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Translation techniques

Translation techniques, that may seem countless, were condensed to just

seven in a increasing order of complexity. They are used on their own or in
The techniques analyzed in the workshop were borrowing, calque, literal
translation, transposition, modulation, equivalence, and adaptation; the first
three, called direct translation techniques, are used when structural and
conceptual elements of the source language can be transposed into the
target language.
The other four, called oblique translation techniques, are used when the
structural or conceptual elements of the source language cannot be directly
transposed without altering meaning or upsetting the grammatical and
stylistics elements of the target language.
During the workshop, participants could see that oblique translation
techniques require that the translator have an in-depth knowledge of both
languages involved in the translation process. For instance, transposition
requires that the translator know that it is possible to replace a word
category in the target language without altering the meaning of the source
text. Modulation, which is perhaps the most complex of all the techniques
analyzed, requires that the translator know the mechanics of both source
and target languages as well as their respective inherent qualities. Through
modulation, the translator generates a change in the point of view of the
message without altering meaning and without generating a sense of
awkwardness in the reader of the target text. Modulation is often used
within a same language. The expressions it is not difficult to show and it
is easy to show are examples of modulation.
They both convey the same meaning although they do not have the same
stylistic value. This type of change of point of view in a message is what
makes a reader say: Yes, this is exactly how we say it in our language.

Translation Procedures:
The technical Component of the Translation Process
Presentation by Dr. ANGELO PIZZUTO
The process of translating
Translation, as perceived in this workshop, is a process during which the

makes a number of decisions on how to interpret the source text

uses resources and apply technical skills to render the text in the
target language; and
Re-expresses that meaning in the target text (TT); i.e. the

Therefore, translation is perceived as a problem-solving process.

Skills needed in translation

In popular belief, to translate, a person only needs:

Reasonable knowledge of a foreign language

And a few good dictionaries

For some, translating is an intuitive process that is based on the

translators creative capability.
On the opposite extreme, there are those who believe that only specialists
like lawyers or scientists can translate.
Those who make these assertions fail to make a distinction between
factual knowledge and procedural knowledge.

Distinguishing Factual Knowledge and Procedural

Factual knowledge is the knowledge of special fields

Special terminology
Resources available
Foreign languages

Factual knowledge is essential but not enough. Translators also need

procedural knowledge.

Procedural knowledge relates to some kind of method or procedure to

help the translator in seizing the meaning of the ST and re-expressing that
meaning in the TT.

Procedural Knowledge: Options for translation

Basically, a translator has two options for translating:

Direct or literal translation

Oblique translation

There are several translation techniques available under each option.

Are these approaches applicable to the translation of legal texts?

Direct translation
Possible because of parallel categories
1. Structural parallelism -> grammatical categories

Are you there? -> Voi siete qui ?

2. Meta-linguistic parallelism -> parallel concepts

The book -> il libro

The judge -> il giudice

Oblique translation
There comes a time when direct translation techniques would not work

They are structurally impossible

The target language does not have a corresponding expression

And the generated text would have:

a different meaning
no meaning
a foreign structure

Compare :
He looked at the map. -> Lui ha guardato la mappa
He looked the picture of health. -> Era limmagine della salute.
(Back-translation: He was the image of health itself.)
(Back-translation: He was the image of health itself. He seemed in good
I have a headache -> Mi duole la testa

I -> mi
Have -> duole (verb)
Headache -> mal di testa
Both English and Italian have the corresponding elements
But the structure of the statement is different in the two languages. A
direct translation is no longer possible. The translator needs to use
oblique translation techniques.


1. Borrowing
It is used: To overcome a gap or lacuna (a new technical process, a
new concept)
Dumping (trade law). There is no equivalent in Italian
Create stylistic effect
-> chic, dj vu
To recreate the flavour of the source language (SL)
-> Margaritas, tortillas, Pisco sour, sushi, sauerkraut,
In the legal field, Latin expressions * are an excellent example of
borrowing that have been made through time. Prima facie, nolo
contendere, pro se.
Generally, borrowings enter a language through translation, and just as
with false friends (false cognates) the translator should strive to look for
the equivalents in the SL that convey the meaning of the SL more
*A great number of Latin expressions have evolved differently in the
various languages. Beware of spelling, among other things.

2. Calque

(From the French verb calquer) Calques are special kind of

borrowing where a language borrows a word or an expression from
another language and translates literally each of its elements.

Lexical calque
Football -> Ftbol -> Balompi
4X 4 -> cuatro por cuatro (4 X 4)
Structural calque
Your are intelligent enough to realize that ->
(Back-translation -> Your are intelligent and can realize that)

Both borrowing and calque may become lexicalized (fixed) in the TL

over time.
Science fiction -> ciencia ficcin; Carburator -> r
Menu -> men
In the legal field, structural calque oftentimes arises from oversight of
the morpho-syntactic structure of both SL and TL.
As used in this section, serious violent felon means a person
who has been convicted of: attempting to commit or conspiring
to commit a serious violent felony
(Back translation -> Attempting to commit a serious violent
felony or conspiring to do do.)

3. Literal translation
Literal translation refers to a translation technique that can be used
when the languages involved share parallel structures and concepts;
NOT to a translation made word for word: Literal translation carries the
imprint of the original.
This technique is used when it is possible to transpose the source
language (SL) message element by element into the target language
(TL) and obtain a text that is idiomatic.

The girl is sick -> la bambina sta male

How are you? -> come stai ?

Good morning -> buon giorno?

Spanish syntax requires that we add s to both words, but this

continues to be literal translation. It is just a case of syntax


4. Transposition
Transposition is the first technique or step towards oblique translation.

Operates at the grammatical level

Consists of the replacement of a word class by

another word class without changing the meaning

Within the same language:

Reconstruction of the city is very important

Reconstructing the city is very important

To reconstruct the city is very important

(Back-translation: I dont care about your anger. I dont care

about your getting angry.)

Public servants should be held accountable

for their management of public goods. ->

The use of the pronominal passive allows a rendition that does not
indicate the subject of the sentence, like in the ST.
From a stylistic view point the transposed expression does not have the
same value, but the meaning is the same.
Transposed expressions are generally more literary in character.
It is important to choose the form that best fits the context.
Transposition can be:
Free: When the transposition used depends mostly on context and
desired effect.
The course is of interest to all of us. (Back-translation: The
course interests all of us)
Compulsory: When only a transposition is acceptable.
I will never forget the time when I got lost in the market. (Backtranslation: I will never forget the time that I got lost in the
When (adverb) -> quando (relative pronoun)
Types of transposition
Adverb-> verb
I only defended myself.
(Back-translation -> I did nothing but defend myself.)
Adverb-> noun
I wrote to you early this year .
(Back-translation -> I wrote to you at the beginning of the year)
Adverb-> adjective
He lives precariously
(Back-translation -> He leads a precarious life)
Adjective-> noun

He found it difficult to arrange for the trip

(Back-translation -> I had difficulty to make the arrangemets for the trip)
Possessive adjective -> definite article
Your hair is too long-> (Back-translation -> Your have the hair too long)
Verb or past participle -> noun
I intended to tell you the whole truth. (Back-translation -> My intention
was to tell you the whole truth.)
Adverb -> noun
I wrote to you early this year . ->
(Back-translation -> wrote to you at the beginnig of the year. )

5. Modulation
A variation of the form of the message obtained by a change in the
point of view. Although the main characteristic of modulation is a
change of point of view, it may involve also a change of grammatical
It is used when the other techniques would generate a text that is
grammatically correct, but unsuitable, not idiomatic, or awkward.
Modulation can be:
It is not difficult to show
(Back-translation -> it is easy to show)
Remember -> (if it fits the context better)
(Back-translation -> Remember; do not forget)
Lexicalized (fixed by use, listed in dictionaries) or Compulsory
Dress rehearsal (Back-translation -> General rehearsal)
Modulation is a technique that experienced translators use to produce
an accurate and idiomatic text. It requires an excellent knowledge of
both languages involved in the translation. This includes knowing the
mechanics of the language. For example:

The manner in which negative and positive

formulations are used in the two languages. Do not
enter. ->Vietato entrare

The general register of the language. For example

italians tend to use more intellectual terms than
English. Eye doctor -> oculista; bird watching ->
ornitologa; dog show -> esposizione canina

Use of the passive voice.

The greater the structural difference between the

two languages the greater the challenges for the

Types of modulation
Most of the types are based on metonymy: e.g. referring to a concept
by an attribute of it. For example; the crown referring to a monarch
or Washington to refer to the United States government.
1. Abstract -> Concrete or General -> Particular
I havent heard a word from him -> Non ho avuto sue notizie
(Back-translation: I have not had news from him.)
2. Explanatory modulation :
cause -> effect
Like a deer in the headlights . ->fermarsi paralizzato
(Back-translation: remain paralyzed )
Blind flying -> volare senza visibilit
(Back-translation: flight without visibility )
means -> result, or viceversa
Ill drive you home -> Ti accompagno a casa in auto
(Back-translation: Ill take you to your house in [my] car)
substance -> object
Brain drain -> Fuga di cervelli (double modulation)
(Back-translation: the exodus of experts)
A part -> the whole
The cathedrals ceiling draws the eye as soon as one
(Back-translation: The cathedrals ceiling draws the
view .)
A part -> another part
I know the city like the back of my hand . Conosco la
citt come le mie tasche (Back-translation: I know the
city like the palm of my hand.)
Hand to hand combat-> Combattere corpo a corpo;
(Back-translation: body to body combat.)
Term reversal

This cage cannot hold an animal this size. -> Questa

gabbia non mantiene animali did questa grandezza
(Back-translation: An animal this size will not fit in this
Negative contrast
Make sure you call us every week. -> Non dimenticatre
did chiamare ogni settimana (Back-translation: Dont
forget to call us all of the weeks.)
Active voice -> passive voice (and vice-versa)
The votes (in an election) were counted . -> I voti sono
stati conteggiati (impersonal form)
Space -> Time
In grammar school I was very shy. -> (Back-translation:
When I was attending elementary school.)
Intervals and boundaries (in time and space)
A. In time: See you in a week -> (Back-translation:
Well see each other in eight days from today.)
B. In space: No parking between signs ->
(Back-translation: Limit of parking.)
Change of symbol
He earns an honest dollar. (Back-translation: He earns
an honest living.)
Sensory modulation
A heavy coat -> una giacca pesante
(Back-translation: A thick coat)
A goldfish -> un pesce rosso
(Back translation: a little red fish)
In short, modulation is the technique that leads to a solution that makes
the reader - or the translator exclaim, Yes, thats exactly what you
would say.

6. Equivalence
Used to render expressions using different stylistic and structural
Most equivalences are fixed, and include idioms, clichs, proverbs,
nominal or adjectival phrases, onomatopoeia, etc.
Stop splitting hairs -> Non guardare il pelo nelluovo (Backtranslation: Stop looking for five legs in a cat)

Challenge: To recognize that the expression to be translated is an

idiom / proverb; to know the equivalent expression in the T.L.
Equivalence also refers to fixed (lexicalized) terms, such as
terminology of a field of knowledge.

7. Adaptation
Used when the limit to translation is been reached, i.e. when a
simple translation would not work or it would produce a result that
is shocking in the target language and culture.
Titles of books, movies, and characters often fit into this category
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid -> (Back-translation: Two
men and a destiny)
The Sound of Music (Back-translation: Smiles and tears)

Other taxonomies (categorizations) of translation

1. Concretization or differentiation-> generalization
Abstract -> Concrete or General -> Particular modulation
Fratelli e sorelle -> brothers and sister, siblings
(depending on context and desired effect)
2. Paraphrasing
Used when there is no equivalent in the target language
Paraphrasing is a type of explanatory modulation
To perform hazing [a crime] -> efectuar o someter a actos
iniciticos ilcitos (hazing) (Back-translation: to subject to
unlawful initiation acts)
Translation does not mean explaining or commenting on a text,
or writing it in our own way. Paraphrasing, according to
Vsquez-Ayora, cannot be a translation method because using
it the text loses its characteristics. Too many explanations
destroys the conciseness of the work and makes it subject to the
same distortions of its counterpart literal translation. Other
taxonomies (categorizations) of translation techniques
3. Logical derivation

Cause -> effect modulation (logical modulation, according to

Shorter [fewer] working hours (hours have become fewer
as a result of some action taken)
(Back-translation: reduction in working time / working

Direct or literal translation techniques:


Borrowings: borrowing from the source language a term or concept

to overcome a lacuna in the target language or to create a stylistic

Calque: a special type of borrowing, consisting of borrowing an

expression from the source language and translating literally each
element. Calque can be either lexical. CARBURATOR -> or structural

Literal translation: the direct transfer of the source text into the
target language in a grammatically and idiomatically proper way.

Oblique translation techniques:


Transposition: replacing words from one grammatical word class

with another without changing the meaning of the message.

Modulation: changing the point of view without changing the

meaning of the message. (Vinay and Darbelnet identified 10 different
types of modulation. IT IS NOT DIFFICULT -> IT IS EASY

Equivalence: generally refers to the commonly accepted and used

equivalents of idioms, proverbs, idiomatic expression and lexicalized
terms, i.e. terms commonly accepted as equivalents of a source

Adaptation: adapting a source language situation when it does not

exist in the target language or would be considered inappropriate in


FAWCETT, Peter (1997). Translation and Language , Manchester, UK:

St Jerome.

Sager, Juan C and M.-J. Hamel (tranls) (2000). Jean-Paul Vinay and
Jean Darbelnet. A Method for Translation, in Lawrence Venuti (ed.) The
Translation Studies Reader , London: Routledge: 85-93.

Vazquez-Ayora Gerardo (1977). Introduccin a la traductologa,

Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University.

VINAY, J. P. et J. Darbelnet (1958). Stylistique compare du franais et

de langlais , Montral: Beauchemin

Translation Techniques
As somebody who has been translating professionally for over 15 years now, I must
confess the topic of Translation Techniques poses somewhat of a challenge; trying to
pin down strategies that you use almost intuitively every day of your life becomes a
rather difficult task.
That is why I decided to outline a widely-accepted list of translation techniques in the
hope that the reader may become interested in knowing a little bit more about
translation and its nuances.

Direct Translation Techniques

Direct Translation Techniques are used when structural and conceptual elements of the
source language can be transposed into the target language. Direct translation
techniques include:



Literal Translation

Borrowing is the taking of words directly from one language into another without
translation. Many English words are "borrowed" into other languages; for example
software in the field of technology and funk in culture. English also borrows numerous
words from other languages; abbatoire, caf, pass and rsum from French;
hamburger and kindergarten from German; bandana, musk and sugar from Sanskrit.
Borrowed words are often printed in italics when they are considered to be "foreign".

A calque or loan translation (itself a calque of German Lehnbersetzung) is a phrase
borrowed from another language and translated literally word-for-word. You often see
them in specialized or internationalized fields such as quality assurance
(aseguramiento de calidad, assurance qualit taken from English). Examples that have

been absorbed into English include standpoint and beer garden from German
Standpunkt and Biergarten; breakfast from French djeuner (which now means lunch
in Europe, but maintains the same meaning of breakfast in Qubec). Some calques can
become widely accepted in the target language (such as standpoint, beer garden and
breakfast and Spanish peso mosca and Casa Blanca from English flyweight and White
House). The meaning other calques can be rather obscure for most people, especially
when they relate to specific vocations or subjects such as science and law. Solucin de
compromiso is a Spanish legal term taken from the English compromise solution and
although Spanish attorneys understand it, the meaning is not readily understood by the
layman. An unsuccessful calque can be extremely unnatural, and can cause unwanted
humor, often interpreted as indicating the lack of expertise of the translator in the
target language.

Literal Translation
A word-for-word translation can be used in some languages and not others dependent
on the sentence structure: El equipo est trabajando para terminar el informe would
translate into English as The team is working to finish the report. Sometimes it works
and sometimes it does not. For example, the Spanish sentence above could not be
translated into French or German using this technique because the French and German
sentence structures are different. And because one sentence can be translated literally
across languages does not mean that all sentences can be translated literally. El equipo
experimentado est trabajando para terminar el informe translates into English as The
experienced team is working to finish the report ("experienced" and "team" are

Oblique Translation Techniques

Oblique Translation Techniques are used when the structural or conceptual elements of
the source language cannot be directly translated without altering meaning or upsetting
the grammatical and stylistics elements of the target language.
Oblique translation techniques include:



Reformulation or Equivalence



This is the process where parts of speech change their sequence when they are
translated (blue ball becomes boule bleue in French). It is in a sense a shift of word
class. Grammatical structures are often different in different languages. He likes
swimming translates as Er schwimmt gern in German. Transposition is often used
between English and Spanish because of the preferred position of the verb in the
sentence: English often has the verb near the beginning of a sentence; Spanish can have
it closer to the end. This requires that the translator knows that it is possible to replace
a word category in the target language without altering the meaning of the source text,
for example: English Hand knitted (noun + participle) becomes Spanish Tejido a mano
(participle + adverbial phrase).

Modulation consists of using a phrase that is different in the source and target
languages to convey the same idea: Te lo dejo means literally I leave it to you but
translates better as You can have it. It changes the semantics and shifts the point of
view of the source language. Through modulation, the translator generates a change in
the point of view of the message without altering meaning and without generating a
sense of awkwardness in the reader of the target text. It is often used within the same
language. The expressions es fcil de entender (it is easy to understand) and no es
complicado de entender (it is not complicated to understand) are examples of
modulation. Although both convey the same meaning, it is easy to understand simply
conveys "easiness" whereas it is not complicated to understand implies a previous
assumption of difficulty that we are denying by asserting it is not complicated to
understand. This type of change of point of view in a message is what makes a reader
say: "Yes, this is exactly how we say it in our language".

Reformulation or Equivalence
Here you have to express something in a completely different way, for example when
translating idioms or advertising slogans. The process is creative, but not always easy.
Would you have translated the movie The Sound of Music into Spanish as La novicia

rebelde (The Rebellious Novice in Latin America) or Sonrisas y lgrimas (Smiles and
Tears in Spain)?

Adaptation occurs when something specific to one language culture is expressed in a
totally different way that is familiar or appropriate to another language culture. It is a
shift in cultural environment. Should pincho (a Spanish restaurant menu dish) be
translated as kebab in English? It involves changing the cultural reference when a
situation in the source culture does not exist in the target culture (for example France
has Belgian jokes and England has Irish jokes).

In general terms compensation can be used when something cannot be translated, and
the meaning that is lost is expressed somewhere else in the translated text. Peter
Fawcett defines it as: "...making good in one part of the text something that could not
be translated in another". One example given by Fawcett is the problem of translating
nuances of formality from languages that use forms such as Spanish informal t and
formal usted, French tu and vous, and German du and sie into English which only has
'you', and expresses degrees of formality in different ways.
As Louise M. Haywood from the University of Cambridge puts it, "we have to
remember that translation is not just a movement between two languages but also
between two cultures. Cultural transposition is present in all translation as degrees of
free textual adaptation departing from maximally literal translation, and involves
replacing items whose roots are in the source language culture with elements that are
indigenous to the target language. The translator exercises a degree of choice in his or
her use of indigenous features, and, as a consequence, successful translation may
depend on the translator's command of cultural assumptions in each language in which
he or she works".
If you are interested in reading further on the subject, please refer to Peter Fawcett,
Translation and Language, St. Jerome, Manchester, 1997 (especially Chapter 4 on
Translation Techniques).