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Review of Alan Duff's "Translation" (OUP/RBT)

Review of Duff's "Translation" (OUP/RBT) by David Owen is licensed under a Creative

Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.
The following blog post details some ideas on Alan Duff's Translation (1989), an OUP Resource
Book for Teachers that was a significant step towards re-normalising the use of translation as a
language-teaching tool after it had largely fallen from grace. The ideas are organised in questionand-answer format, as this text is the result of a series of online interviews, in which my response
was canvassed, from May to June 2011.
As a language teacher, I became interested in translation studies because this area gave a
theoretical framework to intuitions that I'd developed through classroom practice. Specifically
and in direct opposition to my own teacher trainingI felt that it was at best counter-intuitive
and at worse actually rather perverse to deny the naturalness with which students used translation
as the most basic tool in their box when it came to comprehending or producing language.
Shutting off this highly productive language-learning route ledin my viewto confusion,
frustration and demotivation; facilitating it, on the other hand, appeared to me to show students
that you really could cross that language divide in a fairly simple and effective way.
Also, I had become deeply suspicious of that old idea, trotted out time and again in EFL, that you
really can learn to think in another language: the evidence that I've seen is either wholly
inaccessible (stuck away in someone's memory) or else purely anecdotic. It may be true, though
some fairly detailed psycholinguistic material from Translation Studies that I then went on to
read about this suggested absolutely the opposite. In all events, even if it is possible to achieve
some sort of "cross-thinking", I suspect that this can only occur after a very considerable
immersion in a second language, by which I mean years, not months. Yet this ideathe notion
that you can cognitively operate in another language was and still is used as a central
justification for prohibiting translation in the EFL classroom. Again, I found that this was
unhelpful: since most students in my experience patently don't tend to think very much in the
language of study (and how on earth do you demonstrate such a thing?!), why not focus instead
on providing a scaffold for the ways that they evidently DO think, and which will allow them to
construct valid, communicative meaning in a comprehensible manner? Certainly, I would never
say that translation is the only way to do that (it's not) but it works for a lot of people a lot of the
time. So my feeling was that it should be made equally available and should also be "taboo-free".
I was attracted to Translation Studies because these issues were discussed intelligently and in an
objective way, with no mention of prohibiting anything
According to Duff, why has translation fallen out of favour with the language teaching
Why translation fell out of favour in EFL is relatively east to answer, I think. First, as a basic
component to the infamous Grammar-Translation Method, a method that came into disrepute as
early at the 1960s, and was then pretty definitively pushed aside by more communicative

approaches from the 1970s onwards, translation as a language activity was found guilty by
association. Any use of translation was taintedquite unreasonablyby the assumption that the
teacher was trying to sneak in some grammar translation.
Beyond this, I also think that a major cause of its fall from favour, at least on the European EFL
scene, was the mushrooming of minimally qualified EFL teachers produced in the UK through
an RSA certification programme leading to the RSA Preparatory Certificate in EFL (the "Prep
Cert"). There are similar programmes run by other organisations. By minimally qualified, I don't
mean to disparage either the teacherswho were actually mostly graduatesor the RSA, which
developed a pretty good course for the purposes in mind. What I mean is that the Prep Cert gave
(gives) its trainees only 4 weeks to get classroom-ready, after which they can be deployed
practically anywhere, though almost always abroad. So this meant that it made little sense to give
over precious time to translation-related methodologies, since the trainees very rarely knew
where they were headed and therefore which language/s they'd be working with, other than
English. Beyond a very superficial introduction to a range of existing methodologies, the
essential teaching methodology that was used and encouraged was the Direct Method. This has
been around for a long time now, so it's durable; and one of its main ideas is that all classroom
language (instructions, negotiations, etc) are exclusively in the target language. You can see, then,
that it's sensible for a Prep-Cert course to opt for this approach. The problem is, though, that this
has produced legions of teachers whofor whatever reasonnever took their teaching studies
beyond this initial stage and were therefore left with a sort of visceral feeling that using the
students' own language (their "L1", as it's known) was a kind of pedagogical sin. I'd even go so
far to say that anyonesuch as mewho has been through a Prep Cert, but has ended up using
translation intentionally and systematically, has had to struggle a fair bit (at least early on) with
the idea that they're doing something wrong.
In his book Alan Duff highlights some reasons for using translation in the classroom. Please
comment in some detail.
Okay, some reasons for classroom use of translation, according to Duff:
1. L1 influence. It's the single most obvious linguistic resource and is almost unlimitedly
available to any language learner. Some linguists/anthropologists have (not without controversy)
even argued that first-language characteristics actually define conceptual frameworks, so that, for
instance, a Germanic speaker's underlying linguistic constraints and structures will shape his/her
thoughts in ways that are different from someone speaking a Romance language. In the
classroom, its immediacy (a sort of on-tap availability) is a potent resource for comparison,
contrast, similarities, etc. with the target language.
2. Naturalness. "The defence of translation in general starts with the immense advantage of
abundant, vulgar fact" (George Steiner). It happens everywhere, always. No L1-L2 language
exchange of any kind can ever occur without some more or less explicit form of translation
taking place. Even non-native users of a second language arein all probabilityconstantly
translating from their L1, however strenuously they might choose to deny it. Its naturalness
means that its exclusion from the classroom is simply absurd.
3. Transferability. Language competence is not simply the ability to produce (the so-called
active skills of speaking and writing) but also the ability to comprehend (the passive skills of

listening and reading). All these skills are translation-dependent. Fine-tuning them can be
radically improved through systematic use of translation.
4. Translation is not limited to the literary kind (a point that needed to be made more
emphatically in 1989 than it does in today's Google-Translated world). By this, Duff simply
meant thatas language learning should involve exposure to real language in its manifold forms,
translationwhich is suitable to all forms and styles of languagecould be central to that
Alan Duff gives six principles that can be used as strategies when the translator has got
problems when translating. Please comment in some detail.
The 6 Principles:
Duff (10) makes it quite clear that his book is not a theoretical work; it's a teaching-resource
handbook, and that needs to be kept in mind. That said, the principles he mentionsat least from
the point of view of professional translators as opposed to teachers seeking to incorporate aspects
of translation into their classesare open to some degree of question or debate.
1. Meaning. Basically, Duff reinforces the conventional idea of fidelity to the source text (by
which,passim, I mean spoken and/or written), suggesting that "arbitrary" additions should be
eschewed. As a teaching principle for establishing guidelines for the effective and 'testable' use
of translation in class, this makes good sense. In the real world of translation, however, there are
many, many contexts in which this sort of close fidelity is untenable or unwanted (though there
are also ambitstranslations of contracts, for instance, or of scientific experimentswhere it is
obviously valid and required.
2. Form. Duff refers here to "the ordering of words and ideas", that is, the manner in which the
original text selects certain words and orders these in a particular way into ideas that are
themselves then also ordered in a particular way. He suggestsrather like in his point 1that
this ordering be rigorously respected (and highlight those contexts in which this is obviously
required: legal documents, contracts, etc.). But again, whilst this is solid enough advice for the
general language class, professional translators in many contexts opt for a "horses for courses"
approach, preferring to maintain flexibility in these issues where the source or target text may
allow for or even call for such flexibility. This flexibility in the area of what Duff refers to as
"form" (a term that is used differently in different circumstances in language and linguistics) may
be essential if the translator is to achieve a sense of vitality in her work and, most especially,
when the translator is shaping the text for the perceived requirements of a target audience,
requirements that are given a greater premium than direct fidelity.
3. Register. Translators must be sensitive to, and respect, levels of register and changes of
register within a text. A very fair observation, though one that no professional translator would
ever need drawing to their attention. Bearing in mind, however, that Duff is emphasising these
principles for the effective use of translation in the classroom, making this point patent (i.e., for
teachers) is reasonable enough.
4. L1 Interference. One of the most frequent complaints made of translations is that the
translated text is too close to the original, forcing the translator to live in a sort of permanent
Scylla and Charybdis between the demand for fidelity to the source text and the requirement of
native-likeness in the result. As with point 3, it's fair to underline the need for a good translation

to sound natural. Quite what that really means and how it is achieved, however, is a very
complex question. If we're talking about certain types of written texts, where the translator has
time to re-write and revise, this point is a very central concern; if we're talking about spoken
translation (more or less formal interpretation), the issue cannot be given the same value, since
time is limited and approximation to the source language may be all that can reasonably be
achieved. So once again, decent advice for classroom use, but the world of professional
translation is much more demanding, complex and multiple for this sort of comment to have
anything other than a superficial validity.
5. Style and clarity. Duff states that the translator "should not change the style of the original"
(11). If we're talking about conference interpretation, for instance, or academic translation, this is
clearly very good advice. But in other contexts, where does this "should not" come from? Why
can't a translator modify the stylistic characteristics of a text? Once we accept that there are many
different types of translation, not simply the "close and faithful rendering" type, stylistic
modification presents itself as a highly interesting tool for the translator. In literary translation,
for example, it can be a very valuable resource. Obviously, you have to have an objective in
mind if you want to modify your source text in this way; but assuming that you have a decent
reason for doing soagain, adapting things to audience requirements comes to mindthen why
not? As for clarity (which means here the presence of things in the source text that decrease
clarity), Duff suggests that the translator "maycorrect the defects" (ibid). But how? Directly,
thereby over-riding the source? By annotation? Through the use of translator
notes/prefaces/introductions? Each one of these options brings its own problems and debates.
One thing is the correction of an objective error (a typo, grammatical slip, faulty collocation),
but Duff's imaginary dodgy text, "sloppily written, or full of tedious repetitions" (ibid) isI
thinklikely to prove itself a slippery customer. Your sloppy writing might be my idea of
Shakespeare; my tedious repetitions might call forth your delight at my clarity.
6. Idiom. How to take account of idiomatic language? A good question, relevant to a host of text
types and language situations. Duff, drawing hereas elsewhere in these principleson
Frederick Fuller and Peter Newmark, rightly draws attention to the difficulty of this aspect of
language, and rightly avoids against translating literally. In colloquial spoken Catalan, for
instance, to say that someone's good at something they say the following: "en t els ous pelats",
meaning that "his balls are skinned", a term that rarely gets applied to women The suggested
strategies for handling metaphor, simile, sayings and proverbs are standardtranslator handbook
stuff, but none the less valid for that. Certainly, more or less literal translation of expressions that
cannot usually be rendered effectively and comprehensibly into the source language is fairly
typical of the inexperienced foreign-language user and, in this sense, this 'principle' is one that
many a learner would do well to learn by heart, in parrot fashion, by rote or otherwise to get offpat.
From your point of view, does translated information give a reader the same sense as the
1. Does translated information give a reader the same sense as the original?
Unfortunately, without wanting to sound pedantic, the only fair answer that I can give to this one
is "it depends". What it depends on is actually quite a wide range of things: the faithfulness of the
translation, its linguistic quality, its attention to style, relevance and purpose, and so on. But it

also depends on what's called text typology. If, as you might be suggesting, the text is
information-based (that is, predominantly factual), a good translation might indeed recreate the
original so that the sense is essentially the same. An example of this might be a basic menuas
in "bacon, egg and chips", though not one of those ridiculous menus that say things like "essence
of country-raised snail nestled in a souffl of young wildebeest tails"or a brochure listing 5
simple advantages of a given product/service, for instance. But, if you mean "does a translated
text [in general, as opposed to simply limiting this to "information" texts] give the reader the
same sense as the original?", that's much harder to determine. For one thing, how do we know
with any tolerable accuracy what sense the original has for its target readers? What does it mean
to them as a cultural and linguistic entity? Even worse, what does "mean" mean in this context?
Beyond that, even where we may have established a check-list of relevant and important features
in both the original and translated texts so as to ensure that these features have been fully
accounted for, we can't even then be sure that this equivalence guarantees that the translation
attains the "same" sense as the original. Similar, perhaps, but not the same. A small example:
translating Trainspotting will require the translator to have a shot at reproducing a certain type of
Edinburgh dialect in whatever language is being translated into. For a good literary translator
with a solid understanding of his or her own linguistic culture, this is a feasible task (though not
an easy one). But, once the translation has been produced and we marvel at the translator's
ingenuity, can weeven thenbe sure that the "new" readers are getting the same sense as that
conveyed by Welsh's original dialect? Are the connotations, the parameters, the innuendoes of
the translated dialect, its distance from the hegemonic standard, its social and national
significance, in any real sense the same as the original? That's a tough one.
What this tends to mean then, I think, is that certain types of text make direct equivalence more
feasible; other text types (and not just literary texts) mean that this equivalence can only ever be
approximate. And that may actually be enough. It all boils down to what and who the translation
is for.
How does Duff define translation ( What is the importance of translation and why should
we translate)?
2. How Duff defines translation/its importance/why we should translate
In fact, I think that Duff fairly studiously avoids defining translation in any direct way. It's true
that he begins his book with a quote from Ian Tudor that defines translation as "the process of
conveying messages across linguistic and cultural barriers" (5), but never specifically elaborates
on his own understanding of the term. I take it that this is, first, intentional, in the sense that the
book itself is a sort of practical definition of what Duff probably means, and, second, that weas
readersare to understand that he is in agreement with Tudor's very general (but entirely
reasonable) definition. What's clear is that Duff emphasises, through his introductory comments
and through the activities set out in the bookthe basic purpose of translation as overcoming the
obstacle of incomprehension. I would only add that this seems like a pretty sensible strategy on
his part: attempting to give a satisfactory definition of something as complex and universal as
translation is to invite a landslide of dissenting voices. What's important is not so much the
precise definition but the notion that translation means more than just a bookish or boring

undertaking, that it's vastly more than a specialist activity restricted to highly particular
moments. In fact, it's all about overcoming that wall of non-understanding between languages
that are not mutually comprehensible; in this sensethough this is a slightly geeky pointit's
worth recalling that the word "translate" is from Latin translatus, meaning "carried across".
Translatus is the past participle of transferre, the etymological starting point for the modern
English verb "transfer".
As for the other parts of this question, I think the clearest way to answer them is simply to repeat
some of the things I've already said. Whether we're talking here about Duff's own views as
expressed in Translation or whether we're referring to views held more generally, the importance
of translation is that it's everywhere, always. From the smallest expression used simply for social
cohesion (a quick "bonjour" even if you know practically no other French) through to
enormously complex renderings of advanced thought and detailed ideas from one language to
others, translation is an essential fact of multicultural, multilingual life. In an apparently
monolingual community such as certain parts of the UK, for instance, that may seem an
overblown claim; travel about a bit, though, and you'll see how weirdly unusual monolingualism
Finally, why should we translate? Well, ifas Tudor remarkstranslation is getting messages
across linguistic and cultural divides, not opting to do so is, in effect, opting for isolation.
Translation is communication; the restso to speakis silence.
Could you give us a summary of chapter One?
The book begins with a discussion of Context and Register, and Duff takes the opportunity from
the outset to defend and justify this decision by suggestingquite rightly, of coursethat "all
language must occur somewhere" (19). In other words, from the perspective of his general
approach in this work, it is logical and necessary to begin not with nitty-gritty questions of
grammar, but with, in effect, an assessment and understanding of how the macro area of context
works, and how registerstylistic fluctuations that attend to contextis determined by this.
His basic concern here appears to be written rather than oral language, and certainly the points
that are being made in this opening chapter are far more easily demonstrated in written form. In
this respect, one of the underlying notions that is helpfully touched on is the conceptfamiliar to
literary theoryof the implied reader; Duff cites Tricia Hedge's introduction to Writing, an OUP
Resource Book for Teachers, in which she makes the evident but important point that "most of
the writing we do in real life is written with a reader in mind" (Hedge in Duff, 20). Why is that
important? Because this implied reader provides a genuine purpose for that writing, a purpose
that (whatever it may specifically be aimed at) is, in effect, a context. We need not take things
quite as far as certain literary theorists who say that the "text"any textis actually written not
by its author but by its reader, in the sense that the text comes into being with that reader's
requirements in mind. It is enough, here, to understand that writing does not occur in a vacuum,
and that the idea of a reader, his or her values, ideas, status, age, profession, world-view, beliefs,
needs and a long list of etceteras will inevitably shape the outcome of writing itself.

From this stems the related notion of register. Clearly, not all implied readers are the same: some
are more formal, others less so; some will have a professional connection with the writer, others
are family or friends. These are only some of the possible variants that configure register, and
each one of these variants brings with it stylistic parameters and expectations. A clear example of
this is Duff's invented sentence that deliberately blends two basically incompatible registers, the
scientific and the leisure-related, resulting in a hybrid account of an experiment tinged with the
tourist brochure:
"Samples of sand taken from the sun-kissed, palm-fringed beaches of Goa revealed abnormally
high concentrations of sodium chloride" (20).
Recognising register, accounting for it and replicating its equivalent stylistic level and objectives
is a fundamental task in translation. Failure to carry this out effectively mayand probably will
result in a text that is inadequate for its intended purposes. This is at once a sophisticated
requirement in language use but is also completely routine: all of us, many times every day,
modify our language for particular purposes, whether it's for telling a bedtime story to a little
child, trying to sound posh on the telephone or slipping into (or out of) professional jargon with
colleagues. The more advanced language learner needslike the translatorto be sensitive to
the nuances of such shifts in register, to understand why these have occurred, and to be able to
replicate them when that may be required. No easy task. Comparative analysis of language from
written contexts that translation provides is therefore an ideal tool for the study and teaching of
shifting register.
Duff suggests that to ignore register in translation "is to translate words rather than the meaning"
(21), which is a nice way of putting it; butsince this is not a translators' handbook but rather a
resource book for teachers trying to help language learners to become more effective users of
English, the additional point needs making that ignoring register in language learning is equally
unsatisfactory. Put simply, it leads to language that is unsuitable to context. In short, adequacy to
context is the basic objective of register; otherwise we really are just left with what Hamlet
would call "words, words, words".
Can you give us a summary of Duff's second chapter "Word order and reference"
A- "stress and emphasis" ,
B- "reformulation and repetition" and
C- "articles in English and L1"?
So, Word Order and Reference:
Before getting into the specifics of the sections you asked me to comment on, the first thing to
say about this second chapter is the justification Duff gives for focussing on this area. Basically,
this comes down to three points:
1. The centrality of syntax to meaning
2. The relative inflexibility of word order in English (compared, say, to Latin), and therefore the
importance of getting it right

3. The significance of items that provide emphasis, such as the word "do" in "I really do agree",
forms that are essential to constructing/negotiations English meaning but whose useand
correct intonationis often very difficult for learners.
These things are all issues that can be especially well highlighted through an emphasis on
translation. Particularly, in the area of Stress and Emphasis, Duff's basic point is to show that
apparently insignificant "grammatical words" (i.e., words whose primary function is not to
express lexical meaning) can actually profoundly alter meaning just as much as any card-holding
lexical word. Examples of this, as given by Duff (50, 51) are the emphatic "am" in "I am talking
properly" and the emphatic "does" in "but he does try".
Reformulation and repetition. Meaning is constructed in a huge variety of ways. This is even
the case in fairly fixed contexts, by which I mean for example written texts that, traditionally and
by their nature, were not negotiated "in situ", which, in contrast, is what often/usually happens in
speech. Actually, word-processing tools for collective editing are forcing us to rethink this
distinction, but that's another story. Reformulation/repetition is a basic rhetorical strategy aiming
to ensure that meaning is successfully communicated, particularlyperhapswhere this
meaning may be complex or delicate in content. Different languages have different approaches to
this, and translation helps to highlight that what may appear to be unnecessary repetition is
actually a careful strategy directed towards consolidating and confirming meaning.
Articles. This is a notoriously pitfall-ridden area! Articles are actually not a feature of all
languages (Duff cites the example of Serbo-Croatian as an article-less language) but even where
they do exist and appear to correspond directly to those in English (a, an/the), their use may be
frustratingly distinct. For instance, one of the functions of the definite article in English is to
specify ("the music" as opposed to simply "music"). In many other languages, however, the
article is required to do precisely the opposite, that is, to make the word non-specific. That's why
non-native speakers often end up saying things in English that we sometimes find slightly comic,
along the lines of "in the life, most of all I like the music". These problems are not usually
impediments to general comprehension, but they are fairly tough obstacles to precision, and
linguistic accuracy is a highly prized asset. Duff correctly suggests that back-translation
exercises (translating back into the language that you have just translate from) can be useful in
bringing this problem to the fore and thereby heightening awareness of when it's happening and
what it signifies. Above all, language activities such as this help students ascertain and eventually
understand the differences and peculiarities of their L1 and their target L2/3/4
Could you please talk more about stress and emphasis ?
If I were to add to thatand keeping myself within the bounds of Duff's own concernsI'd
draw further attention to the fact that this sort of emphasis derives principally from a phonetic
feature (the modulation in pitch that is an indicator of importance, henceof courseDuff's use
of the word "inflection"), one that can therefore be entirely overlooked or misunderstood in
written contexts. Duff (50) makes exactly this point, calling such emphasis "a feature of the
language which can easily be overlooked, particularly in writing, where the emphasis is not often
marked. Yet in translation it is vital to the meaning of the sentence". What does he mean by this?
Well, consider the following forms:

(a) The boy likes playing with his dog

(b) Does the boy like playing with his dog?
(c) The boy doesn't like playing with his dog
(d) The boy does like playing with his dog
Examples (a) to (c) are familiar even to low-level students of English; they follow a clear pattern
that says that verbs such as Like (a so-called 'lexical' verb) use an auxiliary verb (in this case,
Do) to form negative or interrogative sentences. Example (d) would be confusing to many
students, at least those who are currently at a pre-intermediate stage. They'd want to know what
on earth that negative/interrogative marker was doing in an affirmative utterance. They could
well even conclude that the sentence is erroneous. Recognising that it's not an error, andwhat's
morethat it has a function (e.g., emphasis) more complex than simply negating or questioning
is an important development in language-learning competence. Learning to recognise and
replicate this form at an oral/aural level is more progress still. Coping with, accounting for and
effectively reproducing such emphatic forms is a basic objective when translating, and, once
again, translation is an ideal activity for testing and assessing these features.
Could you please give us a summary of Duffs work regarding tense, mood and aspect
(passive, conditionals and prepositions)
Chapter 3: Tense, Mood, Aspect.
Tense (a set of forms taken by a verb to indicate the time of its action in relation to the time of its
reporting),mood (a category of verb use that indicates things such as fact, question, command,
wish or condition) andaspect (a category or form of verb that shows how time is expressed by
the verb: in English this means whether the verb is progressive [Mary's speaking] or
completed/"perfected" [Mary's spoken]) areevidentlyissues that affect verbs. As Duff (73)
recognises, these issues are a question of "structure, more than lexis. That is, with the overall
way in which a sentence is shaped rather than with the individual choice of words".
Surely a verb is a verb is a verb? Once we recognise that "-ed" is a regular past tense and have
taken the trouble to learn a decent-sized list of irregular verbs (in English, those whose past and
past participle vary from the "-ed" form) and that the future is expressed by "will + infinitive",
that's the end of it. Unfortunately not. It's not hard to find correspondences at a lexical level
amongst verbs in different languages; for example, it's not usually a problem to find the
corresponding verb for "open" or "eat" or "think" (though it may well be that the best
correspondence sometimes needs the help of other words), but how those verbs function, and
how they express things like action, duration, state and completion, is far more complex.
Think of a language's verb system as a great big cake. Then imagine that every language has a
generally comparable cake. This might lead you to conclude that, at least as verbs are concerned,
translation should be fairly straightforward: you just select the bit of cake corresponding to your
ownand voil. What happens, though, is that while the Verb Cake might be pretty universal,
the way in which every language cuts up that cake into various parts is not.

Here's a simple example. In English, to express the length of time you've lived somewhere, you'd
say something like this: "I've lived in England for five years". The verb form here is the so-called
present perfect (in effect, a compound tense that combines the present tense and perfect aspect).
One of its uses is to indicate something that began in the past and is still continuing as we speak.
In Catalan, to say the same thing, you'd say something like this "fa cinc anys que visc a
Anglaterra" (literally, "ago five years that I live in England", or more reasonably "I live in
England since five years ago"). What's important to see in this context is that, for English
speakers, the present perfect is the most suitable verbal form, since the present simple (for
example, "I live in England") expresses a more or less permanent state and could not therefore
adequately convey the nuance of a past event ("I moved here five years ago") that has present
consequences ("I'm still here now"). But for Catalan speakers, in this context the present simple
("visc" is first-person singular indicative of the verb "viure" meaning "to live") is an entirely
adequate manner to express a verb whose action is currently occurring, irrespective of when that
action may have begun. The cake's the same, but it's sliced up differently.
The same is true for aspects of the verb such as state or mood. As far as state (or stativeness) is
concerned, in some contexts, some verbs in English cannot be expressed in a continuous manner:
you'll sound like King Julien XIII if you go around saying things like "I am seeing a problem
with your argument", although "seeing", in other contexts is perfectly okay). And mood covers a
host of verb functions such as command or wishes. One of these functions is hypothesis, which is
the territory of the subjunctive. It's often saidquite wronglythat English no longer has a
subjunctive as there is no entirely separate subjunctive form (though the verb To Be is a partial
exception to this, with its now increasingly optional "If I were you"). The subjunctive, as a notion
or concept, of course exists. But Englishmost treacherously for its learnershides it within the
form of an apparently innocent past tense. Look at theses two sentences to get an idea:
When she lived in Germany she spoke good German
If she lived in Germany she'd speak good German
Both sentences use identical forms ("she lived") but only the first is a real past form; its point of
reference is the past. The second sentence really does use the past tense, but its meaning is not
past. It is hypothetical, imaginary, subjunctive. We might even say that, in the sense that this
imaginary situation could one day come true, its point of reference is actually the future. No
wonder people despair at ever mastering English: it uses the past tense to talk about the future!!
Duff effectively recognises the complexity of these issues andin this chaptermakes two
important points as a means of helping approach the problems involved. First, he gives far
greater contextualisation than in the other sections of the book; second, he encourages the use of
oral translation as a means of breaking free from producing an overly direct translation that a
written rendering might produce. He argues, quite fairly I think, that these often complex verbal
uses are sometimes formulaic in different languages and that "not without thinking but without
too much pondering" (74) students may perhaps more successfully hit upon what Duff calls the
target-language openings that are the most adequate translation for the English forms under

To repeat myself yet again, translation is a particularly suitable language activity to examine and
practice the differences between L1 and L2 verb systems.
Could you please send me a summary of the fourth chapter "concepts and notions"
regarding choice of words , possibility and ability and "causality , consequence" , "effect
and result"?
Duff titles this chapter "Concepts and Notions", generally referring to those areas of meaning
that are abstract and therefore difficult to indicate with ease or transparency. He makes a wellillustrated point about the difficulty of 'accessing' this type of meaning, precisely because of its
abstractness, reminding us thatfor concepts and notionsthe words used for these ideas "do
not refer to any concrete, tangible thing" (97).
This brings us to a common problem in translation, which is the degree to which any word can
be said to have a true equivalence with the vocabulary of another language. In the area of nouns,
this is rarely a major obstacle when we restrict ourselves to objects, though in fact what is meant
by an equivalent word for such a concrete object may be enormously different (think of what
House means to you, or to a Tuareg, an Eskimo or an Amazon-forest dweller). It's not that
tangible nouns are problem-free, but when and where problems arise, we can usually sort them
out by simple illustration. That's not possible with abstract nouns, such as valour, courtesy,
concupiscence or evil, terms that Duff highlights in making this very point.
The deeperand very controversialissue at play here is the idea that it is our native language
itself that determines the way we, as individual speakers of that language, perceive and
understand our world. It is inevitable, I think, that this section of the book should make reference
to this idea, and indeed Chapter 4 begins with a partial quotation from Benjamin Whorf. Though
Duff gives only a fragment of this, I think that this fuller quotation gives a much better idea of
what Whorf was on about:
We dissect nature along lines laid down by our native languages. The categories and
types that we isolate from the world of phenomena we do not find there because they
stare every observer in the face; on the contrary, the world is presented in a kaleidoscopic
flux of impressions which has to be organized by our minds - and this means largely by
the linguistic systems in our minds. We cut nature up, organize it into concepts, and
ascribe significances as we do, largely because we are parties to an agreement to organize
it in this way - an agreement that holds throughout our speech community and is codified
in the patterns of our language. The agreement is, of course, an implicit and unstated
one,but its terms are absolutely obligatory; we cannot talk at all except by subscribing to
the organization and classification of data which the agreement decrees. (Whorf 1940
'Science and Linguistics',Technology Review 42(6), pp. 213-14; his emphasis).
Working in the 1930s and 40s on this question and jointly with his mentor and teacher, Edward
Sapir, Whorf put forward a theory (known as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, or Worfianism, and
also referred to as linguistic relativity) that says "it's not primarily your culture that defines your
language, and therefore your way of expressing the world, but is actually your language that
shapes your culture by constructing the ways in which it gives expression to reality"; another,
though more superficial, way of saying this is that language influences thought rather than the
other way round. Of course, this summary simplifies Whorf's views enormously and ignores the

fact that there are actually two versions of the theory, the strong and the weak, which have been
received with differing degrees of acceptance by linguists and anthropologists. It should also be
said that influential linguists such as Chomsky and Pinker, whose views are more 'universalist',
have strongly opposed Whorf's line of thought and have tended to dismiss its conclusions.
In all events, and now back to translation, we cannot dismiss out of hand the idea that abstract
thoughtin itself complex enoughis made more complex still by not directly corresponding to
an equivalent abstract thought in another language. In short, translators need (a) to be aware of
this lack of equivalence and never fall into the trap of assuming the transferability of abstract
notions, and (b) find ways to ensure that the abstract concept in question is successfully
communicated in the other language.
In Chapter 4, Duff provides a range of activities that seek to work on precisely these issues,
highlighting especially the ambit of definitions, the concepts of possibility and ability, causality,
and perception. The basic strategy of the chapter, beyond basic consciousness-raising, is to work
on evaluating the suitability of equivalence (having by now accepted that direct equivalence is
not available) and on assessing those strategies that might be developed when a concept simply
does not exist in the L1. This is useful classroom stuff, but for me the most interesting material
comes in the final sections of Chapter 4 in which the activities look at L1 and L2 expressions
commonly associated with specific concepts, and to enquire into the parameters of the
differences amongst them.
In short, though it wisely sidesteps the hot potato of linguistic relativity by mentioning it but not
really evaluating it (though Duff takes issuep.98with Whorf's use of the word "dissect"), this
chapter still engages with the issues of language and thought that are central to Whorf's theory. In
doing so, Duff takes an interesting and useful look at "wheretwo languages overlap and where
they do not" (99).
Could you please send me a summary of chapter five regarding idioms (from one culture to
another) ?
Having been through a pretty broad range of issues (context/register; syntax and reference;
tense/mood; concepts/notions), Duff ends by bringing the book "full circle" (123), as he
idiomatically explains it. We're back with context and register again, but now with a difference:
"[w]hile in the previous four sections we were concerned primarily with language, with the
transfer from one language to another, here we concentrate rather on expression, on the transfer
from one culture to another" (123).
If we chose to, we might pick holes with that observation (idioms areevidentlyan aspect of
language that also need transferring into the L2, and those other "primarily" linguistic issues
focussed on in earlier chapters also very much involve cultural transference), but generally it's an
understandable distinction. Most especially, that part of the dictionary definition that Duff opens
the chapter with, informing us that an idiom is a "peculiarity of phraseology approved by usage
though having a meaning not deductible from those of the separate words" (COD) hits the nails
on the headso to speakin helping us see how this sort of language is difficult for learners to
understand, to replicate and to transfer from their L1 to L2, or the other way round.

The difficulty with idiomatic language, as with issues of register, isfrom the point of view of
recognitionbeing able to understand the communicative purpose underlying the expression, or
from the point of view of transferring an idiom from L1 to L2being able to sythesise its
essential meaning (rather than external form) and express it adequately in the target language.
For instance, it's not inconceivable that we might find the closing season of a professional
footballer's career described as his "sporting swan song", a term that would be quite meaningless
if it were translated directly, that is, without attending to the non-literality of its meaning. The
trick here, for the learner, is (a) recognising that this is not literal and (b) sufficiently appreciating
the general context so as to understand its likely meaning (when coming across the expression
for the first time). A further trick is being able to express the idiomatic term in a way that suitably
captures its basic meaning. Some idioms might transfer sufficiently well; as a rule of thumb,
most don't; this means that a more prosaic rendering of the essential purpose of the idiom may
well be the safest option if you're trying to translate, especially if that's in a spoken context where
you don't have the necessary time to search for a nicely equivalent idiomatic expression.
A further difficulty for learners of English is that of gaining enough L1-L2 sensitivity to separate
themselves from their own L1 idiomatic language in order to conveywhen the need arisesits
basic meaning independent of its particular form. This may sound obvious, but anyone who
speaks a second language reasonably well will in all likelihood have the experience of having
struggled to translate something idiomatic in a more or less literal way, only to be met with
incomprehension. Recognising an idiom as an item that probably needs paraphrasing is a useful
strategy, but one that takes time to develop well. And obviously, not all idioms present the same
degree of difficulty. In French, the expression "quand le chat n'est pas l, les souris dansent"
literally translates as "when the cat isn't there, the mice dance", close enough to our "when the
cat's away the mice will play" for it not to present great difficulties. But how about the Catalan
expression "d'on no n'hi ha no en raja"? Literally, "where there isn't any, none of it leaks", a
pretty common utterance, usually used critically of someone (or, more broadly, of an institution
or group), and meaning that the native absence of a certain qualityintelligence, sayimplies
that you'll never find it however much you look. Hence, this might be said of a rather slowwitted person. Clearly, a literal interpretation would not help us much here, and the ability to opt
effortlessly for something like "not the sharpest tool in the shed" is not within reach of most L2
As I've already said about the content of every other chapter, translation is a highly suitable
approach to appreciating, negotiating and coping with this area of language. Personally, I
particularly like Duff's 5.3 ("On the beaten track: familiar expressions"), which helpfully reminds
usteachers, learners, translators alikethat idiomatic usage is not always the most colourful,
vivid and dynamic aspect of language; one of the most frequently used type of idiom in everyday
speech and writing is the clich, a dead or dying expression whose real purpose is a sort of standin for genuine thought. The challenge here is to learn thatdespite their moribund quality
these clichs, jargon-like phrases and clapped-out metaphors are actually, pragmatically
speaking, very appropriate language. Good writers and good speakers will be encouraged to
avoid them ("like the plague"), but part of the reason for their continued use is precisely their
perceived suitability to context, which means that, as "set expressions" able in effect to be

learned as-is and applied when needed, they have considerable value (Duff's examples on p. 133
include "in the author's opinion", in all probability" and "remains to be seen"). Sensitive use,
even of clichd idioms, requires the ability to correctly assess context and underlying meaning,
and to be adequate to register.
All of the activities in this final chapter are sensible, highly practical forms of looking at and
practising the many ways in which idiomatic expressions are present and can create both
difficulties and opportunities in L1-L2 language use. But, although there is an implicit warning
in all of this as regards an unthinking approach to idioms when translating, there is a need, I
think, to make that message just a little clearer from the outset. It would be useful, in that sense,
to begin the introduction to the chapter with some basic guidelines: learn to recognise the
challenge represented by idioms (structure, context, register, meaning) in accordance with your
level, of course, but from the outset; be more prepared to paraphrase than to search for direct
equivalence to these forms; above all, be aware that idioms are densely packaged bundles of
cultural significance, succinctly conveying a huge range of extra-linguistic information about
which users may only be dimly aware. To say that a situation is akin to crossing the Rubicon tells
us one sort of thing about the speaker; to say that an intractable issue really does your head in
tells you quite another. Native speakers will probably see huge differences between the
pragmatic quality of these two expressions; many learners may well not. Caveat emptor!
Could you please introduce Alan Duff's book as a whole ( please include a brief synopsis for
each chapter )?
Alan Duff's Translation (1989) followed the basic pattern of the OUP Resource Books for
Teachers in that it finely balanced a reasonable grounding in basic theoretical notions with the
obvious need for tested, feasible and engaging classroom activities. By this I mean that the titles
in this series approach teachers' needs in a way that take for granted that real classes with real
students are waiting to be taught, but that the teachers addressed by the series are also
professionals interested in rather more than a few photocopiable lesson plans. All the same,
Duff's book was somewhat distinct from the other titles simply by dent of the subject itself. As
Alan Maley, the series editor, comments in the foreword, translation had "long languished as a
poor relation in the family of language teaching techniques [and has been] denigrated as
'uncommunicative', 'boring', 'pointless', 'difficult, 'irrelevant' and the like, and has suffered from
too close an association with its cousin, Grammar". He was referring, in part, to the infamous
grammar-translation method of language teaching, a centuries-old methodology that had fallen
into considerable disrepute in the 1960s and was basically abandoned in the 1970s (though the
news of its downfall certainly never made it through to the Latin and French teachers who I was
taught by). But another cause for the poor image that translation hadat least on the European
EFL scenewas the mushrooming of minimally qualified EFL teachers produced in the UK
through certification programmes such as that leading to the RSA Preparatory Certificate in EFL
(the "Prep Cert"). By minimally qualified, I don't mean to disparage either the teacherswho
were actually mostly graduatesor the RSA, which developed a pretty good course for the
purposes in mind. What I mean is that the Prep Cert gave (gives) its trainees only 4 weeks to get
classroom-ready, after which they can be deployed practically anywhere, though almost always
abroad. So this meant that it made little sense to give over precious time to translation-related
methodologies, since the trainees very rarely knew where they were headed and therefore which

language/s they'd be working with, other than English. Beyond a very superficial introduction to
a range of existing methodologies, the essential teaching methodology that was used and
encouraged was the Direct Method. This has been around for a long time now, so it's durable;
and one of its main ideas is that all classroom language (instructions, negotiations, etc) are
exclusively in the target language. You can see, then, that it's sensible for a Prep-Cert course to
opt for this approach. The problem is, though, that this has produced legions of teachers who
for whatever reasonnever took their teaching studies beyond this initial stage and were
therefore left with a sort of visceral feeling that using the students' own language (their "L1", as
it's known) was a kind of pedagogical sin.
Duff's Translation bravely stood up to all this and basically announced that it was okay to use
translation in language teaching (it's worth emphasising the obvious, at this point, that this book
was not a coursebook for translators, nor a book about how to teach translation; rather, it
attempts to show how teachers can usetranslation as a teaching tool). It's not that Duff was the
first to express an approval of translation, but the institutional "force" of an OUP Resource Book
for Teachers lent huge weight to the issue. In effect, the book formed part of a shift in attitudes in
EFL, I think, and added its own quite considerable grain of sand to the growing eclecticism that
now characterises much good EFL practice, with its willingness to try and possibly even endorse
any approach that helps learners learn.
The book is divided into five chapters, each one with a short introduction that provides some
reflection on the importance of the chapter's subject to language acquisition and use, followed by
practical classroom activities. These, in turn, provide teachers with preparation and in-class
instructions, as well as useful comments. Chapter One takes on the complex question of context
and register; a good starting point since, as Duff observes "all words are shaped by their context
[and so] we can sayvery broadlythat context comes before language" (19). Subsequent
chapters look at ways in which translation can help the teaching of syntax and reference (Ch.
2), with a close focus on, amongst other areas, stress and emphasis, reformulation and articles;
tense, mood and aspect (Ch.3), which assesses the manifold and particular ways that languages
have of referring to time and tense; concepts and notions (Ch.4) a rather fundamental ambit of
language study not least inasmuch as this engages with the hugely controversial question of how
different cultures may perceive reality through the influence, primarily, of their language; and
idiomatic language(Ch.5), a notoriously slippery aspect of language learning whose successful
use often escapes even the most advanced and effective of learners.
To newly qualified EFL teachers in today's far more heterogeneous teaching contexts, Duff's
book may now seem entirely natural and obvious (though this would not make it any less useful
in class). Back in 1989, though, things were very different. Just having this book up there on the
prep room bookshelves was something of a godsend, and a very significant voicing of support
for those of us who had always thought that the use of translation in language teaching was selfevidently justifiable, but had had to swim against the current to get others to accept that.