What Schleiermacher said about translation


First page of the treatease „About the different methods of translation“ by Friedrich Schleiermacher, 1816, as displayed in the German Romanticism Museum, Frankfurt am Main

Debate on Translation Methods

More than 200 years ago, Friedrich Schleiermacher started a debate on possible translation methods.

In short, he asked if the translated text should reflect the characteristics of the foreign language or rather read like a text written in the native language.

“Either the translator leaves the author in peace as much as possible and moves the reader towards the author; or he leaves the reader in peace as much as possible and moves the author towards the reader.” (transl. The German Romanticism Museum.)

Schleiermacher himself concluded the first method would do best (while most of today’s translators disagree).

I was not really impressed about the debate when I learned about it early in my translation studies.

But I was the more surprised to find the original text displayed in the German Romanticism Museum, Frankfurt am Main.


Suddenly, pure theory had a face, a context, a purpose. It was so impressive to watch some fundamental ideas about translation evolve, just by looking at this little book from the year 1816.

(During that time, the Romanticism, poets and scholars translated important foreign literature for the first time, discussing possible approaches. And Schleiermacher, a philosopher, talked about the “different methods of translation” in a speech at the Royal Prussian Academy of Sciences in 1813.)

The complete text can be read on the internet in a free copy provided by the University of Michigan.