First published in Web Journal of Modern Language Linguistics in association
with the publishers (to be announced). © 1997 Ian Morrison.
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What is the book about? In the very final section of their work, the authors come to the conclusion that 'translating by factors is in fact inevitable; throughout the ages each translator has invariably been doing it. Translating means translating by factors' (p. 304). In other words, the factors to which the authors point are not their invention - subconsciously, translators have been applying them for generations. What Gutknecht and Rölle do is isolate and define these factors, demonstrating by means of lucid and realistic example sentences under which circumstances which factor or indeed set of factors might apply. In the introduction the reader is informed in a 'Glossary of Factor Functions' of the factors involved. These range from invariance factors (when a source-language (SL) feature reappears in the target-language (TL) rendition) and change factors (whereby an SL feature disappears or a new or additional feature appears in the TL rendition) to divergence and convergence factors (when the number of TL forms is respectively greater or smaller than that of the SL forms).
The focus in the book is on German-English, but also to a degree on English-German translation. Clearly it would have been too large a task to have investigated the range and effect of translation factors across the whole extent of these two languages. The authors decide to confine themselves to an exploration of English and German modals. When are there direct equivalents in English for German modals and when are there not? What factors play a role in determining equivalence, partial equivalence and non-equivalence? If we cannot use an English modal verb for a German modal verb in certain situations, what can we use instead? The decision to examine and compare modality is not an arbitrary choice. The authors point out that, although there are studies comparing English and German auxiliary verbs, they are limited in scope and unpublished. Moreover, it hardly needs to be stressed that modality is a cornerstone of both languages. Finally, systems of modality in both languages are highly complex, and these systems, while overlapping interlinguistically to a degree, differ in many aspects - a ideal reason for taking modality as a basis for illustrating and exploring translation factors.
The book is divided up into eight chapters. Chapter Two (the Introduction is Chapter One) explores the influence on the translation of modals of formal factors of syntax and morphology. The chapter sets out the defining criteria for the German and English modals, establishing for instance that English modals lack non-finite forms, whereas German modals do not. This necessitates the use in English of suppletive forms for the German non-finite modals.
Chapter Three constitutes about a third of the book, and - as one might therefore guess - deals with semantic issues as these affect the translation of modals. Semantic factors examined are polysemy, the modal system, types of meaning, voice, tense and indirect speech. An essential aspect of this chapter is the differentiation between the root (action-oriented) and epistemic (probability oriented) and permission meanings of modals, which the authors take as a basis for their definitions of the use of 'mögen', 'können' and 'dürfen' in particular. After examining different aspects of epistemic modality (subjective and objective) and root modality (deontic and dynamic), the authors go on to explore various modes of appearance of modality, such as covert and overt modality, and explicit and implicit modality. The concept of modal source and modal goal is also investigated. All of this is fascinating, and the authors do relate their findings to issues of translation (thus it is pointed out that 'darf' can be translated as 'may', while 'durfte' cannot be rendered as 'might'; here, a suppletive such as 'was permitted to' would be used). However, the bias of the chapter is placed too heavily on exploration of the complex semantic nature of modality. If the book does have a weakness, this is it: the authors occasionally forget that their book is about translation. The analytical wins out over the contrastive.
Chapter Four deals with pragmatic factors such as illocutionary force, perlocution, factuality, situation, permanent language varieties and culture. Particularly interesting here is the section on gradience of indirectness and politeness, and the different ways German and English use modality or non-modal forms to express different levels of illocution from request through to demand. The section on implicative and factive predicates might have been better placed in the chapter on semantics than pragmatics. Moreover, the authors identify a difference in behaviour under negation between factive verbs such as 'forget' and implicative ones such as 'manage' which I cannot follow: surely 'John did not forget to solve the problem' is a negation of 'John forgot to solve the problem', so that 'forget' behaves exactly the same way as 'manage'? (p. 145). The chapter is most interesting on the cultural aspects of pragmatics, which are covered in the last pages (pp. 165-168).
In Chapter Five the authors focus on factors relating to spoken and written language. The chapter covers the relative frequency of forms, prosody, punctuation and syntactic anticipation. It might have been more logical to include the section on the identification of pragmatic phenomena such as intonation and stress (pp. 171-175) in the previous chapter. If Chapter Five deals rather abruptly with its subject-matter, we are more than compensated for this brevity by the detail and subtlety of Chapter Six, which is entitled 'Factors Relating to Translation Units and Types of Equivalents'. Up to this point the examples used in the book consist mainly of sentences. In the introductory paragraphs to Chapter Six the authors ask the question: are sentences the only modal translation unit? The answer is of course 'no', and this chapter examines other possible translation units such as morphemes, words, phrases, clauses, paragraphs and even the whole text. Here the differences between German and English seem especially apparent. At the word level, for instance, the authors point out that, while German uses past participles ('Parken verboten'), English prefers modals ('Cars must not be parked here'). At the phrase level, the cotext of the modal verb can have an influence on translation. Thus 'must' is 'müssen', while 'must not' is normally rendered by 'dürfen'. But the presence of the cotextual element 'not only' after 'must' necessitates the use of 'müssen' in German, not 'dürfen'.
The final two, relatively short chapters deal respectively with the translation situation and with translation theory. Chapter Seven - entitled 'Essential Factors of the Translation Situation' - deals with the extra-textual context such as the SL speaker, the client for whom the translation is being done, the translator himself/herself, the reader or hearer of the TL text and the direction of the translation. The final chapter - entitled 'Factors in Translation Theory' - explores the relationship between different factors in a set and between different factor sets. The authors write (p. 273): 'Any text to be translated shows syntactic, semantic, as well as pragmatic factors of all kinds; it belongs to a specific text class, is embedded in a situation, and expresses a certain culture; its translation is determined by the intentions of the speaker, the client, the competence and intentions of the translator, and the characteristics of the TL recipient'. In other words, a realistic theory of translating by factors requires a multifactor approach involving whole sets of factors. This being true, the translator needs to organise different factors into systems and hierarchies, examples of which the authors provide in the concluding pages of the book.
Gutknecht and Rölle write well, despite occasional infelicities of style, most of which are the result of Germanisms. They have a tendency to use a range of English adverbs to modify nouns or the adjectives preceding nouns. Thus they write 'Again other expressions are marked...' (p. 60) or 'also the expression medical student may be added...' (p. 4). German adverbs such as 'auch' and 'wieder' can be used to modify a wider range of word class than their English equivalents 'also' and 'again' - a blocking or incompatibility factor (to use the book's terminology) the authors overlook! Another slightly irritating facet of the book is that the reader is confronted with pages of subtle reasoning on, say, the difficulties of differentiating semantically between the epistemic and root use of 'können' only to be told that the English 'can' perfectly reproduces this ambivalence, so that the ambivalence itself is not a translation problem. But these are small points. By and large this book is outstanding, filling a gap in comparative research into modality and doing it with a clarity, logic and thoroughness that leaves the reader gasping. Translators should read it, though they should do so slowly, as it is densely packed with examples which often have to be reflected on before the accompanying text can be understood. It might also be used in a university German-English/English-German translation course, as it frequently points out many differences between the languages. In short: the book is a must. Or - to translate by invariance factor - 'Das Buch ist ein Muß'.