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Review of  Thinking Arabic Translation

Reviewer: Rebecca Molloy
Book Title: Thinking Arabic Translation
Book Author: James Dickins Sandor Hervey Ian Higgins
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Translation
Subject Language(s): Arabic, Standard
Issue Number: 14.3323

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Date: Mon, 01 Dec 2003 17:30:22 -0500
From: Becky Molloy
Subject: Thinking Arabic Translation: A Course in Translation Method and Tutor's Handbook

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

Dickins, James, Sandor Hervey and Ian Higgins (2002) Thinking Arabic
Translation, Tutor's Handbook: A Course in Translation Method: Arabic to
English, Routledge.

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

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

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