Vol. 3. No. 2 R-11 March 1998
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Translating by Factors

Christoph Gutknecht and Lutz J. Rolle (1996)
Albany, NY: State University of New York Press
ISBN 0-7914-2957-1 (cloth); ISBN 0-7914-2958-X (paper)
Pp. xvi + 346
US $62.50; US $23.95

The complexity of translation, the number of factors involved, is enormous. Capitulate to this complexity? No translator can afford this if he or she wants to continue in the profession. As a way out, Professors Gutknecht and Lutz propose to make complexity transparent by systematizing translation factors.

Systematizing translation factors first involves pointing out factor dimensions and then finding out the individual factors and their effects. This is exactly what they propose to do in this book. By limiting their case study to modals in English and German, the authors have chosen an effective way to deal with their analysis of the syntactic, semantic, pragmatic, stylistic, discourse analysis, and text linguistic factors involved in describing the meaning and usage of modals in both German and English. The almost 800 numbered examples discussed are mainly English-German sentence pairs. It seemed to be natural to present the modals and their equivalents within sentences, because we speak and write in sentences, and it is sentence by sentence that the translator translates.

From chapter 2 to chapter 6, the classical semiotic dimensions of syntax, semantics, and pragmatics are examined. The authors explore linguistic factors according to the following categories: formal factors, such as syntax and morphology (word order, ellipsis); semantic factors (polysemy, voice, tense); and nonlinguistic factors such as pragmatic factors (illocutionary force, perlocution, factuality, situation, and culture). Chapter 7 deals with essential factors of the translation situation, such as the speaker and his or her direct relevance to the translator. Having focused on each factor individually to demonstrate its relevance as a translation factor, the last chapter is devoted to other topics central to translation theory, such as the notion of equivalence and the distinction between translation and adaptation.

This study serves to establish a range of factors that can be applied to the preliminary analysis of modals as used in a given source language (SL) text, in order to establish a hierarchy of factors and factor sets and of relations between factors and their sets, that could orient the translator's choice of possible semantic, pragmatic and stylistic meanings to be transferred to a given target language (TL) text. The authors illustrate the factor approach with reference to one single linguistic phenomenon, English [-1-] and German modals. The advantage of this unified perspective is obvious. Each translator is repeatedly faced with translating specific linguistic items. Focusing on a small group of items occurring frequently enables them to point out the many factors relevant to their translation.

It is common sense to say that the very same factors determining translation may also be drawn upon as criteria for judging the adequacy of translation. The translator's singling out of a specific variant may depend on various factors such as: a) the type of text to be translated; b) the extent to which the SL text bears stylistic markings; c) the intended TL audience; d) the extent to which the translator can comprehend the SL text and identify with it; e) the translator's stylistic preferences and his or her ability to recognize and handle stylistic registers. Therefore the factor approach gives translation criticism an objective yardstick for assessing the quality of translations.

The authors' linguistic study of modals serves as the launching pad for a complete presentation of factors to be considered in the translation of modal constructions. This study is so thorough that it could be usefully applied (as the authors themselves indicate) to the development of natural language processing (NLP) rules for computational linguistics parsers of modals (in English and German).

But their ambition is not to cover all possible translation factors existing, nor do they intend to deal with all aspects relating to each modal. In view of the complexity of their subject matter, they illustrate a number of translation factors by way of some examples. Their presentation is geared more toward inspiring further research in this field than toward compiling an encyclopedia of translation factors.

Their eclectic perspective is also reflected in their reference to previous studies. It is not their intention to give a full overview of the hundreds of publications on modality or of those in the field of translation studies. The German modals especially will be treated largely on the basis of the competence of the authors as native speakers of German.

This study is geared toward making the complexity of the translation situation transparent by presenting translation factors in a systematic way. The authors consider reading this book an exercise for becoming familiar with what might be called factor thinking; that is, the habit of breaking up a complex (translation) task into its smaller, more manageable units--its factors. Naturally, this factor approach will be most useful to those who have not yet acquired full translation competence. Hence their target group is students of translating and interpreting, as well as intermediate and advanced learners of German or English. [-2-]

The possible applications of this study are multiple. It could be very relevant to the study of modals in linguistics. In the case of translation it could serve, as the authors indicate, to distinguish factors in a) the training of translators and interpreters, b) the assessment of quality and adequacy of translations, and/or c) determining the translation of certain text classes.

Experts in the current state of translation studies will find in this book a very thorough, informed, and balanced review of the most important classical and recent texts on translation, as well as an especially apt application of these studies to sets of case studies of individual texts that are marked by modals, framed by a well-defined and elaborated general study of modals.

Non-experts will find a very clear introduction to classical and more recent aspects of translation theory and studies, with all of the relevant bibliography and very clear and understandable examples.

I would like to briefly recap what we consider to be the most important theoretical points the authors have made.

First, success of any translation may be gauged in terms of the extent to which the translator has successfully taken into account the factors demanded by the client. Thus, translation factors turn out to be the felicity conditions for each act of translating.

Second, factors are the guidelines for translation. Such guidelines must necessarily be expressly given by the client for each translation being commissioned because no one a priori translation principle could be said to be invariably valid for every commission.

Times have changed, and dogmatic statements by translatologists have given way to multifarious factor demands made by clients according to different needs on different occasions. But the principle has remained the same: No translator can translate without reference to a particular factor set that he or she is expected to go by in a given case.

This leads to the conclusion that translating by factors is in fact inevitable; throughout the ages each translator has invariably been doing it. Translating inevitably means translating by factors.

Juan Bosco Camón
IES High School Ibaéz Martin

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