Fundamentals of Translation – A summary and review | July 2018 | Translation Journal

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Fundamentals of Translation – A summary and review

The author, Sonia Colina, is Professor of Hispanic Languages at the University of Arizona, where she specializes in linguistics and translation. This student-friendly textbook consists of an introductory Preface, seven integrated, progressively developed Chapters that explain and practice the basics of professional translation work, an Answer Key to the exercises included at the end of each chapter, a Glossary of key terms, Bibliography, and a topical Index. The text is very well organized and clearly signposted and presented, with each chapter following the same basic format: introduction; 4-8 topical sections, with many included examples, elucidatory diagrams or charts, and guided “practice” exercises (each one often followed by a brief explanatory “commentary”); concluding summary; key word listing; various work-exercises (individual and group-discussion); and several “further reading” suggestions. My review, which is more of a summary, notes the main topics and sub points considered in each chapter along with a selection of significant illustrative quotations, and occasional critical or supplementary observations.

In her Preface, Colina first outlines the “purpose of this book,” which is threefold, depending on the readership concerned (cf. xxi): “to offer a basic, easy-to-read introduction to concepts essential to translation practice”; to “reach out” also to readers “who work in fields that can benefit from informed knowledge about translation” (xv); and to contribute to “a better understanding of translation among language students and other language specialists” (xvi). Fundamentals of Translation (FoT) is not intended to cover all possible subjects of interest in the field of contemporary “translation studies,” but is rather intended to function as “a basic college-level textbook about translation concepts and about the content knowledge needed to practice translation in the twenty-first century” (xvii). It is a book that is viewed as falling in the academic domain of “applied translation studies and translator education, rather than translation theory…” (xviii) and, on the other hand, its “non-literary focus” concentrates on the “basic concepts of translation, rather than a manual of translation techniques, strategies, or tips” (xix). The Preface concludes with a previewing summary of each of the seven following chapter units (xxiii-xxv).

Chapter 1 deals with “The term ‘translation’: Concept, definitions and usage” (1). After the opening “introduction,” which provides a handy preview of the chapter, the core concepts of “translation studies” (2) and “translation” are discussed. The latter is defined in a preliminary way as referring “to the process of, or the product resulting from, transferring or mediating written text(s) of different lengths (ranging from words and sentences to entire books) from one human language to another” (3). This initial general definition is stated more precisely later. It is also noted that when the medium of communication is oral-aural, “the term used is interpreting or interpretation” (3). Colina rightly points out that translation, in the narrow sense, must be distinguished from other, closely related communicative activities, such as “paraphrasing, gisting, adaptation, localization, etc.” (12). She then proceeds to offer a more specific definition: “Translation can be understood at the process or the product of transforming a written text or texts from one human language to another which generally requires a significant[1] degree of resemblance or correspondence with respect to the source text” (12, my highlighting). Such essential correspondence may apply at one or more communicative levels: “structural (lexical and grammatical), meaning/content, symbolic, ideological, textual, etc.,” with some societies being “more tolerant of differences between the source and target texts” (12-13).[2] The notion of “equivalence” and its usage when defining or evaluating translation must normally be applied to different aspects of the total textual transfer process, for example: meaning (semantic), effect (pragmatic), function (functional) (16). The problem is that reading comprehension is a highly complex cognitive activity that “can rarely be considered equivalent across readers” (17), let alone languages and cultures, and hence one must determine more exactly “what constitutes the necessary degree of equivalence or resemblance,” and what are the criteria to be used” (18)?

Different methods of describing the nature of the correspondence along the translation continuum between a source text and its translation are surveyed, e.g., dynamic—formal, covert—overt, interlinear (19-20), and several different types of “translation-related activities” are defined, e.g., gist, sight, paraphrase, adaptation, pseudotranslation (21-23). Various aspects of “translation in a professional context” (23) are considered: “globalization” (24), “internationalization,” “machine-translation,” “computer-assisted translation” (CAT) (25), “revising/reviewing,” and “language for specific purposes” (LSP) (27). In conclusion, “it is essential for translation students to be aware of the significance of specialized text types and genres for translation practice and, specifically, for accomplishing the purposes of the translation” (31). Finally, the critical issue of “translation competence” is discussed (31) and how to determine or evaluate this, with Colina’s functionally-oriented goal being as follows: “Transfer competence [is] the ability to understand and implement the translation requirements,” including the specific task’s “contextual needs” along with a reliable method of determining “the necessary degree of precision/equivalence” between the ST and its translation (32).[3]

The following is an edited sample of one of the exercises that Colina provides at the end of Chapter 1 to encourage readers in their review and practical application of the instructional material already provided—Exercise 4 (36); a portion of her suggested response in the “answer key” is also given (267-268):

  1. Find three definitions of translation…and write them down along with their sources. … Indicate whether they refer to translation as a process or a product.

“The process of translation between two different written languages involves the translator changing an original written text in the original verbal language into a written text in a different verbal language.” (Process – Munday 2001:5)

“Translation may be defined as follows: the replacement of textual material in one language (SL) by equivalent textual material in another language (TL).” (Process – Catford 1965:20)

  1. Identify the sections of those definitions that refer to how translation is to be performed (underlined above).

In Colina’s opinion, “Munday’s definition is rather objective, along the lines of the one presented in this book; Catford’s…requires equivalence and sameness” (268). In my opinion, however, Munday’s definition is too vague; thus, even a brief summary of the ST in the TL would thereby qualify as a “translation.” Also the words “changing…into,” at least, should have been underlined as an indication of how the translation was “performed.” On the other hand, the notion of “equivalence,” as Colina herself points out in her book, is not the same thing as “sameness.” When clearly defined, as Colina points out needs to be done, “equivalence” can be expressed in a much more nuanced manner and is therefore more helpful as a guide to translators than Munday’s definition.

Chapter 2 takes up the subject of “The functions of translation: Functionalism,” which is a translation approach, often referred to as Skopos (purpose) theory, “that argues that the translation process is guided by extra-linguistic factors, more specifically by the function of the translation” within a specific sociocultural setting (43). Among the key “situational features” to be considered in any translation project are these: function—the purpose the text is intended to accomplish; the target audience, or readership, and their chief characteristics; the designated medium of communication, whether oral, written, visual, or mixed; the motive, or reason for producing the text; the ideal time and place of message reception (45). These “situational factors affect and shape texts in all languages” (51)—all the more so when a given text must be translated into another language and cultural setting. Accordingly, all these factors must be initially specified and explained in what is known as the “translation brief,” or job commission, which aims to answer questions such these: “Who is the translation for? What is the readers’ educational level? What age are they, and what are their cultural beliefs? What do they know about the content of the text” (53)—and so forth. In other words, the translation brief, as defined by the project “commissioner” (69), must clearly identify the situational features that are needed to enable translators to make their various text-based decisions (60).[4] This would include the explicit and implicit “translational norms within a certain culture and society” (69). Colina helpfully discusses a selection of diverse, graphically enhanced examples to “illustrate the effect of situational factors on the source text, how these change in the context of translation, and how they shape the target text” (53, 52-68).

The “summary” of Chapter 2 (73) includes this significant observation: “Although a significant degree of equivalence/similarity with respect to the original [text] is central to the notion of translation, the exact measure cannot be determined a priori without referring to the translation brief, which is the set of instructions that allow the translator to determine the extra-linguistic factors associated with the target text,” including prevailing local “norms,” that will help govern the process of interlingual textual transformation. We note in particular and in passing here the positively toned inclusion of “equivalence,” i.e., “similarity,” in this description, that is, in contrast to occasional, sometimes misleading and rather negative characterizations and implications regarding this term elsewhere in the book (e.g., 107, 268, 295), which are bound to cause some confusion among readers. In any case, the following is an exercise that puts into practice certain aspects of the material presented in chapter 2—Ex. 12 (abridged, 77-78, 275):

An interlinear translation “is not the type of translation that professional translators usually come across; however, functionalism can explain this word-by-word approach on the basis of the translation brief. … Provide a complete brief for an interlinear translation:

“Please translate this sentence [given] into English for a linguist. She is researching this language and has found this sentence, which is crucial to test one of her hypotheses on how the morphemes and syntax works. She wants to know what each word means, and what each part of the word means. She would like to have it as soon as possible so that she can continue her study.”

This brief incorporates the following “situational features”: Audience, Function, Place of reception, Time of reception, Medium, and Motive (“the linguist is doing research on this language”).

In close relationship with Chapter 2, which dealt with “textual” functions, Chapter 3 now considers “pragmatic” functions and related issues, with “pragmatics” being defined as the communicative discipline “that investigates language use in its social and cultural context” (79), in particular, the implicit meaning that texts often convey due to extra-linguistic, situational factors. The study of pragmatics is deemed relevant for translation studies because it “emphasizes the importance of the function of translation; helps articulate why and how culture is crucial to the translation process; and contributes to a better understanding of the role of equivalence in translation” (81). Equivalence is viewed as a “complex, multilayered (linguistic, pragmatic, textual, etc.)” concept that as a result needs to be applied with discrimination in practice and with the understanding that “in most cases some level of equivalence will have to be compromised in favor of a more important demand on the target text (e.g., function, social adequacy, politeness)” (81). While grammatical functions may be relatively easy to recognize and explain by most educated speakers of a language, the same is not true for unmarked pragmatic functions, especially when engaged in translation, since “a specific syntactic function in one language has a pragmatic function in another,” for example, word order and the explicit use of subject pronouns in English in contrast to Spanish (82). Thus, while a literal translation may turn out to be formally acceptable in another language, the pragmatic meaning of the original may be distorted or even radically changed, resulting in varying degrees of miscommunication (87).

Pragmatics includes a study of “speech acts,” which refer to the communicative activities that we carry out by means of human discourse, whether spoken or written, e.g., informing, requesting, commanding, promising, advising, or refusing. A speech act is comprised of three aspects, which when translating may be specified as follows: “The locutionary act [is] the linguistic form; the illocutionary act [is] the function intended by the writer or the translator on the basis of the translation instructions [“brief”]; and the perlocutionary act [is] the effect the act has on the reader/listener of the source speech act and that of the target text” (89, added italics). Cross-cultural sociolinguistic differences always complicate the task of meaningful translation; for example, whereas in English requests are often made indirectly via a rhetorical question, “Chinese has a preference for direct requests with the imperative, …deference being expressed through other methods, such as address terms, lexical forms, etc.” (93).

In the case of unconventional speech acts, where the linguistic form of the text gives no indication of the intended communicative implication, the interpretation will necessarily depend on extralinguistic elements (situation, participant relationships, background knowledge) and on “implicatures.” The latter arise in conversation when the so-called “cooperative principle” is overtly violated with respect to one or more of the associated “maxims,” or social conventions, of quantity, quality, relevance, and/or manner (96). The fact that these maxims may have a Western bias simply reinforces the fact that the possible influence of cultural differences upon communication needs to be very thoroughly investigated in contrastive terms (SL—TL) before undertaking any significant translation exercise (97), for example, with respect to any and all issues that pertain to required levels of “politeness” (honorific forms) in discourse (98). The aim is to achieve “pragmatic competence,” which is a much more difficult facility to acquire in another language-culture than linguistic competence since it depends so much on circumstantial “extra-linguistic knowledge and implicit cues” (98).[5]

Presuppositions are another aspect of pragmatics that feature in translation since they must be recognized and accounted for during the message transfer process. A presupposition is an “implicit assumption about the world or background knowledge shared between the writer and the reader” (from the Glossary, 298).[6] Colina presents a number of instructive examples to illustrate the point that “in cross-cultural situations [as in the case when translating], presuppositions rooted in the source culture that do not match those of the recipient culture may result in misunderstandings or incomplete comprehension” (99; another adverse possibility would be: erroneous communication). Such “mismatches” and the resultant conceptual confusion or lack of coherence occur most frequently in the case of “specialized texts (expert knowledge) or culturally bound texts” (100), such as the Scriptures. All translators must therefore take into studied consideration, and with respect to both the source and target settings, the entire “communicative [non-linguistic] context, the participants, and their characteristics and knowledge [world-view], beyond textual and linguistic form” (102). Thus, “pragmatic competence is always at stake in translation regardless of directionality, whether in connection with the comprehension of the source text or in the creating of the target text” (106).[7] Exemplifying presuppositions and their possible mismatch in translation is carried out in the combined Exercises 8-9 (abridged, 109, 278):

Identify the presupposition in the following sentence [of an advertisement] … and discuss whether that could, in some situations or cultures, create difficulties for translation, and to what extent: “Sleep better on a bed that adjusts to both of you.”

Presupposition: “Your quality of sleep needs improvement. You [normally] share your bed with someone else.”

Potential mismatch: In some cultures, the reference to sleeping together may not be acceptable in print. The source may need to be changed to reflect other selling points/advantages of an adjustable bed.

“Texts and translations” is the subject of Chapter 4, with the discussion focusing on how different types of texts and genres are normally composed in a manner that assists readers/hearers in their interpretation through the use of devices that manage and mark how meaning is conveyed and connected throughout, e.g., “topic maintenance and continuity, information structure, coherence and cohesion” (112). “Textual competence” is a crucial skill that all translators must have, or acquire, including the ability to distinguish well-formed from non- or poorly-composed texts, since “textual features normally have to be re-created according to the translation brief and textual norms and features for the target language” (113). Colina then considers a number of the most important “textual features” that translators need to recognize and know how to manipulate when moving from a source text to its functional correspondent by translation in another language:

  • “coherence,” the semantic and pragmatic relations that give a text unity, significance, and purpose (114);[8]
  • “cohesion,” the explicit linguistic techniques that enable a reader or hearer to “establish the coherence necessary to make sense of the text” (115; cf. also 133-137);
  • the introduction, maintenance, and shifting of different “topics” within a text “to produce a certain [semantic] orientation”—i.e., a specific “theme,” which may also be organized in terms of time (115) or place (116);
  • identifying and tracing participants in an extended text (120), noting that the formal means for doing this, as in the case of other textual features, often differs between languages (122), resulting in brief-breaking “mismatches” due to literal translations (123, cf. 138-140);
  • distinguishing “old” (known, given) from “new” (provided) information in discourse (125), through devices such as deictics (demonstrative words), pronouns, definite articles, repetition, word order, intonation and stress (in oral texts) (126-127).
  • Componential, utilizing four specific areas of assessment: Target Language, Functional and Textual Adequacy, Non-Specialized Content (Meaning), and Specialized Content and Terminology;
  • Descriptive, classifying texts into four basic criteria-defined, rubric-style assessment categories ranging from unacceptable to ideal;
  • Theoretically grounded, that is, upon explicit functionalist theory as defined and applied in a specific translation brief for every project;
  • Testable, by empirical means whereby the entire approach itself as well as its various components (tool, rubric, etc.) may be assessed by means of a mathematical “testing design” (234).

Colina also discussed the results of a coherent and cohesive verbal composition in the form of “text types and genres” (140). Thus, “text types are usually related to speech acts and, therefore, to the writer’s intentions: trying to convince the reader of a viewpoint (argumentative), offer information (expository), express feelings (expressive) or make someone behave/react in a certain way (instructional, operative),” with various subtypes and mixed combinations possible as well (141). “Genres,” then, are the language and culture-specific applications of text types and refer to “the labels used to classify texts according to the contexts in which they occur; they are conventionalized forms of texts that reflect features of a social occasion (audience, time, place, medium)” (142). The linguistic markers that identify a particular genre in one language may be quite different from those that are diagnostic in another language. For example, the genre-specific textual features of recipes in English are these: omission of articles and prepositions, the presence of zero anaphora/ellipsis, the use of imperatives and sentences linked by coordination; in contrast, Spanish recipes feature prepositions and articles, no zero anaphora, hypotactic constructions (subordination), and frequent use of the se-passive construction (144-148).

As always, translators need to do extensive cross-linguistic research in order to develop “an intuitive awareness of these features,” for example, “through textual analysis, parallel-text analysis and corpora [comparisons]” (148). “Parallel-text analysis consists of examining a corpus of target-language texts (referred to as ‘parallel texts’), independently produced (not translated), and of the same type and genre as the one assigned to the target text, in order to isolate common features of organization and textual markers” (149). In contrast, but equally helpful in one’s research, are “background texts” that “share the same content as the target text, rather than genre and audience,” as well as “translated corpora,” which are “collections of translated texts in which the source and target texts are aligned, or presented side by side on the page” for ready contrastive comparison (152). Of course, such corpora of texts are normally available only in languages that have a large database of available publications.

Practice Exercise 7 asks: “How are parallel texts different from dictionaries? (155).

Answer: “Dictionaries provide information on lexical items and some phrase-level collocations. Parallel texts contain information about texts, textual features, use and frequency” (282).

In Chapter 5 the subject shifts to “Reading and translation,” and the importance of the former when practicing the latter due to the complex, interactive nature of “reading,” the activity of which is considerably problematized both formally and conceptually when the text to be read must be stated in another language and cultural context (157-158). There are two basic models of reading comprehension, “bottom-up,” constructing meaning from smaller to larger linguistic units, and “top-down,” when a reader “relies on world knowledge (i.e., background knowledge), contextual information and other higher-order processing strategies to understand a text” (158). “Background knowledge” encompasses different kinds of information, namely, “general world knowledge, where ‘world’ can refer to a specific culture, language or situation or … specialized, expert knowledge”—whether lower-level “fixed expressions,” such as syntactic structures, words orders, and common lexical collocations, or higher-level conceptual organizers known as “schemata” that facilitate the comprehension of a given text “by helping the reader to form a [familiar] mental picture” of what is being described (159). A good example of the latter is provided by a short text selection that is very difficult to understand—until it is revealed that is accompanied by a scenario-setting, frame-creating title: Doing Laundry (160).

Genuine comprehension is viewed as being “interactive” in reading (as in hearing) a text because in the effort to “construct a coherent mental representation” of the text in order to understand it, “the reader brings in his/her background knowledge and schemata to discover and build logical connections marked in the text through [its] cohesive devices” (162). Due to individual differences, no single reading-understanding will be the same as that of another person, and yet “successful textual comprehension happens, among much variation, due to a common core of [socioculturally based] representations shared by the reader and the writer” (163).[9] One way to conceptualize these important issues in communication generally and more specifically in translation is by using the theory of “frames-and-scenes semantics.” “In this model, words are the frames that activate mental scenes or pictures related to past experiences and world knowledge, [and] for comprehension to take place, frames must activate the proper [most contextually ‘relevant’] scenes, i.e., those that fit into the mental representations of the text” (164). When translating then, “translators must choose between a range of frames available to them and locate one that will activate the necessary scene for the target text” (166)—that is, by using the appropriate, functionally equivalent linguistic resources of the TL.

To conclude this chapter, Colina discusses several salient issues that pertain to the conceptually interactive, top-down/bottom-up process of “reading and directionality in translation” (170-171). This includes not ignoring “the writer and his/her role with regard to the reader” (171), for example, when considering the initial intention or goal of the text in its original setting compared with that of the target setting. Translators must be alert for any possible differences in comprehension regarding the respective cognitive and contextual environments and adopt “the use of strategies to make up for them,” for example, filling conceptual gaps by comparatively researching relevant background knowledge, providing necessary information in TL footnotes, focusing one’s attention on “the major points over the trivia,” and contrastively investigating various text-type and genre differences through parallel-text and corpora studies (174-177). The key ideas of this chapter are brought together in the question of Exercise 2 (179):

How are background knowledge, schemata, world knowledge, prior knowledge and expert knowledge similar or different?

They are all types of knowledge stored in the reader’s mind and which he/she contributes to reading. Background knowledge, world knowledge and prior knowledge are general terms to refer to knowledge possessed by the reader on approaching the text. Expert knowledge is background knowledge specific to a certain field of expertise, and schemata refers to knowledge that is organized in an established, well-known fashion, often in connection with an order of events or a particular situation with various players and roles (283).

Chapter 6 takes up various issues that pertain to the “Social aspects of translating,” such as sociolinguistics, language variation, and language change—with specific reference to how these affect the activity of communicating texts interlingually in different social settings (182). Language change is always very gradual and normally preceded by subtle variations that are not generally noticed (183) unless written and spoken forms are closely compared. Reactions to such changes, especially where there is a long literary tradition, tend to be critical because “writing, a more permanent and stable medium, is frequently associated with education, formality, higher economic status and more prestigious forms of language” (184). However, due to the many different types of genres and settings that require interlingual communication, “a translator would be well advised to base his/her selection of language variety for the target text on the basis of the translation brief and [its] specifications, rather than on social perceptions of the status of specific varieties,” for example, “contact and border varieties” (186). Since the work of translating is always concerned with the contextual use of language in specific social settings, “understanding language variation provides for a better understanding of the translation instructions [in a brief], and how these and the [local] context influence the target language” with regard to the most suitable variety to use (189).

In contrast to a “dialect,” which is “the type of variation observed in language due to geographical (and sometimes political and demographic) reasons” (190), “the term ‘language’ is reserved for the abstract notion that captures the collective speech and writing behaviors of a community” (191), as normally communicated via media having a certain prestige value, for example, standard newspapers or news broadcasts and educational or government publications. In any case, “the translator needs to be aware of how the social views regarding a particular dialect of the target language affect the translation brief, whether explicitly stated therein or not, because “dialect awareness is key for acquiring the ability to use informed, objective argumentation skills” (193) when preparing a target text for a specific use, such as health education, commercial advertising, and most crucially when interpreting for defendants during judicial court proceedings. The diverse sociological varieties of language based on socioeconomic status, education, age, and gender also need to be taken into consideration along with genre-based differences and cultural norms, depending on the type of communication at hand and the nature of the audience or readership being targeted, whether overtly in an internet advert or implicitly via the characters within a popular novel. However, in the case of “everyday communicative texts (e.g., brochures, government communications, [and commercial] product instructions)…a more dialectically ‘neutral’ variety [of the language] tends to be used” in order to attract and sustain a wider audience (195).

“Registers” are varieties of language that differ in terms of the subject area, or “field” of use (e.g., specific occupations, professions, trades, etc.)—the medium, or “mode,” of communication (e.g., oral/written, radio/film, novel/newspaper)—and the level of formality, or “tenor,” of the text with respect to the various social relations between and among participants or addressees (198-204). Of course, many types of communication may involve all of these aspects at once, a situation which may then strongly impact upon a translation due to significant sociocultural differences between the source and target settings, for example, an official letter composed in English when rendered in Spanish, where a greater degree of formality is required (205-207), or in Arabic, the written form of which must normally reflect the older, classical form of the language, which contradicts the informal style of speech required in movie subtitles (207-209). Things become even more complicated in multilingual societies, where translators need to make themselves aware of “the social role played by various languages” within the wider speech community along with various “social purpose(s) of translation” as a professional occupation in conjunction with the specific communicative goals of individual formal or informal translation tasks in varied cultural settings (211-215).

Exercise 16 (218) closely relates to a multilingual speech community, but from yet another perspective: What is diglossia? How does it affect translation?

“Diglossia is the linguistic relation between two languages in which one of them is restricted to use in specific contexts, such as the home (e.g., heritage languages). Diglossic situations affect translation in the realm of individual bilingualism and translation competence, since native speakers whose register and textual competence may be lacking, could (and often do) end up working as translators, for a variety of reasons” (288). The work of these translators will therefore always need to be reviewed and probably revised in various respects by more experienced or highly qualified, bilingual text examiners before publication.

Finally, all of the topics and principles previously discussed in this book come together in Chapter 7 and a consideration of “Translation quality”—its importance for the profession, basic concepts involved, various approaches, typical difficulties encountered, and the author’s proposed functionalist methodology, which is then exemplified (220-221). This is not an easy subject to tackle since “translation quality evaluation is probably one of the most controversial, intensely debated topics in translation scholarship and practice” (230). One begins with the fundamental premise that “how we view quality in translation is ultimately tied to how we understand translation” (220) and its practice. Furthermore, “one needs to be clear about the object (what?) and the purpose (why and what for?) of evaluation” (222). “Formative evaluation” normally occurs in some type of educational environment where feedback, whether formal or informal, is continually given “so that it can be incorporated and used in the future (for improving future translations, for learning and developing translator competence, etc.)” (225). “Summative evaluation,” on the other hand, aims to give an overall evaluation, whether specifically criterion-based or more subjectively norm-referenced, for example, as in professional translation competence exams (225). Most translation assessment tools and methods fall into two major groups: practical or theoretical, that is, experience- or research-based (227), but according to Colina, they all fail to pass muster because they are difficult to apply and tend to “focus on partial aspects of quality, whereas assessment needs to include a wide range of issues, balancing different interests and tensions” (229). As a result and in sum, currently “no common standard exists in the industry or in academia for the evaluation of translation quality” (230).

The remainder of Chapter 7 is devoted to Colina’s suggestions for remedying the situation described above with an overview of a “user-friendly way to assess translation products” by means of her Translation Quality Assessment (TQA) tool (231; cf. 237).[10] Besides being “easy to apply…for raters of different backgrounds (teachers, professional translators, bilinguals),” the TQA approach features four essential characteristics (232-233); it is:

The TQA tool then explained and exemplified in greater detail with regard to its various functional components and their respective descriptive sub-categories (235-261; see 261 for a listing of the general “competencies that are relevant to each component”). Probably the most obvious item to illustrate is “the degree of adequacy of the language in the target language as an example of target language in use” (238), which is categorized in terms of four descriptors, from which the evaluator, or “rater,” is to select one (239):

  1. The text is extremely difficult to read, bordering on being incomprehensible. The translation reveals serious language proficiency issues…
  2. The text is hard to comprehend… The structure of the source language shows up in the translation and affects its readability.
  3. Although the target text is generally readable, there are problems and awkward expressions resulting, in most cases, from unnecessary transfer from the source text.
  4. The translated text reads similarly to texts originally written in the target language that respond to the same purpose, audience and text type as those specified for the translation in the brief.

Of course, this method is rather easy to carry out since it appears to depend a great deal upon the sociolinguistic intuition and experience of the evaluator; thus, the question arises as to how such a general tool can be supported, or justified, in “problem cases,” for example, where the translator (or student in training) wants concrete evidence as to why s/he received such a low (1-2) rating. In such instances, the only solution would be some variation of the old method of textual review where “the raters can recommend edits” and corrections (255), ideally accompanied by associated reasons. The same concern regarding the specificity of the evaluative criteria applies to the other three areas of assessment: “functional and textual adequacy” (241), “non-specialized content” (248),[11] and “specialized content and terminology” (253). In any case, it is important to point out that the TQA tool is intended to be quite flexible and can therefore be situationally customized, or “adapted to reflect a range of priorities…by modifying numerical scores for components and descriptors” (256).

Exercise 7: List [some] reasons why evaluation is important to the field of translation (264).

In a professional context [qualitative assessment] helps to determine whether a product meets standards; serves to assess translator competence; helps to make well-informed and objective employment decisions; is useful for self-monitoring and for incorporating feedback from colleagues; serves as a common, objective framework for translation criticism and discussion; [and] can contribute to education and professional development (rubric methods) (291).

In conclusion, this textbook effectively achieves its stated goal of providing “a non-technical introduction to the basic and central concepts of translation theory and practice” and reinforces these by means of numerous exercises, practice activities, “examples, figures and text extracts from a wide variety of world languages” (i). Though explicitly intended to serve “practicing translators, language students, and language industry professionals” (ibid.), it would be equally helpful for the worldwide company of Bible translators, consultants, trainers, reviewers, and project commissioners as a way of introducing them to the broad field of contemporary “translation studies”—indeed, from a functionalist perspective, which is my own preference based on some years of experience in Africa and elsewhere. Having pointed out the utility of this book for those engaged in the work of translating the Scriptures, I might close with a related criticism, namely, the obvious lack in this text of any serious engagement with the specific field of “Bible translation studies,”[12] which has always paralleled secular practice—often learning from, but also in many ways also contributing to the discipline.[13] Perhaps in a future edition, Colina might enhance the value of her admirable introductory overview by addressing this rather conspicuous omission.

Ernst R. Wendland, Stellenbosch University


[1] Following from the author’s functional perspective, the qualifier “significant” is changed to “necessary” later (18), but I prefer the original wording.

[2] Colina states that “interlinear translations are the closest to the source, with the highest degree of resemblance” (13); however, it should be noted that this resemblance is primarily with respect to formal linguistic features, not necessarily any of the other communicative elements of the source text (ST). This important differentiation should also be explicitly applied to the first “practice” exercise on p. 15.

[3] With apparent deference to the dictates of “Descriptive Translation Studies” (DTS), Colina asserts that her definition of and approach to translation is non-“prescriptive” in nature, but reference to requiring “a necessary degree of resemblance to or correspondence with the source text” (34, added emphasis) would seem to contradict that assumption, and quite rightly so, in this reviewer’s opinion.

[4] Colina has in large measure adopted Christiane Nord’s functionalist approach (e.g., Translating as a Purposeful Activity: Functionalist Approaches Explained, Manchester: St Jerome, 1997). However, Nord’s notion of “loyalty,” as distinct from “faithfulness,” is much more of a “bilateral” comparative activity, involving both the ST and the TT along with their respective settings, in contrast to Colina’s perspective (72, compare Nord 1997:125-126, 140).

[5] Where matters of politeness are concerned, Colina suggests that “equivalence is definitely trivial in such cases” (99). But why does this conclusion necessarily follow? Does this not simply exemplify the principle that was already established, namely, the multifaceted nature of equivalence and the need to set up a scale of priority during translation, in keeping with the given brief, that indicates which aspects of this complex notion are to be emphasized in the process, with “pragmatic equivalence” obviously being near the top of the list in most cases.

[6] The definition initially given in the text would seem to be misleading, if not in error: “presupposition refers to knowledge shared between the writer and the reader that is marked as given in the text” (99). However, if it is formally “marked” in a text, then the information is technically not “implicit.”

[7] Several times in this discussion Colina again unfortunately depreciates the allegedly “simplistic notion of equivalence,” claiming that it “reveals itself as an overgeneralization, too simple and general to be of use in real translation tasks” (106-107). Of course, it is the translation theorist that is concerned here, not the concept itself, and Colina herself creates unnecessary perplexity by such remarks since she has already pointed out the importance of recognizing the complex, multilayered character of equivalence and has provided several apparently acceptable synonyms, e.g., similarity, resemblance, correspondence (18, 81). In this case, the Glossary entry for “equivalence” is not helpful either: “Under some approaches to translation, the requirement that the target text be as equal to the source as possible” (295). However, it is not a matter of gross “equality” at all, but rather of equivalent functional “communicative value” with respect to designated aspects of the ST’s overall meaning potential, for example, form (in the case of an artistic work), content (an informative document), and/or function (a pragmatically imperative text).

[8] Colina categorially states that “coherence is not a linguistic concept, but a pragmatic one” (133). However, this depends on one’s definition of “linguistics,” which for many scholars includes pragmatics, as the Glossary definition appears to suggest: Pragmatics is the “discipline that investigates how language is interpreted by users beyond the literal meaning of the actual words used. It considers the effects of linguistic and non-linguistic context on said interpretation” (298, added italics).

[9] Somewhat strangely, once more in this discussion, Colina includes a censorious characterization of “equivalence,” a concept that she previously had helpfully nuanced in more sophisticated terms for use in translation studies (81): “If textual comprehension and communication are subject to variation so that two readers’ understanding of the same text is never exactly the same, the goal of equivalence and equivalent effect in translation seems an idealistic, prescriptivist target, with no empirical or descriptive basis to support it” (163). But this is not true of any general concept that one wishes to use when describing the complex relationship between a ST and a TT and the communicative goal(s) that a translator seeks to achieve when carrying out her/his interlingual, cross-cultural text replacement exercise—that is, if one desires to distinguish a narrow definition of “translation” from other, freer types of textual transmission, e.g., paraphrase, adaptation? Compare Colina’s definition: Translation is the “process or product of transforming written text(s) from one human language to another. It generally requires a (necessary) degree of resemblance to or correspondence with the source text” (300). Now is the latter assertion any less “prescriptivist” than most definitions of “functional equivalence” in translating? For further discussion, see Ernst Wendland, “Translating ‘translation’: What do translators ‘translate’?” in Said Faiq, ed., Discourse in Translation (London: Routledge, forthcoming).

[10] See also Sonia Colina, “Translation Quality Evaluation: Empirical Evidence for a Functionalist Approach,” The Translator 14(1) 2008:97-134; “Further Evidence for a Functionalist Approach to Translation Quality,” Target 21(2) 2009:215-244. This assessment methodology may be fruitfully compared with that of Juliane House, Translation—The Basics (New York: Routledge, 2018), in particular, ch. 7: “How do we know when a translation is good?” (pp. 78-98); cf also Basil Hatim and Jeremy Munday, Translation—An Advanced Resource Book (New York: Routledge, 2004).

[11] In this section the “idealized notion of equivalence” is seemingly rehabilitated: “We understand and measure equivalence as the necessary degree of equivalence required by the instructions, the purpose of the translation and the audience” (249).

[12] The early work of Eugene A. Nida (1964) is briefly mentioned in passing, but why was his major work from a functionalist perspective totally ignored (with Jan de Waard, From One Language to Another: Functional Equivalence in Bible Translating, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1986)?

[13] For example: Timothy Wilt, ed., Bible Translation: Frames of Reference (Manchester: St Jerome, 2003); Ernst Wendland, Translating the Literature of Scripture (Dallas: SIL International, 2004); T. Wilt and E. Wendland, Scripture Frames & Framing (Stellenbosch, SA: SUN Media Press, 2008); E. Wendland, LiFE-Style [Literary Functional Equivalence] Translation, 2nd ed., (Dallas: SIL International, 2011).

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