When the source language cannot be translated to the target language without altering the grammatical structure or style, oblique translation techniques must be used.

Vinay and Darbelnet (in Venuti 2000:84) says,

“…because of structural or metalinguistic differences, certain stylistic effects cannot be transposed into the TL without upsetting the syntactic order, or even the lexis. In this case, it is understood that more complex methods have to be used which at first may look unusual but which nevertheless can permit translator a strict control over the reliability of their work…”

According to them, there are four procedures of Oblique. They are Transposition, Modulation, Equivalence, and Adaptation.


Transposition is characterized because it works at a grammatical level and it consists of the replacement of a word class by another word class without changing the meaning. In other words, it is a change of one different type of part of speech to another in order to achieve the same effect. For example, “red apple” (in English) becomes “manzana roja” (in Spanish) “maçã vermelha” (in Portuguese), “mela rossa” (in Italian) “pomme rouge” in French. This is the process where parts of speech can replace their sequence when they are translated.

There are some types of transposition according to Catford (1974), such as:

  1. The change from singular to plural (and vice versa) or in the position of the adjective.
  2. The change in grammatical structure or word order from SL to TL.
  3. The change of part of speech or word class from SL to TL, when the literal translation of SL text may not acceptable in the natural usage of TL.


Modulation comprises the use of a phrase that is different in the source and target languages to convey the same idea. This is commonly used when the translation of a phrase from one language to another is awkward. We can see this clearly in the following example:  “at a snail’s pace” could be translated into Spanish as “a paso de tortuga”. The idea or meaning is the same, but the phrases that are used in the source and target languages are different – (the source language is not translated word-for-word into the target language).


When translating difficult phrases such as idioms, the translator needs to understand the meaning behind the idiom (or cliche, or proverb, or onomatopoeia) “Aie!” in French, in English would be translated as, “ouch!” or “¡Ay! in Spanish. The process is creative, but not always easy because there are phrases in some languages that simply cannot be expressed directly in other languages, which is where equivalence comes into play.


British scholar Peter Newmark defines adaptation, taken from Vinay and Darbelnet, as, “The use of a recognized equivalent between two situations. It is a process of cultural equivalence: “Dear Sir”/”Muy señor mío” ; “Yours faithfully”/”Le saluda atentamente.”1

Adaptations are equivalents and can be seen more clearly in the translations of TV shows or movies, where conversations or cultural references must be adapted for foreign audiences. Adaptation, however, is not to be confused with localization, which is used when the target audience speaks a different variant of the same language.

In order to translate effectively, a translator must have a deep understanding of both languages in question. A successful translation will not just use one translation technique, but a variety of all of the translation techniques. As you can see, translating is a long and difficult process, filled with different rules for different languages.

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