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Essay on Translation: Translation Shifts

All people on earth are divided by their cultures, and language is a particular feature that makes us so different from each other. Speaking the same language, we can easily share our ideas and emotions. We use language when we talk, and when we write. Various languages represent different cultures, and ways of thinking. We can say that, many years ago, people faced much less problems with communication, since they didn’t need to talk to somebody out of their community. Developing new communication devices, we make people from all over the world closer to each other. Now we have to talk to people from other countries much more often than even twenty years ago. Thus, problems caused by different languages arise more often, so we have to adapt, and learn new languages, to better understand each other. These problems are caused not only by different vocabularies, but also by different grammatical structures, and spellings.

Translation is a process that helps people overcome such problems. When we translate a text, we transfer the meaning of a certain phrase, or word. This meaning is transferred from a source language to a target language. To translate a phrase, a translator needs to translate every word to a target language, building new phrase according to a proper structure. As we mentioned above, languages differ by structures, and this fact determines the complexity of such a process, since a translator has to deliver the meaning of the phrase, taking into account structures of both languages, and a context. Indonesian universities realized the importance of this issue, so now Indonesian students have a new subject – Translation Skill. Now University of Jakarta is focused on Indonesian – English translations.

Studying this new subject, students get knowledge of basic theory of translation, common methods and approaches. Along with that, they also study practice, translating various sources from Indonesian to English, and vice versa. It’s not enough to just get used to the theory, since in practice, students face many specific problems. The main goal of any translator is to deliver the original meaning, and make the final result easy to read. A good text is perceived easily and naturally. Different types of texts should be translated taking into account particular features of each language, and a style. Every style, like official or spoken style, must be used appropriately. Talking about translation between English and Indonesian, we have to mention different grammatical structures once again (Moentaha, 2006). This is the most common problem for every translator.

Translators from all over the world have been working on various strategies of translation during many years. Experts are developing new methods even now, and their main goal is to simplify the process of translation, preventing translators from common errors and distortions of meaning. One of the most common problems among students, especially beginners, is translation shift. According to Catford, it’s a deviation of meaning from the source language in new text, translated to the target language. In turn, translation shift includes two major types of such a problem. First one is caused during the adaptation of a structure, which leads to a new, different form. Second common type of translation shift is caused by semantic adaptation (Nida & Taber, 1969). This is a deviation of meaning itself. Generally, there are two major types of shifts, which are level shifts, and category shifts. First type is determined by differences between two languages, and the second one is measured due to a deviation from the formal meaning. According to Catford (1965), this type is divided into four other types, which are intra-system shift, unit shifts, structure shifts, and class shifts.

Research Questions

This study is devoted to common questions about translation between Indonesian and English. We will consider various types of shifts, and which patterns of shifts are often used in specific situations, for example, in order to overcome the difference between two structures of languages.

Purpose of the Study

This study was made to consider various types of translation, as well as common types of shifts, and patterns of shifts. For example, students often choose certain types of shifts when they need to transfer meaning of two sentences written according to different grammatical structures.

Limitations of the Study

This study is based on 5 translations made by real students of University of Jakarta. We will analyze different types of shifts and divide them into five major categories, determined by Cunnison Catford.

Significance of the Study

Main goal of this study is to provide students who translate texts from English to Indonesian with necessary information, in order to help them transfer the meaning of the text as accurate as possible, taking into account features of structures of both Indonesian and English languages.

Definition of Translation

Translation is a process of transferring a message from one language to another, delivering the meaning of words and phrases. Most experts distinguish such necessary features of the translation process, as a source text, information, which is the meaning, and the target text. Translators also have to make their text easy to read and make sure that readers will perceive the target text in a natural way.

According to Catford (1978), translation implies replacement of the source text with equivalent target text. What this equivalence means? It means the same information, the same meaning. Thus, translator must be able to find equivalent phrases, to replace certain information with another, equivalent information, written in the target language.

Nida (1969) gives another definition of the same word, pointing out that translation means finding the closest possible equivalent to the text, which is natural for the target language. Thus, this definition means not only an equivalent meaning, but also an equivalent style. Nida states that the target text must be not only understood by a reader, but it also must reflect the style of a source. Therefore, main mission of every translator is to translate a text naturally.

Another definition of translation was introduced by Newmark (1988), who states that translators must deliver not only a meaning of a source, but also an intention of its author. Obviously, all translators must consider such an important issue, in order to create a good text. To better understand author’s intention, a translator has to read the whole text and analyze it, in order to express the exact meaning of the author, taking into account all specific emotional features.

Larson (1984) formulates a complete structure of a proper translation, mentioning structures of meaning, and different forms of the same language. According to Larson, translation is the process of delivering a meaning from the source language to the target language, following the structure of the source language, and transforming it into the structure of the target language. At the same time, a translator doesn’t change the meaning of the source.

Process of Translation

To start with, let’s define what is the process of translation? According to Oxford Dictionary, process is a sequence of actions that are done to accomplish certain goals. Translation includes a sequence of actions indeed, since this process requires different actions, in order to transfer the meaning of the source, and make a new text. Actually, each of these two steps implies its particular sequences of actions.

According to Larson (1988), translation includes three steps. Translators must learn the lexicons, as well cultural contexts, and other specific features, such as grammar and communication circumstances. To make it right, a translator needs to analyze a text, and learn as much as possible about the source and its author. A translator should get used to the lexicons of the source language and to those of the target language as well, in order to transfer all specific cultural features.

During the analysis, a translator considers the source, and then he or she translates it to the target language. However, this is not the whole process, since after that a translator has to create a final version, which is a target text with a new structure. A translator needs to change the structure and make it closer to the structure of the target language, keeping in mind the structure of the source.

Newmark (1988) goes further, and divides the process of translation on four different stages. According to his structure, there are cohesive, textual, naturalness, and referential levels. Thus, a translator’s goal is to find equivalent words and phrases in the target language, translate all lexical units, and then build a proper structure for a sentence. Obviously, many words have various meanings, depending on the context. There are also idioms and a lot of figurative expressions, which are the most difficult parts of translation, since a translator has to translate those idioms first, to get the main meaning, and then this meaning should be expressed in the equivalent form, using expressions of the target language. There are the referential and textual levels, and translators have to connect these two levels, which is another task. This task was described by Newmark as a cohesive level. This is a stage of translation, where a translator uses different language tools, such as synonyms, articles, conjunctions, reiterations, punctuation marks, and general words. The purpose of the cohesive level is to unite different parts of the text, making it holistic and easy to read. Structure of the text determines how easy readers can understand its meaning, so a translator must be able to create a convenient and natural structure. Finally, a translator goes to a construction stage. Here one needs to analyze the context, and rebuild the text, so that readers could get all specific features of it, perceiving it in a natural and easy way. Every kind of text may be perceived naturally or not, depending on the situation and the context. The easiest and the most common solution for such a task is to read the entire text, and change certain expressions that may sound unnaturally.

Method of Translation

According to Molina and Albir (2002), a method of translation is a certain way of such a process that is chosen by a translator and used according to his or her objectives. A method of translation affects the whole process of translation, and determines the target text. Newmark (1988) writes about methods of translation and procedures, stating that a method is applied to the whole text, while procedures are applied to smaller constructions, such as sentences and phrases. Obviously, aim of a translator, as well as his or her intention, determine the final result of translation. Newmark also creates a diagram, where different methods are sorted into several groups, such as semantic translation, word-for-word translation, faithful or literal types of translation. We also shouldn’t forget such a method as free translation.

Word-For-Word Translation

Usually this method is used at the very beginning of a translation process. A translator translates every word of the source, writing words in the target language below the lines of the source. Such an approach is also called interlinear translation. Within this method, a translator doesn’t translate cultural constructions according to a context, the only thing he does is searching for equivalent constructions in the target language. This method gives a chance to illustrate differences between two structures vividly, which can be used on other steps.

Literal Translation

This method is out of context too, which makes it somewhat similar to word-for-word translation. However, it implies placing words in the target text, according to the structure of the target language.

Faithful Translation

This method takes into account the context, so a translator sorts phrases according to the structure of the target language, and searches for contextual meanings of specific phrases. This approach helps translate cultural words, but grammatical structure still may be inaccurate. The main goal of a translator here is to deliver the intention.

Semantic Translation

This method should be considered more natural than others, since it considers the aesthetic features of the source. Thus, a translator finds cultural equivalents in target language, which makes this method much more flexible than faithful translation, which, according to Newmark (1988), is dogmatic and rigid.


Many people consider this method the freest approach to translation, since its aim is to create cultural conversions, without changing key features of the source text. This method is used in poetry or plots. A translator doesn’t change characters, plot twists, and themes. If it’s a movie script, translators usually adapt only dialogues.

Free Translation

Using this method of translation, the only goal is to deliver the meaning of the source clearly. Free translation doesn’t imply transformation of the target text according to the structure of the source.

Idiomatic Translation

Obviously, such a method involves the use of idioms, as well as colloquialisms. Following this method, translators create texts that sound naturally in the target language, using various familiar expressions. It doesn’t matter whether or not such constructions are used in the source text, since the only purpose of this method is to make the text natural in the target language.

Communicative Translation

According to Marchali (2000), this method is focused on elements of communication. It implies translation of the source text, considering its contextual meaning, and making it easy to read for readers of the target language.

Translation Shifts

According to Catford’s theory, translation shifts are deviations from strict correspondence, during the process of translation from the source language to the target language. According to Newmark, shifts may affect such elements as the grammar structure, or grammar features of particular phrases. Dalbernet and Vinay (1958) also mention transposition, as a process of replacing certain word-classes with others, without losing the general meaning of the source.

There are several reasons why translation shifts occur. One of the most common reasons is difference in principles of languages; for example, some words may be plural in the source language, but singular in the target language, or vice versa. These shifts occur naturally. Another example of such a kind of shifts is when a noun and an adjective are placed in different order, in different languages. There are many cases when certain grammatical structures exist only in the source language, so they cannot be directly translated into the target language, thus, translators have to find closest forms to transfer the meaning of the source. Another case is when it’s possible to translate certain construction according to grammatical rules of the target language, but these constructions sound unnaturally, so translators have to change word classes, or the very structure of the target text.

There are many types of translation shifts, and most of them were introduced by Catford (1965). He distinguished two major categories of translation shifts, which are Category shifts, and level shifts.

Level Shifts

This type of shifts implies transition from one linguistic level of the source language to another linguistic level in the target language. An example of such a kind of shift is transition from lexis to grammar. These shifts change the original structure, original tenses, and so on. Some nouns of the source language may be translated as verb constructions, or adjectives. Continuous tense may be translated as a present tense, especially if the target language has a different logic of tenses.

Category Shifts

The definition of the category is a group of things that have certain features in common. Generally, this kind of shifts changes the formal correspondence. There are several types of category shifts, and we will consider each one of them below.

Structure Shifts

Usually this type of shifts occurs when translators find a phrase, a sentence, or a word from the target language that are equivalent to those from the source language, but have different structures. Such a shift also occurs when the predicator and the subject switch their positions during translation from one language to another.

Class Shifts

Often different word classes cause translation shifts, especially when adjectives from a source language serve as modifiers, while in the target language they are qualifiers. A vivid example of such translation is English to French translation. Even though both types of words are adjectives, they have different functions, thus causing a class shift. Another example of a class shift is a noun translated as an adjective, or vice versa.

Unit Shifts

Here we must consider ranks of grammatical units. This type of shifts represents rank changing during the process of translation.

Intra-System Shifts

Sometimes translation shifts occur within a system. This happens when a system of the source language has an equivalent system in the target language, which doesn’t correspond to it. The most common example of such shifts is singular worlds translated as plural words, and vice versa.

Test on Translation

University of Jakarta divides the Translation Skill subject into two subjects. Translation 1 and Translation 2 are subjects that should be mastered by translators in order to be able to translate both legal and non-legal texts from Indonesian to English, and vice versa. First subject should be studied in the fourth semester, and the second one – in the fifth semester. These subjects include many topics, such as definition of translation, theory, methods of translation, and process. Students learn various strategies of translation, and also work on the practical part of the program, translating different types of texts, and applying their knowledge.

Translation 2 subject implies test that consists of two different parts. First part of such a test includes various types of texts in English. Students must be able to determine which kind of text it is, namely, persuasive, expository, or descriptive. Every student must explain his or her choice. The second part of the Translation test consists of translation itself. Each student gets two texts. Both texts should be translated as accurate as possible, at the same time they must sound naturally and clearly. Here students have a chance to demonstrate their ability to analyze the context, and find equivalent constructions in different languages. This test pays special attention to lexical meanings, and it requires good knowledge of language structures. Students must be able to use various translation strategies, including necessary types of translation shifts. The source text is considered a source of data, which must be used by students as an opportunity to demonstrate their research skills.

Research Methodology

According to Larson, translation is a process of transferring meaning of the sentence from the source language to the target language. During this process, translation shifts occur due to divergences between grammatical structures, word classes, and other lexical features of two different languages. Sometimes literal translation is impossible due to different grammatical structures; sometimes certain constructions don’t even exist in another language, so translators have to find equivalent words, sentences, and phrases in the target language. This often leads to creation of a different form, and a different structure. Various language systems support different structures, so a translator must be able to fill the lexical gap with appropriate grammatical structures of the target language.

Research Method

One of the most common methods of research is descriptive analysis. It implies analysis of certain objects or structures, giving clear definitions and avoiding any manipulations with subjects of a research. According to Ratna (2010), descriptive analysis requires a description of facts, with deep understanding of the context and explanation of specific features.

Sources of Data

Within Translation 2 test, students get thirty-five translated texts, which serve as a source of data. Their analysis must include analysis of sentences, words, and phrases. At the same time, such constructions must be considered data, and analyzed according to methods of data analysis.

Data Collection

Students have to collect information according to the established procedure. First of all, they have to ask their lecturers for permission; then they get sheets with questions and answers. Both sheets must be copied, and then read in English, and Indonesian. After this, students take their notes, highlight and underline details that are necessary for further analysis. Finally, students draw a table with results of their analysis.

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