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informations bibliographiques et lexicographiques

bibliographical and lexicographical information

Williams, Malcolm, Translation Quality Assessment: An Argumentation- Centred Approach. 2004. xix +188 pages. Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 542 King Edward Avenue, Ottawa, Ont. Canada K1N 6N5. ISBN 0–7766-0584-4. Price $29.95, £20.00. Perspectives on Translation Series.

Reviewed by Ahmed Seddik Al-Wahy, Associate Professor, Faculty of Languages (Al-Alsun), Ain Shams University, Cairo, Egypt. Email:

ahmedsedd@yahoo.com; alwahyas@asu.edu.eg; alwahyas@asunet.shams. edu.eg.

This book proposes a model for translation quality assessment (TQA) based on ar- gumentation theory, as the theory developed within the framework of discourse analysis. Justification for this approach to TQA is adequately provided in the book’s Introduction, which states that, in the field of translation, there is a state of “assessment chaos” (p. xiv), and lists at least ten problems and issues that pre- vent consensus in TQA, ranging from disagreement on basic notions such as qual- ity and accuracy to problems with rating and quantification. In addition, most existing TQA models are microtextual, i.e. they focus on the sentential/subsen- tential level rather than evaluate coherence and the logical development of the text as a whole. The proposed model overcomes such shortcomings by prioritizing the macrotextual, discourse level in the assessment process, without ignoring the smaller units such as words and phrases. Attempts to incorporate the macrotextual level into the assessment process have generally been confined to translation training, especially with reference to journalistic and literary texts. By contrast, Williams shows with authentic examples that his proposed model is suitable for assessing instrumental translations – i.e. translations that serve short-term communication purposes and in which aesthet- ics play a minor role. In this context, translation is regarded as a language indus- try, to which industry-related concepts such as total quality, quality assurance, and professional standards apply. Unlike other discourse-based models, the argumen- tation-centred model is designed to assess translations produced in an institution- al context. Williams makes it clear from the start that his model is not intended for literary, religious, or philosophical texts and that he will not tackle issues such as

Babel 56: 1 (2010), 95–99.

doi 10.1075/babel.56.1.07wah

© Fédération des Traducteurs (fit) Revue Babel

issn 0521–9744

e-issn 1569–9668


Informations bibliographiques et lexicographiques

fidelity, adequacy, or acceptability that are commonly raised in translation stud- ies. Apart from such issues, the model is based on the conviction that a translation should ideally be accurate and should read as if it was originally written in the tar- get language. The book falls into two parts, the first of which develops the argumentation- centred model, while the second tests and refines the model and defines translation quality standards. The review and comparison of the main TQA models in Chap- ter One show that all the main approaches share one common feature, which is the categorization of errors, though they differ in their concept of categorization. Some models are quantitative and microtextual, while others are more textologically-ori- ented. Similarly, some models are standards-referenced, while others are criterion- referenced. Chapter Two presents the theoretical background of the argumentation-cen- tred approach, which is based on the belief that argumentation is an essential com- ponent of all texts, even those that may seem to be purely informative or that are traditionally categorized as narrative, expository, or descriptive. The model has two components: argument schema and rhetorical topology. The argument schema has four obligatory elements: the claim (the main argument toward which other elem- ents converge), the grounds (the information supporting the claim), the warrants (statements showing how the grounds are connected to the claim), and the backing (the overarching principle governing the issue at hand). In addition, there are two optional elements: qualifiers (or modalizers, which enhance or mitigate the force of the claim) and rebuttals (statements that contradict the supporting arguments). The rhetorical topology component, which is discussed in detail in Chapter Three, is concerned with the macro-elements of the argumentation structure of the source and target texts. There are six elements of rhetorical topology: organiza- tional relations, connectives, propositional functions, types of argument, figures of speech, and narrative strategy. Organizational relations are concerned with the ar- rangement of speech acts to achieve the purpose of the text. Connectives are con- junctions and other inference indicators that help the progression of ideas and sig- nal logical relations between them, thus giving the text its cohesion. Propositional functions, on the other hand, give the text its coherence and are represented by lo- gical relations between propositions. Types of argument, such as definition, com- parison, relationship, circumstance, and testimony, play a key role in determining the reader’s response to the text and, therefore, occupy an important position in a full-text TQA. Figures of speech, which are traditionally viewed as ornamental, aes- thetic elements, are considered to be essential to various kinds of writing and to play a key role in argumentation. Finally, the narrative strategy determines how the author of the text reveals or hides his/her presence, through personalization/deper- sonalization and the use of qualifiers.

Bibliographical and lexicographical information


Chapter Four begins with defining critical, major, and minor defects as the terms are used in industrial quality control, and then discusses how these can re- late to TQA.Williams suggests that judging whether a certain defect is critical or not depends on a number of factors, including the text type and purpose and the expected readership. Generally, however, a critical defect in his view is one that af- fects the core argument of the source document. Chapter Five, the first in Part II, tests the model on two instrumental texts. Af- ter analysing the source text in terms of its argument schema and rhetorical topol- ogy elements, the target text is read to see if such elements have been accurately rendered. Each element is discussed separately and then the results are shown in a grid. The discussion shows that errors that may be regarded as critical or major under other quantitative, microtextual TQA approaches can be regarded as minor in the argumentation-centred model (and the reverse is true). Based on this analysis, Chapter Six adds further refinements for optimizing the model and incorporating a rating scale in it. For instance, the analysis shows that there is a need to define the degree of seriousness of error. Williams, therefore, distinguishes among critical, major, and minor defects. A critical defect is one that affects an element in the argument schema (thus impairing the usability of the translation). A major defect is one that affects an important part of the micro- text, but not the argument schema. Other transfer defects are considered minor. The analysis also shows that the parameters of arrangement, organizational rela- tions, and figures of speech can be dropped and reserved for specific purposes and that some parameters can be grouped together at one level of evaluation. In add- ition, the analysis indicates that the model needs to incorporate other parameters, such as terminology, style, usage, and syntax, depending on the text type, field, and purpose. Williams finalizes his model by distinguishing between two sets of parameters: core and field/use-specific. The former (comprising argument schema, propositional functions, connectives, arguments, and narrative strategy) apply to all kinds of instrumental texts, while the latter (including terminology, figures of speech, and target language quality) apply only when needed, at the evaluator’s discretion. As for rating, Williams begins with a preliminary scale with two evalu- ation grades: “satisfactory” (for translations having no defect affecting the argu- ment schema) and “unsatisfactory” (for translations having at least one defect af- fecting the argument schema). This rating scale is further developed by weighting factors on percentages. For example, the argument schema is assigned 30% of the total evaluation, but any translation must be free of argument schema defects in order to be acceptable. Other parameters are usually given lower percentages, de- pending on the type and purpose of the text being examined. Chapter Seven develops a translation quality standard based on the proposed model. Williams uses the term “standard” in more than one sense. For instance, he


Informations bibliographiques et lexicographiques

uses the term to refer to the levels of quality to which professional translators are expected to conform. He proposes a three-grade standard scheme: (1) publication standard, (2) information standard, and (3) minimum standard. In all three stand- ards, the text should accurately render all components of the argument schema (which is the only requirement of the minimum standard). In the information standard, the text should further meet the requirements for selected core and field/ use-specific parameters. The publication standard, which is the maximum stand- ard, requires the text to comply with all the above in addition to meeting all the requirements for target-language parameters. Another sense in which the term “standard” is used is the evaluator’s judgement of the quality of the translation. In addition to these standards, there is also the label “substandard”, which refers to texts that fail to render the argument schema and/or do not meet the requirements for at least one core or field/use-specific parameter. This is not a level of quality that professionals are expected to conform to, but the evaluator’s judgement of the quality of the translation. One of the advantages of the book is that it takes the reader step by step through the development of the model, from its embryonic stage to its final, refined shape. The critical review and comparison of TQA models highlight the need for an ar- gumentation-centred model that can overcome their shortcomings by focusing on the discourse level. After the theoretical background is provided, the model in its preliminary form is developed and then tested on a number of instrumental trans- lations of different types. It is then refined and streamlined in the light of practical application. Finally, a rating system is developed and a quality standard is set. The Terminology Appendix and the Further Reading section make the book equally useful to translation students, professionals, and evaluators who may consider ap- plying the argumentation-centred model. There are a few misprints in the book, such as the use of or instead of of in “Concern for excellence in translation or [sic] literary and religious works dates back centuries” (p. xiii). There are also typographical errors related to cross-refer- encing, especially in Chapter Three. For instance, Williams promises to discuss the narrative strategy in Section 3.10. (p. 41), which never appears in the book, but he discusses it in Section 3.7. The reader is also referred to Section 3.3.6 for a “preced- ing reasons” list (p. 43), while the actual list appears in Section 3.3.3. As a reader, I would also appreciate it if acronyms (such as “ARTRAQ”, which Williams uses to label his model) were explained with reference to their original phrases. Such mi- nor misprints do not at all belittle value of the book and can be corrected in future reprints. The TQA models reviewed, the texts analysed, and the examples given may suggest that Williams is mainly concerned with the language pair French and Eng- lish in a Canadian setting. However, the theoretical framework is universal and the

Bibliographical and lexicographical information


model can be applied to texts from any language. One problem, however, could be that the relevant French sections in the analysis are not glossed, which may make them difficult to follow for readers who do not speak French. As presented in the book, the argumentation-based model has many advan- tages in comparison to other TQA models. To begin with, the proposed model covers both the macrotextual and microtextual levels and attends to the macro- structure (the content) and the superstructure (the schema) of the text. It also solves the problems of sampling by selecting passages that include elements of the argument schema. The model is also theory-based and therefore has the relative advantage of being objective, consistent, and reliable. In its refined form, the mod- el is flexible enough to assign different weights to different elements according to the nature of the text under investigation and is not as complicated in its calcula- tions as other models. In my view, the book is an important contribution to the literature on TQA. It is a valuable resource for trainee and professional translators, translation eval- uators, and researchers with an interest in the evaluation of non-literary transla- tion. The book has shown with authentic examples that the argumentation-cen- tred model is appropriate as a tool for assessing the translation of any kind of instrumental text. However, full benefit of the book can only be gained by prac- tical application of the model by translation quality evaluators in real institutions.