Translating modalities - A "must" for translators?

What are "modalities"? They are what we use to express things such as likelihood, orders, suggestions, wishes, intentions, necessity, obligation, moral desirability, politeness, etc.


English, for instance, heavily relies for this on its modal verbs (can, could, may, might, shall, should, will, would, must, ought to), but the list of actual resources it uses in addition to them is surprisingly varied.


Modalities are extremely subtle, highly frequent and clearly play a key role in human communication. Translating them is all the more demanding since equivalent meanings are conveyed in languages through widely differing methods (moods, modal verbs, particles, syntax, lexical solutions, etc.).


Given that both emphasis through oral stress and meaningful intonation patterns can radically alter modal meanings, the challenges are even greater for interpreters, particularly when working under pressure in tense situations where a great deal may be at stake for their clients (e.g. Public Service Interpreting).


The purpose of this one-day workshop is to provide a generic and jargon-free framework to help understand, explore and translate modalities across languages. It will cover key aspects of modal semantics and survey the categories of linguistic resources which may express modal meanings. It will then outline a range of possible translation options, using ten main types of procedures and as many factors to bear in mind in order to arrive at appropriate solutions.

Workshop features

References and examples in a wide range of languages, in addition to English, including: Arabic, Chinese, Danish, Dutch, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Persian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Ukrainian and Spanish.


Practical activities throughout the day to provide participants with opportunities to work together on challenging examples in order to discover modal features, translation options and relevant factors to take into account. 


Comprehensive handouts to minimize note taking and for future reference: presentation (9,300 words), summary of key points (700 words), material to work on (2,300 words).


Follow-up material online: copies of all the handouts used during the day; chapters and articles (including two of my publications) on aspects of modalities; further handouts and material (3,500 words), with information about translation corpora, an audio-visual example of modalities, etc..


Results out of 93 participants so far:          






  40%      50%     10%  


- A fascinating introduction to a complex and important aspect of translation which has not been covered in any course I have taken previously.


- Very worthwhile! Presenter was extremely well prepared. The variety of materials and examples was excellent. Extremely satisfied with the content of the course - great framework, ideas and tips (...). Really opened my eyes to modalities. Would definitely recommend this course. Lots to be able to follow up on.


- It was very thought-provoking. He provided excellent & comprehensive examples of situations where problems could arise & supplied an excellent framework for recognising & overcoming potential pitfalls. He produced a clear & comprehensive handout and useful notes for future reference. Good exercises to practise on and discuss in class.


- Illuminating!


 - The chance to consider in depth an aspect of translation which I hadn’t given enough attention to previously. Having a framework which is applicable to many languages will be extremely useful.


- Fantastic detailed notes.


- Lots of examples; lots of different sources with many different languages; many possible translations; course set out very well, clearly; methodical; appropriate breaks for such an intense course; makes you think twice about your mother tongue, let alone your working one; great armour of handouts & materials; huge knowledge of the subject. Thank you!


- Really interesting, lots of food for thought! Good pace, engaging, excellent explanations. Good discussion / time for looking at the exercises. Really enjoyed the day overall, thank you!


- Fascinating exploration of language.


- I think this topic is very relevant for our work as it helps to bring out the nuances of language. 


- Really interesting, fun, dynamic & charismatic speaker, lots of interactivity. Lots of food for thought which I would use in my own work.


 - The practical exercises (...) were very helpful in consolidating the need to be aware of the pitfalls and difficulties involved in modalities. They also highlighted the various options for dealing with them. Enthusiastic lecturer, fully across his topic with excellent presentation style.


- Broad and detailed in equal measure (...) Good engagement with the class. Plenty of thought-stretching questions and problems.


- Enlightening course on modalities, how complicated they are and what the implications for translation are.


- It was very useful indeed to study modality in a focused way rather than as I have in the past where specific constructions have been covered individually without bringing out the unifying feature. This workshop will have a concrete effect on how I approach translation work.


- Very thorough. Presenter extremely knowledgeable.


- Theory explained comprehensively and clearly.  (...) Materials and examples were of a very high standard.


 - Stimulating and thought-provoking. (...) the English examples were relevant and really pushed us. (...) Open, encouraging trainer. 


- Presented in a very accessible way, despite dealing with complicated concepts. (...) Really good handout! Good not to have to make notes so you could concentrate on the presentation.


- I really enjoyed the workshop as it encouraged me to think about some of the subtleties of language & try to apply them to my own target language. (...) Crucially it has made me consider more what I may be missing in my source language & thus I will probably work through the examples with a native speaker.


- Loved the jargon-free explanations of really subtle semantic differences.


- Very lively + engaging content and presentation style. Examples really useful + thought-provoking - generated good discussion. Gave me useful tools that will be usable in various translation contexts.


- Picking apart examples in English was a useful way of getting us to think about examples in our own working languages.


- Having been introduced to the issues, I very much enjoyed exploring the strategies in my language.


- Thought-provoking presentation with a good range of different examples. Has made me think about aspects of my target language that I haven’t studied or properly considered in years.


- Practical element means that you don’t just read a handout and forget the points the next day. You practise them. Well researched and presented by J-P, excellent knowledge of English, really made me think!


- Engaging, good use of examples to bring abstract academic concepts to grounded status.


- I appreciated the flexibility / à la carte nature of the self-study / practical time.


- Examples used were excellent. Subject matter was pitched at the right level. Breaks were at appropriate places and right length. Overall, a very stimulating and useful workshop!