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Review of  Evaluation in Translation

Reviewer: Daniele Russo
Book Title: Evaluation in Translation
Book Author: Jeremy Munday
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Subject Language(s): Arabic, Standard
American Sign Language
Chinese, Mandarin
Issue Number: 24.3341

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The overarching idea of this volume is that translation and interpretation can be seen as a means through which different perspectives from both political and personal viewpoints can be transferred into a target culture; therefore, this book investigates the linguistic signs of a translator’s intervention and subjective evaluation when translating an oral or written text. The main theoretical model adopted is drawn from appraisal theory (Martin and White 2008), which sets out to describe the different components of a speaker’s attitude, the strength of that attitude (gradation) and the degree of alignment between the speakers, the sources of attitude and the receiver (engagement). This theory is based on Systemic Functional Grammar (Halliday 1994, Halliday and Mathiessen 2004) and focuses specifically on the interpersonal metafunction of language that relates to the social interactivity between the writer and the reader. The author investigates the translator’s mediation, or intervention, through an analysis of evaluation based upon the appraisal model in various translational contexts.

The volume is divided into six chapters. Chapter 1 is a theoretical introduction to the main notions regarding appraisal theory and how these can be applied to translation. The theory is subsequently tested on a range of translational contexts in order to reveal the points wherein subjectivity can be encountered and the decision-making processes associated with them. The following chapters are dedicated to these scenarios.

Chapter 2 investigates the simultaneous interpreting of a key political event -- US President Barack Obama’s inaugural address given on the 20th January 2009 in Washington DC. This speech received world-wide coverage and was translated or interpreted in different languages in various media in a great number of countries. This variety of versions provides a good opportunity to analyze the strategies adopted by the translators. In this chapter three different translations into Spanish are analyzed, along with written translations of the same speech, and translations into other languages as well (namely French, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, and American Sign Language). As in this speech judgment is expressed mainly through lexical expressions, the author suggests that the “graduation” (standardization) of certain critical points is context-dependent and is performed by translators and interpreters to maintain the style of the speech and convey the message by avoiding culture-specific references that are not easily grasped by foreign audiences.

The viewpoints of professional technical translators as to what is critical in a text are dealt with in Chapter 3, in which the author presents a survey which he carried out through direct telephone and email interviews and by analysing a number of discussions on the online forums KudoZ and SENSE. The data shows that evaluation strategies are deemed fundamental even in the translation of technical texts, which are usually believed to be more objective and less subject to interpretation. In this process information technologies are vital to cover gaps in the translator’s encyclopedic knowledge and the lack of direct correspondences between source and target texts.

Chapter 4 focuses upon the literary translator and reviser. In this chapter translator archives are used to research decision-making processes through the revisions made at different points of drafts involving multiple subjects, i.e. author, translator, editor, and reviser. The analysis of the exchange of ideas between these subjects helps to explain some of these decisions and to point out the main difficulties in their texts. Three case studies are described: the revision of the Penguin translation of a text by the 1st century Roman historian Tacitus, in which paratexts and extratextual factors play a vital role in determining translation strategy; the translation and revisions of novels and essays of the Peruvian Nobel prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa, where the copious correspondence between all the participants show us their points of view; and the translation and self-revision by translator David Bellos of the novel “Life: A User’s Manual” by George Perec. These texts are accompanied by a great number of archival documents, which, in the author’s opinion, have so far been underutilized by translation scholars. In the first case, the paratextual material (preface and endnotes) imposes a specific reading on the reader, which underlines the misinterpretation of the text by Nazi Germany (the translation was carried out in the end of World War II) in supporting its political agenda. In the second case the correspondence between the translator and Vargas Llosa points out that the most culture-specific elements of the source texts, such as Peruvian expressions and word related to the flora and fauna of that country, tend to be more standardized in the target texts, possibly to bring the narrative context closer to the target reader. Perec’s novel, the third case study, is characterized by word puzzles, puns and a large number of intertextual references, all of which represent a great challenge for a translator. The analysis of the translator’s self-revision of this translated text show the translator’s intention to make the language more idiomatic through lexical and syntactic changes in order to avoid calques from the French text.

In Chapter 5 translation variation is the object of an experiment involving the translations by various translator-trainee students of the same extract of about 300 words from Jorge Luis Borges’s short story “Emma Zunz.” The purpose of the experiment is to see what remains invariant in most of the students’ target texts and what is subject to the most variation. The results are then compared with some of the students’ translations in the technical field. The conclusion of this study is that in literary texts, variation is mostly found on the syntagmatic axis of language (more specifically, at the level of the individual word) whereas in technical texts the paradigmatic axis (the disposition of phrases in sentences) is most often involved.

The author’s final conclusions are presented in Chapter 6. He insists on the usefulness of appraisal theory for the study of translation. The different case studies in the previous chapters tell us much about the process of establishing equivalents between source text and target text involved in translation. As a constant evaluative process, translation requires checking all possible target texts against the source text in order to balance the gains and losses of each choice. Therefore, translators mostly show a “tactical” attitude as they both reproduce and rework the source text (more often unconsciously but sometimes consciously). This chapter concludes with future directions of this research, such as the effects of the translator’s experience in translation choices, the impact of text genre and selections, and the investigation of reader response.


The translational contexts summarized in the previous section constitute an analysis of critical points (as defined by the author) in different modes (oral or written translation), different genres, different languages, and with different levels of expertise. This multiple perspective makes this volume innovative for both its subject matter and the methodology. It is a book worth reading for researchers and postgraduates studying translation theory and practice, as it succeeds in combining a sound theoretical framework with relevant case studies.

In order to tackle the issue of texts being influenced by the translator’s views this book focuses on the translation process -- rather than the product -- and points out the problem areas wherein the translator’s ideology can interpose between the source text and the foreign reader. The appraisal model is also tested in order to determine to what extent it can help when analyzing the translator’s work. The findings of the empirical case studies indicate that variation is dependent upon word class, as if in every text there is an invariant core and another part susceptible of variation. Concrete nouns (e.g. ‘table, man, money’) proved the most stable in translation, as well as abstract words with a precise semantic meaning (e.g. ‘fear’). The elements that are more likely to show variation are adverbs and modal particles acting as modifiers (e.g. ‘badly’), culture-specific references (e.g. ‘patchwork heritage’), descriptive or judging adjectives (e.g. ‘shrinking, deprived, run-down’), and verbs denoting attitude (e.g. ‘wield, harness’). In literary translation, in particular, the author observes that markedness is often reduced -- and significantly never increased -- in the initial stages but intensification is adjusted at the revision stage, although the main concern mostly remains a stylistic natural rendering in the target text.

The case studies analyzed in the book deal with a number of languages with the support of English translations for those who do not command all of them. The range of texts is so varied (literary texts, technical texts, students’ translations, oral political speeches, etc.) that Translation Studies scholars will find interesting contributions for their specific genre of interest. Compared with previous work in the field this book shows a very pragmatic approach and provides sensible explanations for the role of evaluation in translation. Furthermore, this book offer insights about further improvements in translator and interpreter training and provides valuable contributions to descriptive translation studies. The most valuable aspect of this book is that it bridges the gap between academics and industry professionals.


Halliday, Michael A. K. 1994. An Introduction to Functional Grammar. London, Arnold.

Halliday, Michael A. K and Christopher Mathiessen. 2004. An Introduction to Functional Grammar. London, Arnold.

Martin, James R. and Peter R. R. White. 2008. The Language of Evaluation: Appraisal in English. London, Palgrave.
Dr. Daniele Russo is a faculty member at the University of Milan, where he teaches English Language and English Linguistics to undergraduates. His research interests include translation criticism, diachronic linguistics, medical specialized language and translation. He is also a translator of fiction and specialized literature.

Format: Hardback
ISBN-13: 9780415577694
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Format: Paperback
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Pages: 194
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