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Review of  Contextualizing Translation Theories

Reviewer: Vivian Lee
Book Title: Contextualizing Translation Theories
Book Author: Mohammed Farghal Ali Almanna
Publisher: Cambridge Scholars Publishing
Linguistic Field(s): Translation
Subject Language(s): Arabic, Standard
Issue Number: 27.2090

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Reviews Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry


Contextualizing Translation Theories: Aspects of Arabic-English Interlingual Communication is aimed at readers who are researchers and scholars in translation studies, particularly those interested in Arabic into English translation. The book can also be of practical use to students of translation studies (TS). Each of the nine chapters deals with a particular theme in TS, starting with the history of TS to the communicative dimension in translation.

The book starts off by providing an overview of the history of translation studies, which spans from Cicero and Horace, the first theorists to make a distinction between word-for-word translation and sense-for-sense translation in the first century BCE (p. 2), to contemporary translation studies. The authors conclude the chapter by pointing out the fact that such differing theoretical orientations in TS means that the translation product is never in one pure form.

Chapter Two then addresses the macro-parameters and constraints at the pre-translation stage, constraints, such as macro cultural considerations, master discourse of translation, genre, discourse, skopos, readership, text-typology, norms, ideology and illusion. The chapter emphasizes the fact there is a tug of war between several polar options at the macro level, and discusses how these parameters and constraints influence the translator. It is pointed out that translation is not an “innocent, transparent activity” (p.16) and such macro constraints impose various pressures on the translator at the pre-translation stage.

Chapter Three then moves on to discuss the linguistic considerations of translation, namely the phonological, morphological, syntactic and semantic (word level and phraseological) features of texts. As translation is “fundamentally a linguistic exercise” (p. 78), such linguistic aspects of text are important and need to be considered.

Chapter Four looks at the textual aspects of translation, with focus on optional textual shifts which occur as a result of different stylistic preferences among languages. Languages, with their own characteristics, are organized in a way which requires the translator to balance the textual constraints they may come across in the act of translation.

Chapter Five focuses on cultural considerations and translation, such as ‘emic’ (‘insider’) and ‘etic’ (‘outsider’) perspectives. Examples of Arabic-English translations show the translator’s struggle with culture-bound or culture-specific content, which slows down the process of translation in the search for a suitable strategy to deal with such items.

Chapter Six then looks at the pragmatic dimension of translation, such as presuppositions, speech acts, conversational implicatures and politeness, highlighting the importance of pragmatic meaning in human communication; the ability to catch and understand indirectness in discourse is important since the translator must be able to deal with what is meant rather than simply what is said in translation.

Chapter Seven discusses semiotic dimension and translation, a comparison of two semiotic models which originated in the nineteenth century, the structural semiotics and interpretive semiotics models. A difference in the signifying systems of languages means that translators need to use their “utmost effort to reconcile” culture clashes or encounters through the transferring of semiotic properties of the ST (p. 137).

Chapter Eight then moves on to discuss stylistic considerations and translation. Despite studies in the TS field on style, the authors note that the definition of style still remains ambiguous (p. 139). Like culture-bound content discussed in Chapter Five, examples from Arabic-English translation demonstrate the fact that the translator’s appreciation of stylistic features results inevitably in a slowing down in their progress while they search for an appropriate strategy. The chapter suggests a style-based approach for translators, who are also special text readers. The four stylistic approaches suggested by the authors are linguistic stylistics, literary stylistics, affective stylistics and cognitive stylistics. The authors suggest that for translators to deliver accurate renderings of literary translations, they need to 1. Analyse and describe varieties of language; 2. Identify and discern important aesthetical aspects of text and thus interpret and appreciate texts; 3. Activate processes and experiences of reading along with their intuitive responses to the text at hand; and 4. Activate all aspects of knowledge stored in their minds on language, text-typological demands, generic conventions, and sociological roles of participants in the real world and in text, cultural environment and such (p. 153).

Chapter Nine discusses the communicative dimension of translation. Drawing on the Halliday, McIntosh and Strevens (1964) study on language variation, the authors look at two classifications of language variation, dialects and registers. As language has many functions and can take on different shapes according to context, it is important for the translator to be aware of communicative features of texts.


The book reads easily and can be a useful accompaniment to a main course guide for a TS course. The nine chapters each deal with one aspect of translation which translators need to consider, and are written in a clear, summary-like form. Examples are given for Arabic-English translations, and these seem to assume that the reader is a proficient reader of Arabic; thus the book will be particularly useful for those working with this language pair. Although the authors mention that a motivation for the writing of the book is a booming renewal of interest in translation in the Arab World, drawing from examples of additional language pairs would enable the book to reach out to a wider readership.

In their concluding remarks, the authors write that the goal was to make available a book which “establishes a solid link between translating theorizing/theories and the actual decision making in translation activity” (p. 171). The authors themselves point out that the goal is not to offer solutions; nevertheless, one cannot help wondering whether a suggestion of possible solutions would enable improved application of the book for practitioners, translator trainers and students alike. While the book does indeed draw translation practitioners, trainers and trainees to the aspects one needs to be aware of, the reader is left wondering about possible solutions for these important problems intranslation.

Despite these possible drawbacks, the book will no doubt be useful to those relatively new to TS, as it offers overview-like chapters which deal with aspects which are all important in TS. In addition, it will no doubt be useful for students, and as such could be considered as supplementary reading for TS courses, particularly for Arabic and English translation.


Farghal, M. and Almanna, A. 2015. Contextualizing Translation Theories: Aspects of Arabic-English Interlingual Communication. Newcastle-Upon-Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
Vivian Lee has taught undergraduate and postgraduate English for Academic and Specific Purposes and Korean into English translating and interpreting classes in Seoul, South Korea at both undergraduate and postgraduate level. Her research interests include intercultural communication through translation, translator training and discourse analysis.

Format: Hardback
ISBN-13: 9781443877336
Pages: 160
Prices: U.K. £ 47.99
U.S. $ 81.99