A typology of translation solutions for Spanish-English
Abstract: A six-category typology is presented with examples for translations between Spanish
and English. The principles underlying the typology are explained, as are some of the ways it
can be used in class.
When students are first taught to translate, they usually benefit from a list of the
different ways in which translation problems can be solved. The best of these lists have
clear names for the different kinds of solutions (“solution types”) and offer more than
two items: theories of “domesticating” versus “foreignizing” or “dynamic equivalence”
versus “formal correspondence” are fine for debates between theorists, but trainee
translators need a more practical bag of tricks.
There are many typologies available. The most widespread is probably the one by
Vinay and Darbelnet (1958/1972), adapted for Spanish-English translation in Vázquez-
Ayora (1977). In my study of these and other typologies (Pym 2016) and various tests
with them in class (Pym and Torres-Simón 2015, Pym 2017), I have found that the
categories are quite hard for students to understand, that they leave quite a few things
out, and that they are not always applicable to other language pairs.
Here I am thus proposing a slightly modified typology, giving examples for translations
between Spanish and English. I hope translation teachers and students will help improve
the typology, perhaps by adapting these few pages to examples for other language pairs.
The typology presented out here has one default category: “Cruise mode” translating.
To understand this, think of an airplane cruising at altitude: all goes well until there is a
“bump”, attention is required, and something needs to be done.
To handle instances of
“bump mode” in translating, we identify six main solution types (the middle column in
Table 1 below) that can be used for conscious problem-solving. The six types are more
or less in the tradition of Vinay and Darbelnet (1958/72), going from simple to
complex, from low-effort to high-effort, from close-to-the-text to greater translatorial
intervention. Here we use initial capitals for the names of the types in order to indicate
their status as technical terms.
Copying Words: “Transcription” in the broadest sense, where items from one language
are brought across to another. This may be on the phonetic level (e.g. Sp. “fútbol”),
morphology (e.g. Sp. “balompié,” literally “ball-foot”) or script (e.g. “McDonald’s” in
all languages, alongside Rus. Макдоналдс or Ar. ﻣﺎﻛﺪوﻧ ﺎ ﻟ ﺪز , f for example).
Our usage of the term “bump” comes from Brian Mossop (1995): “In normal mode, people who have
mastered some skill simply ’see’, instantly, how to proceed. In bump mode, however, principles have to
be applied.” Similar usages can be found in Archer (1986), Robinson (2003), Leppihalme (1997),
Chesterman (2016: 182).
Copying Structure: Syntactic or compositional structures are brought across from one
language into another and are marked as being foreign. Syntactic or compositional
structures are brought across from one language into another, as in “Open mouth and
lend voice to tongue” (from the television series Spartacus), where Latin syntactic and
metaphorical structures are used in English. Copying Structure can be seen more clearly
in the importing of verse forms or popular song formats. These solutions are called
Calque in Vinay and Darbelnet.
Perspective Change: An object is seen from a different point of view, as in a hotel
being “Completo” (Full) in Spanish and has “No Vacancies” in English. This is
Modulation in Vinay and Darbelnet. Here the category is extended to include changes in
footing (e.g. between the formal and informal second person), non-obligatory switches
between passive and active structures (e.g. “se me rompió la mandíbula” might be
rendered as “they broke my jaw”).
Changes in perspective also concern identifiers of the speaker’s position, as the
giving of a rival name to the one object that does not thereby change position in time or
place (e.g. the use of “Gerona” for “Girona,” indicating which side of history, you are
seeing it from).
Density Change: There is a marked change in the amount of information available in a
given textual space. Translators can reduce textual density by using solutions that
spread information over a greater textual space, using Explicitation, Generalization, and
Multiple Translation, as when the one word “Generalitat” is translated as the six words
“Generalitat, the Catalan regional government”. Using the inverse solutions can
The splitting and joining of sentences can also count as Density Change, since
governance and subordination increase cognitive load. When one sentence is split into
two, the syntactic density is reduced and the meaning usually easier to process. “The
dog that bit me as I came home is black” is technically denser than “A black dog bit me.
I was coming home at the time”. A nice example can be found in Spanish passports,
where the sentence beginning “El estado español se reserve la propiedad…” becomes
three sentences in the English translation (my thanks to Kevin Costello for pointing this
out). Since Spanish sentences are often longer than English sentences, the translator can
cut them up. This makes the information easier to process and thus reduces the semantic
A further kind of Density Change is when a value is rendered in a different
position in the text and in a different way. Translator’s notes and prefaces can be seen as
forms of Density Change, since they take the information and spread it out over a lot
more words than are in the start text.
Cultural Correspondence: Different elements in different cultures are presented as
carrying out similar functions, as in the case of corresponding idioms such as “Give him
an inch and he will take a mile” rendered “Le da un dedo y se coge el codo” or culture-
specific items (currency units, measures, etc.). This broadly covers what Vinay and
Darbelnet termed Équivalence and Adaptation. It applies to all instances where the
corresponding referents are held to be in different special or temporal locations, as
opposed to cases where the same referent is given different expressions but remains in
the one location. So the choice between “Gerona” and “Girona” is Perspective Change,
since the referent city is presumed to remain in the same place even while the politics
vary, whereas “cricket” rendered as “baseball” to express the common value “popular
summer sport” is Cultural Correspondence, since the two referents are held to be
operative in different cultural locations.
Text Tailoring: This is when semantic or performative material in the start text is
deleted, updated, or added to on the levels of both form and content, as when whole
scenes are deleted from a film, whole paragraphs are censored in a novel, dates and
places are corrected, or an instruction manual is updated by the translator.
Text tailoring thus applies to major additions or deletions of actual content, not
to the minor linguistic adjustments that are part and parcel of cruise-mode translating.
This category does not, for example, include the words or passages inserted to explain
what foreign expression means (that would be Density Change) or the removal of
references because they are already well-known in the target culture (that would again
be Density Change, actually Implicitation).
An example would be the translation into Spanish of guidelines for working
with court interpreters (JDCD 2017). Since the translation is intended to help court
officials in Spain, references to Australian laws and the problems of Indigenous
languages are omitted – those aspects are of little use to the intended user of the
Scarcely original in themselves, these categories are at least of a number that can be
adjusted to suite pedagogical needs. For maximum simplification, there can be just three
categories: Copying, Expression Change, Material Change (in the left-hand column in
Table1). For more focused work, there are open-ended lists of sub-types (as in the right-
hand column, plus the more detailed columns that could be added to the right of that).
Table 1. A typology of translation solution types (cf. Pym 2016: 220)
Cruise mode (normal use of language skills, reference resources, parallel texts, intuition – anything prior to bump
mode – so no special solutions are needed)
Copying script …
Copying prosodic features
Copying fixed phrases
Copying text structure …
Changing sentence focus
Changing semantic focus
Renaming an object …
Generalization / Specification
Explicitation / Implicitation
New place in text (notes, paratexts) …
Corresponding units of measurement, currency, etc.
Relocation of culture-specific referents …
Correction / censorship / updating
Omission of material
Addition of material …
What are the reasons for this typology?
The typology is based on the following principles:
The names for the types are as common as possible: Given the difficulty students have
in remembering the differences between terms like Transposition, Modulation, and
Adaptation (see Pym and Torres-Simón 2015), I have used words that are as transparent
as possible, even at the expense of inexactitude (“Copying Words,” for example, is very
forced when it has to cover various parts of words as well as ideograms – “copying
language” would be more accurate but the students tend to find it too vague, applicable
to whole paragraphs or pages, or suggestive of dictation exercises).
The solutions only concern translators’ transformations of text: The typology does not
deal with peripheral activities like finding information; it does not cover skills that can
be mastered by non-translators, such as writing well; it does not purport to describe the
thought processes used to reach a particular solution.
The typology concerns situations where a significant choice is to be made: It does not
deal with the application of obligatory rules or fixed terminology.
It concerns more than one language pair: The typology has not been derived from a
comparison of languages, although it draws on many that have.
It does not prescribe when particular solutions should be used: In principle, all solution
types can be used to solve all problems, with the range limited in each particular case by
the degree of effort required and the relative risk of communicative failure.
It accepts conceptual overlaps: The typology recognizes that the one textual product can
embody more than one solution type. For example, Text Tailoring will normally bring
about some kind of Density Change, although Density Change in itself need not
necessarily involve Text Tailoring (since Explicitation, for example, theoretically does
not add actual content).
Its purpose is purely pedagogical: The typology should be judged successful when
trainee translators and interpreters are able to grasp the terms and use them to extend or
refine their previous conception of the translator’s task.
It is open-ended: The degree of detail can be modified in accordance with the
pedagogical purpose at hand.
How to use this typology in class
There are no rules for what can or should happen in the translation class. Teachers
should just experiment, to find what works best for each particular group. For many
classes, though, the worst thing you can do is to give students a table of names-for-
things and get them to memorize it. The students will have forgotten it in two weeks’
time, and the names are not important anyway. The whole point of these classes should
be to make students aware of the range of things that can be done, and to encourage
them to be creative.
Here are some ideas for classes:
- Warm-up activity: Get students to volunteer translations for a list of problematic
names and phrases. When different students come up with different solutions,
get them to discuss which are the best ones. Hopefully they will find they need
some names to describe the things they are discussing.
- Category-to-text identification: When you present a category, give some
examples but then ask students to suggest as many further examples as possible.
They should soon be discussing the limits of the categories.
- Text-to-category identification: Ask students to go over translations they have
done previously and to identify the solutions they used. They will soon find that
this is much harder than the category-to-text activity. They will quickly find
instances where the one solution embodies several solution types (which is fine).
- Compare human and machine translations: When they check the solution types
used in machine translations, students should find that the ones at the top and
bottom of the table tend not to be used (although neural machine translation
sometimes does head in these directions). Those might then be the areas in
which they should seek future work as translators.
- Compare student and professional translation of literary texts: If you select the
professional literary translators well, you should find that they are using a far
wider range of solutions than most students feel they are allowed. This should
encourage students to take risks.
- Get students to improve the model: Especially after they have tried text-to-
category identification, students will probably be able to propose improved
categories for the solution types. Rather than apply translation theory, they can
help produce it.
The very basic list of solution types can be explained, applied and perhaps improved in
a two-hour class with bright students at Masters level. But if you have a lot of time and
a serious interest in training professional translators (hopefully with some bright
students), a two-hour class could be devoted to each one of the main solution types,
with applications to appropriate sample texts.
Archer, Carol M. 1986. “Culture bump and beyond”. In J.M. Valdes (ed.) Culture
Bound. Bridging the cultural gap in language teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 170–178.
Chesterman, Andrew. 1997. Memes of Translation: The Spread of Ideas in Translation
Theory. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: Benjamins.
JDCD. 2017/2019. Recommended National Standards for Working with Interpreters in
Courts and Tribunals. Canberra: Judicial Council on Cultural Diversity, 2017.
Traducción al español: Normas recomendadas para trabajar con intérpretes
judiciales. Tarragona: Intercultural Studies Group, 2019.
Leppihalme, Ritva. 1997. Culture Bumps. An Empirical Approach to the Translation of
Allusions. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.
Mossop, Brian. 1995. “Understanding poorly written texts”. Terminology Update 28(2):
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dream. London: Bloomsbury.
Pym, Anthony. 2018. “A typology of translation solutions”. Journal of Specialised
Translation 30: 41-65.
Pym, Anthony, and Torres-Simón Esther. 2015. “The pedagogical value of translation
solution types.” Perspectives: Studies in Translatology 23: 89-106.
Robinson, Douglas. 2003. Becoming a translator. Second edition. London and New
Vinay, Jean-Paul, and Jean Darbelnet. 1958/1972. Stylistique comparée du français et
de l’anglais: méthode de traduction, Nouvelle édition revue et corrigée. Paris: