By comparing adaptations with the texts on which they are based, it is possible to elaborate a selective list of the ways (or modes) in which adaptations are carried out, the motivations (or conditions) for the decision to adapt, and the limitations (or restrictions) on the work of the adapter.

In terms of mode of adaptation, the procedures used by the adapter can be classified as follows:

  • Transcription of the original: word for word reproduction of part of the text in the original language, usually accompanied by a literal translation
  • Omission: the elimination or implicitation of part of the text
  • Expansion: the addition or explicitaion of source information, either in the main body or in a foreword, footnotes or a glossary
  • Exoticism: the substitution of stretches of slang, dialect, nonsense words, etc. in the original text by rough equivalents in the target language (sometimes marked by italics or underlining)
  • Updating: the replacement of outdated or obscure information by modern equivalents
  • Situational or cultural adequacy: the recreation of a context that is more familiar or culturally appropriate from the target reader’s perspective than the one used in the original
  • Creation: a more global replacement of the original text with a text that preserves only the essential message/ideas/functions of the original.

The most common factors (i.e. conditions) which cause translators to resort to adaptation are:

Cross-code breakdown: where there are simply no lexical equivalents in the target language (especially common in the case of translating metalanguage)

Situational or cultural inadequacy: where the context or views referred to in the original text do not exist or do not apply in the target culture

Genre switching: a change from one discourse type to another (e.g from adult to children’s literature) often entails a global recreation of the original text

Disruption of the communication process: the emergence of a new epoch or approach or the need to address a different type of readership often requires modifications in style, content and/or presentations.

These conditions (which in practice may exist simultaneously) can lead to two major types of adaptation: local adaptation, caused by problems arising from the original text itself and limited to certain parts of it (as in the first two conditions), and global adaptation, which is determined by factors outside the original text and which involves a more wide-ranging revision.

As a local procedure, adaptation may be applied to isolated parts of the text in order to deal with specific differences between the language or culture of the source text and that of the target text. In this case, the use of adaptation as a technique will have a limited effect on the text as a whole, provided the overall coherence of the source text is preserved. This type of adaptation is temporary and localized; it does not represent an all-embracing approach to the translation task. Intrinsic adaptation is essentially a translation procedure which is guided by principles of effectiveness and efficiency and seeks to achieve a balance between what is to be transformed and highlighted and what is to be left unchanged. Except in the case of local replacement of metalanguage, local adaptation does not need to be mentioned in the target text in a foreword or translator’s note.

As a global procedure, adaptation may be applied to the text as a whole. The decision to carry out a global adaptation may be taken by the translator him- or herself (deliberate intervention) or by external forces (for example, a publisher’s editorial policy). In either case, global adaptation constitutes a general strategy which aims to reconstruct the purpose, function or impact of the source text. The intervention of the translator is systematic and he or she may sacrifice formal elements and even semantic meaning in order to reproduce the function of the original.

As in the case of translation, adaptation is carried out under certain restrictions, the most obvious of which are:

The knowledge and expectations of the target reader: the adapter has to evaluate the extent to which the content of the source text constitutes new or shared information for the potential audience

The target language: the adapter must find an appropriate match in the target language for the discourse type of the source text and look for coherence of adapting modes

The meaning and purpose(s) of the source and target texts.