LINGUIST List 14.3323

Tue Dec 2 2003

Review: Translation: Dickins, Hervey & Higgins (2002)

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  1. Becky Molloy, Thinking Arabic Translation

Message 1: Thinking Arabic Translation

Date: Tue, 2 Dec 2003 10:45:07 -0500 (EST)
From: Becky Molloy <>
Subject: Thinking Arabic Translation

Dickins, James, Sandor Hervey and Ian Higgins (2002) Thinking Arabic
Translation: A Course in Translation Method: Arabic to English,

Announced at

Rebecca Molloy, unaffiliated scholar


The book is a practical course in translation from Arabic to English,
and directly derives from Sandor Hervey and Ian Higgins' (1992)
Thinking Translation: A course in French-English translation. Thinking
Arabic Translation offers a progressive representation of various
translation problems, accompanied by lots of practical work in
developing underlying principles for solving the problems. It is a
course in translation method, fostering thoughtful consideration of
feasible answers to practical questions. As one would expect,
theoretical issues do come up, but they are discussed only in so far
as they relate to developing proficiency in method. If this is not a
translations theory course, this is not a language-teaching course
either. The focus is on how to translate. So it is assumed that the
student is already proficient in Arabic and is familiar with the
proper use of dictionaries and databases. The course is thus intended
for senior-year undergraduates, and postgraduates or others who are
looking for an academic or professional training in
translation. However, since a wide range of texts are dealt with in
the book, students do learn a fair amount of Arabic and most likely
some English too. And though the main goal is to improve the quality
of translation from Arabic to English, by its very nature, the course
is also useful for native speakers of Arabic seeking to improve their
translation capabilities into English.
The structure of Thinking Arabic Translation gradually progresses from
general linguistic issues to specific genre-dependent ones. Chapters
1-4 tackle the basic questions of which a translator needs to be
aware: Chapter 1 deals with the process of translation and sets forth
terms and basic definitions that are used throughout the course;
Chapter 2 explores translation as a finished product, including the
degrees of translation freedom, from literal to free translation;
Chapter 3 looks at basic principles and categories of cultural
transposition in translation.; Chapter 4 discusses the significance of
compensation in translation and the few forms it can take.
Chapters 5-6 describe key semantic notions in translation: denotative
meaning and connotative meaning. Chapters 7-11 deal with formal
properties of texts. These properties include six textual variables:
phonic and prosodic issues in translation, grammatical issues
(considered on the morphological and syntactical levels), sentential
issues, and discourse issues. Chapter 11 tops off the discussion on
the formal properties and is devoted to the metaphor and its
categories. Chapters 12 and 13 focus on issues of language variety
(register, sociolect and dialect) and textual genre as factors in
translation. Chapters 14-16 deal with specific genres in which
professional translation work might be done: technical, legal, and
consumer-oriented texts. Chapter 17 completes the course with revision
and editing. Chapter by chapter, Thinking Arabic Translation offers a
new methodology and plenty of practical exercise. Students are
gradually trained to ask, and to answer, a series of questions that
apply to any given text. In the translation assignments at the end of
each chapter (Practicals), students are asked to work on an array of
technical, legal, business, journalistic, literary, and academic
texts, as well as political speeches, tourist brochures, and more. In
working on an assignment, students are expected to analyze the Source
Text (ST), identify its most important features; use the analysis to
devise a translation strategy; and apply the skills they have acquired
to produce a good Target Text (TT). What a good, balanced Target Text
is, is of course what is being learned.
Along side the course book, the authors fashioned a tutor's handbook
to propose ways of teaching the course and evaluating it, both
generally and with respect to individual practicals. The tutor's notes
follow the structure of the course book, and include remarks and
clarifications regarding the specific topic/s introduced in each
chapter. For each Target Text the tutor's handbook provides, there is
a comprehensive list of decisions concerning problems of grammar,
vocabulary, etc. that are encountered in the process of translating
the concomitant Source Text in the course book.

A possible schema for the course is given on pages 6-9 to illustrate
how seminars might be organized. Everything from class schedule to
classroom logistics, from organizing group discussions to when to
discuss marked homework assignments, is touched on in the introductory
chapter to the tutor's notes. The Introduction also suggests means of
assessment and examination based on the authors' teaching experience
from the Arabic course, as well as its French, German, Spanish and
Italian predecessors. Here different types of exams are discussed and
evaluated for their efficacy.

Thinking Arabic Translation is a great pedagogic tool, from the
perspective of the student, as well as the teacher. The decade or so
of experience of teaching a translation course are evident in the
arrangement of the course book and its content. The authors took great
pains to transpose the context of the course from its non-Semitic
(European) precursor to give it its Arabic character. The course does
a great job focusing the student's attention on textual properties
that are essentially Arabic while grounding those properties within
the framework of more general linguistic issues. The authors set out
to help make students significantly better at translation, to help
develop proficiency in method; and I believe their book achieves
precisely that. Moreover, the book and tutor notes also help make
better teachers of translation. With its structure and emphasis on
understanding a range of literary devices that make up the fabric of a
text, the book helps make the process of translation more transparent,
helping student and teacher alike identify problematic issues in the
cultural transposition that is actually occurring in the act of
translation. In this respect, Thinking Arabic Translation makes an
important contribution to the field of language studies in the way it
raises awareness. Furthermore, one of the greatest strengths of the
book is the introduction of a wide variety of source texts; the
selection guarantees to capture students' interest and make class
sessions fun and motivating.

One drawback to the course book might be that there are only two or
three practicals for each chapter, which could get a bit repetitive
for a tutor teaching the course all year, for several
years. Additionally, if the book's practicals are to be used for
assessment exams, completed assignments will be circulating very
quickly among students. That said, the authors of the book do provide
additional handouts and other materials relating to practicals upon
request. In the introduction of the tutor's handbook a postal address
and email are provided so that such materials can be obtained
directly. I believe tutors will find this very helpful.

Sandor Hervey and Ian Higgins (1992) Thinking Translation: A course in
French-English translation, Taylor & Francis

Rebecca Molloy is an unaffiliated scholar. She holds a doctorate in
Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies. Her main research topics are
medieval Arabic grammatical theory (particularly transitivity), and
Islamic legal theory.
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