) has been very influential in focusing attention on the function of text – both in the context of the original and in the context of the situation that demands a translation. As a matter of fact, her approach considers the text rather than the word or the sentence as the translation unit and hence the level at which equivalence is to be sought.

She classifies texts based on discourse function into: (a) informative, (b) expressive, and (c) operative. A text is classified as an informative text if the content is the main focus. This kind of texts plainly communicates facts, information, knowledge, opinions, etc. The logical or referential dimension of language is the main aspect involved. Texts are called expressive if the focus is on creative composition and aesthetics aspects. Both the author and the message are what are foregrounded. The examples are imaginative creative literature texts. Next, an operative text is a text whose focus is the appellative aspect. Here the text appeals to the readers to act in a certain way by persuading, dissuading, requesting, and cajoling them. Usually the form of language is dialogic.

Correspondingly Reiss (1977/1989) advocates specific translation methods for each of these text types. The target text of an informative text should be in plain prose with explication where required, because the aim is to transmit the referential content of the text. The target text of an expressive text should use the identifying method, the translator having to look at it from the ST author’s standpoint. The translation of an operative text has to employ the adaptive method, where the translator tries to create the same effect on the readers, as the ST. See chart 2 for a better understanding of specific translation methods for each of these text types [adapted by Munday (2001: 74) based on Reiss (1977/1989)].

text types-transla-methods

Chart 2: Functional Characteristics of Text Types and Links to Ttranslation                     Methods

Reiss (1977/1989) also talks of evaluatory criteria, which vary according to text types. Thus while the translation of any content-oriented text has to aim at semantic equivalence, and a popular science piece will have to preserve the ST style, there is greater need to retain a metaphor in an expressive text than in an informative target text. She thinks that one could measure the adequacy of a target text (TT) by intra-linguistic criteria—like semantic, grammatical and stylistic features—and extra-linguistic criteria—like situation, subject field, time, place, receiver, sender and implications like humor, irony, emotion etc.

text types

Chart 3. Types of Text.

Reiss (1977/1989) also proposes a text typology. Chart 3 illustrates the typology. The above typology is a useful typology of texts but it is clear that texts are often not easily categorized. One single text can have several characteristics. A biography could have informative as well as appellative content. A personal letter could well be informative, expressive and appellative as can be an advertisement. The important thing here is that her approach is built on earlier ideas of rhetoric and language analysis.

SkoposTheory and Translation-Oriented Text Analysis

Skopos Theory

It is clear from the above discussion on text linguistics that the approach to translation can be closely related to the type of text to translate. Translation theory that has a big concern on text-type is skopos theory or Skopos theorie introduced by Vermeer (1989/2000), the theory that applies the notion of Skopos (a Greek word for purpose) to translation. The translation process of a text is guided by its function i.e. the use of a receiver makes of a text or the meaning that the text has for the receiver. In other words, the prime principle determining any translation process is the purpose/skopos of the overall translational action.

Briefly, Reiss and Vermeer (in Nord, 1997: 29) mention the following Skopos rule:

Each text is produced for a given purpose and should serve this purpose. The Skopos rule thus reads as follows: translate/interpret/speak/write in a way that enables your text/translation to function in the situation in which it is used and with the people who want to use it and precisely in the way they want it to function.

Skopos theory is not only closely related to text-types, but also to the importance of translation purposes which is always oriented to the target readers, especially their response. The difference in focus here is that the ST is the point of departure and the skopos refers to knowing why an ST is to be translated and what the function of the TT will be. Skopos theory focuses on the purpose of the translation, which determines the methods and strategies of translating, which are employed to produce functionally adequate result (Munday, 2001: 79).

Skopos theory which emerged in Germany (Hatim, 2001: 73) is within functionalism. Skopos idea relies on key concepts in pragmatics that is intention and action. There are two important skopos rules:

Skopos rule 1: Intention is determined by its purpose.

Skopos rule 2: purpose varies according to the text receiver.

Translator decision is governed by textual and contextual factors. One of the contextual factors is audience design which accounts for the way a target text is intended to be received. This will affect the translation strategies selected by the translator.

Target text must be produced with the given purpose in mind and that translation will function well when shaped by a particular purpose. Three major kinds of purpose are already recognized: communicative, strategic, and general purposes (Hatim, 2001: 74)

Such purposes cannot be equally important. The success or failure of a translation is ultimately decided whether it can be interpreted successfully by the targeted recipient in a manner that is consistent whit what is expected of it (Hatim, 2001: 75)

In skopos theory, the success or failure of translation is often mentioned as success or protest. Success means definitely success in transferring the text function and protest means failure. A successful translation elicits no protest from the target recipient. No protest means the message received in the manner intended and/or expected. Thus, intention is related with function. Intention is judged by the writer of source text and the function is judged by the receiver (Hatim, 2001: 75). Success of a translation is measured in terms of harmony of content and intention. Content means content of message. Intention means intention of producer or translator (Hatim, 2001: 75). There are two kinds of textual coherence: (a) intra-textual coherence and (b) intertextual coherence. Here intra-textual coherence is more important. (Hatim, 2001: 76).

As a matter of fact, text only contains information offer. Thus, a text may mean many different things to many receivers (Hatim, 2001: 76-77). Therefore, the target readers must be taken into account. Who, then, determines the skopos or purpose of translation? The skopos is determined by the initiator or commissioner of the translation, the translation brief and the type of translation.

In a translation project, there are at least three roles: initiator, commissioner, and translator. The following is an example of a case in translation field.

One of the lectures in MalangStateUniversity has read a book on linguistics. He thought that the book must be translated into Bahasa Indonesia so that Indonesians can study linguistics from the remarkable book. He, then, sent a letter to a publisher to propose translating the book. The publisher agreed, and so the lecturer started translating.

Question: Who is the initiator? – The lecturer

                 Who is the commissioner? – The Publisher

               Who determines the translation purpose? – The lecturer


The commissioner gives a translation job to a translator. The “order” is called Translation Brief (Ind. Surat Perintah Kerja). The Translation brief shall contain the function of target text, target audience, where and when target text is to be read, what is the medium (spoken, written) and motive, i.e., why translation is needed. However, publishers rarely issue such a complete translation brief.

There are several principles claimed to be skopos rules by Reiss and Vermeer (1984, in Nord, 1997). The rules are as follows:

1. A translatum or target text (TT) is determined by its skopos.

2. A TT is an offer of information in a target culture and target language (TL)

3. A TT does not initiate an offer of information in a clearly reversible way.

4. A TT must be internally coherent.

5. A TT must be coherent with source text (ST).

6. The five rules above stand in hierarchical order, with the skopos rule predominating.


Translation-oriented text analysis

Related closely to skopos approach is text analysis prior to translating. Nord (1997: 59), one of the proponents of Skopos Theory, states that the elements of text analysis area; (a) the importance of the translation commission (translation brief), (b) the role of ST analysis, and (c) the functional hierarchy of translation problems. These points are briefly reviewed as follows.

The commission should give the following information: (a) the intended text function, (b) the addresses (sender and recipient), (c) the time and place of text reception, (d) the medium (speech and writing), and (e) the motive (why the ST was written and why it is being translated). This is also discussed above in which commission is termed by translation brief.

The ST analysis is also important. In analyzing the ST, according to Nord (1991), the most important thing is the pragmatic analysis of the communicative situation involved and the model to be used for ST and the translation brief.

Which factors are to be analyzed? They can be some of the following, i.e. subject matter; content including connotation and cohesion, presuppositions which mean the real-world factors of the communicative situation presumed to be known to the participants; composition including microstructure and macrostructure; non-verbal elements, for example illustrations and italic; lexis including dialect, registers and specific terminology; and sentence structure and suprasegmental features including stress, rhythm and stylistic punctuation.

Moreover, functions are important in translation. The things that should be noticed in relation to text functions among others are the intended function, the functional elements, and the translation types determining translation style, the problems of the text can then be tackled at lower linguistic levels as in the second point above.

Below is an advertisement a commissioner wants a translator to translate and under the text is the text analysis that may be done by the translator.

PR Advertorial – Copy Sheet

Headline Studies

Wulan reveals her ultimate beauty secretSub-headAs the new ambassador of Bella Skin Care, Wulan shares how Bella Skin Care helped her maintain flawless skin.

Body Copy

Q:   What is the secret behind your skin’s radiance?

WULAN:   I have always believed in the importance of going for regular, high-quality skincare treatments to achieve great skin.   Aside from using Bella Skin Care products daily, I go for weekly treatments to soothe my skin after hours of intense makeup sessions. Because of this, I am able to keep my skin in tip-top condition – perfectly supple and visibly revitalized.

Q: How do you keep your skin so luminous despite your hectic film schedule?

WULAN: I really love Bella Skin Care’s BioLymph High Symmetry System. It works wonders by detoxifying my skin and remodeling my facial contours, especially the problem areas around my eyes such as puffy eyes and eye bags – which results after long hours of filming.

Q: Among all the treatments, what is your favourite?

WULAN: One of my favourites is Bella Skin Care’s exclusive Depilux™ Hair Free System. This treatment painlessly impedes hair growth, leading to permanently silky, hair-free skin on any part of the body with zero down time. I’ll never have to worry about wearing revealing clothes during filming. With Bella Skin Care, I know I’m always at my best!

Promo Portion

Indulge in these fabulous beauty offers:

Wulan’s Skin Perfecting Package for perfectly balanced skin

Enjoy 30 Therapies at Rp3,000,000.00*


Wulan’s Ultra Whitening Package for fairer, clearer skin

Get 30 Therapies at Rp4,800,000.00*


Wulan’s Nutritive Package for hydrated glowing skin

Get 30 Therapies at Rp4,000,000.00*


*Terms and conditions apply.


The text, under Snell-Hornby categorization, is a general text. The author is the Bella Skin Care firm. The audience is Indonesian young women, middle-up economic class, probably educated women. The purpose of the translation is to sell the product to Indonesian women. Based on Reiss’ categorization it is an operative text. As an operative text, the appropriate method of translation is adaptive method in which all means are taken to achieve equivalent effect, i.e. making Indonesian women buy the products. The target text therefore should focus on this appellative focus to elicit the desired response. The language dimension is dialogic, as evident in the source target also.

The translation of the advertisement above might be like the following.

PR Advertorial – Copy Sheet

Headline Studies

Wulan mengungkapkan rahasianya untuk cantik sempurna



Sebagai duta Bella Skin Care yang baru, Wulan mengungkapkan bagaimana Bella Skin membantu agar kulitnya tetap cantik sempurna.


Body Copy

Tanya: Apa rahasia dari kulit Anda yang indah berseri?

Wulan:   Saya selalu yakin akan pentingnya perawatan kulit yang rutin dan bermutu tinggi untuk mendapatkan kulit yang cemerlang. Selain menggunakan produk Bella Skin Care setiap hari, saya juga datang untuk mendapatkan perawatan seminggu sekali untuk menenangkan kulit saya setelah berjam-jam memakai riasan yang berat. Hasilnya, saya bisa menjaga kulit agar selalu dalam kondisi prima – lentur sempurna dan terlihat muda lagi.

Tanya: Bagaimana cara Anda merawat kulit sehingga tetap begitu bercahaya meskipun jadwal Anda main film sangat ketat?

Wulan: Saya sangat suka dengan Sistem BioLymph High Symmetry dari Bella Skin Care. Sistem ini manfaatnya sangat menakjubkan yaitu dengan mengeluarkan racun dari kulit dan membentuk kembali kontur wajah saya, terutama sekali di daerah yang bermasalah di sekitar mata seperti mata bengkak dan berkantung yang terjadi akibat bekerja berjam-jam main film.

Tanya: Di antara semua perawatan yang ada, yang mana yang paling Anda sukai?

Wulan: Salah satu perawatan dari Bella Skin Care yang paling saya sukai adalah Sistem Pembersihan Bulu Rambut Depilux™. Perawatan ini mencegah tumbuhnya bulu rambut tanpa rasa sakit, hasilnya kulit yang tetap sehalus sutra yang bebas dari bulu rambut dan ini bisa langsung terlihat hasilnya di bagian kulit mana pun pada tubuh. Saya tidak akan khawatir lagi bila harus mengenakan baju yang agak terbuka bisa sedang main film. Dengan Bella Skin Care, Saya yakin saya selalu dalam kondisi puncak!


Promo Portion

Manjakan diri Anda dengan berbagai penawaran istimewa berikut ini:

Paket Kulit Sempurna Wulan untuk kulit sehat sempurna

Nikmati 30 Terapi dengan harga Rp 3.000.000*


Paket Pemutih Ultra Wulan untuk kulit lebih putih bersih

Dapatkan 30 Terapi dengan harga Rp 4.800.000*


Paket Nutrisi Wulan untuk kulit lembut bercahaya

Dapatkan 30 Terapi dengan harga Rp 4.000.000*


*Syarat dan ketentuan berlaku



Based on the discussion on Text Linguistics and Skopos Theory above, some points can be proposed for translation teaching as follows:

  1. The translation teaching material should be selected based on the genres (text type) and difficulty levels.
  2. Students should be trained to do text-analysis (based on text linguistics and skopos theory) to make sure that the characteristics of texts are well understood and the purpose of translation is well adopted.
  3. The students should be made aware of the purpose of the source text which might be different from the purpose of the target text. Therefore, the teacher should write translation brief as clearly as possible prior to giving translation practice.

The actual teaching technique can be like the following 9-step technique:

  1. The teacher makes a selection of the material to be translated based on the text type and translation audience.
  • Text type based on discourse function: expressive, informative, operative
  • Audience: children, adults, academicians, tourists, etc.
  1. The students are assigned to do text analysis to the source text based on skopos theory. The students, assisted by their teacher, should identify the source text, in terms of the type of text, the register, the style and the readership of the text selected, etc. Please note that the readership of the source text may be the same or different from the readership of the target text as stipulated in the translation brief. In either case, the analysis of such features above benefits the translators (students).
  2. The teacher should give a clear translation brief, including the purpose of the translation and the audience of the translation.
  3. The teacher guides a discussion on the similarities/differences between the source text characteristics (based on step 2) and the characteristic of the target text of the same text type (genre).
  4. Students do “deep” reading, by placing emphasis on items where translation problems may appear. This is called “reading with translation intention,” by Gerding-Salas (2000). When doing this, students should first underline unknown terms and then they should mentally confront potential translation difficulties in the text with suitable translation procedures, by keeping in mind the text as a whole.
  5. The students then translate the text using appropriate translation strategy but keeping in mind the purpose of the translation.
  6. The students hand in the final version.
  7. The teacher makes a final revision and returns the text to the students.
  8. The students finally make comments on the lesson learned in the translation learning process. And that is a kind of self-reflection.


Some new concepts in translation theory, i.e. Text Linguistics, Skopos Theory and Translation-oriented Text Analysis are not also fruitful to the translation strategies employed by the translators but also to its methods of teaching. The translation teaching materials are selected based on the text type and difficulty levels, students are trained to do text-analysis and be made aware of the purpose of the source text is not always the same with the purpose of the target text. Prior to giving translation practice, therefore, the teacher writes the clearest translation brief possible.



Gerding-Salas, Constanza. 2000. Teaching Translation: Problems and Solutions. Translation Journal. Vol. 4. July 2000. accessed from

Hariyanto, Sugeng. 2006. The Translation Business Prospect in National and International Levels. Paper presented in Seminar on Translation, STAIN Kediri.

Hatim, Basil. 2001. Teaching and Researching Translation. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited.

Munday, Jeremy. 2001.  Introducing Translation Studies – Theories and Applications. London and New York: Routledge.

Nababan, Donald J. 2007. A Product or Process-Based Approach to Translation Training? A Glance at Translation Practice Course. A paper presented in FIT5th Asian translators Forum, Bogor, 11-12 April.

Nord, Christiane. 1991. Text Analysis in Translation: Theory, Method, and Didactic Application of a Model for Translation-Oriented Text Analysis. Amsterdam/Atlanta GA: Rodopi.

Nord, Christiane. 1997. Translation as a Purposeful Activity: Functionalist Approaches Explained. Manchester: St Jerome.

Reiss, Katharina. (1977/1989) ‘Text Types, Translation Types and Translation Assessment’, translated by A. Chesterman, in A. Chesterman (ed.)(1989).

Snell-Hornby, Marry. 1988. Translation Studies: An Integrated Approach. Amsterdam: John Benjamins B.V.

Vermeer, H. J. (1989/2000) ‘Skopos and Commission in Translational Action’ in L. Veneti (ed.) (2000).

Wikipedia. No date. Text Linguistics.



Sugeng Hariyanto

Politeknik Negeri Malang



Di dalam penerjemahan puisi sering dikatakan bahwa hasil terjemahan tidak sebaik puisi aslinya. Lebih jauh, ada tiga mitos tentang hasil penerjemahan puisi, yaitu: a) Puisi terjemahan lebih buruk daripada puisi aslinya, (b) penerjemahan puisi adalah pengkhianatan, dan (c) terjemahan yang cantik biasanya tidak setia, dan yang setia biasanya tidak cantik. Di dalam artikel singkat ini penulis berusaha menelusuri asal-muasal mitos di atas dan mencoba menyajikan pandangannya tentang kebenaran mitos tersebut.

Penulis juga menyinggung bagaimana penerjemahan puisi sumber yang sama bisa menghasilkan puisi-puisi yang berbeda jika penerjemahannya dilakukan oleh penerjemah yang berbeda. Keruwetan ini menjadi bertambah, menurut penulis, jika kritikus ikut mengomentari hasil terjemahan karena penerjemah dan kritikus mungkin sekali memiliki pengalaman dan latar budaya yang berbeda.

Akhirnya, penulis mengemukakan pendapatnya bahwa dalam penerjemahan puisi “kesetiaan” hendaknya dimaknai sebagai kesetiaan pada keindahan dan makna. Jadi, dari sudut pandang mitos lama dapat dikatakan bahwa penerjemahan puisi cenderung sebuah ‘pengkhianatan’ dari ekuivalensi bentuk linguistik, tetapi tetap bisa diupayakan untuk ‘setia’ pada keindahan dan makna dalam bahasa sasaran. Menurut penulis, inilah yang seharusnya diupayakan oleh penerjemah kalau ingin membuat karya terjemahan yang memenuhi kriteria terjemahan yang baik di dalam ilmu terjemahan.


Key-words: puisi, terjemahan, kesetiaan bentuk dan isi, keindahan, kritik terjemahan


Ada beberapa ‘mitos’ yang berkembang tentang menerjemahkan puisi. Yang saya maksud ‘mitos’ adalah kata-kata yang telah dipercayai kebenarannya tanpa harus dibuktikan secara empiris. Kadang hal ini juga kita sebut asumsi. Mitos-mitos atau asumsi-asumsi tersebut adalah: (a) Puisi terjemahan lebih buruk daripada puisi aslinya, (b) penerjemahan puisi adalah pengkhianatan, dan (c) terjemahan yang cantik biasanya tidak setia, dan yang setia biasanya tidak cantik.

Pencetus mitos pertama ini adalah Henri Gifford. Dia berpendapat bahwa sastra terjemahan diumpamakan sebagai reproduksi hitam putih dari lukisan cat minyak yang berwarna. Lebih jauh, karya terjemahan menurutnya tidak akan bisa menandingi kehalusan dan kelengkapan imajinasi penulis asli. Setiap upaya penerjemahan adalah sebuah upaya pemiskinan, dan taraf pemiskinan ini pada taraf yang tertinggi pada penerjemahan puisi (Gifford dalam Damono, 2003). Mungkin karena hal inilah, akhirnya Gifford berpendapat bahwa “Translation is resurrection, but not of the body…” (Gifford dikutip Tomlinson dalam Carter, 2005). Hal ini harus kita sikapi dengan pemahaman bahwa Gifford sendiri adalah seorang penerjemah. Jadi, pendapatnya ini bagi saya lebih merupakan ideologi penerjemahannya.

Karena itu penerjemahan puisi adalah pembangkitan nyawa di tubuh yang berbeda, maka wajar kalau kita tidak bisa mengharapkan kemolekan tubuh yang sama, bentuk linguistik yang sama. Ketidakpadanan bentuk linguistik atau makna itulah yang disebut pengkhianatan.

Mitos kedua, penerjemahan puisi adalah pengkhianatan yang kreatif. Pikiran ini berasal dari Prancis, yang di sana terjemahan karya sastra dianggap trahison creatice, pengkhianatan yang kreatif. Mitos ini juga tumbuh subur di Indonesian karena ada bukti-bukti yang dilakukan penyair hebat kita Chairil Anwar adalah trahison creatice. Masih terkait dengan mitos kedua, mitos ketiga adalah penerjemahan yang cantik pasti tidak setia, dan yang setia pasti tidak cantik. Sampai sekarang pun, banyak orang percaya bahwa yang cantik mesti tidak setia, dan yang setia selalu tidak cantik. Pernah dalam suatu seminar, Sapardi Joko Damono menunjukkan “kebenaran dua mitos terakhir ini” dengan puisi Huesca-nya Chairil yang dianggap pengkhianatan kreatif dari puisi asli “To Monnet Heinemman”.

Puisi sumber:

Heart of the heartless world,

Dear heart, the thought of you

Is the paint in my side,

The shadow that chills my view


The wind rises in the evening

Reminds that autumn is near.

I am afraid to lose you

I am afraid of my fear.


On the last mile to Huesca,

The last fence for our pride,

Think so kindly, dear, that I

Sense you at my side.


And if bad luck should lay my strength

Into the shallow grave,

Remember all the good you can;

Don’t forget my love.


Puisi ‘terjemahan’:

Jiwa di dunia yang hilang jiwa

Jiwa sayang, kenangan padamu

Adalah derita di sisiku,

Bayangan yang bikin tinjauan beku.


Angin bangkit ketika senja,

Ngingatkan musim gugur akan tiba.

Aku cemas bisa kehilangan kau,

Aku cemas pada kecemasanku.


Di batu penghabisan ke Huesca,

Pagar penghabisan dari kebangaan kita,

Kenanglah sayang, dengan mesra

Kau kubayangkan di sisiku ada.


Dan jika untung malang menghamparkan

Aku pada kuburan dangkal,

Ingatlah sebisamu segala yang baik

Dan cintaku yang kekal

Menurut Sapardi Djoko Damono, terjemahan ini adalah terjemahan yang cantik. Dan di antara terjemahan Chairil Anwar, ini termasuk yang paling setia. Mari kita cermati kesetiaannya.

Pada larik pertama “heartless world” diterjemahkan menjadi “dunia yang hilang jiwa”. Padahal “heartless” aslinya bermakna “kejam”. Apakah “hilang jiwa” berarti “kejam”? Menurut Sapardi Djoko Damono, Chairil menciptakan ungkapan baru yang tidak ada hubungannya dengan kekejaman. Pada larik kedua, “dear heart” diterjemahkan menjadi “Jiwa sayang”, demi memburu pengulangan kata “jiwa” (tidak diterjemahkan menjadi “kekasih”, “jantung hati”, dsb.)  Perhatikan juga “aku cemas” untuk ungkapan asli “I am afraid”. Aku cemas rasanya lebih kuat kandungan emosinya daripada “aku khawatir”, “aku takut”.

Perhatikan pula dua larik terakhir yang disatukan dalam TBSa-nya.


Remember all the good you can;

Don’t forget my love


Ingatlah sebisamu segala yang baik

Dan cintaku yang kekal


“Remember” dan “don’t forget” dirangkum menjadi “ingatlah”. Sementara itu “yang kekal” ditambahkan untuk memburu rimanya. Dengan contoh ini Sapardi seolah ingin menasbihkan bahwa yang cantik itu tidak setia, alias yang berkhianat. Kalau mau yang setia, carilah yang tidak cantik.

Dari paparan singkat di atas, kiranya dapat dimengerti kenapa asumsi-asumsi itu bisa terjadi. Sekarang, bagaimana pengkhianatan itu bisa terjadi? Dan benarkah mitos-mitos itu di dalam kenyataannya?

Untuk memahami masalah ini, ingin saya tawarkan kacamata teoritis. Kacamata pertama adalah teori polisistem. Di dalam teori polisistem, sebuah budaya merupakan serangkaian sistem dari banyak sistem yang bersifat hierarkis. Misalnya, kalau sastra di dalam sebuah budaya menempatkan sastra yang konvensional dalam posisi primer, maka sastra inovatif berada dalam posisi yang sekunder. Demikian juga sebaliknya. Lantas apa hubungannya dengan terjemahan sastra? Hubungannya terletak pada sikap masyarakat budaya terhadap sastra terjemahan. Kalau masyarakat budaya tersebut menempatkan sastra terjemahan dalam posisi primer, maka penerjemahnya akan berusaha sedekat mungkin untuk “setia”. Namun, kalau masyarakat mendudukkan sastra terjemahan dalam posisi sekunder, maka penerjemahnya harus tunduk pada aturan-aturan keindahan yang ada di dalam sastra sasaran. Menurut perkiraan saya, apabila BSa mempunyai genre/jenis sastra yang mantap untuk karya yang diterjemahkan, maka ada kecenderungan bahwa hasil terjemahannya akan tunduk pada poetika BSa. Namun, apabila jenis yang seperti itu belum ada di dalam BSa maka ada kecenderungan penerjemah untuk lebih setia pada TBSu.

Hal ini menjadi agak rumit jika karya tersebut akan diterbitkan. Karena ada pihak lain (yang disebut patron) yang mempengaruhi cara menerjemahkan. Lefevere (dalam Hoed) berpendapat bahwa ciri khas sastra di dalam sebuah budaya ditentukan oleh dua hal: Patron dan perilaku susastra masyarakat (code of behavior). Patron meliputi ideologi, ekonomi dan status seniman. Di dalam perilaku susastra ada kaidah-kaidah terkait genre, keindahan, dan fungsi sastra.

Lantas, saya menghipotesiskan adanya “pertarungan” pengaruh antara poetika, patron dan penerjemah. Bagi saya, ketiga pihak itu berbagi ruang pengaruh atas karya terjemahan. Apabila pengaruh salah satu pihak meningkat, pengaruh pihak lain akan menurun. Apabila patron sangat berkuasa (penerjemah di pihak yang lemah), maka hasil terjemahannya lebih diwarnai oleh ideologi penerjemahan dari patron. Jika pertimbangan poetika yang dipentingkan, maka pengaruh patron dan pertimbangan ideologi penerjemahan si penerjemah akan semakin kecil pengaruhnya. Demikian juga jika pengaruh patron yang mendominasi, maka kepentingan poetika dan ideologi penerjemah yang dikalahkan.

Saya menduga bahwa untuk para penerjemah besar, yang sangat mempengaruhi adalah ideologi penerjemahannya dan pihak patron mungkin dengan sukarela menyerahkan segalanya kepada penerjemah tersebut.

Kiranya pandangan saya tentang ‘perebutan’ ruang pengaruh ini bisa diperjelas dengan model penerjemahan usulan Bolaños (2002, 2008). Meskipun model ini disebutnya Model Penerjemahan Dinamis, tetapi sama sekali tidak ada kaitannya dengan konsep terjemahan dinamik gagasan Nida. Menurut gagasan Bolanos, pada bingkai terluar sebuah proyek penerjemahan ada pemrakarsa penerjemahan (initiator), yang saya sebit sebagai “patron” dan penerjemah (translator). Pemrakarsalah yang memerintahkan penerjemah untuk bekerja. Di dalam bekerja, penerjemah berusaha menangkap maksud sebuah teks dan itu dia lakukan dengan menganalisis dimensi pragmatik, semantik, sintaktik, atau kadang ditambah semiotik, dari teks bahasa sumber (TBSu) serta mempertimbangkan perintah dari pemrakarsa. Setelah makna dan pesan ditangkap, penerjemah melakukan tekstualisasi. Sebelum melakukan tekstualisasi, dia akan mempertimbangkan norma bahasa sasaran (BSa). Di sinilah, pertimbangan poetika masuk. Pada saat ini, dia juga memperhatikan kehendak pemrakarsa atau patron penerjemahan. Di sini jugalah pengaruh patron mempengaruhi.

Kembali ke perbincangan tentang ketiga asumsi di atas? Betulkah karya terjemahan selalu lebih buruk daripada karya aslinya? Secara teori hal ini bisa disanggah. Setiap budaya mempunyai norma-normanya sendiri, mempunyai kriteria sendiri sebagai ukuran keindahan sastra. Jadi, keindahan puisi terjemahan bisa menyamai keindahan puisi asli apabila ditakar dengan kriteria keindahan sastra BSa. Hal ini bisa dicapai apabila puisi terjemahan tersebut tidak memaksakan diri membawa masuk “tubuh” asing ke dalam BSa. Dengan kata lain, saya setuju dengan Ignas Kleden, saat dia menulis, “sebuah terjemahan biasanya lebih jelek atau lebih baik dari yang asli, dan tak mungkin sama dalam segala sesuatunya dengan sajak yang asli”.  Secara empiris, perhatikan terjemahan puisi “How Happy Is the Little Stone” ke dalam bahasa Jawa oleh Effendi Kadarisman ini (yang begitu cantik dan masih setia):


Puisi terjemahan:



Saiba senenge watu klungsu

Dolan dhewekan satengahing dalan

Ora maelu sakehing gegayuhan

Ora kesamaran nandhang cingkrang

Nganggo jas warna soklat

Paringane jagat kang mbeneri liwat

Uripe merdhika kaya surya

Bisa bebrayan, bisa sumunar tanpa kanca

Anyanggemi patembayan sawiji

Kanthi prasaja, kanthi permati


Puisi sumber:


How happy is the little Stone

 How happy is the little Stone

That rambles in the Road alone,

And doesn’t care about Careers

And Exigencies never fears —

Whose Coat of elemental Brown

A passing Universe put on,

And independent as the Sun

Associates or glows alone,

Fulfilling absolute Decree

In casual simplicity


 Jika kita tidak diberitahu bahwa puisi itu adalah terjemahan dari “How Happy Is the Little Stone” atau tidak kebetulan menghadapi kedua puisi itu dalam waktu yang sama, mungkin kita tidak menyangka bahwa puisi tersebut adalah puisi terjemahan. Kata-kata yang digunakan khas bahasa Jawa, misalnya “watu klungsu” (batu sebesar biji asam) untuk menerjemahkan “little stone”, “gegayuhan” (keinginan) untuk “career”, “nandhang cingkrang” (mengalami kekurangan) untuk “exigencies”, “patembayan” untuk “decree”, dan begitu khasnya “kanthi prasaja, kanthi permati” untuk mengungkapkan “in casual simplicity”. Puisi terjemahan di atas begitu dekatnya dengan puisi asli, tetapi begitu “Jawa-nya” saat kita baca. Inilah yang menurut saya puisi terjemahan yang ideal, yang cantik dan setia. Ini artinya karya terjemahan tidak harus lebih buruk daripada karya aslinya.

Benarkah semua puisi terjemahan adalah pengkhianatan dan yang cantik mesti tidak setia? Ini tergantung pada definisi kata ‘setia’ dan ‘khianat’. Jika ‘setia’ dipahami sebagai kesepadanan (ekuivalensi) sepenuhnya (formal dan maknawi) dari TBSu dan TBSa, maka akan benar adanya bahwa terjemahan puisi yang baik adalah sebuah pengkhianatan. Namun apabila yang disebut kesetiaan mengacu pada keindahan, dan diakui bahwa tolok ukur keindahan dalam bahasa yang berbeda juga berbeda, maka yang ‘cantik dan setia’ akan dapat terwujud. Sekali lagi, sedikit ulasan puisi di atas adalah buktinya. Meskipun ini hanya satu puisi, paling tidak ini memberi bukti bahwa yang ‘cantik dan setia’ masih mungkin diwujudkan.

Ada kalanya, memang, penerjemah harus melepas sedikit makna untuk memburu keindahan (linguistic/literary form), di lain waktu dia mungkin mengorbankan keindahan untuk memburu makna. Selama ini, situasi dilematis ini yang dikedepankan sehingga seolah-olah mitos “cantik tidak setia’ itu menjadi semacam kutukan bagi penerjemahan puisi.

Yang perlu diingat lagi adalah kenyataan bahwa pemahaman penerjemah akan makna, pesan dan keindahan dari puisi aslinya juga sangat menentukan. Dua orang penerjemah mungkin menangkap makna/pesan yang berbeda dari puisi yang sama. Coba perhatikan terjemahan dari puisi “Hope” di bawah ini:



 Asa itu bagaikan burung dan sayapnya

yang bersemayam di jiwa,

dendangkan irama

tiada putusnya.


Dalam terpaan angin kencang kukecap merdunya

Dalam amukan badai serasa perihnya

namun si burung mungil tetap setia

tiada henti sebar hangatnya.


Kudengar suaranya di negeri paling gigil

dan di samudera paling musykil

namun tak sedikit pun dariku

ia pinta walau hanya secuil,

walau hanya secuil.

(terjemahan oleh Abdul Mukhid)



Harap ialah sesuatu bersayap

yang bertengger di jiwa,

dan berdendang tanpa kata,

dan tanpa putus-putusnya,


dan terdengar merdu di deru topan;

dan badai sungguhlah ganas

jika sampai mengusir burung kecil itu,

burung yang sebarkan hangat.


Pernah kulihat ia di sedingin-dinginnya daratan,

juga di seasing-asingnya lautan;

tapi, biar cuaca seganas apa, tak pernah

mulut menadah padaku, meski demi seremah.

(terjemahan oleh Wawan Eko Yulianto)


Dan berikut ini adalah puisi aslinya:



 Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul,

And sings the tune–without the words,

And never stops at all,


And sweetest in the gale is heard;

And sore must be the storm

That could abash the little bird

That kept so many warm.


I’ve heard it in the chillest land,

And on the strangest sea;

Yet, never, in extremity,

It asked a crumb of me.


Jika kita simah hasil kerja dua penerjemah di atas, kita tahu bahwa mereka menunjukkan beberapa perbedaan. Pertama, Abdul Mukhid (AM) memandang bahwa “without words” (“tanpa kata”) tidak perlu dihadirkan, karena itu redundansi. Wawan Eko Yulianto (WEY) berpendapat bahwa itu perlu dihadirkan karena dengan demikian lebih dekat ke aslinya. Kedua, pemahaman kata “sore” juga berbeda. AB menekankan “perihnya”, sementara WEY menekankan akibat dari kata ini kepada si burung. Jadi, dia pilih ungkapan “ganas”. Sehingga bila AM menuliskan burung yang tiada henti berdendang, WEY mengungkapkan betapa ganas badai yang sampai mengusir burung itu.

Dalam contoh-contoh di atas kita simak karya tiga orang. Dua yang terakhir adalah karya dua penyair yang menerjemahkan puisi. Karena keduanya menerjemahkan puisi, keduanya saya sebut “penerjemah” (tidak harus dalam arti profesi penerjemah). Sementara itu Effendi Kadarisman adalah ahli linguistik dan penyair yang kesehariannya mengajarkan dan berdiskusi tentang ilmu linguistik dan etnopoetika kepada para mahasiswa.

Abdul Mukhid (sahabat saya) adalah penyair yang penerjemah. Selain menulis puisi dan menerjemahkan puisi, dia juga menerjemahkan manual-manual teknik yang nirgaya bahasa dan nir-alegori. Di dalam hal penerjemahan puisi ini, yang dikutip dalam artikel ini, semua penerjemah menerjemahkan puisi tanpa adanya pesanan penerbit. Jadi, dalam hipotesis saya patron “penerbit” yang biasanya sangat berpengaruh, sekarang menjadi nihil.

Posisi penerjemah/penyair menjadi dominan. Yang akan membedakan adalah pandangan penerjemah/penyair terhadap bagaimana terjemahan puisi yang baik (ideologi penerjemahan), karena sebagai penyair keduanya mempunyai pemahaman yang dalam tentang poetika sastra Indonesia. Apakah penerjemah memandang dirinya mempunyai tugas untuk menyampaikan makna asli dengan bentuk yang sedekat mungkin dengan bentuk aslinya, ataukah penerjemah barangkali mempunyai “pesan” yang sama dengan penulis puisi asli dan meminjam puisi asli tersebut untuk menyampaikan pesannya di dalam BSa. Golongan kedua ini akan menjadi sealiran dengan Gifford yang mengatakan bahwa penerjemahan puisi adalah pembangkitan nyawa ke dalam badan baru. Di dalam studi penerjemahan, aliran ini akan menyatu dengan “function-oriented approach” yang di masa pasca kolonialisme (PDII) dikembangkan oleh Reiss, Nord, dll., yang di Indonesia adalah segolongan dengan Chairil Anwar.

Sedangkan golongan pertama tadi akan sealiran dengan para teoretikus studi penerjemahan yang berpendapat bahwa penerjemahan adalah upaya mengalihkan pesan dari BSu ke dalam BSa dengan mempertahankan bentuk linguistiknya sebisa mungkin (Nida) atau penerjemahan adalah proses yang dipengaruhi oleh pemahaman budaya, bahasa dan norma-norma budaya (termasuk di dalamnya norma sastra) dari TBSu dan TBSa oleh penerjemahnya (Newmark, Bolaños).


Ruwetnya Jika Kritikus Ikut Nimbrung

Mari kita kembali ke perbedaan pilihan kata antara AM dan WEY di atas. Abdul Mukhid (AM) berpendapat bahwa “without words” (“tanpa kata”) tidak perlu dihadirkan dalam bahasa sasaran. Wawan Eko Yulianto (WEY) memandang bahwa ‘informasi’ itu perlu dihadirkan. Kedua, dari kata asli “sore” AB menekankan rasa “perihnya”, sementara WEY mengemukakan akibat dari kata ini kepada si burung, maka dia pilih kata “ganas”. Sehingga bila AM menuliskan burung yang tiada henti berdendang, WEY mengungkapkan betapa ganas badai yang bisa mengusir burung itu.

Saya adalah pembaca yang kebetulan sedikit mengerti BSu. Misalnya saja saya menjadi kritikus terjemahan. Saya berpendapat bahwa kata “mengusir” di dalam terjemahan WEY kurang tepat. Yang lebih tepat, menurut saya, adalah “membuat diam”. Dari contoh di atas, dapat dipahami bahwa masalah perbedaan tafsir makna/pesan asli ini semakin rumit apabila kritikus terjemahan ikut nimbrung. Perhatikan ilustrasi di Gambar 1 berikut ini.

turunan pesan terjemahan puissiGambar 1. Turunan makna/pesan dalam proses penerjemahan dan pengkritikan karya terjemahan

Dalam Gambar 1 diilustrasikan bahwa pada saat penerjemah membaca puisi aslinya (TBSu), maka dia berusaha menangkap makna dan pesannya. Seperti kita ketahui, makna dan pesan puisi sering kali samar. Hasil penangkapan makna yang samar ini akan dipengaruhi oleh beberapa aspek pribadi penerjemahnya, termasuk pengetahuan budaya dan penguasaan bahasa. Makna dan pesan itu dicermati dan kemudian ditulis ulang (tekstualisasi) ke dalam bahasa sasaran (BSa). Tekstualisasi ini sangat dipengaruhi oleh ideologi penerjemahannya dan penguasaan norma BSa, termasuk norma-norma keindahan sastra BSa. Dan apabila ada orang lain (mis, kritikus atau orang awam) membandingkan puisi terjemahan ini dengan puisi aslinya, maka sebenarnya dia membandingkan pemahamannya akan puisi asli dengan pemahamannya atas puisi terjemahan (BSa) yang merupakan tekstualisasi dari pemahaman penerjemahnya atas puisi asli (BSu). Jadi, puisi terjemahan merupakan ‘turunan’ kedua dari puisi asli. Pemahaman kritikus dari puisi asli adalah ‘turunan’ pertama melalui jalur dirinya. Dan pemahamannya atas puisi terjemahan adalah turunan ‘ketiga’ melalui jalur penerjemah. Sehingga perbandingan yang dilakukan oleh kritikus sastra terjemahan adalah perbandingan dari ‘turunan pertama’ dengan ‘turunan ketiga’. Setiap tahap turunan (derivasi) ada kemungkinan distorsi makna. Dapat dibayangkan betapa hal ini mendatangkan kemungkinan yang besar bagi ketidakpadanan (ketidaksetiaan menurut kaca mata kritikus). Oleh Ignas Kleden (2004), fenomena makna puisi yang sulit ditangkap ini digambarkan dalam ungkapan “a poem means all that it can mean” atau “puisi bisa bermakna apa saja”. Oleh karena itu kebanyakan orang (“kritikus”) akan berpendapat bahwa penerjemahan puisi adalah sebuah pengkhianatan. Sekali lagi, saya berpendapat bahwa hal ini tidak mutlak benar.

Ya, tentu saja, yang cantik tidak akan pernah setia jika definisi kesetiaan mengacu pada bentuk linguistik saja karena kriteria keindahan TBSu dan TBSa menuntut bentuk linguistik yang berbeda. Alhasil, benarlah apa yang dikatakan Benny H. Hoed (segera terbit) bahwa terjemahan suatu karya sastra tidak dapat sepenuhnya memenuhi persyaratan pengalihan pesan yang “sempurna”. Dan ini tampak nyata bila kita bandingkan dengan penerjemahan teks jenis informatif.[1] Maka, apabila persyaratan pengalihan yang “sempurna” untuk jenis teks informatif ini kita terapkan ke penerjemahan sastra, terutama puisi, hasilnya adalah adanya “pengkhianatan kreatif”.

Lantas, kenapa judul tulisan ini “pengkhianatan dalam kesetiaan”? Sebenarnya ini bertolak dari mitos itu, yang membatasi “kesetiaan” pada kesepadanan bentuk linguistik atau fisik. Kesetiaan saya maknai sebagai kesetiaan pada keindahan dan makna. Jadi, dari sudut pandang mitos lama dapat dikatakan bahwa penerjemahan puisi cenderung sebuah ‘pengkhianatan’ dari ekuivalensi bentuk linguistik, tetapi ini dilakukan dalam upaya menuju ‘kesetiaan’ pada keindahan dan makna dalam bahasa sasaran. Menurut hemat saya, inilah yang seharusnya diupayakan oleh penerjemah kalau ingin membuat karya terjemahan yang memenuhi kriteria terjemahan yang baik di dalam ilmu terjemahan.



Carter, Peter. 2005. Review of Metamorphoses: Poetry and Translation, Same Difference. The London Magazine December / January 2005. Accessible from:;doctype=review

Bolaños Cuellar, Sergio. 2002. Equivalence Revisited: A Key Concept in Modern Translation Theory. Forma Y Funcion 15 (2002), pp. 60-88. Departemento de Linguistica, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Bogota, D.C. (Retrieved from:, on 5 October 2006).

Bolaños Cuellar, Sergio. 2006. Source Language Text, Parallel Text, and Model Translated Text: A Pilot Study in Teaching Translation. (Article sent personally by the article writer through email on 8 October 2006).

Bolaños Cuellar, Sergio. 2008. Towards an Intergrated Translation Approach: Proposal of Dynamic Translation Model. Ph.D. Dissertation. Hamburg: Hamburg University.

Damono, Sapardi Djoko. 2003. Menerjemahkan karya Sastra. Makalah disajikan dalam Kongres Nasional Penerjemahan, UNS, Surakarta, 15-16 September 2003.


Hoed, Benny H. (akan terbit). Penerjemahan Karya Sastra.


Kleden, Ignas. 2004. Goenawan Muhammad Selected Poems: Resensi Buku. Majalah Tempo, Edisi 25/XXXIII/16-22 Agustus 2004.


[1] Katahrina Reiss berpendapat bahwa teks dapat dibedakan menjadi teks informatif, apelatif dan ekspresif. Jenis teks ekspresif (misalnya puisi) harus diterjemahkan dengan mementingkan bentuk dan pesannya, sementara teks informatif mementingkan pesannya saja.


SLA MAJOR THEORETICAL VIEWS: Putting the Jigsaw Pieces Together

 Sugeng Hariyanto

 State Polytechnic of Malang

Second language acquisition is a complex internal process. There no guarantee that what it is known now is the complete picture. In other words, there may be some other aspects that have not been revealed. This article tries to briefly review the major theories in Second Language Acquisition (SLA). 

Behaviorists sees human language is acquired and maintained via stimulus-response-reinforcement sequence. Innatist theory first of all states that conditioning model is not appropriate to explain how human language is acquired based on the fact that children can produce novel sentences in new combination that has never been heard. Interactinists point out that LAD/UG or innate capacity alone does not help much. Finally, cognitivist view sees that in acquiring a language, a human being needs a mental capacity. All theoretical views will not argue the claim that human being needs mental capacity to acquire language. This article ends in its effort to put “the jigsaw pieces” from the schools of SLA theory to form a picture of how second language is theoretically acquired.

Key-words: second language acquisition, behaviorist, innatist, interactionist, cognitivist


As a relatively new field of study, SLA has advanced through research with various theoretical underpinnings. The results often seem contradictory to each other. This article reviews the theoretical view that have influence people understanding on SLA, namely behaviorist theory, innatist theory, interactionist theory and cognitive theory, and the result of major research with the theoretical views. Finally, the writer proposes a way of understanding the theoretical views and result results to yield a complete picture of SLA based on them. In other words, he would state that the seemingly contradictory research finding and theories are actually complementary to each other in explaining different aspects of SLA.



Behaviorism is a school of psychology. Its key concept of behaviorism is human behavior is a product of the stimulus-response interaction. Accordingly, behaviorists also see language learning (acquisition) as a matter of “stimulus-response” mechanism. This model assumes that human mind is a blank slate when he is born.

Within this school, B.F. Skinner proposes a theory about language acquisition which he states in his writing “Verbal Behavior” (Schunk, 1991: 72-73). For him, verbal behaviors can be classified as mand, tact, echoic. Mand is a verbal operant in which the response is reinforced by a characteristic consequence and under the functional control of relevant conditions of deprivation or aversive stimulation. The word “mand” is found in the word “command” and “demand”. In other words, the person will repeat the verbal behavior—for example, “take it”—if the command or demand is met by other person.

The second type of verbal behavior is tact, which mean the verbal operant in which a response of a given form is strengthened by a particular object or event. For example, mom says “Daddy” to the child each time Dad comes. The child learns to associate the word “Daddy” and the person. Then, he/she produces word by imitating other people. After the sound production is praised, his/her word learning is reinforced.

The third verbal type is echoic. One of the instances is simple imitation. For example, a father says to his child “Daddy”, and his child repeats it. Afterwards, the father hugs the child or smile to him to reinforce it.

Thus, in all three types, the important sequence in learning is stimulus – response – reinforcement. According to Schunk (1992: 74), Verbal behavior presents a theoretical analysis of how human language can be acquired and maintained. The issue is not whether human being acquire language via reinforcement as it is undoubtedly plays a role. Rather, the issue, according to Schunk, is whether reinforcement is the mechanism primarily responsible for language acquisition.



The Father of innatist theory in Second Language Acquisition (SLA) is Chomsky. He started by criticizing Verbal Behavior, maintaining that a conditioning model is inappropriate for explaining language acquisition and comprehension (Schunk, 1992: 74). The most influential idea contributed by Chomsky to SLA is the concept of innate hypothesis (LAD/UG)[1] and then principle and parameter. Language Acquisition Device (LAD) or Universal Grammar (UG). The LAD or UG is endowed to human being at birth. This is something innate. This position is generally referred to as innate hypothesis. This innate mechanism is activated when appropriate stimulation (input) is posed.

For Chomsky, since birth human LAD starts receiving input by which the human being stimulated to construct rules of the language. The output (utterance) he/she produces is a result of the application of the rules produced by this LAD. See the following illustration for a better picture.

In the illustration above, we see a box, showing that LAD/UG and grammar are not observable and the process is a mental process happening in the human mind. Therefore, this approach is also called rational approach. LAD and UG is about the same thing for Chomsky. In his 1965 publication, he refers it as LAD but in 1980-s onward, he calls it UG.

Triggered by research on natural order of English morpheme acquisition as a first language, Dulay and Burt (in Gass and Selinker, 1994: 80) did a research and came up with the conclusions stating that the process of SLA is very similar to that of first language acquisition (FLA) as they found that second language learners creatively construct the rules of second language in the same way as those in first language and the errors produced by SLA learners also resemble those produced by first language learners. Their theory is known as creative construction hypothesis. Based on this, many research were conducted and another theory came up to the surface, named “natural order hypothesis”, which claims that second language learners acquire second language morpheme in the same order as the first language learners do (Gass and Selinker, 1994: 82).

Another major theory based on LAD concept is the one developed by Krashen. This theory consists of several hypotheses—together known as the monitor model—namely: acquisition-learning, natural order, input, monitor and affective filter hypotheses (Gass and Selinker, 1994: 144-150 and Cook, 1993: 51 – 55). According to acquisition-learning hypothesis, human beings have two ways in developing competence in second languages: acquisition and learning. Acquisition is the subconscious  process  of  acquiring  new  language system. On the other hand, learning is a conscious process of obtaining knowledge of a new language. Monitor hypothesis states that learning will only result in knowledge to monitor or edit the language production by the learner. According to natural order hypothesis, all element of the new language is acquired in a predictable order called natural order. Second language learner will acquire the new language system if he/she is exposed to comprehensible input (input hypothesis). This comprehensible input should be a bit above the current state of the learner knowledge. This is defined as i + 1, where the current state of the knowledge is “i” and the next stage shall be i + 1.

The model proposed by Krashen in presented in Figure 2 below by Cook (1993: 54).

From the picture, it is known that the process is quite simple. There is input, the input is process by LAD, than knowledge is acquired. Out can be generated from the knowledge acquired. While the knowledge obtained from formal learning is used to monitor the production of output.

In conclusion, this view sees that human being is indeed endowed with specific mind faculty to acquire language (LAD/UG). With LAD/UG, human being is very creative. He just needs input, and LAD/UG will process it to result in the system of the language being studies.



The Father of this theory is Vygotsky. He state that social interaction plays an important role in the learning process and proposed the zone of proximal development (ZPD), where learners construct the new language through socially mediated interaction (Brown in Shenon, 2005). Vygotsky’s social-interactionist theory was proposed about 80 years ago, and still serves as a strong foundation for the interactionists’ perspective today (Ariza and Hancock in Shanon 2005).

The basic concept in interactionism, or sometimes called social-interactionism, states that children have some innate knowledge of the structure of language, but also require meaningful interaction with others. Different from innatist view, interactionists thinks that environmental factors are more dominant than innate factors (Shanon, 2005).

Although it is different from innatist view, it recognizes the extreme differences found between behaviorists and innatists views. Its view stating that children have some innate knowledge of the structure of language represents its recognition of innatist view and the one stating that interaction with other person is important represent the importance of reinforcement, which is a behave­oristic view. Interactionist and innatists share the idea that comprehensible input is important. Further, Interactionist maintains that the comprehensible input is achieved by simplifying the input to the right level for the language learners and the input must be interactive. As a matter of fact, the modified input or negotiation of meaning concept is the major concept in interactionist theory in SLA.

In short, the claim about modified input is as follows. In talking to a language learner, a speaker needs to simplify or modify the interaction to suit the language mastery level of the language learners. Modified interaction will lead to comprehensible input; comprehensible input will entail language acquisition (Lightbown and Spada 1993 in Shanon, 2005). Then, we know the term foreigner talk (Gass and Selinker, 1994: 197) and teacher talk.

Negotiation of meaning refers to the instances in conversation when the participants interrupt the flow of the conversation so that both of them understand the conversation (Gass and Selinker, 1994: 208).

As interaction is always two-way communication, Swain proposes comprehensible output (Gass and Selinker, 1994: 212). For her, input and output is equally important. The importance of the output or interaction can be seen in the example below:


NNS: so I went to shopping yesterday

NS  : oh you went shopping?

NNS:yes I went- I went shopping


From this instance, comprehensible input is as important as comprehensible output.

Comprehensible output hypothesis claims that output makes learners aware of language knowledge gaps, experiment with language forms and structures, and obtain feedback from others about language use (Ariza and Hancock, 2003 in Shanon, 2005).

Comprehensible output provides learners with a forum for several important language learning function: (Gass and Selinker, 1994: 213):

(1) testing hypothesis about the structure and meanings of the target language,

(2) receiving feedback for the verification of these hypotheses,

(3) developing automaticity in IL production, and

(4) forcing a shift from more lexical and semantic processing of the second language to a more syntactic mode.

In short, interactionists see that human being has a particular capacity to acquire language. However, this mind faculty does not help much if there is no helpful interaction. The mind cannot do anything useful for language acquition without interaction.



Cognitive model claims that learning language is the same with learning any other knowledge. Language is acquired by means of a common mental faculty, not a specific one. There are two main models in this category: information processing models and connectionism model.

There are two information processing models: McLaughlin’s information processing model and Anderson’s ACT* model. According to McLaughlin, human being is an information processor limited by both how much attention he/she gives to a task and by how well he/she can process the information. This psychologist differentiates ‘automatic’ from ‘controlled’ processes (in Cook, 1994: 253-254). Controlled processes often involve new information, are under the control of attention. On the other hand, automatic processes are quick and need little attention; they have been built up by practice and therefore need little attention or capacity to perform. As learning a new language is learning new information, learners logically go through controlled process first.

The most outstanding research in SLA in this line shows that attention has an effect, while time pressure does not; extra time helps both those who know the rules of grammars explicitly and those who do not. In other word, control (attention) is not related to whether the subjects know the rule explicitly or not (Hulstijn and Hulstijn in Cook, 1994: 254-256).

The second model in cognitive school is Anderson’s SCT* model (Cook, 1994: 246-249). ACT stands for Adaptive Control of Thought. And the symbol (*) represents the ultimate version in the development of the model. Like Information Processing model, this also emphasizes the automatization process. ACT* distinguishes three form of memory: working memory, procedural memory, and declarative memory. Working memory is used for the performance of the production rule based on declarative memory and procedural memory. Declarative memory is used to store actual information and procedural memory consists of processes to check the part of the rules against declarative memory. In other word, declarative memory stores the knowledge of “what” and procedural memory stores the knowledge of “how”.

How do these memory work? According to Anderson, a production system consists of production rules, such as: IF the goal is to generate a plural Noun and the Noun ends in a hard consonant, THEN generate the Noun + s. The working memory is used to produce “Noun + s”. Declarative memory stores the concept of plural and hard consonants. The procedural memory relates the concept of plural and hard consonants.

In learning a new production rules, including language rule, someone starts from obtaining declarative knowledge, then he proceduralizes it (procedural knowledge) and finally generalizes the rule. When this is achieved, the production can be done quickly and automatically.

Anderson illustrate his idea using classroom L2 learning (Cook, 1994: 249), where the learners get the declarative knowledge from the teacher. This model is supported by O’Malley and Chamot’s research done in 1990 (in Cook, 1994: 249), stating that learning strategies are a set of productions that are compiled and fine-tuned until they become procedural knowledge and L2 learners follows Anderson’s three stages.

Another cognitive theory of SLA is Connectionism. Conecctianism sees the human mind as a single highly complex network through which spread (Cook, 1994: 265). Unlike ACT, connectionism denies the need for separating declarative and procedural memory and there is no production system convention. Connectionism views language learning as recognition of patterns in the input by learners. (ppt). Learning is based on construction of association pattern in the brain and creation of link or connection among them. The link become stronger as the association keeps recurring (happens in high frequency).

When applied to SLA, learners build up language knowledge through exposure to thousands of linguistic input. The pattern of association among linguistic items become stronger each time the learner is exposed to more linguistic input. For example, a learner hears “I read” and “She reads” so often that he develop a pattern of association between the addition of “s” with “I” and “she”.

However, there were no many research studies yet on this concept. Rumelhart and McLelland (1986 in Cook, 1994: 265) support this model with their research on the simulation of past tense learning. At least up to 1993, no other research on this concept has been done.

In conclusion, cognitive theories believe that human being employs their mind mind to learn all things, including language, in the same manner; speech-production is a matter of information processing process. Then, learning a new language is establishing patterns of connection among linguistic input received by the learners. Learning itself can progress from a declarative knowledge to procedural knowledge. When a learner produces speech, it may be controlled or not controlled, depending on the connections or type of memory involved. Finally, this view is about how human being obtain, store, and retrieve knowledge, be it language knowledge or other knowledge.



In shorts, the above discussion can be summarized into several points. Behaviorists sees human language is acquired and maintained via stimulus-response-reinforcement sequence. This can happen in informal and formal situation. As a matter of fact, behaviorist view has influenced language teaching field with the birth of Audio-Lingual Method and the use of language laboratory.

Innatist theory first of all states that conditioning model is not appropriate to explain how human language is acquired based on the fact that children can produce novel sentences in new combination that has never been heard. This theory centers on the existence of LAD/UG. Many research support the existence of natural order of morpheme acquisition.

Interactinists point out that LAD/UG or innate capacity alone does not help much. Children should interact in order to acquire the language he/she is learning. Here, reinforcement is needed. Input should be manipulated to suit the learners’ current level of language mastery.

Finally cognitivist view sees that in acquiring a language, a human being need a mental capacity. However, this is not the one specific for language acquisition. This is the same mental capacity to learn mathematic and how to cook. As a matter of fact, in the discussion, the dominant topic is on how knowledge is perceived, stored and retrieved.


Putting the pieces together

Second language acquisition is a complex internal process. There no guarantee that what it is known now is the complete picture. In other words, there may be some other aspects that have not been revealed. However, based on the current understanding of SLA, the following statements are made.

1.     In order to acquire a language, human being must have a mental capacity, which can be the same or different from the one used to acquire other skills or knowledge.

2.     Human being use language to interact with children and adult alike, with purpose of social interaction or instructional.

4.     Interaction involves stimulus and response; where certain responses can be seen as positive or negative reinforcements.

5.     Interaction can be held in formal as well as informal setting.

6. There are many aspects of language to acquire, namely: (a) syntax, morpheme, (b) vocabulary, and (c) pragmatic and sociolinguistic competence.


Now lets put the pieces together.

All theoretical views will not argue the claim that human being needs mental capacity to acquire language. Behaviorist emphasizes the stimulus-response-reinforcement chain, while innatist and interactionist views believe it is a specific kind of mental capacity. Meanwhile, cognitivist state that it is the same kind of mental capacity. In this position, all are correct. The specific mental capacity is the “development” of certain aspect of the main capacity. The analogy is the capacity of our hand. We believe that some people is keen at drawing, some others are skillful in playing basketball. They all use the capacity of hand. The person can show shooting tricks that are never taught to them. This is also something creative like children speaking the novel sentences.

Innatists never talk about reinforcement, but as interaction always involves responses that can be reinforcement, we can say that reinforcement plays roles especially in maintaining the language.

When the learning of the new language takes place in informal setting, Krashen hyotheses are acceptable. When the learning is in formal setting, behaviorist view and cognitivist view can be used explain the process more adequately.

In summary, all the theories are complementary and useful for us to understand the nature of second language acquisition.



Cook, Vivian.  1993. Linguistics and Second Language Acquisition. New York: St. Martin’s Press

Gass, Susan M. and Selinker, Larry. 1994. Second Language Acquisition: An Introductory Course. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates

Myles, Florence. Second Language Acquisition (SLA) Research: Its Significance for Learning and Teaching Issues. Retrieved on Febryary 5, 2011, from goodpractice.aspx?resourceid=421

Schunk, Dale H. 1991. Learning Theories: An Educational Perspective. New York: MacMillan Publishing Company.

Shannon, Fred. 2005. Interactionist Theory in Second Langauge Acquisition. Retrieved on February, 6, 2011, from: 2005/11/interactionist-theory-in-second-language-acquisition.html.

[1] Some experts classify LSD/UG theory into cognitive category is LAD/UG process the input. However, the writer thinks that this is best classified into “innatist” or “nativist” category as Chomsky seems to emphasize on the innate nature of this language-specific mental capacity.