Book reviews for linguists

The works we have reviewed are divided into five groups:

Working as a translator

How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator

by Corinne McKay

I've been meaning to read this guide for a while - ever since I came across a reference to it in Corinne's translation blog, Thoughts on Translation.

The book is intended as a guide for potential translators and newcomers who would like to get a potted overview of the translation industry, but it also has some advice of interest to experienced translators. A general work with a broad scope, it's primarily aimed at readers based in the US and provides information about setting up a business there.

Corinne, who is American, outlines the types of legal entities that translators' businesses generally have in the USA and also goes into a bit of detail about tax issues one needs to bear in mind as a self-employed person. She also describes various translators' associations like the ATA, which are useful for networking with other linguists and getting further professional training.

I think the author's done a good job of writing a readable introduction to the industry, and she's provided lots of useful pointers regarding training institutions and day-to-day aspects of a translator's work. The section on the financial side of running a translation business is a particularly important one with plenty of sound advice from someone with oodles of experience.

I hope Corinne decides to update the book soon and expand it in places as some parts seem a bit outdated and/or underrepresented now (Dec. 2010), like the section on CAT tools, which have developed a lot over the last few years. Issues like (indemnity) insurance also need handling. Although Web links do get changed or abandoned after a while, I think a lot more of these could be included, reflecting the many valuable information sources now available on the Net.

=== UPDATE ===

The second edition of Corinne's book is now available at This is a revised and expanded edition with a few brand new sections (e.g. on using social networks). It's also more international, with references to the situation for translators/self-employed people in other countries, which also makes it more applicable to many readers. Definitely a "must have" in my opinion!

August 2011


Reference works

The Cambridge Guide to English Usage

by Pam Peters

This is a work you might want to refer to if you're puzzled about English usage, grammar or spelling. It's suitable for language learners and anyone who uses the written language and cares about the way they write, which means individuals, authors, proof-readers, translators (and interpreters for that matter), and students and teachers alike.

The book contains just over 600 pages, most of which are used to discuss the entries; there are a number of short appendices at the back of it that briefly cover points such as the IPA (a phonetic script used in many dictionaries), geological eras, units of measurement, currencies, proof-reading marks and letter layouts.

What you'll be able to find in this work is a brief discussion of many language issues that might well have bugged you at some point (or are currently doing so). Do you write "online", "on-line" or "on line", for example? Or "Motif" or "motive"? What's the difference between "malevolent" and "malicious" or "malignant" and "malign"? What about "intensive" v "intense" - where's the difference? You'll find a clear explanation here.

The book, which is almost a sort of thesaurus at times, also goes into stylistic issues like the differences between linguistic varieties such as America, British, Canadian and Australian English. It discusses the usage and frequency of expressions by drawing on linguistic corpora collected specifically for American, Australian and British databases used for research and for writing dictionaries. These take an objective "look" at language by recording words and the way they're employed, i.e. in what situations (formal/informal, etc.) and with what meaning.

This descriptive rather than prescriptive approach is also adopted by the author, Pam Peters, who was Director of the Dictionary Research Centre at Macquarie University, Australia at the time (perhaps she still is). So although she tells us what Fowler and others have decried about the way words are used, she doesn't do it herself (thank goodness!).

I recommend you to get a copy of this if you constantly (or even just occasionally) need to look things up that you find tricky or unusual in English.

Monday, 15 Nov 2010


The Chicago Manual of Style

by University of Chicago Press Staff

Well, to be honest, this isn't really a book many people would want to actually "read", even though it is interesting. But it is certainly a useful reference work if you need occasional guidance about writing in or translating into American English.

It really is a beefy manual, too, as the edition I have (the 15th, from 2003) is 950-odd pages long and packed with information, explanations and examples of good usage. It basically covers the University of Chicago Press's "house style" ("consistent forms of capitalzation, punctuation, spelling, hyphenation, documentation, and so forth", it says in the preface), but it also deals with grammar and how to write clearly and avoid common mistakes in written English.

Believe it or not, the first edition of this book was published in 1906, over a hundred years ago. The editorial team now supplements the manual with an interactive website via which users can ask questions about writing in English. Why not pay it a visit?

Incidentally, the 16th edition of the Manual appeared in August 2010.


Oxford-Duden German Dictionary:
German-English / English-German

by O. Thyen, M. Clark, Werner Scholze-Stubenrecht, J. B. Sykes

Hardback, 3rd edition, 2005. Comes with a CD-ROM with words' pronunciation.

This is a big, weighty bilingual dictionary in two sections, Ger-Eng and Eng-Ger, along with some supplementary information about letter-writing, writing a CV and using the phone, for example. Newer versions have been published since I bought mine a few years ago. The one I currently use is actually a licensed online version offered by Kielikone, but this printed hardback is still very helpful when I work at home rather than in the office.

This book is an essential dictionary for non-technical translation in view of the large number of entries it contains (300,000 words and phrases, so the cover says!) and the quality of the translations, which is superb (and there are 500,000 of them in all). It's a general work, so you'll need to use specialist dictionaries as well if you're translating something detailed from a specific field, although plenty of technical terms are also included in it along with familiar collocations and phrases.

I may be wrong, but I don't think there's a CD-ROM version of this that can be used easily while you translate, e.g. in conjunction with a CAT tool (it would be great if there were...). The CD my edition came with was a stand-alone effort that included the pronunciation of words, but it wasn't any help to me as a translator (it's OK for language learners, I guess, although there are probably more convenient and amusing ways of learning to pronounce German words than this nowadays). Still, Oxford has tried to add some extra value to the book, which is generally a good idea, although the work is excellent anyway.

What I like about it is not just its scope and accurate translations, but it's page layout, which is very user-friendly. The keywords are all in bold and are navy blue, so they catch your eye right away, and the makers have also added some "usage boxes" explaining terms that need a longer definition, like "Fachoberschule" and "Erziehungsgeld", rather than attempting to fob you off with a one- or two-word "equivalent" that isn't one. A good dictionary.

Friday, 25 March 2010


Fachwörterbuch Personalarbeit - Human Resources Dictionary

by Hans-Otto Blaeser

I've been using this specialist German-English/English-German dictionary quite intensively for the last few months as I'm currently translating a management training course. It's come up with sound suggestions for just about all the terms I've looked up in German, so I'd like to recommend it to anyone else translating texts in this field.

The book's certainly good value for money. (In fact, at the time I bought it - in 2008 - the publisher was even offering a year's free access to its online database of HR terms as well.) The edition I got was the fifth one, which had also been revised, so it's obviously an ongoing project that has met with a lot of interest among buyers.

The two sections are approx. 500 pages long, with each page having two columns of entries and translations. Apparently, there are 43,000 terms in the book, which is quite something for a specialist dictionary. Mind you, the author does cover a lot of ground in it - labour law, the job market, social insurance and accountancy issues, collective bargaining, trade unions, personnel management, recruitment, training and various other areas concerned with HR.

Mr Blaeser (who seems to have a doctorate in Law judging by the qualification mentioned in the author's details at the very beginning) points out expressions that are specific to German legislation. He also uses a number of abbreviations to indicate the specific area a term is used in as well as the regional usage of a term (albeit limited to basic spelling differences). Occasionally he's added some brief notes to explain certain culture-specific concepts (e.g. "Hauptschussabschluss" and "Berufsgenossenschaft").

I'm glad to see he's also taken the trouble to add a number of possible translations in some cases rather than just one. At the end of the dictionary you'll even find two comprehensive lists of abbreviations and acronyms (Ger-Eng and Eng-Ger), including abbreviations of the names of German laws. So all in all, this book contains a lot of information, making it a valuable aid to translators and writers concerned with HRM.

Tuesday, 8 March 2010


New Hart's Rules: The Handbook of Style for Writers and Editors

by R. M. Ritter

This is one reference book that I wouldn't want to be without - it's proved itself invaluable in my work as a translator and proof-reader.

Despite its small size (it just about fits into a jacket pocket), it contains a wealth of information on many aspects of English usage (over 400 pages, in fact, albeit in small print). Among other things, the topics include preparing copy for publication, spelling and hyphenation, punctuation, capitalisation, quotations, abbreviations, numbers and dates, foreign words, lists, tables, bibliographies and indexing.

Being a handbook, guidelines are stated for doing all these things, both in British and American English.

Incidentally, this particular work can also be purchased as part of a set of three matching reference books, the other two being "The New Oxford Spelling Dictionary", which lists words and their syllables and shows how they should be split at the end of a line, and "The New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors", which provides short definitions of words, alternative spellings and background information about the terms, some of which are names (of famous people, towns, regions or organisations, for example).

This type of reference work is essential for academic writers, journalists, bloggers and, indeed, anyone who constantly works with written language, including translators.

Thursday, 14 Oct 2010


Key Words in Business (COBUILD)

by Bill Mascull

Although a bit dated now, this book is another one I'm still glad to have on my office bookshelf. It's actually intended to teach learners of English business vocabulary, but I've found it a great way of supplementing my own business knowledge, too, because it's entertaining and informative at the same time.

The author, Bill Mascull, has gone about the job of presenting business words by dividing them into six sections - What business are you in? / People and organizations / Research, development, and production / Products, markets, and marketing / The bottom line (i.e. money) / Towards the feelgood factor.

Words that are related are displayed in boxes and then mentioned in a commentary and explained in each section. Equally importantly, they're also shown in context so you can see how they're employed in practice. Learners of English can even do some exercises to practise using the terms properly.

The terms Mascull has selected were taken from the COBUILD Bank of English, which is a huge computer database that "monitors and records the way in which the English language is actually used in the modern world" (so the back cover states). The sources that have been tapped include The Economist, the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times and various national newspapers with a large circulation. So if you're interested in business language, you're on to a good thing here.


Aspects of language

Metaphors We Live By

by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson

Have you ever thought about how language is constructed besides being based on grammatical rules and lexical expressions? If you have any experience of language teaching, then you'll already know about the social functions that language can have (speech acts, gambits, etc.). Well, this easy-to-read work is actually about how we think in terms of metaphors in order to express basic ideas.

In this case we're talking about English, but much of what is said by the two US authors (Lakoff and Johnson) also applies to the various other languages I know and probably many others, too. (The use of metaphors to express normal ideas may even be universal.)

Take arguments, for example - the metaphor we often use here is ARGUMENTS ARE LIKE WAR: you will probably want to WIN an argument, but you may LOSE one now and again; you might try and KNOCK someone's argument DOWN or even BLAST it TO PIECES! Many other metaphors are outlined in the book that are used in everyday communication, like TIME IS A RESOURCE ("I haven't got much time left" or "Time's running out"), HAPPINESS IS UP ("He's up on Cloud 9"), SADNESS IS DOWN ("to be down in the dumps") and LIFE IS A JOURNEY (with stages and milestones, for example).

Lakoff and Johnson gradually uncover the metaphorical thinking behind our behaviour as the book progresses and show how the metaphors are systematically structured and can even be inter-related. It's intriguing and quite an eye-opener! Translators (like me) will also enjoy the read because they can compare the languages they speak to English and discover the metaphors at work there, too.


Rediscover Grammar

by David Crystal

An authority on English linguistics, Prof David Crystal has written a number of non-academic books on the English language as well as academic works. This one takes a modern look at English grammar, explaining what the elements of it are as we understand it today and illustrating this with examples and notes on current usage. Although it's written in a clear style, the amusing cartoons it contains help to lighten the subject matter and make it more enjoyable reading. The book is lightweight reading and yet instructive, which is why I'd like to recommend it here.

Tuesday, 26 Oct 2010


Through the Language Glass: Why the world looks different in other languages

by Guy Deutscher

I started this book on language and thought the other day and must say it's an enjoyable read - it's well written and obviously well researched. One of the themes it deals with is an old philosophical one - does the language we speak influence the way we think or does the way we think shape the way we say things? (Does "the Whorf hypothesis" ring a bell here?)

The second issue addressed is the effect that our own culture has on our thinking, perception and consequently on the way we express ourselves. The author, himself multilingual and an academic specialist in linguistics, takes a refreshing, unconventional look at these matters and, indeed, the achievements of psycholinguistics.

One of the first aspects of language he discusses is how we describe and perceive colours in different languages and cultures, and how this appears to have changed in the course of time.

Guy Deutscher's approaches to the topics he discusses here are historical and ethnographic: he outlines which linguists came up with which theories about the natural acquisition of colour terms, for example (such as Berlin and Kay), shows how they influenced linguistics at the time and then states various examples of languages in which different sequences of colour acquisition and different ways of dividing up the colour spectrum into discreet units like "blue" or "brown" exist. It's not nature alone that determines which concepts are learnt in which order, he says, but one's culture as well.

Besides looking at colour systems, the author also addresses the issues of grammatical universals and grammatical complexity and "simplicity", again shaking the foundations of various outspoken claims and theories made by linguists in the past.

It's actually quite difficult to summarise this book as it covers various important areas of psycholinguistics to show us how thinking has developed and then dismantles some of the work done by prominent researchers, clearly implying they were barking up the wrong tree. (In fact, he even calls his last chapter "Forgive us our ignorances".)

In Deutscher's own words, Through the Language Glass sets out to show "that fundamental aspects of our thought are influenced by the cultural conventions of our society, to a much greater extent than is fashionable to admit today" and that "the way our language carves up the world into concepts has not just been determined for us by nature".

I'm sure you'll enjoy this stimulating read, if only because of its style of writing, which is rare in linguistics.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012


Translation studies

A Textbook of Translation

by Peter Newmark

As the title implies, this is an academic book primarily intended for undergraduates reading Translation Studies. Peter Newmark has written a great deal in this area and his Textbook has been published several times, which goes to show its standing in academia.

It's reasonably accessible as Newmark illustrates his theoretical account with plenty of examples. Many of these are taken from French and German literature, however, which he personally seems to be very familiar with, but which is not the sort of text most translators have to deal with in their daily work. The section on practical translation techniques is potentially useful, but also focuses on ways of translating linguistic units that exist in French into English. By generalising, you can apply many of these approaches to other similar Romance languages, of course, but not necessarily to languages from other families, particularly unrelated ones like Arabic, Turkish, Finnish, Hungarian or Chinese.

Still, the book gets more interesting as you go on - there are sections on different styles of translation, such as literal ("straight") translation, which Newmark feels gets a rough deal, and technical translation, as well as on how to handle lexical issues like abbreviations, acronyms, collocations and other cultural issues like metaphors, neologisms and units of measurement (e.g.°F v °C, or metres v feet). The author even touches on the treatment of differences in punctuation in the source and target languages, which is a neglected but nonetheless important aspect of translating texts written in one language into another as punctuation systems often differ.

On the whole, Newmark has attempted to cover a wide range of issues in this textbook. I think it would be of interest to students of translation, particularly as he tries to show how theoretical linguistics is of relevance to practical translation work, and he also provides suggestions about translation strategies that can be employed when tackling source texts.

However, Newmark's repeated focus on literary translation - in many examples that illustrate points he's made and in a separate chapter on this type of translation as well - are rather misplaced in my opinion as very few new translators will work in that field and be able to earn a living from it. The chapter on technical translation is also so short that I question its value; you could easily write a whole book on this topic (which I'd also like to read!).

Thursday, 29 July 2010


Verstehen und Übersetzen

by Paul Kußmaul

This work is a textbook for students of translation studies. It stands out from the crowd because of the way it's written: it's clear and practical, and doesn't get overly abstract when it addresses theoretical aspects of cognition and semantics. The author taught translators at the University of Mainz in Germersheim, Germany, for many years and often draws on what he experienced in his classes, introducing questions the students had and explaining how they tackled linguistic problems encountered during translation exercises.

The book is divided into eight chapters and spans 230 pages in its third, revised edition (from 2015). The first edition of it appeared in 2007, so it seems to be popular (and justifiably so in my opinion). Each chapter is followed by a short section with exercises to practise what has just been covered in the book, and some suggested answers can be found at the back, which is handy.

I like the variety of topics in this book. Initially, the author discusses lexical "false friends", ambiguity and knowing which word or meaning to pick in a dictionary (is a brush a "Pinsel" or a "Bürste" in German?). He looks at semantic prototypes and "framing" (1.5) in connection with mental images of words and situations to be translated and then covers words that are "hard to translate" (1.7).

Some of the examples he picks are taken from questionnaires in English that were translated for mass surveys in various European countries (ISSP surveys). These often contain references to culture-specific terms, such as National Insurance Contributions, but even words like "local" or "government" (p. 88) can turn out to be tricky to translate and call for careful reflection (pp. 37, 38). One of the key points Kußmaul makes is that words don't live in isolation, but in a specific cultural setting (2.1), which a translator also needs to bear in mind.

Here are a few more points he covers: how close should a translation be? (chap. 3), the need to differentiate (3.3), how to go about researching a term or subject (4.1), linguistic v encyclopaedic knowledge, expanding your vocabulary by learning new meanings of existing words, going beyond dictionaries when their entries fail to help (4.2), referring to online resources (IATE, Wikipedia, Google, etc.) and analysing texts properly to deduce the right meaning of a word in its context (dictionaries don't always offer the right answer!).

In the second half of the textbook, the author looks at cognitive translation processes (chap. 5), creativity in translation (6), visualising and scenes (7), and problem-solving as a translator, along with various practical strategies and techniques (8) translators can use.

In a nutshell, then, "Verstehen und Übersetzen" is a useful, hands-on textbook that is well worth reading. And astonishingly for a German textbook, it's actually easy to follow.

Thursday, 3 February 2022

Verstehen und Übersetzen, Narr Verlag

>> Link to the e-book at the publisher's (Narr Verlag).


CAT tools

memoQ 6 in quick steps
memoQ 6 in Quick Steps

by Kevin Lossner, 2012

I recently read Kevin Lossner's e-book on memoQ 6 shortly after it was first published. It was well-written, interesting and helpful. The way of presenting the material is a good one – using short-but-clear explanations with lots of screen shots to make the outlines and instructions easy to follow.

The current version of the book is approx. 200 pages long and covers a wide variety of situations that memoQ users are likely to encounter in their daily translation work using the current version of the CAT tool (v6).

Initially, Kevin describes how to install memoQ correctly and set up memoQ projects that include TMs, term bases and other useful language resources such as LiveDocs corpora (= reference material). Setting up a spelling checker and rules for segmentation, auto-translation and auto-correction are also discussed. Covering these basic points was a wise idea because they affect how smoothly and accurately you can translate once you get started.

Kevin then moves on to the essential topic of preparing source files for translation and pre-translating them automatically in memoQ. Good file preparation can reduce the number of tags that appear in a file after importing it into memoQ, but it can also protect sensitive formatting information by turning it into non-deletable tags (using the Regex Tagger) as long as the file is in memoQ.

The next section discusses how to import and translate specific file formats: PDF, HTML, XML, bilinguals DOCs/RTFs, TTX, (SDL)XLIFF and other CAT-tool formats, plus Microsoft Office files containing embedded elements created using a different Microsoft application (e.g. Excel charts imported into Word).

Kevin also looks at internal quality-assurance checks and various ways of exporting translations and comments to file formats that external reviewers can check, edit and return for easy re-importing into memoQ (see the sections on collaboration and delivery). After this, the translation can be finalised and sent off to the customer.

Having finished an assignment, the translator may want to edit or expand his/her term bases, tidy up TMs or align source and target texts in LiveDocs. These areas are covered in respective sections on managing resources.

So as you can see, the author has tackled memoQ's entire workflow from a practical viewpoint. (Congratulations on doing it so clearly and succinctly, Kevin.) This is a sound compendium of practical information that ought to be of value to any memoQ user.

Monday, 28 January 2013


Links to other information

As well as reviewing reference works on the English language, we've also described more than 25 useful online dictionaries, encyclopedias and EU resources that are likely to interest you:

» bilingual dictionaries and dictionaries and spelling guides in various other languages.

» various glossaries of English and German terms.

» links to articles and blogs concerning aspects of translation work.

» links for patent translators, including online medical resources

» quick overviews of popular CAT tools we're familiar with.

Amper Translation Service, ATS, Fürstenfeldbruck, FFB, translation, translator, editing, proofreading, proof-reading, translation agency, translation services, language services, Carl Carter, editor, English, German, dictionaries, reference works, glossaries, proofreader, book reviews, summaries, Buchrezensionen, memoQ, CAT tools