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Review of  Übersetzung / Translation / Traduction

Reviewer: Thorsten Schröter
Book Title: Übersetzung / Translation / Traduction
Book Author: Theo Hermans Werner Koller José Lambert Fritz Paul
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Translation
Issue Number: 16.1713

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Date: Fri, 27 May 2005 17:14:42 +0200
From: Thorsten Schröter
Subject: International Encyclopedia of Translation Studies, vol. 1

EDITORS: Kittel, Harald; Frank, Armin Paul; Greiner, Norbert;
Hermans, Theo;
Koller, Werner; Lambert, José; Paul, Fritz
TITLE: Übersetzung / Translation / Traduction
SUBTITLE: Ein internationales Handbuch zur Übersetzungsforschung,
1. Teilband / An International Encyclopedia of Translation Studies,
Volume 1 / Encyclopédie internationale des sciences de traduction,
Tome 1
SERIES: Handbücher zur Sprach- und Kommunikationswissenschaft /
Handbooks of
Linguistics and Communication Science / Manuels de linguistique et
des sciences de communication 26.1
PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter
YEAR: 2004

Thorsten Schröter, Division for Culture and Communication, Karlstad
University, Sweden

Upon holding a copy of the first volume of the International
Encyclopedia of Translation Studies (henceforth IETS) in one's hands,
it becomes immediately obvious that one is dealing with a huge and
impressive enterprise. This is also reflected by the fact that, according
to the preface, the ideas behind the IETS were made public in 1994,
i.e. ten years before the publication of the actual first volume, which is
the focus of the present review. This volume comprises over 1000
pages, with the two remaining volumes apparently planned to be of
similar size. Of the 44 chapters to be included in the entire IETS, the
first volume covers 15, which in turn correspond to 106 of the
approximately 350 articles planned in all. There are as many as LXXIV
pages before page 1, which is the highest number I have ever
encountered in a book, including the printed version of the Oxford
English Dictionary. However, part of the reason for this is that the
preface and the introduction, as well as parts of the table of contents,
are provided in all three of the languages of the IETS, i.e. German,
English, and French.

The IETS does not function like a dictionary or glossary where each
term and concept related to translation is defined in a few lines and
can be quickly looked up. The articles in the first volume, printed in two
columns per page, are between 5 and 62 (!) pages long, with the
average perhaps being 10 pages. They carry titles such as '1.
Translation as conditio humana', '15. Philosophy of language and
translation: Translation as an object of reflection in the philosophy of
language', and '26. Possibilities and limitations of linguistic approaches
to translation', but also somewhat narrower ones like '63. Idioms as a
translation problem', and '100. The translation of verse in drama'. All
but five of the articles are written by a single expert in the field.
Depending on the author(s) and topics, the articles differ from each
other in terms of style and the amount and kind of background
knowledge that is more or less taken for granted in each. Readers
from different academic backgrounds may thus find them accessible to
different degrees. While the overall editorial goal has obviously not
been to ensure easy reading, the articles are all well-written,
structured into reasonably short sections and sub-sections, and
followed by a selected bibliography (on average about one page in

The introduction touches on some general issues concerning the
book, including the historical and current importance of translation, the
recent growth of translation studies, the multiple approaches to and
interests in translation, and the problems of defining translation for all
times, places, and circumstances. It is stressed explicitly that no
particular view or approach has been favoured, and that the goal has
been inclusiveness when it comes to taking up aspects relevant to
translation and its study. As individual summaries and evaluations of
the 106 articles are out of the question in this brief review, I will just
give a list of the English headings of the 15 chapters of volume 1
(together with the number of articles in each), in order to provide the
reader with a better idea of the contents:

I. Anthropological foundations, cultural contexts and forms of
translation (9 articles)
II. The ubiquity of translation in the modern world (2)
III. Translation as an object of reflection and scholarly discourse (12)
IV. Translation from a linguistic and textual perspective: Linguistic
foundations (7)
V. Concepts, domains, and methods of linguistic translation studies
VI. Problems of language and style in linguistic translation studies (21)
VII. Text types in linguistic translation studies (10)
VIII. Translation analysis, translation comparison and translation
criticism in linguistic translation studies (4)
IX. Machine and machine-aided translation (2)
X. Interpreting and the study of interpreting (2)
XI. Translation and cultural studies: Foundations and issues (3)
XII. Literary and cultural translation studies: Style (5)
XIII. Literary and cultural translation studies: Textual macro-structures
and micro-structures (6)
XIV. Literary and cultural translation studies: Verse and prose (3)
XV: Literary and cultural translation studies: Multimedia translation (5)

These headings are an attempt at dealing with the difficult, if not
actually quite hopeless, task of categorizing the various aspects of
translation. Obviously, there can be considerable overlap between the
topics taken up under e.g. linguistic (chapters IV-VIII/IX/X) and literary
(XI/XII-XV) translation studies, respectively, and the titles of the articles
will usually provide a better clue as to where one can find specific

As already indicated above, however, finding specific information
quickly is not always easy in the IETS. It is made even more difficult by
the fact that the entire encyclopedia is seen as one unit, and that
subject and name indexes are planned only for the end of the third
volume (whenever it is bound to appear). That means that people who
might want to content themselves with the first volume, e.g. because of
the rather steep price, and/or because its topics are of greater interest
to them than those of the other two volumes (introductions to fields
defined in terms of historical period, geographical and/or cultural area,
or source text), must make do without a clear guide as to where
exactly they can find their topic of interest mentioned.

Another issue related to the question of accessing information is that
of the three languages of the IETS. This matter is not taken up in
either the preface or the introduction, perhaps because it is simply a
reflection of the policy for the entire series Handbooks of Linguistics
and Communication Science, of which the IETS is a part. It is,
however, worth a comment: as I said, both the preface and the
introduction have been printed three times each, in German, English,
and French, and also the chapter headings are provided in these
three languages (and the titles of the articles in two languages each).
Yet when it comes to the actual articles, i.e. the core texts of the book,
each is printed in one language only, so that for full access to all the
information contained in the IETS, the reader needs to be proficient in
German, English, and French (making the triple versions of the
preface and the introduction rather redundant). On the other hand,
although in theory French may have been intended to have an equal
status, it does not have it in practice, since only 4 of the 106 articles
are written in that language, while 52 are in German and the remaining
50 in English. Judging from the preliminary table of contents for
volumes 2 and 3, the relationships will remain about the same
throughout the IETS, and I think prospective buyers of the work should
be aware of these aspects.

Most of the articles remain on a relatively general level and provide
few concrete examples or discussions thereof. The more abstract,
theoretical, and/or foundational aspects of translation and translation
studies also receive more attention in terms of how many articles are
devoted to them, while certain topics that (also) are of interest to a
large number of people may be taken up in surprisingly few articles.
Thus, although they are touched upon occasionally in other contexts
(once again, a subject index already for volume 1 would have been
welcome), the large areas of machine translation and interpreting are
only honoured with two articles each, and multimedia translation with
just one. To some extent, the IETS still reflects the traditional main
interest of translation studies, namely literary translation, even though
linguistic approaches to the study of such translation are well-

The editing is good, and while small annoyances in the form of spelling
errors, misplaced parentheses, missing punctuation marks, etc do
occur, they are rare. It might be pointed out that the author of two
articles is alternatively identified as Švejcer, Aleksandr (table of
contents) and A. D. Švejcer (the articles themselves), which might
cause problems in possible references to these texts. In the first of
these, moreover, there are two different transcriptions of the same
Russian name. While the language used in most articles is consistently
gender-neutral, one finds the occasional counter-example that should
have been edited out ('The translator's role as a receptor is
characterized by his bilingual ...').

The minor quibbles I have with the IETS should not obscure the fact
that this is a fantastic work of learning and that I am impressed by the
scope and academic weight that it embodies. The list of contributors
includes many of the most influential figures in translation studies, and
I could not name a major approach, topic, or sub-division within the
field that is not represented and discussed at least to some extent.
Especially the, in my opinion successful, attempt at painting the big
picture, at placing translation and its study within the larger context of
linguistics and literature, history and culture, as well as other important
aspects of human activity, is worth praise, although it should be
stressed that the more narrowly defined concerns of translation
studies have not been neglected and are taken up in at least one
article each.

The IETS invites comparison with two similar publications, namely the
all-English Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies (Baker
1998) and the all-German Handbuch Translation, 2nd edition (Snell-
Hornby et al. 1999). Both are shorter (single volumes of 600+ and
400+ pages, respectively) and feature articles that are perhaps 2-3
pages long on average, though they, too, attempt to cover all the main
aspects of translation. While Baker (1998) has entries listed in
alphabetical order, with references to a common bibliography at the
end, Snell-Hornby et al. (1999) features thematic divisions and sub-
divisions like the IETS, as well as complete bibliographical information
in the lists for further reading at the end of each article. While half of
Baker (1998) is dedicated to overviews of translation in linguistically
and geographically defined areas, Snell-Horby et al. (1999) does not
contain such information and is instead more openly aimed at
practitioners, not just or primarily at theoreticians and researchers. All
things considered, the three publications mentioned fulfil overlapping,
but not identical needs (and not only because they are written in
different languages), and can complement each other. Baker (1998),
and to some extent Snell-Hornby et al. (1999), are perhaps easiest to
use when one needs basic information on a specific topic, while the
IETS represents the most thorough introduction to the field of
translation studies and can well be read from cover to cover (which
one could also do with the more slender Snell-Hornby et al. (1999)). If
the price and the languages of publication are not an issue, I would
certainly recommend the IETS to anyone looking for an authoritative
and substantial overview of the field of translation studies.


Baker, Mona (ed). 1998. The Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation
Studies. London: Routledge.

Snell-Hornby, Mary, Hans G. König, Paul Kußmaul & Peter A. Schmitt
(eds). 1999. Handbuch Translation; Zweite, verbesserte Auflage.
Tübingen: Stauffenburg.


Thorsten Schröter has recently published his PhD thesis in English
linguistics on the dubbing and subtitling of language-play in films. In
the foreseeable future, he plans to combine further research in these
fields with teaching and practical translation work.