Author: Sembach


AdjectivesThe other day I came across an article about the position of adjectives in a sentence, why I in this post will talk about adjectives in general and compare the positionof adjectives in different languages.

Before going on to the actual position of adjectives, it might be good to define an adjective.

An adjective is a word that describes a noun or a pronoun, most of the time adjectives are used to give a more descriptive picture of the noun/pronoun. So instead of saying: it was a car, with doors that was used for the bank rubbery – it would be more helpful to tell the police that it was a big blue van, with 3 blue and one red door that was used as getaway car for the rubbery.

Adjectives are therefore words that describes X: e.g. a color, shape, size, feeling etc.

Position of adjectives in a sentence

In English, Danish, German, Spanish and French (and many other languages) we place the adjective(s) directly before the noun that it describes. Placing it randomly in the sentence might create confusion of how to understand the sentence or give the sentence a new meaning.

There are, however, some languages where it’s possible to change the word order of the sentence completely and still being able to figure out, what belongs to what. This goes especially for Latin, where each adjective(+ noun) has a characteristic ending, which tells us, whether it’s part of the subject, accusative object, dative object, genitive, ablative etc. This can to some extend also be seen in Russian Greek and German.  In German however, you only see the inflection of the pronouns and adjectives.

Inflected and analytic languages

Languages, which are to be understood through the word’s declension, are known as inflected languages. Meaning that in Latin, the word order isn’t important only the declension of the word, as it describes which function it has in the sentence.

On the other hand we have languages such as e.g. English and Danish, which are analytic, here the meaning is derived from the order of the words and persons.

E.g. of an analytic sentence:

The dog saw the cat and ran -> the cat saw the dog and ran. (Here the meaning changes, as the subject stands before the object).

Placing adjectives in a sequence

In some cases you might need more than one adjective to describe an object/person. In case you have more adjectives following each other like in a sequence, there is a certain order the adjectives must follow:

–      Determiners – a, an, the, my, your, several, etc.

–      Opinion – lovely, boring, stimulating, etc.

–      Size – tiny, small, huge, etc.

–      Shape – round, square, rectangular, etc.

–      Age – old, new, ancient, etc.

–      Color – red, blue, green, etc.

–      Origin/Nationality – British, American, Mexican, etc.

–      Material – gold, copper, silk, etc.

–      Qualifier – limiters for compound nouns.

The list above goes for English, but it is quite similar in e.g. Danish: vurdering, størrelse, alder, farve, nationalitet, material (Opinion, size, age, color, nationality & material) and my guess would be, without having researched it, that it goes for many other languages as well.



When talking about a back-translation or a round-trip translation it means that the text is being translated back into its original language by a translator, who has no prior knowledge of the specific content or wasn’t involved in the project – leaving the back-translation as pure as possible. But what’s the purpose of doing so?


One might argue that translating a text back into its original language will only result in a facetious version of the original – mainly because words are ambiguous. It might also be the case that the original writing style, due to a functional translation, has changed the text slightly. An example hereof is Mark Twain’s publication of his own book back-translated word for word into English from French.

Quality check

A back-translation is, however, often used to check the translation’s quality and accuracy. Some agencies test the translator’s translation skills, by back translating the translation, to see whether a translator managed to gasps the wording. This method can be compared to a mathematical formula, which is being calculated backwards to check the accuracy – all though, as already mentioned, it cannot be done as precise as math, because words are ambiguous and numbers are unequivocal.

Historic documents

Another scenario could be the case, where historic documents only survive as a translation, and then researchers undertake the task to back translate the document in order to recreate the original. Likewise, sometimes when a document is suspected of being a translation from another language, researchers  back translate the document into the hypothetical original language,  which in some cases can provide evidence of characteristics such as idioms, puns, grammatical structures  and so on, which in fact derived  from the original language. An example hereof is the German folk tales Till Eulenspiegel in High German, which contains puns that only work when back translated into Low German.

So if you ever come across incomprehensible references or text phrases, then it might be more comprehensible or make more sense, if you back translate it. This problem brings us back to another topic, namely which translation technique to choose, when translating: word-for-word or sense?  

Market research

In Asia, they especially practice back-translation in connection with global market researches. This way translated questionnaires remain consistence and thus ensures the accuracy of the result, without jeopardizing the result. In market research, the smallest variation of the sense of the word counts in order to prepare a campaign, promotion etc. Since back-translation is a costly matter, it’s not done every time, but in high-risk situations it can turn out to be a good investment.

No need to say that back-translations of market research need to be carried out by a translator, who can translate verbatim, as you cannot always find equivalent words in the target language.

I have never my self tried to back translate a text or something like that, but it could be interesting to see the result. Please let me know if you have ever tried it and how it turned out. I might try it some time, just for the fun of it.


Translating ”The ugly duckling” with help from Google, Bing and a translator?!

Ugly-ducklingToday many people use Google Translate or Bing Translator to quickly translate a sentence or similar if they want to know what the recipe says, what people write on Facebook or in other multilingual forums etc. – and for these purposes I agree that it’s a very useful, fast and cheap tool. You don’t send a sentence from e.g. Facebook to a professional translator to understand, what a friend of yours is doing today! You could alternatively write your friend back asking for a translation in your language, which would be more natural and getting you to interact with each other.

When it comes to more serious and professional subjects, then I’m an ardent advocate of using a real translator, who considers more aspects and factors – and not just look at each word separately.

To demonstrate my point, I’ve taken the beginning of Hans Christian Andersen’s story of the ugly duckling and translated it via Google Translate, Bing translator and finally I’ve added the translation done by a person.

H.C. Andersen’s version (Danish):

”Der var saa deiligt ude paa Landet; det var Sommer, Kornet stod gult, Havren grøn, Høet var reist i Stakke nede i de grønne Enge, og der gik Storken på sine lange, røde Been og snakkede ægyptisk, for det Sprog havde han lært af sin Moder. Rundtom Ager og Eng var der store Skove, og midt i Skovens dybe Søer; jo, der var rigtignok deiligt derude paa landet! Midt i Solskinnet laae der en gammel Herregaard med dybe Canaler rundt om, ogfra Muren og ned til Vandet voxte store Skræppeblade, der vare saa hæie, at smaa Børn kunde staae opreiste under de største; der var ligesaa vildsomt derinde, som i den tykkeste Skov, og her laae en And på sin Rede; hunskulde ruge sine smaae Ællinger ud, men nu var hun næsten kjed af det, fordi det varede saa længe, og hun sjældent fik Visit; de andre Ænder holdt mere af at svømme om i Canalerne, end at løbe op og sidde under et Skræppeblad for at snaddre med hende.” (

The story is originally written in Danish (1844) – The language has changes slightly over the past 150 years, but not more than every other language. This will of course affect the translations of Google and Bing, as they are programmed with today’s norms, which of course only supports my argument that translators are more flexible and can take more aspects in to consideration. I’ve listed some of the changes in the box below.


Today (2013)
Saa/paa Så/på
deiligt dejligt
guult gult
hæie høje
Nouns start with a capital letter Nouns start with a small letter

Bing & Google

The next two translations are done by Google and Bing, please note that not all words are translated, especially in Bing’s translation, Google has managed quite well to translate the words and make some sense of the text, which is also written in a typical H.C. Andersen-style.

Bing translation tool:

“That was so deiligt out on the land; It was Summer, Grain was guult, the Green, the installations over the reist was Havren in Stacks in the Green Meadows, and there went the storks on its long, red Been and talked Egyptian, for the language he had learned from his Mother. Rundtom Causes and Eng there were large Forests, and in the middle of the woods deep Lakes; Yes, there was indeed deiligt out there in the country! In the midst of Sunlight an old laae Herregaard with deep Canaler around, and from the wall and down to the water voxte Rumex leaf large item so that small Children høie customer staae opreiste under the largest; There were directors or vildsomt in there, as in the thickest Forest, and here an And on his Prepared laae; She was hatching its smaae Ællinger out, but now she was almost kjed of it because it lasted so long, and she was given the rare Business; the other Ducks kept more of swimming about in Canalerne, than to get up and sit under a Rumex leaf to snaddre with her.”

Google translate tool:

“It was so lovely out in the country, it was summer, grain stood guult, Oats green, the hay was gone in Stacks down in the green meadows and went stork on his long red legs chattered in the Egyptian, the language he had learned of his mother. All around fields and meadows were great forests, and in the middle of the woods deep lakes; yes, there was indeed lovely out in the country! In the midst of sunshine lay an old manor with deep canals around, and from the wall and down to the water grew great burdock leaves, were so tall that little children could stand upright under the tallest of which was just as savage in there, as in the thickest forest, and here lay a duck on her nest, she would hatch its small fiery Ducklings, but now she was almost tired of it because it lasted so long, and she seldom had Visit, the other ducks liked much better to swim about in Canal are, than to climb and sit under a dock leaf to snaddre with her.”

Translator’s version:

“It was lovely summer weather in the country, and the golden corn, the green oats, and the haystacks piled up in the meadows looked beautiful. The stork walking about on his long red legs chattered in the Egyptian language, which he had learnt from his mother. The corn-fields and meadows were surrounded by large forests, in the midst of which were deep pools. It was, indeed, delightful to walk about in the country. In a sunny spot stood a pleasant old farm-house close by a deep river, and from the house down to the water side grew great burdock leaves, so high, that under the tallest of them a little child could stand upright. The spot was as wild as the centre of a thick wood. In this snug retreat sat a duck on her nest, watching for her young brood to hatch; she was beginning to get tired of her task, for the little ones were a long time coming out of their shells, and she seldom had any visitors. The other ducks liked much better to swim about in the river than to climb the slippery banks, and sit under a burdock leaf, to have a gossip with her.” (

The main difference between Google and the translator’s translation is the sentence structure/word order. Furthermore, the translator has also had the opportunity to adapt the writing style and choose between words (synonyms) to ensure the same connotation.

This translation is doubly the only English version you can find, there might be many other versions of the same text, all depending on the translator and his/her chosen strategy – which, of course, is a smaller minus by using a real translator, but still the better solution. When it comes to translating legal documents, then, on the other hand, it’s most utterly necessary that the text does not come in more than one version and that the translators choose the same strategy, as it otherwise can have crucial consequences, both legally and money-wise.

Your translation should always be tailored: purpose, subject, genre, target group, situation etc. in order to fulfill the purpose and secure a good translation. (see also


Translation & translation strategy

What is translation and translation strategy?

Let’s start with defining translation. Where does the word come from and what does it actually mean?

The Latin word for translation is ‘translatio’, which means to carry across or to bring across. In this sense you therefore bring/carry across the text, word etc. from the source language (SL) to the target language (TL).

The Greek word for translation is μετάφρασις (metaphrasis), which means a speaking across. Metaphrasis or metaphase, as it’s called in English, means literal or word-for-word translation. The contrast to μετάφρασις (metaphrasis ) is παράφρασις (paraphrasis), meaning a saying in other words. Today the two terms are parallel to the English terms; formal equivalence (literal) and functional equivalence (meaning).

The definition of translation in Oxford’s dictionary is, [mass noun] the process of translating words or text from one language into another. [count noun] a written or spoken rendering of the meaning of a word or text in another language.” (

From this we can conclude that a translation is a process, where the SL is carried across in the TL, either formal or functional. But what else is there to know about translation?

Interlingual vs. Intralingual

A translation of a text can either be interlingual, which means that the text is translated from one language in another language or intralingual, which is translations within one language e.g. translation of ‘legal language’ to ‘general language’ or from a ‘dialect’ to ‘general language etc.

But does a translation always have to be done on word or text basis? No, you can also translate e.g. spoken language, signs, sign language, gestures, context etc.

Translation strategy

Moving on to a more practice orientated level of translating. We have established that translating is a process, but how do we come from SL to TL? And which strategy should we choose – a literal or a functional?

When translating, there are many factors to take into consideration. First of all it’s important to identify, what the purpose (skopos) of the translation is, why is it being translated? Then the translation situation must be analyzed; who is the text for (target audience – TA) and where is it being published (target place –TP). In continuation hereof the source text (ST) must be analyzed; what is the purpose of the text, which genre are we dealing with, how is the structure, which language instruments have been used etc.? And finally it’s time to consider, which strategy you want to use. When deciding on a strategy, following aspects can be considered; is the purpose directly transferable, is the genre and language instruments to be directly transferred and does the TA have the same knowledge as the source audience (SA) – if not, do we need to change something in order to maintain the meaning (see also: or do we need to add extra information? And last but not least, are we (the translators) to concentrate on the text’s form or purpose? (

Translation stages:

To give you an overview of the process I’ve divided it into stages:

1: Communication situation & Target audience

–          Who is the sender

–          Who is the receiver

–          What’s the purpose of the text (general)

2: Source text

–          Read all of the text*

–          Analyze it

–          What’s the purpose of the text

–          What’s the genre

–          Which language instruments are used

–          How is the text structured

–          Which knowledge is presupposed by the reader of the ST

3: Translation strategy

–           Is the purpose of the ST to be transferred directly

–          Are the genre/language instruments to be transferred directly

–          Can the same knowledge be presupposed by the target text (TT)

–          Should you focus on the form or the meaning of the text

–          Should the translation be close to the ST or not: e.g. B-menneske (Danish)= a) B-person or b) late riser (English)

4: The actual translation and proofingProofing

–         The translation starts

–         When proofing, remember to check up on terms, names etc. are they consistent or not.

–         A good idea is to write down everything you need to check up on later or make a clear comment in your text, so you don’t forget it later.


* You might not always have time to read the entire text, especially if it’s a book translation that has a certain time frame – then other strategies must be considered.

All depending of the genre there are different strategies to consider, as I just mentioned, if you are to translate a book, you don’t have time to read the book, but you still have to familiarize yourself with the genre, theme(s), style, person gallery etc. If you are translating legal document make sure to be close to the text, whereas other genres such as commercials, sales letters etc. can be freer, as the main goal is to transfer the meaning of message. Not too free though, if it changes the style of the original writer.

Have fun translating


Conceptual Translations?

I came across this post about, whether a conceptual translation of e.g. the book “Sports” is thinkable. The post is in Danish, so for those of you, who don’t understand Danish, I’ll sum up the main points.

Kan man forestille sig en konceptuel oversættelse?

Mr. Vinum asks, what do you do, when the central of what is to be translated, isn’t printed in writing, but instead is the context that surrounds it? You can find this problems in the literature branch: conceptual literature, which pertains to articles or books, where the author gives his opinion/expertise/theories/ideas on, what is good or bad.

Vinum here refers to the american author Kenneth Goldsmith, who is known for his many books that all have in common that they are transcribed radio transmissions or copied text. Vinum especially thinks of the book “Sports” from 2006, which is one of the three books in Goldsmith’s radio trilogy. The other two being “The Weather” and “Traffic”.

Sports is a radio transmission of an entire baseball match between New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. Sports is according to Vinum a captivating novel about baseball, american sport culture and its commercialization – in addition to the constant interrupting commercials, you also find a special american way of advertising, as the commentators merge the sponsors into their speech  All of which would be transferable in an ordinary translation.

But what isn’t transferable is the direct transcription of the immediate radio language to the books written permanent language, which inevitably is one of the books main points. The problem lies in, that the translator takes the text and removes it from its original context and hence dissolves the concept.

Vinum suggest that instead of translating the text, then the concept is to be translated, namely to maintain the point of the book. In my opinion, then it could be argued, whether the book was translated or not, or if the translator instead becomes an author, writing a whole new book copying Goldsmith’s style. As the translator would be taking a German, Danish or French (depending on language) sport event, transcribing the radio transmission and creating a book following Goldsmith’s style.

If the concept was to be translated to Danish, then Baseball would have to be replaced by football, as Baseball is more or less non existing  in Denmark (it might be played by some, but not a sport that unites as many as football does). This will cause an even larger step away from the original book – if it was to be translated conceptual!

Vinum has a good point though, a word, sentence or meaning translation isn’t always the sufficient to transfer the concept, which makes translating an interesting topic, which can always be debated.