Vers les mots bons et justes

Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies
May 1, 1998

Interest in translation studies as an academic discipline has never been greater, and this excellent volume is to be commended for bringing together some of its most recent research. Aimed at "students and teachers of translation, interpreting and literary theory", it provides an overview of this vast area in two complementary parts: part one contains entries on general approaches and specific topics in translation, and part two provides an outline of translation history, practice and the development of the discipline in 30 linguistic and cultural communities.

The encyclopedia deals, in its first part, with many core issues of translation studies such as "Equivalence", "Unit of translation" or "Polysystem theory". Some of the entries are oddly titled: "Shakespeare translation" instead of "Translation of Shakespeare", "Poetry translation", and so on, presumably to avoid having too many titles under "Translation" in the index. The divisions are unfortunate, though, quite apart from this; "Poetic translation" as the translation of poetic language, whether in prose, poetry, drama, or even advertising, would have been a more useful and comprehensive category. And if entries are to be divided by genre, then why none on the translation of fiction?

There are other gaps, too: we have "Metaphor of translation" but not "Translation of metaphor", "Gender metaphorics in translation" but nothing on issues of gender and sexual identity in translation, where there might, for example, have been scope for some of the recent work on translating the language of homosexuality. There is nothing on "Translation of style", nor on "Translation and censorship". Still, these few gaps are largely made up for by the many excellent entries on less well-documented issues, such as "Auto-translation" and "Decision-making in translation" as well as those on issues for which one might not automatically have expected separate entries, for example "Direction of translation" or "Analytical philosophy and translation". This latter entry also exemplifies a further strength of the volume: the consistent emphasis on the links between translation and other disciplines, which enables it so admirably to fulfil the main task of an encyclopedia, which is to give even a reader familiar with the area new insights and ideas.

There are some weak points, but they are fairly minor. The editor's firm hand is in evidence everywhere, but she has not been able to prevent a rather marked contrast between two distinct types of entry: those which, often underlining their internal structure in sub-headings, cover the given area methodically, providing as much information as possible in a short space, and those which tend more towards the format of the discursive essay. Most entries, for example "Signed language interpreting" or "Universals in translation" are of the first type. One or two, such as "Speculative approaches" or "Reviewing and criticism" fall into the second category, and while they contain extremely valuable insights, their format seems a little less appropriate to an encyclopedia.

There were one or two entries I found rather problematic for other reasons:

"Paraphrase" is largely a paraphrase of "Metaphrase", and it seems pointless to have two separate entries. "Metaphor of translation" is a little confusing. "Linguistic approaches", though extremely interesting, especially in making a clear distinction between applying linguistics to translation and formulating a linguistic theory of translation, does not really develop the latter area, concentrating mainly on the work of J. C. Catford. A mention of relevance theory would have been essential here, especially as the discussion in the entry on pragmatics is a little thin, omitting to mention central work by Dan Sperber and Deirdre Wilson. "Imitation" defines its subject in a purely negative sense, sticking to Cicero and Dryden, and unaccountably leaving out Robert Lowell, the writer most closely associated with the term, who in fact saw it as the only acceptable form of poetic translation. There is the occasional misleading statement: it is simply not true, as "Babel, tower of" tells us, that most historical linguists speculate on the nature and location of an original Indo-European language, nor that the term "Pseudo-translation" can mean a translation that people think is an original work.

A few entries - especially those on associations of translators and one or two of the entries on interpreting - do not make explicit enough the connections to theory and research, but on the whole it is the emphasis on these which gives the book its overall focus on translation studies as an academic discipline, both in part one, where entries often give valuable information on research not necessarily familiar to all scholars in the field, and also in part two, where entries follow the historical overview of a particular tradition with a discussion of its main areas of research and its publications. Dividing communities up on a linguistic basis is difficult, and inevitably some users of the encyclopedia will question the subsuming of Austrian under German tradition, for example, or the lack of an entry on the Celtic tradition. Nevertheless, whatever misgivings one might have about this sort of division, it provides a series of extremely useful short histories, quite unlike anything that can be found elsewhere.

One of the best aspects of this second part is that its authors, obviously following clear guidelines, discuss many of the same issues from different perspectives. Without in any way rendering entries repetitive, this policy allows comparison of theoretical frameworks, the professional status of translators and interpreters, or the training of translators within the different traditions. The biographies which follow these entries are especially useful, though I was startled to find only ten women among nearly 200 entries.

Overall, it is the picture that emerges of translation studies as a coherent discipline that I found the most striking aspect of the encyclopedia, because this is what makes it so different from many other books in the field. Though it does deal with the actual practices of translation, its main focus is academic; most of its contributors are academics, though many of them, incidentally, are also practising translators, and its target audience consists largely of academics. University teachers will find it invaluable for preparing seminars and it will be widely used by students. It is almost without exception written by experts; many of the famous names of translation studies are in it, and for a student of the subject, the names under the entries will be a valuable source of information on who is doing what. Without doubt it will do much to enhance knowledge of the discipline and to make it more visible.

Jean Boase-Beier is convenor of the MA in literary translation, University of East Anglia.

Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies

Editor - Mona Baker
ISBN - 0 415 09380 5
Publisher - Routledge
Price - £100.00
Pages - 654

Please login or register to read this article

Register to continue

Get a month's unlimited access to THE content online. Just register and complete your career summary.

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments