LINGUIST List 24.404

Wed Jan 23 2013

Review: Applied Linguistics; Translation: Baker (2011)

Editor for this issue: Monica Macaulay <>

Date: 23-Jan-2013
From: Patrick Moore <>
Subject: In Other Words: A Coursebook on Translation
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Book announced at

AUTHOR: Mona BakerTITLE: In Other WordsSUBTITLE: A Coursebook on Translation, second editionPUBLISHER: RoutledgeYEAR: 2011

Patrick Moore, Department of Spanish and Portuguese, IndianaUniversity-Bloomington


Mona Baker's second edition of “In Other Words: A coursebook on translation”is an updated version of her 1992 text that offers an introduction to thepractice of translation (and interpreting by extension). This second editionhas several elements which did not appear at all in the original publication.In addition to providing examples using English and other European languages,now there are also many in Arabic, Chinese, and other languages that do notuse the Roman alphabet. There is a chapter on ethics that is completely new tothis edition. There is also a companion website where readers can go for extracontent. This book would serve well both for autodidacts and for instructorslooking for a text for an Introduction to Translation course. Besides theexamples from real translations that serve to illustrate Baker's lessons onhow to address translation problems, each chapter ends with exercises to helplearners develop the skills described in the chapter. A list of suggestionsfor further reading follows the exercises.

The book is divided into eight chapters; the first chapter provides a briefpreview of how the author will use knowledge from linguistics to provide atheoretical framework for student translators to use as they learn how toidentify and resolve difficulties when translating.

The second chapter, “Equivalence at Word Level,” addresses the problem oftranslating words and phrases for which there are no equivalents in the targetlanguage. Baker begins by defining what a word is in terms of a linguisticunit, citing Bollinger and Sears (1968): “the smallest unit of language thatcan be used by itself.” The author continues by introducing semantic conceptssuch as the lack of a one-to-one relationship between word and meaning,explaining how morphemes form words, and describing different types of meaning(lexical, expressive, presupposed, and evoked meaning). Furthermore, shedescribes how words may be grouped together in terms of meaning, and formsemantic fields, so that words that are related to the same abstract concept(e.g. space, time, nature) naturally seem to be related. If the words in asemantic field are examined further, other relationships emerge that have ahierarchical structure, so that a general word (e.g. ‘machine’) is referred toas a superordinate and a more specific word for a type of the superordinate iscalled a hyponym (e.g. ‘computer’). Baker demonstrates how understanding thiswill allow the translator to deal with non-equivalence at the word level in amore precise and systematic manner, since non-equivalence arises from manysemantic complications. These include: concepts specific to one culture butnot the other, words not having a lexicalized form in the target language,semantically complex words, differences in distinctions and degrees ofmeaning, that the target language may lack a superordinate, that the targetlanguage does not have a lexical item that is the hyponym used, differences inphysical and interpersonal perspectives, differences in expressive meaning,differences in form in general, and the use of loan words in the source text.Baker goes on to list several strategies for addressing thesenon-equivalencies. For each type of strategy, she provides an example from anactual translation which includes the source text, the target text, and a backtranslation of the target text into English, if needed. For instance, on pp.25-26, Baker gives an example that uses the English word “mumbles” in thesource text, for which the translator opts to use a more neutral or lessexpressive word in the target text, in this case Italian, by instead using theword “suggerisce” (“suggests”). One of the exercises given for this chapterasks students to take a brief stretch of text from Steven Hawking's “A BriefHistory of Time” (1988) and to translate it two times: the first time thestudents are to create a “straightforward” translation, and the second timethey must translate it in a way that will overcome non-equivalencies so as tocapture the reader's attention, as Hawking does in the source text.

“Equivalence Above Word Level” is the title of Chapter 3. Here Baker discussescollocation, markedness, and register, as well as the translation of idiomsand fixed expressions. By ‘collocation’, she means words occurring together,such as how “software” and “computer” might be used in close proximity. Thecollocation of words can be complicated by the different meanings that pairsor groups might have when placed together (even if the individual words areunderstood by themselves), by register, by the set of words that mightpotentially collocate with the word in question, and by marked collocations.Collocations can present problems for the translator, such as paying too muchattention to the source text collocation and thereby producing a targetcollocation that sounds unnatural, misunderstanding the meaning of asource-language collocation, and the desire to be faithful to the source textthat may be at odds with the goal of producing a natural-sounding translation.Other related issues that could present difficulties for the translator areculture-specific collocations, idioms, and fixed expressions. One of thestrategies presented for translating idioms when there is no equivalentexpression is to instead use a differently-worded idiom that has the same orsimilar meaning, e.g., source text: “Feel the force of my fist...”; targettext (German): ‘Dir werde ich einheizen’ (“I will make things hot for you”)(pp. 78-79).

Chapter 4, “Grammatical Equivalence,” explains number, gender, person, tense,aspect, and voice. There is also a brief discussion of word order and anintroduction to the concept of text and its organization. The author citesBrown and Yule (1983) to define text as “the verbal record of a communicativeevent.” This concept is a springboard to introducing the concept of genre andalso that of thematic and information structures, which are further exploredin the following chapter. In describing each of these, Baker does go into somedetail but not so much as to introduce anything that a student familiar withlinguistics would not have already learned; however, she does give examplesfrom different languages of these grammatical elements.

Chapter 5 deals with “Textual equivalence and thematic and informationstructures.” Baker covers the concepts of theme and rheme, including detailsabout different schools of thought regarding how these concepts actually workand what they mean. Theme and rheme are elaborated upon to discuss thedifference between grammaticality versus acceptability, text organization anddevelopment, and marked versus unmarked sequences. Baker discusses at somelength how in English, the theme usually is found in clause-initial position,and how it also may appear in other places, and what consequences that mayhave for markedness. She also discusses how different languages may notnecessarily have exactly analogous thematic and information structures. Givenand new information are introduced as concepts, and Baker discusses their usein discourse, and how givenness is determined. Baker also discusses marked andunmarked information structures, marked rhemes, the Prague school's take oninformation structure (Functional Sentence Perspective) and its importance forword order. This chapter is very dense in its theoretical content, although itdoes provide examples from different languages to illustrate the conceptspresented. One non-equivalency that is related to thematic and informationstructures is how the syntax and information structures involved in differentlanguages may tend to produce structures in the target language that areskewed or show linear dislocation when compared with the source text. Astrategy that she provides to mitigate this is to use a change in voice; e.g.:source text (Portuguese): “Estudaram-se a morfologia e a histologia doaparelho reprodutor masculine do camarão de água doce...” (lit. “Were studiedthe morphology and the histology of system reproductive male of prawn of freshwater...”); target text (English): “This paper deals with the anatomy andhistology of the male reproductive system of the freshwater prawn...” (p.177).

The topic of Chapter 6 is textual equivalence and cohesion. Baker definescohesion as “the network of lexical, grammatical and other relations whichprovide links between various parts of a text” (p. 190). In order to havecohesion, a text must have references that the reader can follow clearly andconsistently without confusion. In explaining cohesion, Baker revisitssemantic concepts introduced in Chapter 2, and introduces anaphora,substitution, conjunction, and lexical cohesion. One strategy proposed forproviding referential cohesion when, for example, the norms and usage ofexplicit subjects and pronouns do not match up between source and targetlanguage, is to add in the expected references in the target language text,such as one might do when translating from Japanese to English. One of theexercises provides encyclopedia entries on Elizabeth I and Vincent Van Gogh inEnglish and asks students to translate them into their other language, payingspecial attention to the interplay between the patterns of reference to thepeople mentioned and the overall textual cohesion.

“Pragmatic Equivalence” is the title of Chapter 7. Here, Baker explores waysin which translators can be sure to produce translations that faithfullyreflect the use in context and typical interpretation in context of the sourcetext. There are several theoretical concepts and corresponding examplesexplored in this chapter, but Baker stresses at the beginning that twoconcepts are most important for providing pragmatic equivalence: coherence andimplicature. Coherence is defined as the subjective perception that a text hasinternal consistency and that its references and ideas expressed are clear andflow logically. Baker references Grice (1975) to explain that implicature isthe way that people can “understand more than is actually said” (p. 235). Shealso explains Grice's Cooperative Principle and its maxims, and discussesconventional meaning, context, background knowledge, and the availability ofrelevant information. One area that Baker highlights as requiring specialattention from the translator is that of forms of address. She providesexamples of this that demonstrate that translators may need to use differenttitles than those in the source text, or may need to provide additionalexplanation to properly convey a form of address that is a subtle insult.

Chapter 8 is new to the second edition and is titled “Beyond Equivalence:ethics and morality.” This chapter is intended to help the learner to gobeyond the codes of ethics usually handed down to translators and interpretersby different organizations, so that they can have a philosophical framework toevaluate their circumstances and react accordingly, independent of officialcodes of ethics. As Baker points out, this sort of focus is also useful forthinking critically about the codes of ethics themselves, to be able tounderstand why they have been worded as they are, and to be able to criticizeand improve them when needed. Baker provides theoretical background here bydefining ethics and briefly exploring different ethical approaches. These arethen applied to specific examples from translation and interpreting work.Additionally, ethics is discussed in terms of professionalism, codes ofethics, the law, and implications of linguistic choices made while performingtranslation or interpreting. Among the examples provided is that of decidinghow to respond when a medical provider instructs the interpreter not tointerpret something uttered in the presence of his Limited English-Proficientpatient.

Beyond the text itself, there is a companion website, which has many resourceswhich further complement the text's content. Among these are: online versionsof the end-of-chapter exercises, audio and video lectures from the author, acollection of web links to professional organizations and other sites ofinterest, a flashcard tool for studying technical terminology from the book,and a selected list of related books by Baker.


There is a difference between the academic opportunities for studyingtranslation and interpreting (T&I) in the United States and in much of therest of the world. Many U.S. universities and colleges do not have degreeprograms, majors, minors, or certificates available for T&I, whereas Bakerasserts in the first video interview on this text's companion website thatnowadays “just about every institution around the world has several differentMAs in translation and interpreting.” It is relatively trivial to searchonline to compare where there are programs in the U.S. and elsewhere, and itdoes seem more common to find programs for translation and interpretingoutside of the U.S., particularly in Western Europe. For instance, there isonly one conference interpreter program available in the U.S. compared with 22in Western Europe ( One mightassume that broadening the search to include other types of T&I programs wouldyield significantly higher numbers, but a recently updated list of T&Iprograms in the U.S. shows only six degree programs, and seven certificateprograms ( This issue is an area thatcould be expanded upon in a third edition of this text, especially if theauthor wishes to address readers in the U.S., and not just those in Europe.Currently, for many U.S. students, translation and interpreting aresemi-secret professions that many do not know how to join. Unless they happento be able to connect with one of the few institutions that does have aprogram for translation or interpreting, they may have to invest a significantamount of time and energy researching professional entry points and careerpaths for themselves.

The book does not mention Computer Aided Translation (CAT) or TranslationMemory (TM), which are software packages that are very commonly used fortechnical translation work, and whose usage promises to become more routine astime goes on. Thus, one might assume that at least a minimal treatment of CATand TM would be an essential part of any translation textbook, and would fitin with some background explanation of the profession in general and adirectory of academic programs.

I found the sections that deal with information structures and thematicstructures to be more than a bit tedious, and even as someone who isrelatively well-versed in pragmatics and semantics, these sections wereconfusing at times. To her credit, Baker does give many examples in Chapter 5from translations and their corresponding back translations in English, sothat by the end of the chapter, the reader cannot help but see why these areimportant and have at least a vague idea of what these structures are, even ifthat may have been impossible without the examples. For a future edition Iwould strongly suggest that the theoretical component of Chapter 5 be moreclearly explained and much more concise.

Although tense and aspect are given their due in Chapter 4, very little issaid anywhere in the book regarding mood. This seems a bit odd, if nothingelse, especially given the number of translation examples in the book thathave Spanish and English as the language pair. English-speaking students ofSpanish can attest to the difficulty in learning and mastering the use of moodin Spanish, and it is well known how the subjunctive mood in Spanish expressessubtleties that are either not expressed in English or are encoded infundamentally different ways (Butt & Benjamin 2011:242). One might supposethat because of this, mood ought to be given at least a little more treatmentin the text, since it is no doubt a frequent issue when translating betweenEnglish and Spanish, as well as with other languages.

Occasionally Baker does mention interpreting as being distinct from writtentranslation, which is appropriate. However, given the similarity in mentalprocesses underlying both translation and interpreting (Dueñas González et al.1991:295), and given the importance and need for interpreters worldwide, Iwould suggest that the next edition of this text make an attempt to addressinterpreting more frequently, as it would not take anything away from thetranslation focus, and it would be useful for those students and instructorswho wish to learn or teach an introduction to both translation andinterpreting.

The greatest strength of this book is the many examples from existingtranslations combined with their back translations into English, which allowthe reader to see examples of strategies for addressing the problems inherentin translation, and certain pitfalls to avoid. Additionally, the exercisesfound at the end of each chapter are very valuable activities that will helpstudents put these strategies into practice.

In spite of these criticisms, this is an excellent introductory text on thetheory and practice of translation. It assumes no previous knowledge oflinguistics, but it is detailed enough so that all readers will find ituseful. Baker does a good job showing that understanding linguistics is usefulfor the practice of translation. I would recommend this book to anyoneinterested in doing an independent study on how to get started in the practiceof translation, or for an instructor teaching an introduction to translation(or interpreting) course.


Brown, Gillian and George Yule. 1983. Discourse Analysis. Cambridge: CambridgeUniversity Press.

Butt, John and Carmen Benjamen. 2011. A New Reference Grammar of ModernSpanish, fifth edition. Abingdon, UK: Hodder Education.

Dueñas González, Roseann; Victoria F. Vázquez; and Holly Mikkelson. 1991.Fundamentals of Court Interpretation: Theory, Policy and Practice. Durham,North Carolina: Carolina Academic Press.

Grice, H. Paul. 1975. Logic and Conversation. Syntax and Semantics, Vol. 3:Speech Acts, ed. by L. Cole and J. L. Morgan, 41-58. New York: Academic Press.

Hawking, Stephen W. 1988. A Brief History of Time from the Big Bang to BlackHoles. London: Bantam Press.


Patrick Moore, MA, is an Associate Instructor and PhD student in HispanicLinguistics at Indiana University – Bloomington. His research interestsinclude interpreting studies, community interpreting, translation studies,pragmatics, and applied linguistics.

Page Updated: 23-Jan-2013