Translation Strategies: A Review and Comparison of Theories

Translation Strategies: A Review and Comparison of Theories



Extensive research has been done in the field of translation strategies. However, the definition offered by each author or theorist represets his/her own point of view and their views differ from each other. Most theorists agree that strategies are used by translators when they encounter a problem and literal translation does not work. Therefore, different researchers have investigated and described various translation strategies from their own perspectives. Some best-known theories of this field are described and compared to each other in this paper. The purpose of this study was to show the different theories in the field of translation strategies and to offer a general literature review to facilitate the study of translation strategies in future studies. Baker (1992) offered the clearest taxonomy of translation strategies that she believed professional translators use when they encounter a translation problem while performing a translation task.


Key Words

Translation, translation strategies, Baker’s taxonomy, theoretical research, translational problems

1.0. Introduction

This study includes four main sections: 1. Introduction; 2. Review of literature; 3. Conclusions; 5. References;

1.1. General

Nowadays, in a world characterized by global communication, translation plays a key role in exchanging information between languages. To move along the natural and professional continuum of conveying the meaning from one particular language into another, a translator needs to learn some skills, which are referred to as translation strategies.

Bergen (n. d.) quotes Chesterman’s (1997) list of some general characteristics of translation strategies:

a) Translation strategies apply to a process;

b) They involve text-manipulation;

c) They are goal-oriented;

d) They are problem-centered;

e) They are applied consciously;

f) They are inter-subjective.

Most theorists agree that strategies are used by translators when they encounter a problem and literal translation is not useful. Different researchers have investigated and described various translation strategies from their different perspectives. This paper concentrates on the differences between these theories. It intends to show what translation strategies exist and when and why they are used by professional translators.

2. Review of Literature

2.0. Preliminaries

In this chapter, three main issues are discussed: 1) translation (the definition of general translation), 2) translation strategies (typologies, characteristics, models and an introduction to Baker’s (1992) model of translation strategies), 3) the existing gaps and the aim of the present study.

2.1. Theoretical background

2.1.1. Translation

Translation is a complicated task, during which the meaning of the source-language text should be conveyed to the target-language readers. In other words, translation can be defined as encoding the meaning and form in the target language by means of the decoded meaning and form of the source language. Different theorists state various definitions for translation.

2.1.2. The definition of general translation

When a translator translates a text literally, translation strategies may not be needed.
It is necessary to understand the concept of translation as mentioned by many translation theorists to obtain an overall picture of the translation process. Some of these concepts quoted by Jiraphatralikhit, Kaewjan, Klinpoon, Visitwanit (2005: 7) are as follows: Bensoussan (1990) states that translation is closely related to the reading process. Hatim and Mason (1990) suggest that translation is a process involving the negotiation of meaning between producers and receivers of the text. Picken (1989) defines that general translation is a method of transferring oral and written messages from writing to speech or from one language to another. Larson (1984) states that in general translation communicates, as much as possible, the same meaning that was understood by the speakers of the source language, using the normal language form of the receptor language, while maintaining the dynamics of the original source language text. She also expresses that the goal of a translator should be to produce a receptor language text (a translation) that is idiomatic; i.e., one that has the same meaning as the source-language text, but is expressed in the natural form of the receptor language. Nida (1974), cited by Jiraphatralikhit et al. (2005), believes that translating consists of reproducing in the receptor language the closest natural equivalent of the source language message, first in terms of meaning and second in terms of style. Catford (1965, as cited in Jiraphatralikhit et al. 2005) views translation as the replacement of textual material in one language (SL) by the equivalent text material in another language (TL). Bell (1991) views translation as the replacement of a text in one language by an equivalent text in another language. Newmark (1981: 7) indicates that translation is a craft that attempts to replace a written message and/or statement in one language by the same message or statement in another language. Also, he views translation as a science, a skill, an art, and a matter of taste. As a science, translation includes the knowledge and assessment of the facts and the language that describes them; as a skill, translation contains the appropriate language and acceptable usage; as an art, translation differentiates good writing from bad and involves innovative, intuitive and inspired levels; and lastly, viewing translation as a matter of taste includes the fact that the translator resorts to his/her own preferences; so, the translated text varies from one translator to another. Kelly (2005: 26-27) defines translation as the skill of understanding the source text and rendering it in the target language by using the register, the background knowledge, and other language resources according to the intended purpose. Therefore, a translator is a mediator of the two languages and cultures who can transfer the SL to the TL.

What has been discussed above relates to translation theory, which identifies translation problems and recommends the most appropriate procedure for translation in order to solve the identified problems. So, translation can be explained as a decision-making process and a problem-solving task. It is also a complicated task during which the translator encounters some problems or problematic issues which require observation, identification and finding the suitable solution. The means by which the translator deals with these problems are calledstrategies. Finding the adequate strategy for solving the above-mentioned problems takes place in the decision-making process.

2.2. Translation strategies

2.2.1. What is a strategy?

The word strategy is used in many contexts. In translation studies many theorists have used the term translation strategies widely but with some considerable differences in the meaning and the perspective from which they look at it. A list of more general definitions of the word strategy is given below:

A strategy is a long-term plan of actions designed to achieve a particular goal (Wikipedia Committee, n. d.).
A systematic plan, consciously adapted and mentioned, to improve one’s learning performance (Instruction Curriculum Reading Glossary, n. d.).
A strategy is a planned, deliberate, goal-oriented (has an identifiable outcome) procedure achieved with a sequence of steps subject to monitoring and modification (Curriculum Learning Literate-Futures Glossary, n. d.).
A set of explicit mental and behavioral steps used to achieve a specific outcome (Deep Trance, n.d.).
Clearly, these definitions are general and can be related to different fields of study. This study mainly concerns translation strategies, although the above-mentioned definitions can be narrowed down to this research field, as well. Translation strategies have their own characteristics, through which one can gain an appropriate understanding of them.

Generally speaking, a translator uses a strategy when s/he encounters a problem while translating a text; this means, when a translator translates a text literally, translation strategies may not be needed. Bergen (n. d.) mentions that strategies are not obvious and trivial. Although, when they translate word for word and use a dictionary, beginners in the area of translation think they have made a good translation; they do not understand that a problem still exists and changes must be made at some levels of the translation. Therefore, problem-solving is the most important function of the strategies. However, the question that arises here is: what is a translation problem?

2.2.2. Translation problems

According to Dr. Miremadi (1991), translation problems are divided into two main categories: lexical problems and syntactic problems.

1. Lexical problems

In the interpretation of lexical problems, Miremadi states that, although words are entities that refer to objects or concepts, a word in one language may not be substituted with a word in another language when referring to the same concepts or objects.

He divides lexical problems into five subcategories:

Straight/ denotative meaning
This kind of meaning refers to those words of the source text that can be matched with those of the target text “without missing images” (e.g. mother, father, etc).

Lexical meaning
Lexical meaning refers to words or phrases which seem to be equivalen, although in that situation this may not be the case; the translator must be aware of the intention beyond the words in order not to misrepresent the author’s message.

Metaphorical expression
This subcategory refers to the problematic issues of translating idioms and similar expressions.

Broeik (1981) quoted by Dr. Miremadi (1991) offers the following suggestions for translating idiomatic expressions:

a) Distinguishing between ordinary expressions and metaphors

b) Having access to the resources of translating a single metaphor

c) Being aware of different contexts and their constraints on using metaphors

d) Correctly realizing the constraints on the translation, and rendering the message.

Semantic voids
This subcategory includes those words and/or expressions that represent concepts that cannot be found in other special communities. The close equivalents may be found, although the exact equivalent cannot.

According to Dr. Miremadi (1991), this may happen in two cases, subjects to extra-linguistic factors such as those words that have referents in a certain speech community but not in others, and subject to intra-linguistic factors such as those concepts that may exist in two language communities but the structure of their use may be completely different, Dagut (1931) believes, as Dr. Miremadi (1991) mentioned, that this case occurs when the systems of lexicalization of shared expressions are different from each other.

Proper names
The last but not the least sub-category in this group is the problem of proper names. Although proper names refer to individuals and can be transcribed from one language into another, sometimes the specific meaning that they carry, which do not exist in the target speech community, may be lost (e.g. Asghar Rize in Persian).

2. Syntactic problems

Syntactic problems are the other main category of translation problems; as Dr. Miremadi (1991) quoted Nida (1975), one can find no two languages that have the exact identical systems of structural organizations (i.e. language structure varies from one language to another).

These differences include:

Word classes
Languages differ from each other in the internal word formation of language classification.
Grammatical relations
This difference exists among the languages in the way that a constituent of a sentence functions within that sentence.
Word order
Pragmatic aspects
Considering all these problems, a translator is expected to convey the message of the source text to target readers; however, there is no completely exact translation between any two languages and as Dr. Miremadi (1991) quoted Werner (1961), the degree of approximation between two language systems determines the effectiveness of the translation.

2.2.3. Translation strategies’ typologies

Different scholars suggest various types, categorizations and classifications for the strategies according to their particular perspectives. Here, some of these typologies are mentioned.

Chesterman (1997), as Bergen (n. d.) stated, believes that in translation strategies’ field there is “considerable terminological confusion”. As Chesterman (1997) believes, the general characteristics of translation strategies are as follows:

1. They involve text manipulation.

2. They must be applied to the process.

3. They are goal-oriented.

4. They are problem-centered.

5. They are applied consciously.

6. They are inter-subjective. (It means the strategies must be empirical and understandable for the readers not the person who used them.)

Different scholars have various perspectives to the aspects of the act of translation, so, they define and describe different types of strategies. Bergen’s (n. d.) classification of the strategies includes three categorizations: 1. Comprehension strategies, 2. Transfer strategies, 3. Production strategies

By his classification, he meant: first, we read and comprehend a text. Second, we analyze the differences between the source text and the target one, and we must decide on the kinds of strategies which we are up to use them. And lastly, we produce the equivalent text in the target language.

Lorscher (1996: 28) identifies nine basic elements, or as he called, building blocks of translation strategies. These building blocks are as follows:

Original elements of translation strategies

1. Realizing a translational Problem RP

2. Verbalizing a translational Problem VP

3. Searching for a possible solution to a translational Problem SP

4. Solution to a translational Problem SP

5. Preliminary Solution to a translational Problem PSP

6. Parts of a Solution to a translational Problem SPa, SPb…

7. Solution to a translational Problem is still to be found SPø

8. Negative Solution to a translational Problem SP=ø

9. Problem in the reception of the Source Language text PSL

The first complex notation means that there is a translation problem of some sort, and the translator immediately finds a preliminary solution to the problem [(P) SP], and stops working on this problem [#], or [/] decides to leave this problem unsolved and return to it later [SP ø].

Hatim and Munday (2004) stated that some of the main issues of translation are linked to the strategies of form and content of literal and free translations. This division can help identify the problems of certain overly literal translations that impair comprehensibility. However, the real underlying problems of such translations lie in areas such as text type and audience.

Local strategies (concerning how to handle translation problems)

Bergen (n. d.) compared local strategies to the many vital systems which deliver air, blood etc. to various parts of the body helping them to function well.

Chesterman (1997) believes, as quoted by Bergen (n. d.), that the taxonomy of translation strategies can be presented simply. It includes a basic strategy which is: change something. In his statement, Chesterman (1997) does not refer to the replacement of elements in the source text words by their equivalent in the target text; it means that this replacement cannot be the only task of a translator and it is not sufficient. The normal types of changes made by the translators can be classified as:

a) The words which are used in the source text

b) The structure of these words

c) The natural context of the source text

Thus, as Bergen (n. d.) mentioned, according to Chesterman (1997), local translation strategies can be categorized into semantic, syntactic, and pragmatic changes; each group has its own subcategories. Also, there is no obvious distinction between them, so it is difficult to say which exact strategy is being used. In the following subsections, Chesterman’s (1997) classification of translation strategies is described, according to Bergen (n. d.):

Syntactic strategies
These local strategies change the grammatical structure of the target text in relation to the source text. Although most of the strategies are applied because a literal translation is not appropriate, Chesterman (1997) presents his first syntactic strategy, literal translation. He believes that, according to many translation theorists, this is a “default” strategy.

1. Literal translation: It means the translator follows the source text form as closely as possible without following the source language structure.

2. Loan translation: This is the second syntactic strategy in his classification which refers to the borrowing of single terms and following the structure of the source text which is foreign to the target reader.

3. Transposition: Another term that Chesterman (1997) has borrowed from Vinay and Darbelnet (1958) is transposition that refers to any change in word class, for example adjective to noun.

4. Unit shift: This is a term that has been borrowed from Catford (1965) in the levels of morpheme, word, phrase, clause, sentence and paragraph.

5. Paraphrase structure change: This strategy refers to changes which take place in the internal structure of the noun phrase or verb phrase, although the source language phrase itself maybe translated by a corresponding phrase in the target language.

6. Clause structure change: This is a term which refers to a strategy in which the changes affect the organization of the constituent phrases or clauses. For example, changes from active to passive, finite to infinite, or rearrangement of the clause constituents.

7. Sentence structure change: It is a term that refers to changes in the structure of the sentence unit. It basically means a change in the relationship between main clauses and subordinate ones.

8. Cohesion change: The way in which the parts of a sentence join together to make a fluent, comprehensible sentence is called textual cohesion. Cohesion change is a term referring to a strategy which affects intra-textual cohesion, this kind of strategy mainly takes place in the form of reference by pronouns, ellipsis, substitution or repetition.

9. Level shift: By the term level, Chesterman (1997) means the phonological, morphological, syntactical and lexical levels. These levels are expressed variously in different languages.

10. Scheme change: This strategy is another term in Chesterman’s (1997) classification. It refers to rhetorical schemata such as parallelism, alliteration and rhythm and rhyming in poetry. Parallelism refers to similar arrangement of collocations, phrases or sentences.

Semantic strategies
The second group in Chesterman’s (1997) classification is semantic strategy which has its own subcategories.

Synonymy: It is the first subcategory in this group. In this strategy the translator selects the closest synonym, which is not the first literal translation of the source text word or phrase.
Antonymy: In this strategy, the translator uses a word with the opposite meaning. This word mostly combines with a negation.
Hyponymy: It means using a member of larger category (e.g. rose is a hyponym in relation to flower), and also hypernym is a related superordinate term, which describes the entire category with a broader term (e.g. flower is a hypernym in relation to rose).
Converses: This strategy refers to pairs of opposites expressing similar semantic relationships from the opposite perspectives (e.g. send-receive take-give).
Trope change: The formal name that is used for a figure of speech or metaphor is called trope which means using a term or phrase to compare two things that are unrelated with the purpose of revealing their similarity. This relates to a type of strategy called trope change strategy.
Abstraction change: The other kind of strategy in the list is abstraction change. This strategy concerns shifting either from more abstract terms to more concrete ones or vice versa.
Distribution change: This is a kind of strategy in which the same semantic component is distributed over more items (expansion) or fewer ones (compression).
Emphasis change: This strategy increases, decreases or changes the emphasis of thematic focus of the translated text in comparison to the original.
Paraphrase strategy: This is the last strategy in the list. According to the overall meaning of the source text, it creates a liberal approximate translation, some lexical items may be ignored in this sort of strategy.
Pragmatic strategies
Cultural filtering: According to Chesterman (1997 as cited in Bergen n. d.), the first sort of strategy in this group is cultural filtering. It may be described as the concrete realization, at the level of language, of the universal strategy of domestication or target culture-oriented translation. This strategy is generally used while translating culture-bound items.
Explicitness change: In explicitness change strategy some information of the source text maybe added; or deleted to make the text more or less explicit.
Information change: The next type of strategy is information change which is similar to the previous strategy; however, here the changed information is NOT implicit in the source language text.
Interpersonal change: This strategy is used to affect the whole style of the text to make it more or less informed, technical etc.
Speech act: There is another strategy the changes the nature of the source text speech act, either obligatory or non-obligatory (e.g. from reporting to a command, or from direct to indirect speech).
Visibility change: This is a strategy that increases the “presence” of either the author of the source text or its translator (e.g. footnotes that are added by the translator).
Coherence change: Another strategy is coherence change which is similar to cohesion change which was mentioned in the previous section ( syntactic strategies). The only difference is that, cohesion change concerns micro-structure level (e.g. a sentence or a paragraph), but coherence change concerns a higher textual level (i.e. combining different paragraphs to each other in a way different from the source text).
Partial translation: This is a strategy that refers to translating a part of a text, not the entire text (e.g. song lyrics or poetry).
Trans-editing: As Bergen also stated, according to Stetting (1989), another strategy which can be mentioned in this section is trans-editing that refers to extensive editing of the original text when necessary (i.e. changing the organization of the source text information, wording or etc).
The above-mentioned strategies present the classification of Chesterman (1997) cited by Bergen (n. d.). It is clear that all strategies can specific cases of “changing something,” which is, as Chesterman (1997) believes, the basic strategy of translation.

The levels on which these translation strategies work differ from each other; and as Bergen (n. d.) stated, this may lead to terminological confusion among researchers who are concerned with translation studies.

As Venuti (2001) states, from Vinay and Darbelnet’s (1958) point of view, translators can select two main methods of translating which are called: direct/literal translation and oblique translation.

When literal translation is not possible because of lexical and syntactical differences between the two languages, oblique translation is used.

Oblique translation includes seven subcategories which are as follows:

Borrowing: that is used to tackle a meta-linguistic difference. It is the simplest strategy of translation that means using source language terms in the target text.
Calque: This is a special type of borrowing in which the borrowed expression is literally translated into the target language.
Literal translation: that means rendering a source language text into the appropriate idiomatic or grammatical equivalent in the target language.
Transposition: that is substituting one word class with another without changing the meaning of the message.
Modulation: this means changing in point of view (e.g. changing part of speech).
Equivalence: this refers to rendering two situations by different stylistic and structural methods; these two texts include the source text and its equivalent text which is the target text.
Adaptation: that refers to those situations when cultural differences occur between the source language and the target language. Thus, translation can be considered as a special kind of equivalence which is situational equivalence
The above-mentioned strategies fit the classification of Vinay and Darbelnet (1958), which shows some similarities with Chesterman’s classification; however, as we can see above Chesterman’s (1997) classification is clearly more detailed. All the above-mentioned strategies are theories which are named differently by different theorists. However; if one wants to examine the applicability of these strategies, there would be no clear borderline between them. Moreover, they are just some of the strategies that can be used by a translator, and it seems that there are different options that a translator may have while doing the translation. However, there is no hierarchical order of more or less often used strategies. Baker (1992) offers a taxonomy of eight translation strategies, which are used by professional translators.

Baker’s taxonomy: Mona Baker (1992: 26-42) lists eight strategies, which have been used by professional translators, to cope with the problematic issues while doing a translation task:

Translation by a more general word
This is one of the most common strategies to deal with many types of nonequivalence. As Baker believes, it works appropriately in most, if not all, languages, because in the semantic field, meaning is not language dependent.
Translation by a more neutral/ less expressive word
This is another strategy in the semantic field of structure.
Translation by cultural substitution
This strategy involves replacing a culture-specific item or expression with a target language item considering its impact on the target reader. This strategy makes the translated text more natural, more understandable and more familiar to the target reader.
The translator’s decision to use this strategy will depend on:
The degree to which the translator is given license by those who commission the translation
The purpose of the translation
Translation using a loan word or loan word plus explanation
This strategy is usually used in dealing with culture-specific items, modern concepts, and buzz words. Using the loan word with an explanation is very useful when a word is repeated several times in the text. At the first time the word is mentioned by the explanation and in the next times the word can be used by its own.
Translation by paraphrase using a related word
This strategy is used when the source item in lexicalized in the target language but in a different form, and when the frequency with which a certain form is used in the source text is obviously higher than it would be natural in the target language.
Translation by paraphrase using unrelated words
The paraphrase strategy can be used when the concept in the source item is not lexicalized in the target language.
When the meaning of the source item is complex in the target language, the paraphrase strategy may be used instead of using related words; it may be based on modifying a super-ordinate or simply on making clear the meaning of the source item.
Translation by omission
This may be a drastic kind of strategy, but in fact it may be even useful to omit translating a word or expression in some contexts. If the meaning conveyed by a particular item or expression is not necessary to mention in the understanding of the translation, translators use this strategy to avoid lengthy explanations.
Translation by illustration
This strategy can be useful when the target equivalent item does not cover some aspects of the source item and the equivalent item refers to a physical entity which can be illustrated, particularly in order to avoid over-explanation and to be concise and to the point.
As it is obvious, each theorist offers his/her own strategies according to his/ her perspective; however, Baker’s (1992) taxonomy of translation strategies include the most applicable set of strategies, because it shows the strategies which are used by professional translators. So, this definition indicates the applicability of these strategies, i. e. not only is it a set of strategies but it can also be tested by professional translators to see to what degree they work if at all.

3. Conclusion

In this study, translation in general, translational problems and mainly translation strategies were described, and different theories of translation strategies were mentioned. It was shown that different theorists suggest various definitions of translation strategies according to their different perspectives. Moreover, it was mentioned that Baker (1992) lists the most applicable set of strategies. She does not just name the strategies, but she also shows the application of each.

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