20 December, 2009

Midterm Exam

Midterm Exam includes:

  1. All lecture notes,
  2. All PowerPoint presentations,
  3. All Textbook studying materials,
  4. Religious translation: Interpretation of Sūratu al-Fātihah, "The Opening", the English translation of the 10 hadiths, the 99 Names of Allah,
  5. Scientific translation: p 222-229, and
  6. Translating Jokes: Joha’s Jokes.

05 November, 2009

Lecture Notes: The unit of translation

The unit of translation

Using systematic approaches to examine the unit of translation, the term “Translation Unit” must be identified. The term refers to ‘the linguistic level at which ST is recodified in TL.' (Shuttleworth and Cowie 1997:192). In other words, the element used by the translator when working on the ST. It may be the individual word, group, clause, sentence or even the whole text.


In first discussing the word as a possible unit of translation, Vinay and Darbelnet (1958/1995) draw on Saussure’s key concepts of the linguistic sign, defined by the signifier and signified:
The famous Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure invented the linguistic term sign that unifies signifier (sound-image or word) and signified (concept). Importantly, Saussure emphasizes that the sign is by nature arbitrary and can only derive meaning from contrast with other signs in the same system (language). Thus, the signifier tree recalls the real-world signified plant with a trunk; it can be contrasted with signifiers such as bush, a different kind of plant. But the selection of tree for this designation is arbitrary and only occurs in the English-language system.
Vinay and Darbelnet reject the word as a unit of translation since translators focus on the semantic field rather than on the formal properties of the individual signifier. For them, the unit is ‘the smallest segment of the utterance whose signs are linked in such a way that they should not be translated individually’ (Vinay and Darbelnet, 1958/1995:21). This is what they call the lexicological unit and the unit of thought.


The lexicological units described by Vinay and Darbelnet contain ‘lexical elements grouped together to form a single element of thought’.
Illustrative examples are going to be provided, to show the non-correspondence at word level between Arabic and English.
‘In fact, even basic vocabulary is coloured by contexts, as ‘pragmaticians’ will tell you so that a simple term like ‘food’ can become غذاء (or أغذية in the UN parlance, cf. Food and Agriculture Organization ( منظمة الأغذية والزراعة or طعام . A voracious eater آكل / طاعم / نهم / شره is one who devours يزدرد / يلتهم large quantities of food (ravenous, gluttonous ?) And the choice of the translated term will depend on the context, which is naturally determined by culture.
Examine the differences between English and Arabic use of the concept of vision:

ينظر فى الأمر ‘to look into the matter’

يتطلع إلى مثل أعلى ‘to look up to an ideal’

يتأمل لوحة فنية ‘to look at a painting’

يبحث عن حل ‘to look for a solution’
(Enani,The Science of Translation)

This reflects what the unit of translation is in these translation equivalents and the illustrative examples.


Using the back-translation as necessary in order to figuer out what units of translation a translator might use when translating a source text as a potential equivalent is absent in most dictionaries. This shows that it is the specific context which determines the translation of a given unit.

A translator needs to consider the whole structure in order to translate an individual word. Thus, the phrase as a whole is a unit of thought and needs to be treated as such in the process of translation. Translation units, therefore,will vary according to the linguistic structure involved.


Division of ST and TT into the units of translation is of particular importance in Vinay and Darbelnet’s work as a prelude to analysis of changes in translation.As an illustration of how this division works, and how it might illuminate the process of translation, look at the following example.


A poster located by the underground ticket office at Heathrow airport, London:

Travelling from Heathrow?
There are easy to follow instructions on the larger self-service touch screen ticket machines.

A translator approaching this short text will most probably break it down into the title (Travelling from Heathrow?) and the instructions in the second sentence. While that sentence will be taken as a whole, it might also in turn be sub-divided more or less as follows:

There are/
[easy to follow/instructions]/
[on the/larger/self-service/touch screen/ticket machines]

Here, the slashes (/) indicate small word groups with a distinct semantic meaning that might be considered separately, while the brackets ([. . .]) enclose larger units that a practised translator is likely to translate as a whole.

The actual Arabic TT on the poster indicates how this operates in real life:

للسفر من مطار هيثرو
هناك أجهزة آلية لصرف التذاكر مزودة بشاشات كبيرة تعمل باللمس وتقدم لك تعليمات
واضحة عليك اتباعها

In practice, the translation unit will typically tend to be not individual words but small groups of language building up into the sentence, what the famous translation theorist Eugene Nida (1964:268) calls ‘meaningful mouthfuls of language’.
According to Newmark (1988), ‘literal’ and ‘free’ translation are linked to different translation units, ‘literal’ being very much centered on faithfulness to the individual word, while ‘free’ translation aims at capturing the sense of a longer stretch of language.


Basil Hatim and Jeremy Munday (2004). Translation, An advanced resource book . Routledge.

Enani, M.The Science of Translation :(an introduction, with reference to Arabic-English and English-Arabic translation).

31 October, 2009


Translation as a process

Translation as a product is a written text in a target language as the end result of a translation process for a source-language text.

The translator is mainly a “message conveyor.” Thus a translation may be understood as the process whereby a message which is expressed in a particular source language is linguistically transformed in order to be understood by readers of the target language. Actually, the translator is conveying the meaning expressed by the original writer so the end reader gets a translated text that is faithful to the source text in meaning.
Sometimes the translator finds it necessary to reconsider the original wording for better understanding of the source text in order to render it in the target language.
When dealing with a translation, one of the processes included in the work is the analysis of the ST. This analysis, called TOSTA (Translation Oriented Source Text Analysis), helps us discover the function of the text, the target readers (with different levels of knowledge and different ages), as well as “ST elements that need to be preserved or adapted in translation” (Nord 1991: 21).
The translation process is of twofold:
  1. The translator needs to detect possible modifications and flaws in the original text and understand the meaning they intend to convey. To do this, the translator often needs to be familiar with the contents of the text in order to clarify the ambiguities he has come across.
  2. The translator will unwrap the syntactic structure of the original text and then formulate the corresponding message in the target language, thus giving the original text added value in terms of both wording and impact.

Phases of Translation:

  • The First Phase: Analysis of the source text.
  • The Second Phase: Transfer of the text into the target language.
  • The Third Phase: Revision of translation.

Analysis of the source text:

The goal of this stage is complete understanding of the SL text. This may include a number of steps:
1. General Reading of the source text.
2. Underlining the difficult words.
3. Looking up the difficult words in a dictionary.
4. Close reading of the source text after understanding the difficult words.

Transfer of the text into the target language:

At this stage, the translator tries to write a draft translation following certain steps:
1. Writing a draft translation of the text in the target language.
2. Paying special attention to the grammar and spelling of the target text.
3. Including all the details mentioned in the source text.
4. Trying to make the target text as original as possible and sound natural not translated.

Revision of the translation:

This stage aims at giving a correct and final translation as a target text. Revising of the translation when it is completed and trying to make it better by editing it:
1. Make sure that all the details of the source text are found in the target text.
2. Check the spelling and grammar of the target text.
3. Try to make the translated version sounds natural in its target language form.
4. Read the translation after finishing the corrections without referring to the source text to emphasize the naturalness of the target text.

Levels of the Process of Translation

In fact, Newmark asserts that the process of translation operates in four levels:

  • source text level: the source text itself and its immediate impression on the translator.
  • referential level: the level of content of the text (technically the level of the conceptual representation) .
  • cohesive level: the level where you aim at making a cohesive target text (and analyze the cohesion of the source text).
  • level of naturalness: the level of constructing a natural target text in an appropriate language.

1. The textual level:

At this level, you translate, or transpose, the syntactic structures of the source text into corresponding structures in the target text. Often you will find that, for a variety of reasons, you will have to change these structures into something quite different further down the line to achieve target language naturalness.

2 . The referential level:

As mentioned above, this is the level of content, so here you operate primarily with the message (or information) or semantics of the text. This is where you decode the meaning of the source text and build the conceptual representation. This is where you disambiguate polysemous words and phrases and where you decode idioms and figurative expressions. This is where you figure out whether what the locution(s) and illocution(s) of the source text are and what the perlocution might be.
Once you have decoded the word or expression in question, you encode it into an appropriate target language expression. Note that there will be cases, like idioms and metaphors, in which you will have to use literal expressions in the target language, because it does not have any corresponding idioms or metaphors.
The referential level and the textual level are, of course, closely intertwined, as the nature and texture of the source text convey the message, and, of course, you also encode the message, using language, into the target text.

3. The cohesive level:

The cohesive level links the textual and the referential levels in that it deals with the structure/format of the text and information as well as with what Newmark calls the mood of the text.
At the structural sublevel, you investigate how various connectors, such as conjunctions, enumerations, repetitions or reiterations, definite articles and determiners, general category labels, synonyms, punctuation marks, simple or complex conjuncts, link sentences and structure the text and what Newmark calls its train of thought – which is basically its underlying information structure.
You establish its tone by finding so-called value-laden and value-free passages, such as subjective and objective bits, euphemisms, and other framing devices, framing being the strategy of linguistically presenting something in the perspective of one's own values and worldview, in a way promoting these. All of this will have to be somehow transferred into the target text so you achieve maximal equivalence at this level .

4. The level of naturalness:

This level is target text oriented, focusing exclusively on the construction of the target text. Random, unpredictable things that just seem unnatural in the target language makes things more complicated as naturalness often depends on the situation, such that something might seem natural in one context but unnatural in another. Perhaps, the only way, to ensure naturalness is to read through your translation and spot unnaturally sounding parts and change them into something that sounds more natural. This is something that most people skip when they do translations.

Kim Ebensgaard Jensen, Basics of Translation, The process of translating– spring 09.

Newmark, Peter,1988,A textbook of translation. Prentice-Hall International (New York).

Nord, C. (1991). Text analysis in translation: Theory, methodology and didactic application of a model for translation-oriented text analysis.

27 October, 2009

Lecture Notes: Novice Translator's Guide lines

Based on: What Every Novice Translator Should Know by Antar S.Abdellah.
Translation is a science, an art, and a skill. It is a science in the sense that it necessitates complete knowledge of the structure and make-up of the two languages concerned. It is an art since it requires artistic talent to reconstruct the original text in the form of a product that is presentable to the reader who is not supposed to be familiar with the original. It is also a skill because it entails the ability to smooth over any difficulty in the translation, and the ability to provide the translation of something that has no equal in the target language.
In translation, the richness of vocabulary, depth of culture, and vision of the translator could certainly have very conspicuous effects on his/her work. Another translator might produce a reasonably acceptable version of the same text, which, however, may very well reflect a completely different background, culture, sensitivity, and temperament. Such differences cannot, in Chabban's view (1984), detract from the merit of either translator. This is simply because translation is decidedly a more difficult job than creation.
Criteria for a good translation:

A good translation is one that carries all the ideas of the original as well as its structural and cultural features. Massoud (1988) sets criteria for a good translation as follows:

  • A good translation is easily understood.
  • A good translation is fluent and smooth.
  • A good translation is idiomatic.
  • A good translation conveys, to some extent, the literary subtleties of the original.
  • A good translation distinguishes between the metaphorical and the literal.
  • A good translation reconstructs the cultural/historical context of the original.
  • A good translation makes explicit what is implicit in abbreviations, and in allusions to sayings, songs, and nursery rhymes.
  • A good translation will convey, as much as possible, the meaning of the original text (pp. 19-24).

El Shafey (1985: 93) suggests other criteria for a good translation; these include three main principles:

  1. The knowledge of the grammar of the source language plus the knowledge of vocabulary, as well as good understanding of the text to be translated.
  2. The ability of the translator to reconstitute the given text (source-language text) into the target language.
  3. The translation should capture the style or atmosphere of the original text; it should have all the ease of an original composition.

From a different perspective, El Touny (2001) focused on differentiating between different types of translation. He indicated that there are eight types of translation:

  1. word-for-word translation,
  2. literal translation,
  3. faithful translation,
  4. semantic translation,
  5. adaptive translation,
  6. free translation,
  7. idiomatic translation, and
  8. communicative translation.

He advocated the last type as the one which transmits the meaning from the context, respecting the form and structure of the original and which is easily comprehensible by the readers of the target language.
El Zeini (1994) didn't seem satisfied with such criteria for assessing the quality of translation. Hence she suggested a pragmatic and stylistic model for evaluating quality in translation. She explains that the model " places equal emphasis on the pragmatic component as well on the stylistic component in translation. This model covers a set of criteria, which are divided into two main categories: content-related criteria and form-related criteria" and expected that by following these criteria, "translators will be able to minimize the chance of producing errors or losses, as well as eliminate problems of unacceptability" (p. xvii).

Translation problems:

Translation problems can be divided into

  1. linguistic problems and
  2. cultural problems.

the linguistic problems include grammatical differences, lexical ambiguity and meaning ambiguity; the cultural problems refer to different situational features. This classification coincides with that of El Zeini when she identified six main problems in translating from Arabic to English and vice versa; these are lexicon, morphology, syntax, textual differences, rhetorical differences, and pragmatic factors.
Another level of difficulty in translation work is what As-sayyd (1995) found when she conducted a study to compare and assess some problems in translating the fair names of Allah in the Qu'ran. She pointed out that some of the major problems of translation are over-translation, under-translation, and untranslatability.
Culture constitutes another major problem that faces translators. A bad model of translated pieces of literature may give misconceptions about the original. That is why Fionty (2001) thought that poorly translated texts distort the original in its tone and cultural references, while Zidan (1994) wondered about the possible role of the target culture content as a motivating variable in enhancing or hindering the attainment of linguistic, communicative and, more importantly, cultural objectives of EFL (English as a Foreign Language) education. Hassan (1997) emphasized this notion when he pointed out the importance of paying attention to the translation of irony in the source language context. He clarified that this will not only transfer the features of the language translated but also its cultural characteristics.

The translator's work

These problems, and others, direct our attention to the work and the character of translators, how they attack a text so as to translate, and the processes they follow to arrive at the final product of a well-translated text in the target language.
Enani (1994:5) defines the translator as "a writer who formulates ideas in words addressed to readers. The only difference between him and the original writer is that these ideas are the latter's". Another difference is that the work of the translator is even more difficult than that of the artist. The artist is supposed to produce directly his/her ideas and emotions in his/her own language however intricate and complicated his/her thoughts are. The translator's responsibility is much greater, for s/he has to relive the experiences of a different person. Chabban (1984) believes that, however accurately the translator may delve into the inner depths of the writer's mind, some formidable linguistic and other difficulties may still prevent the two texts from being fully equivalent. Therefore we do not only perceive the differences between a certain text and its translation, but also between different translations of the same text
On the procedural level, El Shafey (1985:95) states: "A translator first analyzes the message, breaking it down into its simplest and structurally clearest elements, transfers it at this level into the target language in the form which is most appropriate for the intended audience. A translator instinctively concludes that it is best to transfer the "kernel level" in one language to the corresponding "kernel level" in the "receptor language."

Translation skills for novice translators

The present study suggests four main macro-skills for any translator who begins his/her work in the field of translation. These are: reading comprehension, researching, analytical, and composing skills. These macro-skills include many sub- or micro-skills that need to be mastered.

Reading comprehension:

While we are translating, we do not think of our activity as being broken down into phases. After doing our first translations, many automatic mechanisms come into play that allow us to translate more quickly; at the same time, we are less and less conscious of our activity.
Osimo (2001) indicates that in order to think about the translation process and to describe it, our essential task consists of analyzing its phases, even if we are aware of the fact that they do not always coincide with perceptibly different or distinguishable moments. If we want to describe a process that often is beyond the translator's own consciousness, we are forced to divide the process into different phases which, in the everyday practice of translation, can reveal the inter-twining, almost entangling, of these phases. The first phase of the translation process consists of reading the text. The reading act, first, falls under the competence of psychology, because it concerns our perceptive system. Reading, like translation, is, for the most part, an unconscious process. If it were conscious, we would be forced to consume much more time in the act. Most mental processes involved in the reading act are automatic and unconscious. Owing to such a nature-common and little-known in the same time-in our opinion it is important to analyze the reading process as precisely as possible. The works of some perception psychologists will be helpful to widen our knowledge of this first phase of the translation process.
When a person reads, his brain deals with many tasks in such rapid sequences that everything seems to be happening simultaneously. The eye examines (from left to right as far as many Western languages are concerned, or from right to left or from top to bottom in some other languages) a series of graphic signs (graphemes) in succession, which give life to syllables, words, sentences, paragraphs, sections, chapters, and texts.
Simply reading a text is, in itself, an act of translation. When we read, we do not store the words we have read in our minds as happens with data entered using a keyboard or scanner into a computer. After reading, we do not have the photographic or auditory recording in our minds of the text read. We have a set of impressions instead. We remember a few words or sentences precisely, while all the remaining text is translated from the verbal language into a language belonging to another sign system, which is still mostly unknown: the mental language.
The mental processing of the read verbal material is of a syntactical nature when we try to reconstruct the possible structure of the sentence, i.e. the relations among its elements. In contrast, it is of a semantic nature when we identify the relevant areas within the semantic field of any single word or sentence; and it is of a pragmatic nature when we deal with the logical match of the possible meanings with the general context and the verbal co-text.
The difference between a reader and a critic is negligible: the reader trying to understand has the same attitude as the critic, who is a systematic, methodical, and self-aware reader. While reading, the individual reads, and perceives what he reads, drawing interpretations and inferences about the possible intentions of the author of the message.
Holmes (1988) suggested that the translation process is actually a multi-level process; while we are translating sentences, we have a map of the original text in our minds and, at the same time, a map of the kind of text we want to produce in the target language. Even as we translate serially, we have this structural concept so that each sentence in our translation is determined not only by the original sentence, but also by the two maps—of the original text and of the translated text—which we carry along as we translate.
The translation process should, therefore, be considered a complex system in which understanding, processing, and projection of the translated text are interdependent portions of one structure. We can therefore put forward, as does Hönig (1991), the existence of a sort of "central processing unit" supervising the coordination of the different mental processes (those connected to reading, interpretation, and writing) and at the same time projecting a map of the text to be.

Novice translators as well as student translators are advised to master the following basic reading comprehension skills:

  • Read for gist and main ideas.
  • Read for details.
  • Identify the meaning of new words and expressions using one or more components of the structural analysis clause; prefixes, suffixes, roots, word order, punctuation, sentence pattern, etc.
  • Identify the meaning of new words and expressions using one ore more of the contextual analysis; synonyms, antonyms, examples, etc.
  • Identify the writer's style: literary, scientific, technical, informative, persuasive, argumentative, etc.
  • Identify the language level used in the text: standard, slang, religious, etc.
  • Identify cultural references in the choice of words in the text.

Researching skills:

Enani (2002b) notices that "the most commonly heard advice to translators is 'if you don't know the meaning of a word, look it up in the dictionary.' It is the commonest and the vaguest insofar as the definite article suggest that the dictionary is known to both speaker and listener." He indicates that there are different kinds of dictionaries that a translator should refer to; a bilingual dictionary, a dictionary on a historical basis, dictionaries of current English, dictionaries of idioms, specialized dictionaries (dictionaries of common errors, dictionaries of idiomatic usage, slang dictionaries, technical dictionaries) encyclopedic dictionaries, dictionaries of neologisms, and monolingual dictionaries.
Despite this long list of different kinds of dictionaries, it is a single dictionary that the translator is supposed to refer to each and every time s/he translates. The choice of the best, or the most appropriate, dictionary depends on the style of the protext (original text, text before translation) and on the different types of users of the translation.
Calderaro (1998) indicates two major users of the meta text (text after translation) who may use the translated version; the specialist user and the lay user. Identifying the prospective users of the metatext is very important in the process of researching, as this will determine which kind of dictionaries the translator will refer to, which level of information should be presented and to "detect the exact moments when it is necessary to establish a balance between the scientific level of the author and the knowledge the user supposedly has."
Novice translators, as well as student translators are encouraged to use the following basic researching tips;

  • Use bilingual dictionaries for looking up meanings of new words.
  • Use monolingual dictionaries to check the usage of the new words in the source language and in the target language.
  • Use related encyclopedias and glossary lists for specialized terms;
  • Use software dictionaries if necessary and available.
  • Refer to specialized magazines and journals to help you familiarize yourself with the text, particularily when it is a technical text.

Analytical skills:

The translation process is characterized by an analysis stage and a synthesis stage. During analysis, the translator refers to the prototext in order to understand it as fully as possible. The synthesis stage is the one in which the prototext is projected onto the reader, or rather, onto the idea that the translator forms of who will be the most likely reader of the metatext.
The text, according to Bell (1998) is analyzed in two ways: micro- and macro-analysis of the actual text: monitoring for cohesion and coherence, and checking for coherence between the actual text and the potential text-type of which it is a token realization. Micro-analysis has the purpose of verifying text cohesion and inner cohesion of the single units of text. Macro-analysis is aimed at checking for coherence and cohesion between the created text and the model in the category to which the text belongs. For example, if the text is an instruction booklet for a household appliance, or a story for a newspaper, often there are models for such types of text to which we frequently (consciously or unconsciously) adhere.
Such an analytic exam was necessary in order to identify the individual mental processes involved in the above-mentioned activities; we know, however, that such activities are actually carried out in very short time span. During this mental work, there is a constant shift of focus between micro-analysis and macro-analysis, between micro-expression and macro-expression, i.e. a constant comparison between the meaning of the single utterances and the meaning of the text as a whole, or, on a larger scale, a constant comparison between the sense of the specific text and the comprehensive sense of the corpus which forms the "intertext," whether or not the translator is aware of this fact. In this context, "intertext" should be understood as the intertextual universe in which a text is located.

Translators are advised to use the following strategies in the analysis stage:

  • Identify beginnings and endings of ideas in the text and the relationships between these ideas.
  • Identify the "best" meaning that fits into the context;
  • Identify the structure in the Target Language that "best" represents the original;
  • Identify transitions between ideas and the "best" connectors in the target language that represent the original.

Composing skills:

At this point, the mental construction resulting from interpretation seeks an outer expression.
Osimo (2002) suggests that, in this expression stage, there are two substages. One is aimed at expression, the other at cohesion. The translator, having finished his/her interpretative work, has two needs: first, to externalize the set of impressions caused by the text and translate into speech elements the impressions the mind produced by contact with the prototext; and second, to make this product coherent within itself, i.e., transform the set of speech elements into a text (the metatext).

He describes the passage from mental content to written text in these terms:

  • pinpointing elements useful for discrimination of the content to be expressed from similar contents;
  • pinpointing redundant elements;
  • choice of words (lexicalization) and attention to their cohesion (inner links);
  • choice of grammatical structure(s);
  • linear order of words;
  • parts of speech;
  • sentence complexity;
  • prepositions and other function words, and
  • final form.

As a novice translator, or a student translator, you are invited to make use of the following basic strategies:

  • Use correct word order as used in the target language.
  • Use correct sentence structures as used in the target language.
  • transmit the ideas of the text in clear sentences in the target language.
  • Rephrase certain sentences to convey the overall meaning translated;
  • Make changes to the text as a whole to give it a sense of the original without distorting the original ideas.
  • Try one or more of the following strategies when facing problems of untranslateability.

1. Syntactic strategies:

  • Shift word order.
  • Change clause/sentence structure.
  • Add or change cohesion.

2. Semantic strategies:

  • Use superordinates.
  • Alter the level of abstraction.
  • Redistribute the information over more or fewer elements.

3. Pragmatic strategies:

  • Naturalize or exoticize.
  • Alter the level of explicitness.
  • Add or omit information.


This study described the basic skills and strategies that novice translators as well as student translators need to master in their daily experiences with translation tasks. The main skills proposed are: reading comprehension, researching, analytical, and composing skills. The study suggested other sub-skills and strategies for planting one's feet firmly in the land of translation. The skills and strategies presented in this study represent just the basic level for beginners and students. However, advanced and professional translators may find them relevant as well.


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Osimo. B. (2000). "Translation Course" part one. On-line Book. Available : http://www.logos.it/pls/dictionary/linguistic_resources.traduzione_en?lang=en (25 April 2002)
Osimo. B. (2001). "Translation Course" part two. On-line Book. Available: http://www.logos.it/pls/dictionary/linguistic_resources.traduzione_en?lang=en 25 April 2002)
Osimo. B. (2002). "Translation Course" part three. On-line Book. Available: http://www.logos.it/pls/dictionary/linguistic_resources.traduzione_en?lang=en (25 April 2002).
Zidan, A.,T. (1994). "An Exploratory Study of the Acceptability of Target Culture content in EFL Instruction: A Cross-cultural Perspective". Global Age: Issues in English Language Education, Proceedings of the 13th National Symposium of English Language Teaching, CDELT, Ain Shams University, Cairo.
التونى, جمال(2001). فن الترجمة. ط 2 . القاهرة : دار الكاتب المصري .
الواسطى, سلمان داود.(2001)." التفاعل بين الإنسان و الآلة فى الترجمة الحاسوبية ". مجلة التعريب. العدد الرابع.(online). Available: http://www.acatap.htmlplanet.com/arabization-j/accessories/jour-4.html (Nov. 6, 2001).
خلوصى,. صفاء (2000). فن الترجمة . ط2 .القاهرة: الهيئة المصرية العامة للكتاب
عنانى, محمد(1994). فن الترجمة. ط 2 . القاهرة :الشركة المصرية العالمية للنشر- لونجمان.
عنانى, محمد(1997). الترجمة الأدبية بين النظرية و التطبيق . القاهرة : الشركة المصرية العالمية للنشر- لونجمان
عنانى, محمد(1996). المصطلحات الأدبية الحديثة . القاهرة : الشركة المصرية العالمية للنشر- لونجمان
عنانى, محمد(a2000). مرشد المترجم . القاهرة : الشركة المصرية العالمية للنشر - لونجمان
فينوتى. لورانس .(2001)." الترجمة و طرق تدريس الأدب " . ترجمة أحمد رامز قطرية . ". مجلة التعريب. العدد الرابع. (online). Available: http://www.acatap.htmlplanet.com/arabization-j/accessories/jour-5.html (Nov 6, 2001).

© Copyright Translation Journal and the Authors 2002Send your comments to the Webmaster URL: http://accurapid.com/journal/21novice.htmLast updated on: 05/03/2003 13:06:44

24 October, 2009


For translators to best achieve their task, they ought to have some particular qualities:

1. Rich Vocabulary Background

Rich vocabulary background is of extreme importance. The more you are affluent in vocabulary, the easier you understand texts, and the less you make use of the dictionary. Besides, you will not waste time thinking or seeking what word to use while translating, but will easily and quickly find the appropriate words.

It is advantageous for translators to acquire technical terms in a wide range of fields: Business, Administration, Law, Media, Politics, Computer Science, Bible, Sciences of Nature (Medicine, Botany, Zoology, Geography, Anatomy, etc.), farming, engineering, and many more.

A good translator must burn with curiosity, which should entice them to keep on learning new words.

2. Good at keeping Ideas Intact

The translator's main focus is to conserve the idea of the source text as intact as possible, and express it the simplest and clearest possible.

3. Clarity
A good translator ought to make sure the product of translation expresses the idea of the source text without ambiguity, but clearly. A translator who has really grasped the author's mind can even express the idea more clearly than it was in the source text. So translator should work in such a way that readers do not happen to read a sentence twice or more for them to understand. Rather, the meaning of the translated material must be easily and quickly understood at first reading.

4. Concision
Concision is another important quality of a good translator. Of course, concision does not imply omitting some ideas - which is a big translation error! Rather, concision must bring translator to avoid encumbering the translated text with unnecessary words. A good translator will avoid using too complicated structures where he or she can use simple and clear ones. This is because concision is meant to make comprehension easy.

5. Sense of Simplicity
Language is designed for communication. In the scope of this view, translators must regard communication as the priority. Therefore, too cumbersome structures, unnecessary words and uncommon terms should be avoided. Instead, it is advisable make use of simple - of course not poor - expressions to convey the ideas of the original text.

6. Subtlety
Subtle translators are good at dodging language difficulties. Subtlety involves wisdom and intelligence. The next chapter will describe the commonest translation techniques which help you carry out translation with the sharpest subtlety you can.

7. Eloquence
Translator should also cultivate eloquence - a capability that enables them to find the best expression which present ideas with liveliness and authenticity in the target language. Besides, translator should endeavor to process the document so that the reader cannot feel at all that the text handy is a product of translation. This should be a motto for every translator.
Good Translation! By Michael I. Shukrani (2008 Edition).Edited and printed by:PowerBooks Production Cape Town, South Africa.

23 October, 2009

Lecture Notes: What is translation?

What is translation?


Translation is a phenomenon that has a huge effect on everyday life. This can range from the translation of a key international treaty to the following multilingual poster that welcomes customers to a small restaurant near to the home of one of the authors:

Example A1.1

How can we then go about defining the phenomenon of ‘translation’ and what the study of it entails? If we look at a general dictionary, we find the following definition of the term translation:

Example A1.2

translation n.

  1. the act or an instance of translating.
  2. a written or spoken expression of the meaning of a word, speech, book, etc. in another language.
    (The Concise Oxford English Dictionary)

    The first of these two senses relates to translation as a process, the second to the product. This immediately means that the term translation encompasses very distinct perspectives. The first sense focuses on the role of the translator in taking the original or source text (ST) and turning it into a text in another language (the target text, TT). The second sense centres on the concrete translation product produced by the translator. This distinction is drawn out by the definition in the specialist Dictionary of Translation Studies (Shuttleworth and Cowie 1997:181):

    Example A1.3

Translation: An incredibly broad notion which can be understood in many different ways. For example, one may talk of translation as a process or a product, and identify such sub-types as literary translation, technical translation, subtitling and machine translation; moreover, while more typically it just refers to the transfer of written texts, the term sometimes also includes interpreting.

This definition introduces further variables, first the ‘sub-types’, which include not only typically written products such as literary and technical translations, but also translation forms that have been created in recent decades, such as audiovisual translation, a written product which is read in conjunction with an image on screen (cinema, television, DVD or computer game).Moreover, the reference to machine translation reveals that translation is now no longer the preserve of human translators but, in a professional context, increasingly a process and product that marries computing power and the computerized analysis of language to the human’s ability to analyse sense and determine appropriate forms in the other language.

Our threefold definition of the ambit of translation will thus be:

  1. The process of transferring a written text from SL to TL, conducted by a translator, or translators, in a specific socio-cultural context.
  2. The written product, or TT, which results from that process and which functions in the socio-cultural context of the TL.
  3. The cognitive, linguistic, visual, cultural and ideological phenomena which are an integral part of 1 and 2.

Based on: Basil Hatim and Jeremy Munday (2004). Translation, An advanced resource book . Routledge.

Welcome to LANE 350 " Introduction to Translation”

Course Objectives:

1. Highlighting the importance of translation with special reference to the transference of technology and modern advancements in scientific disciplines;

2. Reviewing the different types and schools of translation; and

3. Introducing major problems confronted by the translator: cultural and linguistic.

The course aims to:
  • Develop theoretical and practical skills for translation.
  • Familiarize students with translation methods and approaches.

  • Introduce them to different types of translation.

  • Equip students with the translation tools and techniques in order to find solutions for translation problems.

Course Description

This introductory translation course offers students an overview of translation theory while providing practice with a variety of texts. Emphasis is given to rendering translations from English into Arabic language and vice versa in different topics related to translation practices. Basic concepts and problems in the area of Translation Studies are identified and discussed . Various modes and types of translation as well as translation strategies and techniques are also discussed. Students are familiarized with the role and functions of translator/interpreter in the process of intercultural communication.

The course has both a theoretical and practical components. Theoretical issues are illustrated by specific examples; and practical exercises are built around them. The course offers practical approaches to translation. It is based on topic areas, incorporating study of different text-types, style, use of dictionaries, text comparison, collocation, equivalents and practical hints and tips. The Internets is used both as text resource and as translation tool.

The course is a foundation as well as language-specific training in translation.

By the end of the course students should have a basic level of competence which will enable them to take on translation work with confidence.

The class format is a combination of PowerPoint presentation and group discussion. The class deals with linguistic and cultural problems which are involved in the process of translation/interpretation common to most language pairs.

21 May, 2009

Politeness and Interaction

According to Yule (1996:59), “a linguistic interaction is necessarily a social interaction”. In order to make sense of what is said in an interaction, one has to consider external as well as internal factors, which relate to social distance and closeness.
External factors are typically refer to the “relative status of the participants, based on social values tied to such things as age and power” (Yule, 1996:59). On the other hand, internal factors are typically more relevant to participants whose social relations are worked out within the interaction(Yule, 1996:59). Thus the amount of imposition and the degree of friendliness are considered internal factors as they are often negotiated during a communicative event.
Both external and internal factors have an effect on the understanding not only of what is said, but also of what is communicated. The comprehension of what is uttered usually goes beyond what was intended to be expressed, and includes evaluations in terms of politeness. Therefore, one can clearly observe that much more is communicated than is said during a socio-linguistic interaction (Yule, 1996).
Within an interaction, as mentioned by Yule (1996:60), the term politeness does not refer to the idea of “ ‘polite social behavior’, or etiquette, within a culture”. It depends on the concept of “face” to be effectively understood. Based on Yule’s assertion about “face”, one can conclude it means the way every person is socially considered due to his/her self-image, that is, his/her public self-image towards the others. In an interaction, “politeness” can then be defined “as the means employed to show awareness of another person’s face” (Yule, 1996:60), either in social distant situations or social close ones.

The Politeness Principle
Three Maxims

Robin Lakoff (1973) has summarised politeness in three maxims:
1. Don't Impose
2. Give Options
3. Make your receiver feel good
(Robin Lakoff 1973)

Politeness refers to:
Non-intrusive behavior.
Expression of good-will or camaraderie.
Politeness is also defined as the concern for someone’s “face”.
Face needs are the basic wants.
There are two kinds of face needs:
•Negative face needs
: need to not be imposed upon.
•Positive face needs: need to be liked and admired.
Polite people avoid “face-threatening” acts, and use positive polite utterance when possible.
However, politeness is often described in terms of “respect or deference” for another person’s face when the other person is socially distant; and in terms of “friendliness, camaraderie, or solidarity” when the other person is socially close.

In an interaction, the participants often have to determine, as they speak, the relative social distance between them, and hence their “face wants”, that is, their public self-image. If a speaker says something that represents a threat to another individual’s expectations regarding self-image, it is described as a face threatening act. Alternatively, given the possibility that some action might be interpreted as a threat to another’s face, the speaker can say something to reduce the possible threat. This is called a face saving act.
Structurally speaking, modal verbs (specially “would”, “should” and “could”) are usually used to signal a sort of face saving act.

John: I am going to tell him to stop that awful noise right now!
(face threatening act)
Mary: Perhaps you could just ask him if he is going to stop soon because it is getting a bit late and people need to get to sleep.
(face saving act)
Since each person is expected to respect the face wants of others, there are different manners to perform face saving acts. In order to save another person’s face, we should observe their negative or positive face wants. “Negative” in this case refers to the opposite of “positive face”.
According to Yule (1996:61-62), “a person’s negative face is the need to be independent, to have freedom of action, and not to be imposed on by others. (…) So, a face saving act which is oriented to the person’s negative face will tend to show deference, emphasizing the importance of the other’s time or concerns, and even including an apology for the imposition or interruption” (negative politeness).
Furthermore, Yule (1996:62) asserts that “a person’s positive face is the need to be accepted or connected, even liked by others and be treated as a member of the same group. Therefore, a face saving act, which is concerned with the person’s positive face, will tend to show solidarity, emphasize that both speakers want the same thing, and that they have a common goal” (positive politeness).
Through a single speech event, one can detect different interpretations associated with different expressions possibly employed within that event. The relationship between these politeness concepts, positive or negative, and language application depends on the concepts of “Self” and “Other”. A person who aims to have his/her needs figured out by the other person next to him/her (the “Other”) is the “Self”.
The requirements of the self are sometimes not explicitly expressed, but are just conveyed as vague intentions. When this “say nothing” works, it is because “the other offers and not because the self asks” (1996:62). Therefore, one can clearly conclude that more is communicated than is said.
Nevertheless, if someone decides to say something, he/she does not have actually to ask for anything, but simply produce a statement, as the following ones:

1) Whh, I forgot my pen.
2) Hmm, I wonder where I put my pen.
Such statements are not directly addressed to the other. Consequently, the other can ignore them, that is, act as if the statements have not been even heard. These statements, as stated by Yule (1996:63), are “technically described as being ‘off record’.” In contrast to such “off record” statements, the self can directly address the other as a means of expressing his/her needs. These direct address forms are technically described as being “on record”.
The most direct address form among on record statements is known as “bald on record”. It is signaled by the use of imperative forms and means that the other person is directly asked for something, as in this example:
“Give me a pen”. (Bald on record)
Bald on record forms may be followed by expressions like “please” and “would like” which make the demand softer and are called “mitigating devices”.
Most of the time, bald on record expressions are associated with speech events where the speaker assumes that he/she has supremacy over the other and can control the other’s behavior through language. Concerning Yule’s words on page 64, “in every-day interaction between social equals, such bald on record behavior would potentially represent a threat to the other’s face and would generally be avoided. Avoiding a face threatening act is accomplished by face saving acts which use positive or negative politeness strategies”.
A “positive politeness strategy”, according to Yule (1996:64), “leads the requester to inquire for a common goal, and even friendship”. There is a greater risk for the speaker to suffer a refusal during “on record expressions” than in “off record statements”. However, in most English-speaking contexts, a face saving act is more commonly performed via a “negative politeness strategy”. The most typical form used is a question containing a modal verb, which results in forms that contain expressions of apology for the imposition. “These questions present an opportunity for the other to answer in the negative to the question without the same refusal effect of responding with a negative to a direct, bald on record imperative” (Yule, 1996:65).
The use of a face-saving on record form represents a significant choice (more elaborate negative politeness work is represented through longer talk, less direct, less clear, more complex structure, and often with hesitations) because the speaker is making a greater effort, in terms of concern for face/politeness, than is needed simply to get the basic message across efficiently.
The tendency to use positive politeness form emphasizes closeness between speaker and hearer. It can be seen as a “solidarity strategy”. Linguistically, this strategy can include personal information, use of nicknames, and shared dialect or slang expressions. It is often signaled by inclusive terms such as “we” and “let’s”. On the other hand, the use of negative politeness form emphasizes the hearer’s right to freedom. It can be seen as a deference strategy. It is involved in what is called “formal politeness” and it is impersonal, as if nothing is shared. Language is characterized by an absence of personal claims.
These types of strategies are illustrated here by the use of utterances that are central to the speech event. However, face saving behavior is often at work well before such utterances are produced, in the form of “pre-sequences”. Face is typically at risk when the self needs to accomplish something involving other. The greatest risk appears to be when the other is put in a difficult position.
A good way of avoiding risk is to provide an opportunity for the other to cease the potentially dangerous act, using a pre-request, before simply making a request, for example. After that, considering the answer provided by the hearer in the first question, the speaker can go ahead or just stopping on that point.
John: Are you busy? (Pre-request)
Mary: Not really. (Go ahead)
John: Check over this memo. (Request)
Mary: Okay. (Accept)
Sometimes, some pre-requests are treated as being requests because they are answered in the first moment (‘short-cut process’).
Tim: Do you mind if I use your phone?
Joan: Yeah, sure.
These forms are normally interpreted as a positive response, not to the pre-request, but to the unstated request. Other examples with pre-invitation can be observed as follows:
Leo: What are you going to do this Friday? (Pre-invitation)
Giselle: Hmm, nothing so far. (Go ahead)
Leo: Come over for dinner. (Invitation)
Giselle: Oh, I’d like that. (Accept)
Leo: Are you doing anything later? (Pre-invitation)
Giselle: Oh, yeah. Busy, busy, busy (Stop)
Leo: Oh, okay.
When there is silence, it is generally interpreted as a “stop”. In conclusion, it is important to say that the structure for any interaction must be carefully analyzed because what allows a great deal to be communicated that is never said by the writers or speakers is the familiarity readers and listeners have with the regularity of such structure.

16 April, 2009

Speech Acts and Events

Speech Acts
In linguistic communication, people do not merely exchange information. They actually do something through talking or writing in various circumstances. Actions performed via speaking are called speech acts.
" In English, specific labels are commonly given, such as apology, complaint, compliment, invitation, promise, or request." (Yule, 1996:47). These descriptive terms for different kinds of speech acts are directly related to the speaker's intention in producing an utterance, since he/she normally expects that the hearer will recognize his/her communicative intention. Concerning this, both speaker and hearer are usually helped in this process by the context/circumstances (speech events), which surround the utterance. Changing the context, the same utterance can be interpreted as two or more kinds of speech acts.

Types of speech acts

  1. Locutionary speech act – the action of making the sentence
  2. Illocutionary speech act – the intentions
  3. Perlocutionary speech act – the effects

Of these types, the most important is the illocutionary act because in communication people respond to an illocutionary act of an utterance, because it is the meaning intended by the speaker. “The basic act of utterance, or producing a meaningful linguistic expression.” (Yule, 1996:48); The Ilocutionary act, related to the fact that people produce “well-formed” utterances with a purpose or a function in mind. " It is performed through the communicative force of an utterance" (Yule, 1996:48). To make a statement, to ask, to make an offer, a promise, etc. are related to the illocutionary force of the utterance.
For example, if a teacher says, “I have run out of chalk” in the process of lecturing, the act of saying is locutionary, the act of demanding for chalk is illocutionary, and the effect the utterance brings about – one of the students will go and get some chalk – is perlocutionary.

Yule (1996) states that besides a purpose, people usually create an utterance with a function intending to have an effect. On the other hand, if the same utterance can have different illocutionary forces (promise versus warning), how can speakers assume that the hearer will recognize the intended illocutionary force? In order to answer this, one must consider the Ilocutionary Force Indicating Device (IFID), related to the slot for a verb (performative verb) that explicitly names the illocutionary act being formed, and the Felicity Conditions, related to certain circumstances for the performance of a speech act to be recognized as intended.
Among ordinary people contexts, there are pre-conditions on speech acts, such as

  • General conditions on the participants: that they can understand the language being used and they are not play-acting;
  • Content conditions, for both promise and warning, the content of the utterance must be about a future event;
  • Preparatory conditions for a promise are different from those for a warning. When I promise to do something, there are two preparatory conditions:
  1. the event will not happen by itself, and
  2. it will have a beneficial effect. When I utter a warning, it is not clear that the hearer knows the event will occur, the speaker does think the event will occur and it won’t have a beneficial effect;
  • The sincerity condition for a promise: the speaker intends to carry out the future action and for a warning the speaker believes the future event will not have a beneficial effect;
  • The essential condition: by uttering a promise I intend to create an obligation to carry out the action as promised (obligation). With a warning, under the essential condition, the utterance changes my state from non-informing of a bad future event to informing.

The performative hypothesis - The characteristic of each sentence to have a clause, as well as a performative verb, which make clear the illocutionary force. " The advantage of this type of analysis is that it makes clear just what elements are involved in the production and interpretation of utterances''. (Yule, 1996:52) However, there are some sentences in which the explicit performative use can be seen in a strange way, being the implicit performative use more suitable.

In terms of the speech act classification, Yule presents:

  • Declarations, those speech acts which you give a message and this is considered as a truth; for this reason, it changes the world through words;
  • Representatives, those speech acts which bring assertions, conclusions, descriptions based on what the speaker believes;
  • Expressives, those which convey speaker feelings (pain, likes, pleasure, dislikes, joy or sorrow);
  • Directives, those speech acts used to command, order, request, suggest in a positive or negative way; and
  • Commissives, speech acts which convey commitment in future actions. They express what the speaker intends (Promises, threats, refusals, pledges).

In English, illocutionary acts are also given specific labels, such as request, warning, promise, invitation, compliment, complaint, apology, offer, refusal, etc. these specific labels name various speech functions. As functions may not correspond to forms, speech acts can be direct and indirect.
There are two ways of communication (performing acts)

  1. Direct speech act: e.g. Close the door.
  2. Indirect speech act:e.g. It’s cold in here.

Why do people often speak indirectly in social communication?
Different social variables: age, sex, social condition
Politeness: communicative strategy
Indirect speech acts are related to appropriateness. Indirect speech acts are made for politeness, not vice versa. To make appropriate choices does not necessarily mean indirect speech acts.

Moreover, the speech act is ‘direct’, when there is a relationship between the structure and the function. On the other hand, an ‘indirect’ speech act brings an indirect relationship between structure and function (a relevant aspect to be mentioned is that ‘ indirect speech’ in English portrays a polite way of speech).
In a clear way, it seems that a speech event refers to the meticulous way to invade the other’s environment through language. For example, an indirect request presupposes some conditions to be stated. " There is a definite difference between asking someone to do X and asking someone if the preconditions for doing X are in place". (Yule, 199:56) So, a request is considered as an imposition by the speaker on the hearer, therefore it is better for the speaker to avoid a direct imposition through a direct request. For this purpose, to make use of a speech event is a significant way of interaction without being aggressive/direct to the hearer. As we could observe, an indirect speech act is associated with politeness within English environment.
YULE, G.(1996). Pragmatics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

14 April, 2009

Cooperation and implicature

In our daily life, speakers and listeners involved in conversation are generally cooperating with each other. In other words, when people are talking with each other, they must try to converse smoothly and successfully. In accepting speakers’ presuppositions, listeners have to assume that a speaker is not trying to mislead them. This sense of cooperation is simply one in which people having a conversation are not normally assumed to be trying to confuse, trick, or withhold relevant information from one another.
However, in real communication, the intention of the speaker is often not the literal meaning of what he or she says. The real intention implied in the words is called conversational implicature.

A: Can you tell me the time?
B: Well, the milkman has come.

In this little conversation, A is asking B about the time, but B is not answering directly. That indicates that B may also not know the accurate time, but through saying “the milkman has come”, he is in fact giving a rough time. The answer B gives is related to the literal meaning of the words, but is not merely that. That is often the case in communication. The theory of conversational implicature is for the purpose of explaining how listeners infer the speakers’ intention through the words.

Conversational Implicature


Conversational implicature is a nonconventional implicature based on an addressee’s assumption that the speaker is following the conversational maxims or at least the cooperative principle.The study of conversational implicature starts from Grice (1967), the American philosopher. He thinks, in daily communication, people are observing a set of basic rules of cooperating with each other so as to communicate effectively through conversation. He calls this set of rules the cooperative principle (CP) elaborated in four sub-principles (maxims), that is the cooperative principle.

The Cooperative Principle

Make your conversational contribution such as is required, at the stage at which it occurs, by the accepted purpose or direction of the talk exchange in which you are engaged. The maxims are:
1. Quantity

  • Make your contribution as informative as is required (for the current purposes of the exchange).

  • Do not make your contribution more informative than is required.

2. Quality – Try to make your contribution one that is true.

  • Do not say what you believe to be false.

  • Do not say that for which you lack adequate evidence.

3. Relation – Be relevant
4. Manner – Be perspicuous.

  • Avoid obscurity of expression.
  • Avoid ambiguity.

  • Be brief (avoid unnecessary prolixity).

  • Be orderly.

We assume that people are normally going to provide an appropriate amount of information, i.e. they are telling the relevant truth clearly. The cooperative principle given by Grice is an idealized case of communication. However, there are more cases that speakers are not fully adhering to the principles. But the listener will assume that the speaker is observing the principles “in a deeper degree”.

A: Where is Bill?
B: There is a yellow car outside Sue’s house.

In [2], the speaker B seems to be violating the maxims of quantity and relation, but we also assume that B is still observing the CP and think about the relationship between A’s question and the “yellow car” in B’s answer. If Bill has a yellow car, he may be in Sue’s house.
If a speaker violates CP by the principle itself, there is no conversation at all, so there cannot be implicature. Implicature can only be caused by violating one or more maxims. The people in conversation may violate one or more maxims secretly. In this way, he may mislead the listener. In this case, in the conversation [2] above, we assume that B is observing the CP and Bill has a yellow car. But if B is intentionally trying to mislead A to think that Bill is in Sue’s house, we will be misled without knowing. In this case, if one “lies” in conversation, there is no implicature in the conversation, only the misleading.
He may declare that he is not observing the maxims or the CP. In this kind of situation, the speaker directly declares he is not cooperating. He has made it clear that he does not want to go on with the conversation, so there is no implicature either. He may fall into a dilemma.

For example, for the purpose observing the first principle of the maxim of quantity (make your contribution as informative as is required), he may be violating the second principle of the maxim of quality (do not say that for which you lack adequate evidence).
For this case, Grice gave an example:

A: Where does C live?
B: Somewhere in the south of France.

In [3], if B knows that A is going to visit C, his answer is violating the maxim of quantity, because he is not giving enough information about where C lives. But he has not declared that he will not observe the maxims. So we can know that B knows if he gives more information, he will violate the principledo not say that for which you lack adequate evidence”. In other words, he has fallen into a “dilemma”. So we can infer that his implicature is that he does not know the exact address of C. In this case, there is conversational implicature.
He may “flout” one or more maxims. In other words, he may be obviously not observing them.
The last situation is the typical case that can make conversational implicature. Once the participant in a conversation has made an implicature, he or she is making use one of the maxims. We can see that from the following examples:

A: Where are you going with the dog?
B: To the V-E-T.
In [4], the dog is known to be able to recognize the word “vet” and to hate being taken there. Therefore, A makes the word spelled out. Here he is “flouting” the maxim of manner, making the implicature that he does not want the dog to know the answer to the question just asked.

(In a formal get-together)
A: Mrs. X is an old bag.
B: The weather has been quite delightful this summer, hasn’t it?

B is intentionally violating the maxim of relation in [5], implicating that what A has said is too rude and he should change a topic.

06 April, 2009

Presupposition and Entailment

Presupposition is what the speaker assumes to be the case prior to making an utterance. Entailment, which is not a pragmatic concept, is what logically follows from what is asserted in the utterance. Speakers have presuppositions while sentences, not speakers, have entailments. Take a look at the example below:

Jane’s brother bought two apartments.

This sentence presupposes that Jane exists and that she has a brother. The speaker may also hold the more specific presupposition that she has only a brother and her brother has a lot of money. All these presuppositions are held by the speaker and all of them can be wrong.

In pragmatics entailment is the relationship between two sentences where the truth of one (A) requires the truth of the other (B).
For example, the sentence (A) The president was assassinated. entails (B) The president is dead.


The concept of presupposition is often treated as the relationship between two propositions. In the case below, we have a sentence that contains a proposition (p) and another proposition (q), which is easily presupposed by any listener. However, the speaker can produce a sentence by denying the proposition (p), obtaining as a result the same presupposition (q).

Debora’s cat is cute. (p)

Debora has a cat. (q)

When I say that Debora’ s cat is cute, this sentence presupposes that Debora has a cat. In

Debora’ s cat is not cute. (NOT p)

the same thing holds true, that is, it presupposes that she has a cat. This property of presupposition is generally described as constancy under negation. Basically, it means that the presupposition of a statement will remain constant (i.e. still true) even when that statement is negated.

Types of Presupposition

In the analysis of how speakers’ assumptions are typically expressed, presupposition has been associated with the use of a large number of words, phrases and structures. These linguistic forms are considered here as indicators of potential presupposition, which can only become actual presupposition in contexts with speakers. The types of presupposition are:

1-Existential presupposition: it is the assumption of the existence of the entities named by the speaker.

For example, when a speaker says "Tom’s car is new", we can presuppose that Tom exists and that he has a car.

2-Factive presupposition: it is the assumption that something is true due to the presence of some verbs such as "know" and "realize" and of phrases involving glad, for example. Thus, when a speaker says that she didn’t realize someone was ill, we can presuppose that someone is ill. Also, when she says "I’m glad it’s over”, we can presuppose that it’s over.

3-Lexical presupposition: it is the assumption that, in using one word, the speaker can act as if another meaning (word) will be understood. For instance:

Andrew stopped running. (>>He used to run.)

You are late again. (>> You were late before.)

In this case, the use of the expressions "stop" and "again" are taken to presuppose another (unstated) concept.

4-Structural presupposition: it is the assumption associated with the use of certain words and phrases. For example, wh-question in English are conventionally interpreted with the presupposition that the information after the wh-form (e.g. when and where) is already known to be the case.

When did she travel to the USA? ( >> she traveled)
Where did you buy the book? (>> you bought the book)

The listener perceives that the information presented is necessarily true rather than just the presupposition of the person asking the question.

5- Non- factive presupposition: it is an assumption that something is not true. For example, verbs like "dream", "imagine" and "pretend" are used with the presupposition that what follows is not true.

I dreamed that I was rich. (>> I am not rich)
We imagined that we were in London. (>> We are not in London)

6-Counterfactual presupposition: it is the assumption that what is presupposed is not only untrue, but is the opposite of what is true, or contrary to facts. For instance, some conditional structures, generally called counterfactual conditionals, presuppose that the information, in the if- clauses, is not true at the time of utterance.

If you were my daughter, I would not allow you to do this. ( > you are not my daughter)

Projection Problem

Yule has also called attention to the projection problem, which occurs when a simple sentence becomes part of a more complex sentence. In this case, the meaning of some presupposition (as a part) doesn’t survive to become the meaning of a more complex sentence (as a whole).

a)Nobody realized that Kelly was unhappy

b)I imagined that Kelly was unhappy.

c)I imagined that Kelly was unhappy and nobody realized that she was unhappy.

Through these examples, we can observe that, when the speaker utters (a), we can presuppose that she was unhappy and that, when she utters (b), we can presuppose that she was not unhappy. However, when the speaker utters (c), we can't understand what the speaker means by that utterance without a context because the two parts have an opposite meaning.

However, it does not mean that there are no situations in which the combination of two simple sentences in a complex one can be possible. For example:

a) It’s so sad. Blaine regrets getting Laura fired. (>> Blaine got Laura fired)
b) Blaine regrets getting Laura fired, but he didn’t get her fired.

One way to think about the whole sentence presented in b) is as an utterance by a person reporting what happened in the film that day. In the example above, when the speaker utters he didn’t get her fired actually entails Blaine didn’t get her fired as a logical consequence. Thus, when the person who watched the film tells you that Blaine regrets getting Laura fired, but he didn’t get her fired, you have a presupposition q and NOT q. In this case, we can infer that Blaine thought he was the cause of Laura’s discharge, but, in fact, he was not.

This shows that entailments (necessary consequences of what is said) are simply more powerful than presuppositions (earlier assumptions). In the example below, the power of entailment can also be used to cancel existential presuppositions .

The King of Brazil visited us. (The king of Brazil does not exist).

Ordered entailments

Generally speaking, entailment is not a pragmatic concept (i.e. having to do with the speaker meaning), but it is considered a purely logical concept.

Observe the examples below:

1)Bob ate three sandwiches.

a) Something ate three sandwiches.

b)Bob did something to three sandwiches.

c) Bob ate three of something.

d)Something happened.

When a speaker utters sentence (1), the speaker is necessarily committed to the truth of a very large number of background knowledge. On any occasion, in uttering (1), however, the speaker will indicate how these entailments are to be ordered. That is, the speaker will communicate, typically by stress, which entailment is assumed to be the foreground, or more important for interpreting intended meaning, than any others. For example, when the speaker utters the following sentences, she indicates that the foreground entailment, and hence her main assumption, is that Bob ate a certain number of sandwiches.

a) Bob ate THREE sandwiches.
b) BOB ate three sandwiches.

In b), the focus shifts to BOB, and the main assumption is that someone ate three sandwiches. The stress in English functions to mark the main assumption of the speaker in producing an utterance. As such, it allows the speaker to mark for the listener what the focus of the message is, and what is being assumed.

A very similar function is exhibited by a structure called cleft construction in English, as we can observe in the example below:

a) It was VICTOR that did the work.
b) It wasn’t ME who took your jacket.

In both the examples above, the speaker can communicate what she believes the listener may already be thinking (i.e. the foreground entailment). In b), that foreground entailment (someone took your jacket) is being made in order to deny personal responsibility. The utterance in b) can be used to attribute the foreground entailment to the listener(s) without actually stating it (as a possible accusation).