12.2053, Review: Hervey et al., Thinking Italian Translation

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LINGUIST List:  Vol-12-2053. Thu Aug 16 2001. ISSN: 1068-4875.

Subject: 12.2053, Review: Hervey et al., Thinking Italian Translation

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Date:  Thu, 16 Aug 2001 15:11:45 -0400
From:  decesare at duke.edu
Subject:  Hervey et al. Thinking Italian Translation

-------------------------------- Message 1 -------------------------------

Date:  Thu, 16 Aug 2001 15:11:45 -0400
From:  decesare at duke.edu
Subject:  Hervey et al. Thinking Italian Translation

Hervey, Sandor, Ian Higgins, Stella Cragie, and Patrizia Gambarotta
(2000) Thinking Italian Translation. A course in Translation Method:
Italian to English. Routledge, x+228pp, hardback ISBN 0-415-20680-4,
$85.00; paperback ISBN 0-415-20681-2, $27.95; teacher's book
ISBN 0-415-20682-0, $40.95.

Anna-Maria De Cesare, Duke University

Purpose of the book

As the title of the book indicates, the focus of "Thinking Italian
translation" is how to translate from Italian to English. The book
presents a practical course in Italian translation, which examines how
translation methods can be improved through a thoughtful consideration
of possible solutions to practical problems.

The course is aimed at advanced undergraduates, postgraduates, or
others seeking an academic or professional qualification in translation
(p. 2). It is assumed that the student already has "a good [I would say
very good] command of Italian". The student should also be familiar
with the proper use of dictionaries and data banks.


The translation course developed has a progressive structure. It is
divided into units intended to fit into an academic timetable (each
unit needs between 90 min. and 2 hours of seminar time). Chapter by
chapter, the student is progressively trained to ask and answer a
series of questions that apply to any text given for translation. The
most important ones include: "What is the purpose of my translation?
What is the message content of the particular text I am translating?
What are the salient features of this text? What are its principals
effects? To what genre does it belong and at what audience is it

These sorts of questions are crucial in determining the decisions and
strategies employed in the process of translation. For this matter, the
crucial questions to be asked are listed in a schema of textual
matrixes on p. 5.

It is important to note that this course method does not try to
"mechanize" translation by offering an inflexible rule or recipe. On
the contrary, it continuously stresses the creative aspects of the
process, and therefore it emphasizes the need for rational discussion,
decision-making, and the recognition of various options and
alternatives. Each chapter is intended for class discussion and
provides the students with one or more practicals at the end of each
chapter. The course has 20 chapters (that can be divided in 8 units), a
postscript, glossary and bibliography.

Chs. 1 to 4 are devoted to the following topics: Preliminaries to
translation as a process; Preliminaries to translation as a product;
Cultural transposition; Compensation.
Chapter 1 introduces and provides definitions and illustrations of the
main concepts used in the field of translation and in the book. It also
provides the abbreviation used throughout the text (that we will use in
the following):

Source text (ST): the text requiring translation
Target text (TT): the text which is a translation of the ST
Source language (SL): the language in which the ST is spoken or written
Target language (TL): the language into which the ST is to be

With these terms in mind, the translation process can be broken down
into two types of activities: understanding a ST and formulating a TT.
The first 4 chapters introduce other crucial concepts used throughout
the text: equivalence, translation loss ("the incomplete replication of
the ST in the TT - that is, the inevitable loss of textually and
culturally relevant features", p. 19) and compensation ("where any
conventional translation [...] would entail an unacceptable translation
loss, this loss is reduced by the freely chosen introduction of a less
acceptable one, such that important ST effects are rendered
approximately in the TT by means other than those used in the ST", p.

Chs. 5 to 7 deal with the formal issues of a text. They discuss the
phonic/graphic and prosodic issues, the grammatical and sentential
issues, and the discourse and intertextual issues.

Chs. 8 and 9 deal with the semantic issues of a text. They provide
explanations about the concepts of literal meaning and connotative

Ch. 10 is about Language variety. This chapter stands on its own as it
looks at characteristics in the ways the message is formulated that
reveal information about the speaker / writer. The authors discuss in
detail register (tonal register, for instance: vulgar, familiar,
polite, formal, etc. and social register), sociolect and dialect.

Ch. 11 deals with the question of 'genre' and marks the second half of
the book. By genre the authors mean a "type of communicative event",
that is "a category to which, in a given culture, a given text is seen
to belong and within which the text is seen to share a type of
communicative purpose with other texts" (p. 114). Since the nature and
the purpose of a given text imply one another, the translator must be
as familiar with target-culture genres (and genre-types) as with those
of the source culture. The authors point to five broad categories of
genre: literary genres, religious genre, philosophical genres,
empirical genres (that include scientific and technological texts) and
persuasive genres (instruction manuals; laws, rules and regulations;
propaganda leaflets and advertisements).

Chs. 12 to 14 give a sample of the many sub-genres from which
professional translators will normally choose their specialty and which
commonly provide the "bread and butter" of professional translators:
there is scientific and technical translation, Official, legal and
business translation and consumer-oriented texts translation.

Ch. 15 examines the final stage of translation as a process: Revising
and editing the TTs. Revision is the task concerned with checking a TT
against the ST for accuracy, by focusing on errors, omissions,
additions, names and titles, figures and tables, etc. Editing is the
task of polishing the TT after the revision process.

Chs. 16 to 19 are devoted to four areas of contrastive linguistics in
which Italian-English translation problems commonly occur:
Nominalization, Determiners, Adverbials and Condition and future in the
past. These chapters differ from the others in several ways. They can
be studied at whatever time seems opportune and they do not include the
same practicals as the other chapters. The contrastive exercises that
they provide are not texts, but rather individual sentences to
translate out of context (something the authors claim not to do in a
standard translation situation). These are also the only chapters in
which the student will have to translate from Italian to English as
well as from English to Italian. The reversed translation direction
(English to Italian) brings into the open certain possibilities in
English that are easy to overlook when translating from Italian.

Ch. 20 provides a summary and conclusion, mainly by repeating the
recommended strategies in translation (Do not be mechanical. Use your
brain, etc.)


This course is very valuable in many different ways. Its quality stems
first of all from its general structure: it is very well balanced
between the space given to explanations and practicals. It also
includes a wide array of text genres and examples, such as technical,
legal and consumer-oriented texts, journal articles, literary text,
songs, film subtitling, financial texts, among others. Very useful is
the glossary, which includes terms from translation as well as from
linguistic theory. It provides the (lay) translators with about 100
entries ranging from "affective meaning" to "TT: target text".

Moreover, the methodology introduced is clearly presented and the
recommended strategies are repeated in each chapter. The authors
provide the lay translators with some golden rules such as "Never be
too proud or embarrassed to ask for help or advice" (p. 132). This is
especially important in translating scientific and technical texts,
where a mistake in translating a technical term can lead to injury or
even death. The translators thus recognize their responsibility and
legal liability.

The goals of the book are clearly met. It is indeed a methodological
and practical course, because it provides a lot of examples and
exercises. The practicals are very useful and very carefully prepared.
They are usually given at the end of a unit / chapter, but some
exercises appear at the very beginning of it. This puts the student
immediately into the subject, as he is required to be active as soon as
possible. The TT provided is often asked to be evaluated and improved.

Finally, the various chapters of the book are very well integrated with
one another. For example, a text given in a practical is oftentimes
mentioned and/or discussed in more detail in later chapters.

One minor weakness of the book can be seen in the numerous references
to the UK (for instance in the instructions for a practical, where the
translator can find sentences like "you are translating for publication
in the United Kingdom...", or in the paragraph about the sociolect,
when the authors refer to what they call "Leith urban working class"
and "Bermondsey urban working class", with which I am pretty sure that
a lot of non- British translators are not familiar). These references
give the book a somewhat "local" tone but are, in most cases,
irrelevant (even if the goal of the reference to the UK is probably to
create a concrete working situation for the fellow translator).
Sometimes, however, these references can be disadvantageous to English-
speaking translators from countries other than the UK. This is
especially the case in the postscript (A career in translation?), in
which the authors give contact addresses only in the UK.

The book in general, and the index in particular, could have also
gained in clarity if the authors/editor had included entries for every
single lexeme discussed in the body of the text (I am thinking about
some adverbs and idiomatic expressions). For instance, several
observations of great interest are provided separately about the adverb
proprio (pages: 78, 189-190 and 194), which is especially puzzling to
translate. In a future edition, it would be useful to link the
different parts of the text when an expression of this sort is

In conclusion, it should be noted that the book "Thinking Italian
translation" is of interest not only to translators but also to
(Italian) language teachers and linguists interested in contrastive
linguistics. The book, in fact, stresses the differences - in syntax,
semantics and stylistics - between the Italian and English languages.
To the language teacher, for instance a surprising difference is the
fact that, even if the Italian culture is very family oriented, there
is only one word for "granddaughter", "grandson", "niece" and "nephew",
namely "nipote". Another difference, discussed in some detail in one of
the chapters devoted to contrastive topics, is the way of expressing
condition and future in the past (which are so painstakingly learned by
the English-speaking students). A third example is the way Italian and
English texts differ in terms of accuracy. Italian texts often appear
repetitive and over-precise by English standards (Italian texts tend to
use a variety of formulations to express a single concept:
"rappresentare", "assicurare", "costituire", and "presentare" often
simply correspond to the English verb "to be"). As a consequence, the
authors claim that technical translation into English must prioritize
economy of language, precision and clarity (p. 134). Finally, it is
also interesting to the language teacher as well as to the linguist to
note that the Italian language is said to be more nominal, and
therefore more compact, abstract and impersonal than English.

About the reviewer

Anna-Maria De Cesare holds a Ph.D in Italian linguistics from the
University of Geneva, Switzerland and is currently a visiting lecturer
of Italian at Duke University, North Carolina. Her academic interests
include lexical semantics (especially the adverbials) and pragmatics
(informational structure of the sentence, sentence processing). Her
dissertation dealt with two theoretical concepts: the semantico-
pragmatic concepts of "intensification" and "focalization". She
recently published an article about the functions and English
translations of the versatile Italian adverb "proprio" in the "Studi
italiani di linguistica teorica e applicata", 2001, 30, n 1.


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