Volume 15, No. 4 
October 2011

  Xiangjun Liu


Front Page


Index 1997-2011

TJ Interactive: Translation Journal Blog

Fifteen Years of Service
by Gabe Bokor

  Translator Profiles
My Life in Translation
by Rina Ne’eman

  The Profession
The Bottom Line
by Fire Ant & Worker Bee
Good Proofreader / Bad Proofreader
by Pham Hoa Hiep, Ed.D.
We are Still of Two Minds about It
by Danilo Nogueira and Kelli Semolini
The Financial Crisis and Translator's Math
by Fotini Vallianatou

Translators Around the World
The Role of Translation Movements in the Cultural Maintenance of Iran from the Era of Cyrus the Great up to the Constitutional Revolution
by Hossein Bahri

Cultural Aspects of Translation
When American Culture Floats Adrift: A case study of two versions of Brown's "The Da Vinci Code"
by Orges Selmani

Medical Translation
Tradução de palavras compostas de Alemão para português—o caso dos textos médicos
Katrin Herget e Teresa Alegre

  Translators and Computers
Building Blocks
by Jost Zetzsche, Ph.D.

  Translators' Education
To Use or not to Use Translation in Language Teaching
by Mogahed M. Mogahed, Ph.D.

Strategies for the Enhancement of Mandarin Chinese Proficiency: A Case Study of Trainee Interpreters in Taiwan
by Riccardo Moratto

  Book Reviews
An Empirical Study for Translation Studies—A Multifaceted Perspective
Reviewed by Xiangjun Liu, Ph.D.
Textología contrastiva, derecho comparado y traducción jurídica: Las sentencias de divorcio alemanas y españolas
Reseñado por Concepción Mira Rueda
Bridging Worlds Through Language and Translation
Baris Bilgen, Ph.D. Candidate

Isso vai dar merda: implicações do conhecimento do significado de expressões idiomáticas na tradução de uma entrevista do ex-presidente Lula
Ana Karla Pereira de Miranda e Dra Elizabete Aparecida Marques

  Caught in the Web
Web Surfing for Fun and Profit
by Cathy Flick, Ph.D.
Translators’ On-Line Resources
by Gabe Bokor
Translators’ Best Websites
by Gabe Bokor

  Translators' Tools
Translators’ Emporium

Call for Papers and Editorial Policies
  Translation Journal
Book Review

An Empirical Study for Translation Studies—A Multifaceted Perspective

Reviewed by Xiangjun Liu, Ph.D.

Sanning He. An Empirical Study for Translation Studies—A Multifaceted Perspective

Publisher: Beijing: Science Press (16 Donghuangchenggen Beijie, Beijing 100717, China)

Year of publication: 2008

ISBN 978-7-03-022118-6

Number of pages: xi + 238

Type of binding: Hardback

Price: 35.00 RMB

t all starts from Thomas Kuhn's origination of the concept of paradigms for the revolutionary development in different disciplines and his further elaboration of the difference of how paradigms function in natural sciences on the one hand and in social sciences and arts and humanities on the other. Kuhn (quoted in Lü 2005: 11) argues that while in natural sciences, one paradigm prevails by replacing another, different paradigms coexist competitively and even complementarily in the other disciplines.1

Literal translation, different from rigidly word-for-word translation, refers to the translation that preserves not only the information but also the rhetorical devices of the source text.
This stance is carried forward into translation studies—an example of "the other disciplines"—by Jun Lü and is described by him as a "multifaceted coexistence" (Lü 2005: 11). While Jun Lü uses this as a step to lead to the elaboration of his own model—the constructivist translatology, Sanning He pins down this argument as "a multifaceted perspective" (He 2008: i-iv, 193-221) and employs it as the cornerstone of his work of 2008 An Empirical Study for Translation Studies—A Multifaceted Perspective. In fact, the explicit purpose of his work is to verify and advocate this approach in China's classroom setting of Chinese-English translation of short narrative texts (He 2008: iv). This perspective takes a tolerant attitude towards the different schools and explores in particular how these schools complement, rather than negate, each other and contribute to the overall prosperity of translation studies.

Following the above underlying principle, we may divide Sanning He's work into four parts. Part 1 (the Preface) lays down the general basis for the empirical methodology of the whole work. The author first gives an introduction to different classifications of the empirical methods in translation studies. After explaining each method, he draws the readers' attention to the methodological framework of each chapter in the book: first a theoretical analysis and then relevant case analyses (mostly two). Each case analysis ends with a relatively deep reflection. The author then introduces the "multifaceted perspective," which requires the adoption of a tolerant and reconciled attitude toward the different theories of translation and the readiness to apply them to translation practice, the evaluation of translation works and the empirical analysis of translation. Finally, the author summarizes two features or purposes of the book. One is to empirically test the feasibility of applying the currently popular translation concepts and theories to the actual translation process (especially that from Chinese to English in China). The other is to thereby advocate the "multifaceted perspective," calling for the need to test theories through practice so as to avoid the unrealistic empty theoretical studies (see my comment below).

Part 2 (Chapters 1-7) takes a close look at each specific school that falls within the author's scope of investigation, revealing its strengths and weaknesses in some relevant case analyses.

Chapter 1 takes up the traditional dichotomy of literal vs. liberal translation. Following a brief survey of the past discussions about the two concepts in China and the West, the author mainly tackles the problem of defining the two terms in the first case study and then applies such a definition in the second. By taking into account the classroom discussions and application of the terms, He comes to the conclusion that in China's translation circle, far from what they may imply originally, the two concepts are now mutually complementary and even exchangeable, both stressing the need to make adjustments for the target text readers. To be more specific, literal translation, different from rigidly word-for-word translation, refers to the translation that preserves not only the information but also the rhetorical devices of the source text. Liberal translation, different from random translation, is the translation that seeks to bridge the bilingual gap of rhetorical devices and cultural factors on the precondition of preserving the content of the source text.

The above discussion of the conceptual transformation in the Chinese context also finds its way into Chapter 2 and is applied to domesticating vs. foreignizing translation. On the basis of two case studies, the author concludes that these two terms, though originating from the West, have in fact merged into a neutralizing translation method in China that requires the translator to add a few words of explanation to the translation of a cultural term according to three principles, respectively information-oriented, association-applied and concept-based (He 2008: 48-52).

In comparison, the third chapter shows a closer adherence to the originator—Peter Newmark—in the discussion of communicative vs. semantic translation. According to Newmark (quoted in He 2008: 63), the application of this dichotomy depends on the type of the source text, the significance of a semantic unit and the purpose of the translation. Communicative translation is thus more appropriate for those texts with informative and vocative functions, and semantic translation is more suitable for those texts that emphasize aesthetic appreciation. What is implied is then a tangled relationship between this theory and the traditional literal vs. liberal dichotomy, Eugene Nida's formal vs functional equivalence and Christiane Nord's functionalist theory.

The following two case analyses show that Newmark's dichotomy does have its advantages over literal vs liberal dichotomy for it has overcome the latter's restriction to the micro level of linguistic transformation. But different from Newmark's emphasis on the close link between the application of the dichotomy and the specific overall type of the source text, Sanning He tends to apply the two translation methods not only to the whole text but also to the specific expressions and sentences. He argues that since a text may have many functions, Newmark's dichotomy does not have to be tailored to the type of the source text. In this way, both methods are applicable to a text regardless of its overall text type. This anticipates the discussion in Chapter 7.

Chapter 4 turns to Juliane House's model of translation quality assessment (TQA), revolving around mainly her dichotomy of overt vs. covert translation devised on the basis of a comparison of the functions of the source and target texts. In the case analyses, He examines the model's strengths and weaknesses, leading to his call to note the importance of and to reinforce the studies of TQA. His idea is to parallel translation criticism and TQA—rather than to treat the latter as one branch of the former—within the "applied" branch of translation studies. He thinks that an independent study of TQA on both the micro and macro levels will not only benefit the development of translation studies as a whole, but also help to standardize translation service and improve translation teaching.

Like Chapter 4, Chapter 5 still dwells on the threefold Hallidayan metafunctions—ideational, interpersonal and textual. But the focus is now shifted to the role of the context in translation—Case Study 1 in terms of the target text cultural context and Case Study 2 in terms of the translator's cognitive context. At the end of this chapter, the author uses another case to further emphasize the great role of the translator's active cognition in translation while illustrating the significance of stylistics for translation practice.

The above topic of cognition in translation is continued in Chapter 6 and is linked retrospectively to the discussion of TQA in Chapter 4. Here, Sanning He puts forward, on the basis of Newmark's theory of relevance translation and Sperber and Wilson's relevance theory, his tentative model of micro-level TQA. In this model, He integrates the strengths of the above two relevance theories—the former based on inference and the latter on communicative function—and most creatively employs R. de Beaugrande and W. Dressler's seven features of a text as the parameters of his model of TQA. The two case studies are specific application of this model, providing concrete data for an objective description of translation quality.

Chapter 7 moves on to the German functionalist theory of translation, focusing on mainly Reiss's text typology (Case Study 2) and Nord's revised version of the skopos theory (Case Study 1) and culminating in the author's own proposal for the establishment of translation typology on the basis of Newmark, Reiss and Miqing Liu's previous studies. The author claims that this translation typology, though still at its embryonic stage, has a very promising future.

Part 3 (Chapter 8) lumps together the different approaches under one framework of a "multifaceted perspective." The author first traces three models of translation studies—philological, structuralist and deconstructive—as is summarized by Jun Lü. Then he attempts at a brief but comprehensive analysis of the same case by way of the different theories he has so far made use of in the other chapters. Devoid of the detailed quantitative analysis in the other case studies, this chapter serves mainly as a way to illustrate the mutual complementarity between the different theories under one "multifaceted perspective."

Part 4 (Chapter 9) echoes the Preface with its emphasis on the necessity of the empiricism in translation studies. The author first elaborates on the dialectical relationship between translation theory and practice and then that between translation strategies, methods and techniques. He points out that the particular nature of translation determines the crucial importance of translation practice. And thus comes the priority of the empirical studies of translation.

In short, viewed as a whole, He's work has several strengths to its credit. First, we can find from it at least two contributions He has made to the theoretical development of translation studies. One is his preliminary work for the establishment of translation typology and the other is his tentative model of a micro-level translation quality assessment. Both are crucial parts of the "applied" branch of translation studies and demonstrate the author's theoretical acumen.

Second, the book is obviously a good guide to learners of translation between English and Chinese. Traditionally, Chinese learners of translation have access only to practice-oriented translation techniques illustrated in a lot of context-free sentence translation examples. Such techniques are for example diction, conversion, amplification, omission, substitution, comparison, and inversion, all of which are restricted to language per se. This is a direct application in translation teaching of the achievement of contrastive linguistics (between English and Chinese). Later, some scholars saw the fatal flaws of this approach and pushed for a turn to embrace the macro view of a whole text in translation classes, which is a direct reflection of the influence of the discourse linguistics. A real breakthrough came about only recently when some translation teachers, backed by the disciplinary development of translation studies, saw a need to integrate into their classroom translation discussions the theoretical achievement in translation studies rather than a mere parasitical link to linguistics. This trend is reflected in many articles of translation analysis in translation journals the world over. He's contribution lies in his effort to put forward a collection of chapters/articles, rather than a single one, of such application under the same "multifaceted perspective." Though still parallel to the first two, this third approach—He's "multifaceted perspective" in particular—has an obvious potential to prevail in the whole pedagogical field of translation, for it has upgraded the other two and loosely but conveniently put them into one framework.

Third, the work is an effective investigation into the practical use of some translation concepts in the Chinese context. Theories come out one after another, but what about their application in practice? Are there distortions or adaptations? Now, He's work is obviously a means for such a description or an evaluation. Examples abound such as the descriptive elaboration of literal vs liberal translation in Chapter 1, domesticating vs. foreignizing translation in Chapter 2 and semantic vs communicative translation in Chapter 3. From He's book, we may capture a picture of how these concepts are used in China's translation circle. We may see that, contrary to what these terms imply in China' past or in the West, they have gone through a lot of transformation, all pointing to a dialectical emergence of the neutralizing translation method. Such a technical orientation is typical of the general situation of present-day China's translation studies that is still bent on a pragmatic view of translation theories for the guidance of translation practice.

Fourth, the book is a good companion to Munday's Introducing Translation Studies: Theories and Applications for those students of translation studies specializing in English-Chinese language pair. Munday's book is concise and useful as a reference book in the course of translation studies, but the pity is that the Chinese translation scholars may find it hard to reconcile themselves to the case studies—a widely-acknowledged strength of the book, as has been claimed by many reviewers—for their sole reliance on the translation between English and other western languages. With its basis on the English-Chinese language pair, Sanning He's work comes right at the time.

However, the work is not devoid of weaknesses. The first, for example, lies in the source of its case studies. Different from those in Munday's book and other works of descriptively-oriented translation studies, all the case studies in this book come from the ideal classroom setting. This may be attributed to He's original intention to link translation theories with translation practice and his pragmatic wish to help students of translation to solve the problems in their learning experience in the classrooms. However, such an over-reliance on translation teaching may greatly narrow the scope of the applicability of his conclusions for general translation studies and restrict it to translation training in the "applied" branch of translation studies.

This may be illustrated by way of a brief comparison of Munday's and He's case studies. Munday chooses to analyze a variety of text types that are authored by others and already enjoy a relatively high or recognized status in the reading public. That helps to keep a distance from the materials and maintain an adequate degree of objectivity in his application of relevant theoretical models. The materials analyzed by He, however, are his own translation works that have been used in his classroom. All belonging to narrative texts, these translations have not gone into the scrutiny of the reading public, especially the readers in the English-speaking countries (Margaret Rogers may be only one good example). This makes it difficult to grant these classroom-born translations the status of actual translation works. They are more like works in progress, leading the students to the right way of translation. A high sense of pedagogical prescriptivism is implied, which renders it unrealistic to apply the different theoretical schools to an objective analysis. Besides, the readers on whom He conducts his quantitative studies are also involved in the translation. Therefore, Sanning He's case analyses are more a pedagogical introspection to show or test the usefulness of the relevant translation theories to guide the students' translation practice than the case studies in Holmes's descriptive sense.

The second is that however commendable this empirically-oriented multifaceted perspective is, it should not be upheld as a way to reject the purely theoretical end. In fact, we do think that it would be better to widen this multifacetedness to embrace the branch of the pure translation studies in Holmes's map. That branch, though distant from and thus only indirectly linked with practice, is nevertheless of crucial importance to guide practice. That is why we take effort to trace He's work back to Jun Lü and then further to Thomas Kuhn. It is always easy to blame such a pure approach as "empty" (He 2008: iv) without realizing the great difficulty entailed in every stage of its development and the pivotal significance it has for every empirical pursuit and the discipline of translation studies. Without this "empty" part, the whole discipline would be at a loss.

Closely associated with the above two, the third is that this pragmatic view of translation theories, though boasting its own raison d'être, has the risk of assuming an instrumental stance that tends to reduce translation theories to different groupings of translation techniques useful to translation trainees. This may be seen from the author's neutralization of several dichotomies—such as Venuti's domesticating vs foreignizing translation and Newmark's semantic vs. communicative translation. What come forth are several neutralized translation methods, which, though still affiliated to their original theoretical setting, are in reality rather uniform, displaying little variation on the level of translation techniques. Such a reduction, with its negligence of the diverse features of these dichotomies, has a strong tendency towards methodological uniformity, which may go against the author's argument for a "multifaceted perspective."

The fourth is that some applications in the book are a little rough and reveals the author's lack of an adequate understanding of some of the theories concerned. For example, in the case analyses of Sections 4.3 and 5.5, the author has presented a rather confusing application of the interpersonal dimension in Halliday's model of discourse analysis. Besides, these two case studies have already shown the mutually complementary transformation of the three Hallidayan metafunctions in translation. The pity is that He fails to highlight and further this potentially innovative point.

Of course, no work is perfect. He's book is certainly a good one of reference for scholars and teachers of translation (studies) investigating Chinese-English translation—as both product and process—by the trainees in the context of translation training.


1. In China's circle of translation studies, there are two opinions about the shift from the linguistic perspective to the cultural one in translation studies. One regards it as a turn, holding that the cultural paradigm is more advanced than the linguistic one and is to replace the latter as the future orientation of China's translation studies. The other stresses instead the coexistence of the two paradigms, complementing each other. (Li 2007: 76-78) Clearly, Jun Lü and Sanning He are for this second opinion.

Works cited

Li, Linbo. 2007. A Critical Review of China's Translation Study:1981-2003. Xi'an: Northwestern Polytechnical University Press.

Lü, Jun. 2005. Intellectual Schools and the Constructivist Translatology. Chinese Translators Journal Vol. 26, No. 4: 10-15.

Munday, Jeremy. 2001. Introducing Translation Studies: Theories and Applications. London and New York: Routledge.