Translation Quality Assessment of popular science material (on the material of the «National Geographic» article): Juliane House's model

The article presents analysis and translation quality assessment of world-famous popular science magazine National Geographic article translations into Kazakh language. The original materials in the American version of the magazine has been printed in English since 1888, but the translation into about forty different other languages of the world has been published in various countries only since 1995. The magazine has been published in Kazakhstan since 2016 in the state language. This article provides a brief overview of the translation quality assessment model of the German scholar Juliane House, as well as the definition of translation types. The author of the article attempts to analyze the quality of translation from English language to Kazakh language by comparing the original and the translated materials. While analyzing the quality of translation, structural analysis is carried out according to House's model, namely, analysis of the source text, definition of the function, comparison of the original and translated materials, definition of quality and conclusion.


The purpose of this paper is to assess the quality of the translation of one of the articles of National Geographic magazine from English into Kazakh using the model by a famous German scholar, linguist Juliane House [1; 247]. This model had a significant impact on the development of translation quality assessment. A translation quality assessment takes a special place in the theory of translation and is necessary for the development of skills of existing and new translators. However, objective evaluation of translation is simply not possible, since the opinions of experts on the quality of translation are subjective. One can agree with R.R. Weightless [2; 114], who suggested that the main problem is the complex expression of quality, and the lack of understanding of what measuring instruments should be used to assess the quality of translation.

The model developed by Juliane House involves studying the source and target texts from a variety of aspects, using a deep linguistic and situational analysis of both texts and comparing them using a large number of criteria. Based on the House model, the considered original article from National Geographic magazine and its translation will be checked using sociolinguistic directions of the context of the situation in the following stages:

  1. Analysis of the source text and the definition of the function of the text in the register, which includes:
  •  Field of action (Field) or object. Here we answer the question of what the text is about, what events or what stories are described.
  •  The premise (Tenor) shows the nature of the participants: the author and the audience, the relationship between them in terms of social aspect and proximity. How an author, reader, and possibly characters, relate to each other.
  •  The mode of action (Mode) describes the way of communication, talks about whether the material is written or pronounced (Medium), with many variations: written for reading, written for the speech. Questions are asked about how the text was made public.
  1. Defining the text Genre.
  2. Comparison of the source text and the translated text and determination of quality. At this stage, Juliane House recommends finding inconsistencies in translations in the above directions of the register: field, tenor and mode, as well as by genre. The author of the model insists on achieving identity in all selected areas or finding explanations for inconsistencies.

One of the most important discoveries made by House based on this model, which influenced the development of translation theory, is the categorization of translation into two types: 1), explicit (overt), philological and 2) hidden (covert), communicative translation. With an explicit translation, the original sociocultural structure remains in target text as unchanged as possible [3; 36]. The explicit translation is close to theoriginal by genre and by the register, but cannot mean the same for the addressee in the translated language as in the original language. Functional identity in an explicit translation can be achieved only if it delivers the function of the original to the new readers. Since the recipients have a different culture and linguistics, for the transfer of the initial value during the translation, the discourse shifts towards the transfer of text functions. As an example of an explicit translation, House cites Karl Barth's sermon for prisoners in 1964 in Basel. Translation of such a sermon will never have the same meaning to recipients as in 1964 [3; 37]. The identity of the translation can only be partial.

On the contrary, with hidden translation, the text is transformed into an identical sociocultural phenomenon, as if not being a translation at all. The task of the translator is to hide the original, to disguise its significance. The text itself and the register can be changed depending on the culture of the target audience, the genre and function must remain identical. An example of a hidden translation is the translation of advertising, which is always perceived as if it was not translated.

Thus, using the Juliane House model, the function of the original and the target text will be determined, and the quality of the translation will be evaluated based on a comparison of these functions.

Source Text Analysis


The article chosen for analysis is «Shadow Cats or Out of the Shadows, the Wildcats You've Never Seen» [4] which was published in the February issue of National Geographic in 2017. As known, this international popular science monthly publication illustrates various topics in the field of geography and history, telling about nature, people, science and culture. This particular article is about the endangered species of the smallest wild cats in the world, especially the Pyrenean lynx. The article includes statements from interviews with cat researchers from different countries with the author's opinion, traveling in Spain in the wake of a lynx. The article is written in the popular scientific style and contains several examples of linguistic techniques of this style.


In this part, chronological, geographical and social origin of the author and the relationship between the addressee and the recipient are considered. On the National Geographic website, the author of the article, Christine Del Amour [5], is described as a journalist and environmentalist in love with her job, who is a senior editor of the animal section. Christine is a graduate of the American university, which has a significant impact on the language of the article, which is classified as modern American English. The ecological nature of the article can be traced through all the short stories in it. Love for animals and concern about the extinction of some of their species on Earth are visible. The reader is involuntarily imbued with this meaning, sympathizing and participating in the fate of wild cats. This is the merit of the author, who tried to convey her feelings and mood to the recipients, speaking in the first person, and transmitting quotes from other ecologists specializing in the study of these animals. Among the scientific style, an informal style of communication between scientists is traced, to transmit facts and stories about lynxes to each other.


The main goal of the articles published in National Geographic is to reach a wide audience. This article is no exception. Therefore, the author uses well-known geographical names and biological terms, without delving into purely scientific terminology. The material is intended to describe lynxes, the history of extinction and the salvation of their population in Spain and other countries. According to the House model, such a discourse is classified as non-situational, since it does not contain dialogs. Interactivity is represented by the planned formal text with an appeal to a wide audience of readers. Thus, the author is involved in communication with mentioned scientists and with all readers.


The selected article, as well as the journal in which it is published, is considered as an example of the popular science genre. Such a definition implies the popularization of science, «an intelligible explanation of complex scientific information to a non-specialist reader» [6; 60]. National Geographic attracted readers from the very beginning of publishing in 19th century when it did not have such an abundance of illustrations as it has now. A large number of photographs accompany the article under consideration as well. The content of the article's genre is classified as descriptive text since a detailed description of the problem is provided [5; 60]. Analyzing the structure of the popular science article, Semenova classifies the discourse of National Geographic articles into different compositionally thematic blocks [7; 59]. An article about cats by this classification discursively refers to a block about the animal kingdom. According to Semenova, au-

thors of such articles identify the problem of reducing species of animals to draw readers' attention to the protecting animals. Moreover, the author of such article mentally affects the reader with the help of specially organized language symbols, «the result of which should be a qualitatively new, changed activity of the reader».

Statement of function

Juliane House identifies two types of text functions: ideational and interpersonal [1; 36]. The ideational function of the selected article concerns the protection of animals, their great importance in the world fauna. Various species and individuals of small wild cats are described for a wide circle of readers, who may not have previously known not only the need to preserve this species of animals, but also the existence of 38 species of wild cats in nature. This function is embodied in the Field of Action through the little stories of other research scientists. In the Tenor, the author's social role is used to convey the mood of environmental responsibility to the reader, to smooth out the difference in the level of awareness between the author, scientists, and reader. By genre, the ideational function of the article meets the requirement for this kind of popular science discourse.

The interpersonal function in the article is less pronounced, since the text is not artistic, and does not contain dialogs. Nevertheless, the attitude of the author, biologists, and readers towards animals are somewhat similar, which determines the interpersonal function of the article on the protection of nature in the field of action, in the tenor and the genre. Caring for animals makes the text accessible for mainly for readers who are not indifferent to the fate of animals.

Comparison of Original and Translation

The article in the Kazakh language was also published in the February issue of 2017 under the difficultly translated name «Ұядай ұлпабас». The title is not a literal translation and conveys the general meaning of the article. Several translators translate the entire issue of the journal. To find out who exactly translated this or that article is not possible. When comparing the source and target texts, some inconsistencies were found.

Table 1 Examples of discrepancies in the Field

Original text

Target text

Reverse translation

Four breeding centers and one zoo raised most of the cats, all of which were outfitted with tracking collars

The sentence is omitted

The sentence is omitted

Drainage tunnel

Дренаж ұңғымасы

Drainage well

Lynx wearing tracking collars is mentioned several times and it is one of the important details of the story. However, for an unknown reason, the translators did not delve into this topic, and the sentence about such collars in the translation of the article in the Kazakh language is omitted, as indicated in Table 1. Another omission is the inaccuracy in the translation of the word tunnel, which turned out to be a well in the target article that are actually completely different concepts. This discrepancy can be explained by the fact that for most non-specialists there is no big semantic difference in these words, since people have no idea about the appearance of either a drainage tunnel or a well. Thus, the semantic content of the sentence with drainage tunnel is lost slightly for the target audience.

Table 2 Examples of discrepancies in the Tenor

Original text

Target text

Reverse translation

Standing in the scorching heat with traffic rushing at our backs, he tells me that the cat's future is to live in fragmented areas

The sentence is omitted

The sentence is omitted

These celebrity species attract the lion's share of attention

Осы танымал түрлер өздеріне үлкен назар аударылуын қажет етеді

These popular species require a lot of attention

In the discrepancies in the Tenor, several aspects are lost. The first example from Table 2 describes the whereabouts of the author of the article and the biologist with whom they travel in Spain in the wake of the Iberian lynx. They are talking under the scorching sun next to a busy highway. Such a reference makes it clear to the original readers that the author does not tell the story aout this rare animal while sitting in the office or at home. She followed the tracks of the lynx in the hope of looking at it, taking the necessary photos and feeling the importance and beauty of this endangered species. The translator into the Kazakh language ignored this fact, paying more attention to the wild cats themselves, and not to the author and the biologist.

The same issue is shown in the second example as well. The idea of the article is that most feline conservation funds help large species, often ignoring their smaller relatives. The author calls for taking care of smaller, lesser-known wild cats, because «celebrities» lions and tigers receive the «lion's share of attention». Translation into Kazakh speaks even more negatively of large species, saying that they not only attract more attention, but also require it. Thus, the translator, perhaps, a little inaccurately understood the message of the author of the original, and decided to convey such a negative in relation to large cat species.


The communication of the Kazakh version of the popular science article is directed to a wide audience in the same way as the original, although, of course, there are much more readers of the original in the world. When comparing the Field and the Tenor above, it was found that some of the sentences concerning the personality of the author and biologists, as well as some details of the life of lynxes, were not translated. Presumably, the translator does so with the aim of adapting the text for Kazakh readers in order to interest them, rather than throwing an audience with a large amount of superfluous information in the view of the translator.


The considered article in Kazakh undoubtedly also belongs to the popular science genre. In the English language, this genre has existed since the 19th century, Kazakh-speaking readers gained access to the genre, presumably in the middle of the 20th century, when Soviet popular encyclopedias began to appear and to be translated into Kazakh. Based on this, it can be concluded that, since the popular science style in the Kazakh language is younger than this style in English, the texts of this genre in Kazakh are more scientific than popular. This is also indicated by the omission of some facts mentioned above about the identity of the author in translation into the Kazakh language.

Explicit or hidden translation type

Since many facts in the article are adapted for the Kazakh reader, it can be assumed that the text is translated in a hidden type. That is, a Kazakh environmentalist could have written such an article if he had studied the endangered species of lynx in the Pyrenees. In general, the genre and function of the source and target texts are identical, with some exceptions.

Table 3 Examples of hidden discrepancies

Original text

Target text

Reverse translation

Handheld receiver

Портативтік ресивер

Portable receiver

1500 miles

2400 шақырым

2400 kilometres

Cars and trucks are the leading killers of lynx

Жеңіл автокөліктер мен жүк машиналары сілеусіндер үшін бірінші қауіп көзі

Cars and trucks are the first source of danger for lynx

It's a beloved national figure

Олар біздің ұлттық мақтанышымыз

They are our national pride

World's seven continents

Жер шарындағы жеті континент

Globe's seven continents. (In Kazakhstan, as well as throughout the former Soviet Union, it is acknowledged that there are 6 continents in the world)

The first example from Table 3 is interesting because the simple word handheld was translated by the borrowed (not Kazakh) word portable. The reason is the lack of a suitable equivalent to the word handheld in the Kazakh language. The second example clearly indicates a hidden type of translation, so that readers whodo not know how much the unit of measure is «mile» do not think about it and read the number of kilometers without even noticing that it is a translation. The third and fourth examples use set expressions in the original and in the Kazakh language, which cannot be translated literally. The word killer in the Kazakh language usually refers only to the killing of people; therefore, it is replaced by қауіп көзі, literally «eye of danger», with the meaning «source of danger.» The latter example can be considered a clear mistake in the hidden type of translation, or such a discrepancy indicates an explicit type of translation, which is not necessary here. With an explicit translation, it is possible to transmit the presence of seven continents into the Kazakh language, which is surprising for the Kazakh reader who is familiar with the school geography course. With a hidden translation, it would be quite easy to replace seven continents by six continents.

Statement of Quality

An analysis of the source and target texts showed that the ideational function of the article was not affected by the translation. The need to protect animals and preserve their populations is equally reflected in both texts. Small discrepancies did not violate the identity of the meaning of the article.

However, the interpersonal function in the Kazakh translation has suffered due to the omission of a number of sentences allowing to indirectly describing the author and her attitude towards animals. The Kazakh version is more depersonalized, that is, it does not fully reflect the author's zeal and passion for the conservation of nature. Some details are smoothed out, which would give the Kazakh reader a more detailed picture. Such a line of translation is characteristic of covert translation, since the translator adapts the article to a Kazakhstani reader unfamiliar with the history of the Pyrenees lynx. However, a couple of times the translator departs from such tactics and proceeds to an explicit translation, either trying to convey the significance of the original, or due to an erroneous interpretation of the original by the translator himself. Nevertheless, the focus on the Kazakhstani reader can be traced throughout the text, with an attempt to provide a translation of the audience in such a way that the article is easy to read, without «stumbling» on the roughness of the translation. The translator succeeds as much as the reader knows perfectly well that the text is not the original, as he sees the author's foreign name.


The Juliane House model is based on finding the functional identity of the source and target texts by finding semantic tools, or sociolinguistic directions of the context of the situation, in both texts. In popular science articles, the functional identity of the original and translation is easily traced, reflecting the deliberate achievement of this in the course of interpretation. Using House's model of translation quality assessment, both texts were analyzed in detail on various aspects, including the main idea, the message of the author, the method of communication and the genre of the article. Such an analysis would not have been possible without a detailed study of both texts, which is a distinctive feature of the studied model. Evaluation of the quality of the translation made it possible to determine that the ideational function of the original is completely transferred in the whole text, and the interpersonal function is somewhat lost due to the shift of discourse towards a new target audience. In general, the applied use of the quality assessment model by Juliane House's translations is effective in the case of a detailed study of the original and target texts with the identification of a number of sociolinguistic tools.



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  2. Rothe-Neves, Rui. (2002). Translation Quality Assessment for Research Purposes: An Empirical Approach. Cadernos de Tradução 2:10, 113–31. Retrieved from http://
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  4. Christine, Dell'Amore (2017). Out of the Shadows, the Wildcats You've Never Seen. Retrived from http: //
  5. Christine, Dell'Amore. Retrived from dell-amore/.
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  7. Semenova, S.N. (2016). Kompozitsionno-tematicheskie bloki soderzhaniia zhanra nauchno-populiarnoi stati, kharakterizuiushchei predmetnuiu oblast «Heohrafiia» (na materiale zhurnala «National Heohraphik») [Compositional and thematic blocks of the content of the genre of popular science articles characterizing the subject area «Geography» (on the material of the magazine «National Geographic»)]. Vestnik Rossiiskoho universiteta druzhby narodov. Seriia: Teoriia yazyka. Semiotika. Semantika — Bulletin of the peoples ' friendship University of Russia. Ser. Theory of language. Semiotics. Semantics, 2, 56–67 [in Russian].
Year: 2019
City: Karaganda
Category: Philology