Whether you’re a professional translator or simply want to learn more about the field of translation, this write-up will provide you with valuable insights into the complex yet interesting world of translation shifts.

Changes or ‘shifts’ often occur in translation. By ‘shifts’, we mean departures from formal correspondence in the process of going from the source language to the target language. These shifts are actually the changes that occur due to the translation of text from one language to another, also known as class shift in translation.

But why do these class shift in translation take place? Well, there could be many possible reasons for it. For instance, they appear due to differences in vocabulary, grammar, or syntax between the original or source language and the target language. Other possible reasons include differences in cultural nuances and in the intended audience for which the text is being translated. Moreover, translators and linguists may also need to make certain changes to the start text so that it can comply with the target language convention or meet other requirements of the target audience.

Table of Content

  1. Types of Translation Shifts
  2. Level Shifts
  3. Category Shifts
    1. Structure Shifts
    2. Class Shifts
    3. Paradigm Shift in Linguistics
  4. Importance of Translation Shifts
  5. Conclusion

Types of Translation Shifts

Understanding different types of class shift in translation is critical in order to produce excellent quality translations. An excellent quality translation is one that conveys not just the meaning but the real intent of the start text, that too in an accurate and precise manner. It is due to such quality concerns, some shifts become extremely necessary. However, others could completely alter the intended message or result in a translation that has lost its original meaning.

Now, primarily there are two major types of ‘shift’ that occur: level shifts and category shifts. Let’s understand them in a bit more detail below.

Level Shifts

By level shifts, we mean that a source language item at one linguistic level has a target language translation equivalent at a different level. An example of level shifts is sometimes encountered in the translation of the verbal aspects of English. This language has an aspectual opposition – of very roughly the type – seen most clearly in the ‘past’ or preterite tense: the opposition between English simple and continuous (wrote and was writing).

In English, the (contextually and morphologically) marked term is continuous, this explicitly refers to the development, the progress, of the event. The ‘simple’ form is neutral in this respect (the event may or may not actually be in progress, but the single form does not explicitly refer to this aspect of the event).

Category Shifts

This refers to unbounded and rank-bound translation: the first being approximately ‘normal’ or ‘free’ translation in which source language to target language equivalences are set up at whatever rank is appropriate. Usually, but not always, there is sentence-to-sentence equivalence, but in the course of a text, equivalence may shift up and down the rank scale, often being established at ranks lower than the sentence.

1. Structure Shifts

These are amongst the most frequent category shifts at all ranks in translation; they occur in phonological and graphological translation as well as in total translation.

2. Class Shifts

Class shifts occur when the translation equivalence of a source language item is a member of a different class from the original item. Because of the logical dependence of class on structure, it is clear that structure shifts usually entail class shifts, though this may be demonstrable only at a secondary degree of delicacy.

3. Paradigm Shift in Linguistics

A paradigm shift is a significant change in the way linguistic phenomena are viewed or understood. It can involve a fundamental change in the underlying assumptions, theories, or methods used in the study of language. For example, the shift from behaviorist to generative approaches in linguistics brought about a new understanding of language structure and acquisition.

Importance of Translation Shifts

Translators often need to make shifts in their translations to ensure that the content is culturally appropriate and relevant for the target audience. This adaptation is important to resonate with local customs, norms, and preferences. In diplomatic and political contexts, translation is crucial for accurate communication between representatives of different countries. It helps prevent misunderstandings and facilitates negotiation and cooperation on global issues. Another important aspect is making knowledge more accessible to the global public in a way that doesn’t tamper with what is said.


Overall, translation shifts are important for promoting mutual understanding, cultural exchange, economic growth, and the preservation of knowledge and language diversity in our interconnected world. They play a significant role in facilitating communication and bridging gaps between different linguistic and cultural communities.

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