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Review of  In Other Words

Reviewer: Patrick Moore
Book Title: In Other Words
Book Author: Mona Baker
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Issue Number: 24.404

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AUTHOR: Mona Baker
TITLE: In Other Words
SUBTITLE: A Coursebook on Translation, second edition
PUBLISHER: Routledge
YEAR: 2011

Patrick Moore, Department of Spanish and Portuguese, Indiana University-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 the practice of translation (and interpreting by extension). This second edition has 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 not use the Roman alphabet. There is a chapter on ethics that is completely new to this edition. There is also a companion website where readers can go for extra content. This book would serve well both for autodidacts and for instructors looking for a text for an Introduction to Translation course. Besides the examples from real translations that serve to illustrate Baker's lessons on how to address translation problems, each chapter ends with exercises to help learners develop the skills described in the chapter. A list of suggestions for further reading follows the exercises.

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

The second chapter, “Equivalence at Word Level,” addresses the problem of translating words and phrases for which there are no equivalents in the target language. Baker begins by defining what a word is in terms of a linguistic unit, citing Bollinger and Sears (1968): “the smallest unit of language that can be used by itself.” The author continues by introducing semantic concepts such 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, she describes how words may be grouped together in terms of meaning, and form semantic 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 a semantic field are examined further, other relationships emerge that have a hierarchical structure, so that a general word (e.g. ‘machine’) is referred to as a superordinate and a more specific word for a type of the superordinate is called a hyponym (e.g. ‘computer’). Baker demonstrates how understanding this will allow the translator to deal with non-equivalence at the word level in a more precise and systematic manner, since non-equivalence arises from many semantic complications. These include: concepts specific to one culture but not the other, words not having a lexicalized form in the target language, semantically complex words, differences in distinctions and degrees of meaning, that the target language may lack a superordinate, that the target language does not have a lexical item that is the hyponym used, differences in physical 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 these non-equivalencies. For each type of strategy, she provides an example from an actual translation which includes the source text, the target text, and a back translation 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 the source text, for which the translator opts to use a more neutral or less expressive word in the target text, in this case Italian, by instead using the word “suggerisce” (“suggests”). One of the exercises given for this chapter asks students to take a brief stretch of text from Steven Hawking's “A Brief History of Time” (1988) and to translate it two times: the first time the students are to create a “straightforward” translation, and the second time they must translate it in a way that will overcome non-equivalencies so as to capture the reader's attention, as Hawking does in the source text.

“Equivalence Above Word Level” is the title of Chapter 3. Here Baker discusses collocation, markedness, and register, as well as the translation of idioms and fixed expressions. By ‘collocation’, she means words occurring together, such as how “software” and “computer” might be used in close proximity. The collocation of words can be complicated by the different meanings that pairs or groups might have when placed together (even if the individual words are understood by themselves), by register, by the set of words that might potentially collocate with the word in question, and by marked collocations. Collocations can present problems for the translator, such as paying too much attention to the source text collocation and thereby producing a target collocation that sounds unnatural, misunderstanding the meaning of a source-language collocation, and the desire to be faithful to the source text that may be at odds with the goal of producing a natural-sounding translation. Other related issues that could present difficulties for the translator are culture-specific collocations, idioms, and fixed expressions. One of the strategies presented for translating idioms when there is no equivalent expression is to instead use a differently-worded idiom that has the same or similar meaning, e.g., source text: “Feel the force of my fist...”; target text (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 an introduction to the concept of text and its organization. The author cites Brown and Yule (1983) to define text as “the verbal record of a communicative event.” This concept is a springboard to introducing the concept of genre and also that of thematic and information structures, which are further explored in the following chapter. In describing each of these, Baker does go into some detail but not so much as to introduce anything that a student familiar with linguistics would not have already learned; however, she does give examples from different languages of these grammatical elements.

Chapter 5 deals with “Textual equivalence and thematic and information structures.” Baker covers the concepts of theme and rheme, including details about different schools of thought regarding how these concepts actually work and what they mean. Theme and rheme are elaborated upon to discuss the difference between grammaticality versus acceptability, text organization and development, and marked versus unmarked sequences. Baker discusses at some length 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 may have for markedness. She also discusses how different languages may not necessarily have exactly analogous thematic and information structures. Given and new information are introduced as concepts, and Baker discusses their use in discourse, and how givenness is determined. Baker also discusses marked and unmarked information structures, marked rhemes, the Prague school's take on information structure (Functional Sentence Perspective) and its importance for word order. This chapter is very dense in its theoretical content, although it does provide examples from different languages to illustrate the concepts presented. One non-equivalency that is related to thematic and information structures is how the syntax and information structures involved in different languages may tend to produce structures in the target language that are skewed or show linear dislocation when compared with the source text. A strategy 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 do aparelho reprodutor masculine do camarão de água doce...” (lit. “Were studied the morphology and the histology of system reproductive male of prawn of fresh water...”); target text (English): “This paper deals with the anatomy and histology of the male reproductive system of the freshwater prawn...” (p. 177).

The topic of Chapter 6 is textual equivalence and cohesion. Baker defines cohesion as “the network of lexical, grammatical and other relations which provide links between various parts of a text” (p. 190). In order to have cohesion, a text must have references that the reader can follow clearly and consistently without confusion. In explaining cohesion, Baker revisits semantic concepts introduced in Chapter 2, and introduces anaphora, substitution, conjunction, and lexical cohesion. One strategy proposed for providing referential cohesion when, for example, the norms and usage of explicit subjects and pronouns do not match up between source and target language, 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 the exercises provides encyclopedia entries on Elizabeth I and Vincent Van Gogh in English and asks students to translate them into their other language, paying special attention to the interplay between the patterns of reference to the people mentioned and the overall textual cohesion.

“Pragmatic Equivalence” is the title of Chapter 7. Here, Baker explores ways in which translators can be sure to produce translations that faithfully reflect the use in context and typical interpretation in context of the source text. There are several theoretical concepts and corresponding examples explored in this chapter, but Baker stresses at the beginning that two concepts are most important for providing pragmatic equivalence: coherence and implicature. Coherence is defined as the subjective perception that a text has internal consistency and that its references and ideas expressed are clear and flow logically. Baker references Grice (1975) to explain that implicature is the way that people can “understand more than is actually said” (p. 235). She also explains Grice's Cooperative Principle and its maxims, and discusses conventional meaning, context, background knowledge, and the availability of relevant information. One area that Baker highlights as requiring special attention from the translator is that of forms of address. She provides examples of this that demonstrate that translators may need to use different titles than those in the source text, or may need to provide additional explanation 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 go beyond the codes of ethics usually handed down to translators and interpreters by different organizations, so that they can have a philosophical framework to evaluate their circumstances and react accordingly, independent of official codes of ethics. As Baker points out, this sort of focus is also useful for thinking critically about the codes of ethics themselves, to be able to understand why they have been worded as they are, and to be able to criticize and improve them when needed. Baker provides theoretical background here by defining ethics and briefly exploring different ethical approaches. These are then applied to specific examples from translation and interpreting work. Additionally, ethics is discussed in terms of professionalism, codes of ethics, the law, and implications of linguistic choices made while performing translation or interpreting. Among the examples provided is that of deciding how to respond when a medical provider instructs the interpreter not to interpret something uttered in the presence of his Limited English-Proficient patient.

Beyond the text itself, there is a companion website, which has many resources which further complement the text's content. Among these are: online versions of the end-of-chapter exercises, audio and video lectures from the author, a collection of web links to professional organizations and other sites of interest, 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 studying translation and interpreting (T&I) in the United States and in much of the rest of the world. Many U.S. universities and colleges do not have degree programs, majors, minors, or certificates available for T&I, whereas Baker asserts in the first video interview on this text's companion website that nowadays “just about every institution around the world has several different MAs in translation and interpreting.” It is relatively trivial to search online to compare where there are programs in the U.S. and elsewhere, and it does seem more common to find programs for translation and interpreting outside of the U.S., particularly in Western Europe. For instance, there is only one conference interpreter program available in the U.S. compared with 22 in Western Europe ( One might assume that broadening the search to include other types of T&I programs would yield significantly higher numbers, but a recently updated list of T&I programs in the U.S. shows only six degree programs, and seven certificate programs ( This issue is an area that could be expanded upon in a third edition of this text, especially if the author wishes to address readers in the U.S., and not just those in Europe. Currently, for many U.S. students, translation and interpreting are semi-secret professions that many do not know how to join. Unless they happen to be able to connect with one of the few institutions that does have a program for translation or interpreting, they may have to invest a significant amount of time and energy researching professional entry points and career paths for themselves.

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

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

Although tense and aspect are given their due in Chapter 4, very little is said anywhere in the book regarding mood. This seems a bit odd, if nothing else, especially given the number of translation examples in the book that have Spanish and English as the language pair. English-speaking students of Spanish can attest to the difficulty in learning and mastering the use of mood in Spanish, and it is well known how the subjunctive mood in Spanish expresses subtleties that are either not expressed in English or are encoded in fundamentally different ways (Butt & Benjamin 2011:242). One might suppose that because of this, mood ought to be given at least a little more treatment in the text, since it is no doubt a frequent issue when translating between English and Spanish, as well as with other languages.

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

The greatest strength of this book is the many examples from existing translations combined with their back translations into English, which allow the reader to see examples of strategies for addressing the problems inherent in translation, and certain pitfalls to avoid. Additionally, the exercises found at the end of each chapter are very valuable activities that will help students put these strategies into practice.

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


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

Butt, John and Carmen Benjamen. 2011. A New Reference Grammar of Modern Spanish, 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 Black Holes. London: Bantam Press.

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

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