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A six-category typology is presented with examples for translations between French and English. The principles underlying the typology are explained, as are some of the ways it can be used in class.
A typology of translation solutions for French-English
Anthony Pym and Dillane Pierrot-Zago
Version 3.1. May 2019
Abstract: A six-category typology is presented with examples for translations between French
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 ways
translation problems can be solved. The best 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 slightly bigger and 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 classroom tests of these and other typologies (Pym 2016) and various tests with
them in class (Pym and Torres-Simón 2015, Pym 2018), it has been 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 we propose a slightly modified typology, giving examples for translations between
French and English. The current version has six main categories, simplifying the eight
categories proposed in previous versions.
It is hoped that translation teachers and
students will help further improve the typology, perhaps by adapting these few pages to
examples for other language pairs.
The typology
The typology presented out here has one default category: “cruise mode” translating, as
when an airplane is 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” there are
then six main solution types (the middle column in Table 1) 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.
Previous versions included Resegmentation and Compensation as main categories. Here they have both
been included under Density Change (see
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. Fr. “le foot” for
“football”), morphology (e.g. Fr. “gratte-ciel,” literally “scratch-sky” for “skyscraper”)
or script (e.g. “McDonald’s” in all languages, alongside Rus. Макдоналдс or Ar. ﻣﺎﻛوﻧ ﺎ ﻟز ,
f for example).
Copying Structure: Syntactic or compositional structures are brought across from one
language into another and are marked as being foreign, as in “Secretary-General” to
render “Secrétaire général”, where the normal English word structure is not respected.
This can also concern whole phrases, as when “sortir du placard” copies the structure of
“to come out of the closet”, a metaphor for declaring one’s non-standard sexuality
(Copying Words is also sometimes used: “faire son coming out”). Copying Structure can
also be applied to whole discourses, 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 is also seen in the importing of verse forms, for
example. 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
“Complet” (full) in French 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) and non-obligatory switches between
passive and active structures, as in “He is hard to convince” rendered as “C’est difficile
de le convaincre” (It is hard to convince him). Changes in perspective also happen using
negation between French and English, for instance “pas mal” (not bad) will translate as
“good”. Changes in perspective similarly concern descriptions of the speaker’s position,
as in the translation of “French” as “de chez nous” (from our place). Or again, change can
be seen in 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 “Côte d’Ivoire” in English instead of “Ivory
Coast”, indicating which side of history you are seeing it from – the official English name
is actually “Republic of Côte d’Ivoire”).
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. For example, to translate the English name “Eton”
one might use Generalization (“une école prestigieuse”), the reverse of which is
Specification. When this involves making implicit knowledge explicit, it is called
Explicitation, as in “l’école prestigieuse Eton” if we assume that the college’s status as a
public school is implicit knowledge in English. The reverse here is Implicitation. An
alternative solution is Multiple Translation, as in l’école indépendante (public school)
Eton”, if and when one wants to explain that the traditional independent private schools
in England are still called “public schools”, as a case of willful fossilization. Explanations
given in translators’ notes and prefaces can be seen as forms of Density Change, since
they spread the information over more text and thus decrease density. Using the inverse
solutions can increase density.
The splitting and joining of sentences can also be seen as Density Change, since
governance and subordination can be seen as modes of syntactic density. 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.”
Cultural Correspondence: Different elements in different cultures are presented as
carrying out similar functions, as in the case of corresponding idioms such as to be
barking up the wrong tree” as “se mettre le doigt dans l’œil” (put one’s finger in one’s
eye), “Love at first sight” rendered as a “coup de foudre” (A strike of lightning), or the
1968 song “Down Waterloo Road” translated as the 1969 French song “Oh Champs
Élysées”. This also applies to corresponding metaphors, as in “I have a frog in my throat
rendered as “J’ai un chat dans la gorge” (I have a cat in my throat). Cultural
correspondence can also apply to culture-specific items (currency units, measures, etc.)
as when euros are converted to dollars. The category 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 “pas mal” and “good” is Perspective Change,
since the two sentences mean the same thing, the only differences, which is a perspective
difference, is the negation, 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. A classic example is “On
se tutoie?” (Let’s use the intimate second person with each other) rendered as “Let’s use
first names” or “Call me Bill…” (called Compensation in Vinay and Darbelnet 1958/72:
When there is no corresponding expression to work with, then this solution type
is not applicable. So when “leur enlever le pain de la bouche” (take the bread from their
mouth) is rendered as a non-idiomatic expression like “deprive someone of their
livelihood”, this is just normal cruise-mode translating.
Text Tailoring: 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, or an instruction manual is updated by
the translator. Text tailoring applies to major additions or deletions of actual content, not
to the minor linguistic adjustments that are part and parcel of cruise-mode translating.
A table
Scarcely original in themselves, these categories are at least of a number that can be
adjusted to suite classroom needs. For maximum simplification, there can be just three
categories: Copying, Expression Change, Material Change (in the left-hand column in
Table 1). 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 (adapted from 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 Words
Copying sounds: le foot
Copying morphology: gratte-ciel
Copying script: McDonald’s
Copying Structure
Copying word structure: Secrétaire général
Copying fixed phrases: sortir du placard
Copying text structure: rap in French
Perspective Change
Changing sentence focus: No vacancies / Complet
Changing semantic focus: “He is difficult to convince” as “C’est
difficile de le convaincre”
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.
Changing voice: French” as “de chez nous”
Renaming an object: Ivory Coast / Côte d’Ivoire
Changing affirmation/negation: Good/ Pas mal
Density Change
Generalization / Specification: une école prestigieuse
Explicitation / Implicitation: l’école prestigieuse Eton
Multiple Translation: l’école privée (public school) Eton
Joining/cutting sentences
Explanation elsewhere in text (notes, paratexts) …
Cultural Correspondence
Corresponding idioms: J’ai un chat dans la gorge
Corresponding units of measurement, currency, etc.: euro / dollar
Relocation of culture-specific referents: cricket / baseball
New level of expression: On se tutoie? / Call me Bill
Text Tailoring
Correction / censorship / updating
Omission of material
Addition of material …
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
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.
Pym, Anthony. 2016. Translation solutions for many languages. Histories of a flawed
dream. London: Bloomsbury.
Pym, Anthony. 2018. “A typology of translation solutions”. Journal of Specialised
Translation 30 (2018): 41-65.
Pym, Anthony, and Torres-Simón Esther. 2015. “The pedagogical value of translation
solution types.” Perspectives: Studies in Translatology 23 (1): 89-106.
Vázquez-Ayora, Gerardo. 1977. Introducción a la traductología: Curso básico de
traducción. Washington: Georgetown University Press.
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: Didier.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Full-text available
An eight-term pedagogical typology of translation solutions has been compiled and taught in two Masters classes, one in the United States and the other in South Africa. The results suggest that the typology is robust enough to be pedagogically effective in the two situations if and when the teaching stresses a series of points: 1) the nature of its “problem-solving” premises has to be explained carefully, 2) the typology should be presented as a list of ways to address problems that cannot be solved using the norms of standard languages or “cruise” mode translation procedures, 3) it should be presented as being open-ended, inviting new solutions and new combinations of the main solution types, 4) its theorisation should be kept as simple as possible, in the interests of pedagogical clarity, and 5) the application of the typology should emphasise its status as a discourse of resistance to the tradition of “either-or” approaches to translation decisions.
Full-text available
Typologies of translation solutions have been used in translator training since at least the 1950s. Despite numerous criticisms, some of the oldest versions are still held to have pedagogical value as the toolboxes of the trade. Here we report on class activities in which two classical typologies - Vinay and Darbelnet and Loh - were learned, applied, and critically evaluated by four classes of final-year Masters students translating into a variety of European and Asian languages. It is found that students working with European languages prefer Vinay and Darbelnet, while students working with Chinese prefer Loh. The students' evaluations of the solution types nevertheless reveal surprising lacunas in both, and evince the need for some careful redefinitions. The pedagogical value of the solution types thus lies not in their capacity to describe actual translation processes, since there is a strong linguistic relativity involved, but in the way that their imperfect metalanguages allow students to reflect critically not only on their own practice but also on the difficulties of theorization.
Many “translation solutions” (often called “procedures,” “techniques,” or “strategies”) have been proposed over the past 50 years or so in French, Chinese, Russian, Ukrainian, English, Spanish, German, Japanese, Italian, Czech, and Slovak. This book analyzes, criticizes and compares them, proposing a new list of solutions that can be used in training translators to work between many languages. The book also traces out an entirely new history of contemporary translation studies, showing for example how the Russian tradition was adapted in China, how the impact of transformational linguistics was resisted, and how scholarship has developed an intercultural metalanguage over and above the concerns of specific national languages. The book reveals the intensely political nature of translation theory, even in its most apparently technical aspects. The lists were used to advance the agendas of not just linguistic nationalisms but also state regimes – this is a history in which Hitler, Stalin, and Mao all played roles, Communist propaganda and imperialist evangelism were both legitimized, Ukrainian advances in translation theory were forcefully silenced in the 1930s, the Cold War both stimulated the application of transformational grammar and blocked news of Russian translation theory, French translation theory was conscripted into the agenda of Japanese exceptionalism, and much else. Table Of Contents Introduction 1. Charles Bally and the Missing Equivalents 2. Vinay and Darbelnet Hit the Road 3. A Tradition in Russian and Environs 4. A Loh Road to China 5. Spontaneous Combustion in Central Europe? 6. Cold War Dalliance with Transformational Grammar 7. Forays into Romance 8. Meanwhile Back in German 9. Disciplinary Corrections 10. Going Japanese 11. The Proof of the Pudding is in the Classroom 12. A Typology of Translation Solutions for Many Languages Postscript: The Flaw in the Dream References - See more at: