Catford (1978) divides the shift in translation into two major types, level/rank shift and category shift. Level/rank shift refers to a source language item at one linguistic level that has a target language translation equivalent at a different level. In other words, it is simply a shift from grammar to lexis.

I don’t quite un­der­stand what the word ‘lev­el’ in lev­el shift refers to. Lev­el of what?

The on­ly ex­am­ples I have found so far use present con­ti­nous or per­fect con­struc­tions, such has have been, to be + ‑ing, &c.

But are there oth­er class­es of ex­am­ples of lev­el shift to be had?

For ex­am­ple,

  • French: Elle est intelligente
  • English: She's intelligent

in french, the adjective intelligent has -e in the end of it because its gender, but in english there's no system like that. So does that count as lev­el shift?

Al­so in this ex­am­ple:

  • French: les fleurs
  • English: flow­er

The re­sult­ing trans­la­tion used sin­gu­lar not plu­ral like the source lan­guage did. Should this al­so to be con­sid­ered a lev­el shift?

also, for anyone who understand this in Bahasa Indonesia, i have another example.

French: Ils sont devenus trop grands

Indonesian: Mereka jadi kebesaran

the adjective "grand" has "-s" in the end because it follows the subject but there's no such thing as that in Indonesian. does it also considered as a level shift?

  • 1
    Citations? Quotes from Catford? Definitions? Where did the question come from?
    – jlawler
    Dec 11, 2018 at 17:39
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    @jlawler added it, is like that enough?
    – arviona
    Dec 11, 2018 at 17:54
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    I think what Catford is talking about is a shift where meaning that originally was carried by grammar is carried by words in the translation, or vice versa. For example, some third person subjunctive constructions in French can be translated by the words Let them .... For example, qu'ils mangent de la brioche, would be translated by let them eat cake. So what carries the meaning changes from grammar to lexis. Dec 11, 2018 at 20:13
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    Another example of level shift would be superlatives. The biggest house in English becomes la plus grande maison in French. So you've translated the grammatical suffix -est into the word plus. Dec 12, 2018 at 2:22
  • I'm curious: what circumstances were you thinking of where the natural translation of les fleurs would be flower? I'd guess that at least nine times out of ten, flowers or the flowers would be the right translation. Dec 12, 2018 at 13:15

1 Answer 1


Here, level refers, if I am understanding correctly, to the syntactic category. A same seme depending on language can be encoded by either a grammatical morpheme or a lexical morpheme. For example between French and English:

Je suis "en train d'" écrire

I am writ "ing"

The progressive seme is encoded differently in these two languages. In French, an adverbial phrase is used (so belonging to the lexical category) whereas in English, a verbal inflectional morpheme is used (so belonging to the grammatical category). Then, there is a syntactic category shift in the way where this aspect is encoded.

  • How about the suffixes like gender? Like the suffix "-e" in my example above, do u think it's also a level shift?
    – arviona
    Dec 12, 2018 at 6:56
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    It is not the case, because in English and partially in French, gender and number are not encoded on adjectives. In French, "e" is just a orthographic convention. Gender is mainly borne by personal pronouns.
    – amegnunsen
    Dec 12, 2018 at 7:37

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