Volume 14, No. 3 
July 2010


Dr. Ali R. Al-Hassnawi


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Translator Education

Translanguage vs. Interlanguage:

Exploration in Translation Strategies

by Dr. Ali R. Al-Hassnawi
Language & Translation Expert of OAC

raditionally, translation has been—and is still being—taught as an autonomous academic subject. This is at least the situation in most of the Arab academic institutions where translation teaching is deprived of the implications, approaches, findings and insights of foreign language teaching practices. Being fully aware of distinction between the two fields, I would argue in favor of integrating foreign language teaching programs with those of professional translators' training for the benefit of both. This argument of integration is based on the thesis that foreign language learners and professional translation trainees develop similar hypotheses about their tasks and pass through similar transitional stages of linguistic development and production. Collectively, the former is called 'Interlanguage' while the latter is what I would like to call 'Translanguage'. Based on this thesis, fruitful integration between programs of foreign language teaching and professional translators' training may occur.

1. Introduction:

The debate on the interaction between foreign language (FL) learning and translation as two bilingual processes has been going on since the establishment of these two endeavors as intellectual disciplines. It has often been based on the assumption that translation is an inevitable instinctive part of the way the mind approaches a FL while a translator seeks to go further into the target language (TL) than what the learner wants to do into the FL. Also, and despite the fact that both the FL learner and translator are moving towards the same target, there is a very crucial difference between the two: FL learners move along a transitional (constantly variable) continuum in search of being competent bilinguals. By contrast, a translator has already reached that destination of being a competent bilingual proxy who carries out the task of connecting the target language (TL) reader to the source text (ST). Providing empirical evidence to this statement constitutes one of the objectives of this paper. By analyzing several samples of FL learners' and translators' products, it would become obvious that both practitioners move along the same communicative continuum, though having different intentions, falling under dissimilar conditions and pressures and paying off different loyalties.

2. FL learning vs. translation process

There is a unanimous agreement among linguists and translation theorists on the use of translation as an FL learning and teaching strategy (cf. Al-Kufaishy, 2004 and 2006). But how about looking into the reverse direction? Despite the fact that many scholars in this field try to argue in favor of the positive consequences of FL learning strategies on translation (cf. Toury, 1979 and Kaur, 2005), I strongly believe in the necessity of keeping the two areas distinct. This is by no means entails the denial of any resemblance between them. Instead, it is an attempt to institutionalize the autonomy of translation as a science worth studying by itself rather than exaggerating its relation to FL pedagogy to the extent that the translator's identity is lost. This confusion partly refers to the deceiving resemblance between the strategies used by FL learners on one hand and those used by translators on the other. This has caused some scholars to talk about what they call the "manifestations of Interlanguage in translation" (Toury, 1979:223). He further adds:

Thus, the analysis of interlanguage forms occurring in translations should form an integral part of any systemic descriptive study of translation as an empirical phenomenon. This is not a mere empirical, observational conclusion. Theoretical considerations strongly support it, and even lead to hypothesizing that the language used in translation tends to be interlanguage." (My emphasis) (ibid. 225 and 227).

To me, this confusion in the use of labels and their concepts should be sorted out in search for institutionalizing translation as an autonomous, though multidisciplinary, field of study. This objective can be achieved if evidence can be produced to prove the distinction between translator's language and FL learner's language. Having the second been long established, I would call the first Translanguage and will demonstrate its distinctive characteristics on theoretical and empirical grounds. The following diagram serves as an illustration of this connection

As shown in the above diagram, the contribution of each participant (i.e. FL learner and translator) in the communicative task is very different. This difference—as it will be shown later—is due to a variety of task-based and interpersonal variables involved in each process. Interestingly, the two practitioners build on a compatible set of strategies to implement the task of communication in the TL successfully. Thus, it suffices to say that both translators and FL learners are communicative proxies, though for different purposes. This necessitates the exploration of Interlanguage and Translanguage as two different entities, serving different purposes, though produced by similar strategies. I believe that if this difference is improved empirically, a great contribution would be made in favor of translation as being an independent skill, art and science.

3. FL learner's strategies:

Since the early 1960s, a new attitude towards the learner's role in the process of language learning has been taken. With this change in attitudes, language learning in general and FL learning in particular began to be looked upon as a process of 'cognitive' and 'creative' constructing in which the learners are active participants. This activity is displayed by a set of learning and communicative strategies the operation of which results in what has just been called Interlanguage. In other words, FL learners use two types of strategies, namely learning and communicative strategies. As they are closely interrelated, I would call them here collectively as FL learner's strategies.

3.1 Interlanguage: a manifestation of FL Learner's strategies.

Following Brown (1987:83), a strategy may be defined as "a particular method of approaching a problem or a task; a mode for preparation for achieving a particular end; a planned design for controlling and manipulating certain information. "The same view is held by Faerch and Kasper (1983), Oxford (1990), Omalley and Chamot (1990) and Robinson (1997).

Both FL learning and translation can best be seen as two cognitive processes involving a considerable amount of problem-solving and decision-making strategies (Faerch and Kapser, 1983, Wilss, 1982 and 1994). The decisions that a FL leaner and a translator would make are based on the amount of information available at the disposal of each. When not enough information or knowledge are available about and in the TL (which is the shared possibility in both tasks), these problem-solving strategies come into effect. The output of using these strategies in the case of FL learning and use is what Weinreich (1953), Corder (1971), Nemser (1971), and Selinker (1972) called 'Interlingual', 'Idiosyncratic dialect', 'Approximate system' and 'Interlanguage,' respectively. All these scholars agree that this Interlanguage is a system that has a structurally intermediate status between the learner's NL and the TL; it is neither the system of the NL nor that of the TL, but instead it falls in between. It is a system which reflects the learner's conscious and transitional attempts—catheterized by a gradual process of trial and error hypotheses testing. The output of using these strategies in the case of FL learning and use is what Weinreich (1953), Corder (1981), Nemser (1971), and Selinker (1972) called 'Interlingual,' 'Idiosyncratic dialect', 'Approximative system,' and 'Interlanguage,' respectively.

Before going on, I would like to make some important remarks which are very relevant to this discussion.

The first point refers to the continuity of Interlanguage status. It is an empirical fact that learners can never be turned into duplicate native speakers of the TL (although they may become near-native) regardless of the FL input, exposure, and training they may receive.

Second, the idiosyncratic nature of this system must be highlighted. Each individual learner—or a group of learners—may develop his/their own Interlanguage that is distinct from others' Interlanguage in many respects.

Third, the FL learner's attitude and his contribution to the emergence of Interlanguage is of great importance to unfold the overlap it enjoys with Translanguage. While communicating by means of the FL, learners configure no meaning and choose no message other than the ones they want to convey. To the contrary of the translator's position, a FL learner is the source of the message to be conveyed. Implications of this fact are self-evident: the learner is free to choose (among other options) the mode, the content, the form and the message to be communicated. Further, he has the right no to communicate once if he feels the means available to him are not sufficient to carry out the communicative task successfully2. Between these two extremes, learners may seek other repair strategies of 'message adjustment' to fulfill the requirements of the communicative task (see FL learning and communicative strategies). Interlanguage is borne when these strategies come into as a natural consequence of the learner's lack of native FL competence. A brief account on these strategies is given below in order to reflect on their impact on the formation if Interlanguage.

3.2 Translanguage and Exact Translation Hypothesis

My postulation of Translnguage builds basically—but not solely—on the refutation of what Keenan (1978:157) calls as Exact Translation Hypothesis (ETH). The ETH reads as follows, "Anything that can be said in one natural language can be translated exactly into any other language." [Emphasis is mine]. The hypothesis in its basic form can be diagrammed as follows:

My definition of Translanguage is as follows: an approximate form of translation product, which falls midway between SL and TL with various degrees of approximation to either language. The notion of varying degrees of approximation builds on the unanimously accepted principle of loss in translation on one hand and the fallacy of the Exact Translation Hypothesis (ETH) on the other. In fact the two are complementary to each other. If we are to understand the inevitability of loss in any translation act, then we need to accept of the fallacy of ETH.

Based on the fact that every language is sui generis, and its units are defined in terms of relations among units peculiar to that language, translation can best be described as an approximate process. Nida (1964:156) points out that:

It stands to reason that there can be no absolute correspondence between languages, [and although] the impact of a translation may be presumably close to the original,... there can be no identity in detail.

Nida's statement provides a good justification to refute the ETH. In his attempt to convey the semantic substance of the original, the translator finds himself obliged to compensate for the differences between the SL system and that of the TL. This is usually done by means of structural shifts (Popovič, 1978:99).

ETH represents a virtual status of translation that does not exist in reality. Once again, this claim is justifiable by accepting the principle of inevitable loss in translation along with that of linguistic and cultural untranslatability. Wilss (1977:85) believes that the primary concern of the pair-oriented science of translation is "those syntactic, lexical, and socio-cultural phenomena in a given language which do not have one-to-one correspondence in the system of another language and must therefore be translated by means of compensatory non-literal transfer procedure." These 'compensatory procedures' imply translation strategies such as omission, expansion, substitution, simplification, circumlocution, etc. It is these strategies that form the notion of Translanguage I am proposing here.

For the above reasons, translation should be taken to mean a relative process in which the translator swings back and forth between the SL and TL while attending to the form and content of the text in question. Unfortunately, there are no logical or empirical motives to expect that he will satisfy all these four requirements with an optimal degree of adequacy: he cannot help being biased in favor of one of them at a time on the expense of others. In their comment on the form-content conflict, Nida and Taber (1969:105-6) resolve this conflict by saying:

In translating the message from one language to another, it is the content which must be preserved at any level; the form, except in special cases, such as poetry, is largely secondary, since within each language the rules for relating content are highly complex, arbitrary, and variable... . Of course if by coincidence, it is possible to convey the same concept in the receptor language in a form which resembles that of the source, so much the better, we preserve the form when we can, but more often it has to be transferred precisely in order to preserve the content. An excessive effort to preserve the form inevitably results in a serious loss or distortion of the message. [Emphasis mine]

Refuting the ETH results in four major possibilities of producing target texts (TTs). These are discussed below.

3.2.a Content-oriented TT

The outcome of the act represented by the above diagram is what we usually call 'free', 'idiomatic' or 'communicative' translation where the translator's major concern is to communicate the message conveyed by the ST in the TL.

3.2.b Form-oriented TT

The second possibility is a state where the translator's major concern is to adhere to the form of the ST while it's content or communicative value is second to his priorities.

Being form-biased, (Nicholson, 1987:1122) translates the Arabic text genre known as 'Maqama;( a sub-type of rhymed prose) by reproducing the rhyme, the rhythm and even the graphic presentation of the ST .

3.2.c SL-oriented TT

Texts of this type typically represent instances of interlinear, literal, and faithful translations (cf. Dickens et al 2002:15-18)

3.2.d TL-oriented TT

In this case the translator is more faithful to the norms of the TL linguistics system and very aware of the target culture. In such cases the norm of 'naturalness' in translation prevails and the TT does not read as a translation, but rather as an authentic TT.

Newmark (1981:39), takes a similar stand as he postulates five types of translation with notional intermediate points looking from this perspective. See the following diagram:

It is this variation and intermediate status of the translation product, which I call Translanguage.

The arguments against the ETH can be further enhanced by examining the relation between form and meaning of the text to be translated. Human beings can express various meanings by an infinite number of words, sentences, etc.

Meaning, being central to all translation acts, "is partly mapped by linguistic system of a given language" (Al-Najjar, 1983: 41). The other part is represented by cultural norms and traditions that are merely encoded by language. This has led scholars to talk about two types of untranslatablity, each of which enhances the postulation of Translanguage in this paper.

The most frequent but unavoidable problem in translation is loss and gain. Losing or gaining meaning in the TL text, according to Bassnett, results from language differences (1991: 30). Language differences usually result in untranslatability (Bassnett, 1991: 32), which inevitably leaves the translator no choice but to pick a TL expression that has the closest meaning. This untranslatablity is actually the source of loss and gain of meaning in translation. It happens due to various causes. Lack of tenses in the TL, for example, would lead to loss of temporal meaning of an SL expression. In his attempt to convey the semantic substance of the original, the translator finds himself obliged to cast for the differences between the SL system and that of the TL. This is usually done by means of structural shifts (Popovič, 1978:99, Al-Hassnawi,1999).


4. Translational Competence: translation strategies

Defining translation as a cognitive process of interlingual communication entails that translators are forced to make use a number of strategies known as translation strategies. These strategies, in addition to their various and multiple categorizations (cf. Bell, 1991; Sager, 1994; Robinson, 1997; Darwish, 2003; Al-Kufaishi, 2004), are problem-solving oriented. This is so because translation in its very nature is a process through which the translator faces a plethora of interlingual and cross-cultural problems and clashes that he has to solve before submitting his last version of the TT. These strategies exhibit themselves at all three stages of translation process, i.e. Decoding (or Decomposition), Transfer (or Conversion) and Encoding (or Restructuring). This three-step model of translation is represented in the following diagram:

Examples of these strategies include:

1. Translating by Omission, e.g. when zero TL equivalent is available for an SL expression;

2. Translating by Expansion, e.g. when an ST expression is expanded in the TL to ensure the SL message is conveyed completely;

3. Translating by Substitution, e.g. when an SL-bound expression is replaced by another but equivalent TL-bound equivalent. Translation of idioms serves as a typical example.

4. Translating by Simplification, when the translator opts to be a facilitator of an SL expression into the TL to make it understandable for the receptor reader. This may take the form of exemplification, explication, etc.

5. Translating by Circumlocution, e.g. when the translator manipulates the possibly undesirable effect of the SL expression if it were translated directly into the TL, or the case of an SL expression that is inherently ambiguous.

These strategies and the operation in various translation task constitute what is now called as 'translation competence' which is represented by PACET (2000:103) as follows:

Now, a new correlation between FL learning and translation can be stated as follows: learning strategies and the communicative competence of the FL learners generates Interlanguage while translation strategies and translation competence generate Translanguage.

For all the reasons highlighted above, the analysis of interlanguage forms occurring in translations should form an integral part of any systemic descriptive study of translation as an empirical phenomenon...This is not a mere empirical, observational conclusion. Theoretical considerations strongly support it, and even lead to hypothesizing that the language used in translation tends to be interlanguage." Toury ( 1979 : 225 and 227). (My emphasis). With Toury's postulation in mind, and for the distinction between the products of the two processes, i.e. FLL and translation, I would stick to Interlanguage as the product of FLL while the term Translanguage would suffices for the product of the translating.

Based on the above discussion, I would like to draw the distinction between FLL and translation in the following table:




Learner is a message initiator

Translator is a message mediator

Learner is a monolingual trying to be a bilingual

Translator is a competent bilingual

Communication is mono-dimensional

Bilateral communicative process

Specific Communicative strategies

Governed by ethics and standards



  • Despite their shared area of interest, FL Learning and Translation have to be kept apart
  • Interlanguage and Translanguage are to be viewed as two distinct products of two different communicative activities
  • Translation Quality Assessment has to benefit from Translanguage as a yardstick of measurement.
  • Both FL learning and translation can best be seen as two cognitive processes involving a considerable amount of problem-solving and decision-making strategies


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