LINGUIST List 14.2089

Thu Aug 7 2003

Review: Discourse Analysis/Translation: Doherty (2002)

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  • Giampaolo Poletto, Doherty (2002), Language Processing in Discourse

    Message 1: Doherty (2002), Language Processing in Discourse

    Date: Tue, 05 Aug 2003 13:17:00 +0000
    From: Giampaolo Poletto <>
    Subject: Doherty (2002), Language Processing in Discourse

    Doherty, Monika (2002) Language Processing in Discourse. A key to felicitious translation, Routledge, Routledge studies in Germanic linguistics.

    Announced at

    Giampaolo Poletto, University of P�cs (HU), PhD student of Applied Linguistics.

    With little space left to theoretical digressions, the work, synthesis of the author's thorough and unfinished research project, addresses students, teachers, more specifically scholars in translation studies, more in general linguists, adopting a non-technical, common sense format and a highly restrictive approach. The focus is on the way sentences are processed to achieve a felicitous translation into the target language, when restructuring a sentence in the source language. The Key to obtain the above result is argumented and tested, through a consistent amount of examples. The overall framework is delineated through one default Maxim of Translation, one text type, one register and one pair of languages, which confers cohesion to the study.

    The area investigated involves issues, perspectives and contributions from past and recent works, in translation studies as well as in contrastive linguistics, text linguistics, pragmatics, cognitive science, psycholinguistics. The relationships between language systems and use are examined to emphasize how the former influences the latter, when detecting and reframing, or reformulating, a sentence information structure and content. Related but typologically alternative, German and English are the two languages whose prototypical cases of translation with similar information structures are taken into account.

    The restructuring patterns, chosen as the most frequently recurring, are displayed in the form of sets of paraphrases throughout the six central chapters, two by two in connection with a linguistic theme and interdipendent at different degrees: order, within and beyond the sentence; perspective, or the projection of semantic roles onto syntactic functions; explicitness, or the use of overt linguistic structures versus implications or implicatures. The Contents details on each chapter constituting paragraphs: Questions of order (21-38); Complex sentences (39-57); In favour of primary relations (58-80); Structural weight (81-102); Grammaticalized clues (103-120); Shifting boundaries (121-136). The discussion in the eighth - Relativizing optimality (137-159) - concentrates on a set of samples taken from judicial text type and many literary ones, which is functional to the enquiry thoroughness. Linguistic means, previously used to optimize processing conditions in original and translation, are here demonstrated to be flouting them, because they are subject to other principles, stylistically characterized by the nature and extent of deviations from the norm (see Grice, 1975). The cases exhibited prove the limits of translatability, when redistributing information does not compensate for the differences between source and target language. The ninth and final chapter - Reviewing the scene (160-164) - reviews the main passages and reflects on the premises, stated in the Preface and the opening chapter, Setting the scene (1-20), to clarify both the basic concepts underlying the study and the consistency of the results obtained. A very useful and appropriately organized conclusive Glossary (165-179), subtitled Technical Terms seen through the Keyhole, adds to the concreteness of the text style and content.

    Instead of a historical perspective (see Toury, 1995), the present work reflects a generative and context-oriented view of translation, as a set of possible correspondances between languages, and of each translated text, as a contextualized instance of those possibilities. Detailed empirical evidence supports the hypothesis the `optimal' translation, in terms of language processing in discourse, in a context- and co-text dependent activity, as to its 'textual relevance'.

    Ascending the tightrope towards the original comprehension, interpretation and transfer into another language, the limitations to the user's knowledge of the world or model of the situation evoked by a linguistic expression find a compensation. Languages rather differ in what they must express (see Jakobson, 1959), or 'prefer' to express. Given the language, some expressions simply meet its specific requirements. This is the domain of contrastive linguistics. Contextual properties pertain to how languages 'prefer' to convey a message. This is the domain of translation studies, dealing with the correspondances between languages or relations typical of translations.

    Relations are to be searched for to establish or create correspondances. They include sometimes insourmontable differences, concentrating on meaning and style and originating from languages properties and productivity, from their systems and use. To overcome them implies to take side, due to the implicitly or explicitly emerging dominance of either the source or the target language. In this view, a translator may retain or create, stay closer to either the meaning or the style of the original. The 'default' norm of equivalence is part of the Translation Maxim the Key proposes. Optimal relevance, resembling Toury's 'optimal equivalence' (Toury, 1983), is achieved when, the closer a translation is to the meaning and style of the original, the more equivalent original and translation are, within the constraints of the target language, in tribute to which deviations are 'licensed'. The hypothesis presumes that quality assessment is possible, in contrast with Baker (1992).

    The Principle of Optimal Relevance lies on ''the greatest possible cognitive gains for the least expenditure of effort'' (Carston, 1988:59), a purpose to be cooperatively pursued by each participant to an act of communication (see Sperber and Wilson, 1986). Cognitive gains are measured against the effects of confirmation, extension or rejection on the user's knowledge, beliefs or assumptions about the world. Processing efforts range between absolute novelty of and familiarity with the sentence information. Words, context and co-text help shift from the former towards the latter, when processing the message linguistic form. It combines and encodes grammatical properties, semantic and contextualized meaning, with a linguistic and an extralinguistic part, related to a mostly implicit linguistic knowledge and to the knowledge about the relevant world and principles of inference. The linguistic forms an original message can be embedded into in the target language are multiple. The user's sentence processing can be hampered or facilitated. By adequately analysing the sentence information structure in the source language and by appropriately reconstructing a relatively effortlessly accessible set of 'information units' in the target language, to some extent predictable, the translator enables the 'wrapping up' and integration of the processing results into the acquired contextual knowledge.

    To enforce the ability of predicting the optimal linguistic form in the target language, the author suggests a method based on sets of minimally varied paraphrases of the original structure, which appeals to the user's implicit knowledge about the appropriateness of paraphrases relative to each other in a certain context. The procedure of comparative assessment is not invalidated by the acknowledged other possible more optimal paraphrases. It directly involves the processing conditions, context dependent and language specific, aspects interacting in the way the information is distributed onto the original and translation linguistic structure.

    The cases examined in the six central chapters show that there are systematic options available to the translator, in reason of a language vocabulary and grammar. The different use of them is here claimed to be primarily due to a sort of 'mould', formed by a small set of basic grammatical properties and helping diversely shape similar material. The examples in English and German appear to envision the parameters determining it in a given language. If verbal extension is to the right in English, to the left in German, if the word order is rigid in the former and more flexible in the latter, deviations are related either to limited and well-known situations, as the yes-no questions, or to the integration of a sentence into its discourse. This depends upon universal rules of information structuring. Language-users adopt them in view to a felicitous communication. Appropriateness thus concerns the words and the sentence structure chosen among those available to most efficiently transmit a message. The choice falls within the boundaries of language specific discourse-linking strategies. They differ in English and German, due to the different grammatical systems and properties.

    The sets of examples analysed lead to continually and progressively: confirm or change objectives and aims; test and verify solutions and options on how to achieve them; revise or reformulate the initial assumptions and state new ones, in the light of the results obtained. They enforce the comparative procedure adopted and emphasize its dynamics. In particular, the cases from two special languages in the eighth chapter shift into the foreground deviations, leaving the Default Maxim of Translation in the background. They are proved to be both embedded into the same framework.

    All together, examples allow to verify that differences between reciprocally related optimal translations occur in regular ways, explainable through processing conditions. Two grammatical parameters underlie them, namely directionality and configurationality. They infer processing ease in identifying the focus is the dominant and unifying aspect. Preconditions for focus interpretation appear to be parsing and anaphora resolution. Among the possible sentence foci, the syntactically determined neutral verb-adjacent position is assumed to be the main and prototypical one, in the end-focus German and the surprisingly mid-focus English (see Quirk et al., 1985). The focus is entailed to have different positions within the sentence, due to the two languages opposite directionality.

    In a semantic-pragmatic perspective, structural and contextual focus may not appropriately match, due to the parameters of left- and right-peripheral phrases, when sentence-internal interpretation is assumed to follow from the sentence-external context. Shown to carry over from simple to complex sentence, as well as beyond sentence boundaries, to sequences of sentences, parametrized processing difficulties urge for analogous version restructuring to comply with the Maxim of Translation. Garden paths are thus avoided, even by focus separation, when more than one is present in one sentence. With the aim to achieve grammatical acceptability and optimize discourse appropriateness in the target language, different solutions, requiring further investigation, are envisioned and prospected in the central chapters. In detail, when topicalized or scrambled in the source language, material is either presented in its basic position or extended by a dummy structure, through clefts, with a view to end-focus or focus separation in English (2-3; 5-6). Verbs are turned into the active form and initial adverbials reframed as subjects, to secure neutral focus interpretation or focus separation (4). Sentence boundaries are re-set, when structure reordering, reframing or extending/reducing do not provide focus identification (7).

    Two interrelated lines of research are pointed out. Through a discourse-based analysis of information structure, the first identifies sentence contextual foci and their relevance, both reciprocal and related to sentence-external context. The second identifies both the language-specific means to formally indicate foci, and the constraints limiting the use of the above means or determining the acceptability of their substitutes.

    Many questions arise, with reference to the linguistic and psycholinguistic assumptions needed for predictive generalizations of the individual analyses. Restricting the attention to one discourse function, for instance, is here justified because informing is a most basic function and common to a wide range of texts. Identifying its primary strategies and language-specific conditions is maintained as the key to a wide variety of frequently occurring phenomena. This should enforce the predictive potential of generalizations. Findings thus achieved should in the end somehow extend to other issues and benefit other disciplines. The author actually claims that translations are basically not different from other 'impure' data of language use, which provide a valid empirical basis in linguistic or cognate sciences. That given, the issue of information structure in source and target language is definitely to be considered central to translation studies and to be more deservedly studied. The conclusive hypothesis is that, assuming the distribution of information is controlled by basic principles involved in language use, and its optimization is framed by language typological properties, the analysis of the conditions determining it could contribute to shed light on intuitive strategies of language use, at work in felicitous translations or stylistic encoding.

    Critical evaluation

    The study, framed into an ongoing research project, departs from the traditional historical perspective of translation, along with the belief that translation studies are to open to contributions from other disciplines. This occurs in the context of a mutual exchange, as they are claimed to be possibly benefiting from the results of the investigation.

    What really matters to the author is to stimulate students and scholars in translation studies, clarifying the field and object they are supposed or willing to enquire into. Given its width, the field is examined through a restrictive approach. Given its vagueness, the object is examined by adopting a strict norm. Results are not definitive, the procedure to obtain them is concrete, recognizable and effective.

    The other emerging aspect is the productivity of the approach delineated, estensible to the study of language use, in part still largely unknown, even to more scientifically based and oriented linguistic disciplines.

    The richness and vivacity of the author's honestly and firmly asserted positions and perspective are only sketched through the above words, to testify their acknowledgement and the appreciation of her entire work.

    Bibliographical references

    Baker, M. (1992) In Other Words. A Coursebook on Translation. London and New York: Routledge. Carston, R. (1988) 'Language and cognition'. In F.J.Newmeyer (ed.) Linguistics: The Cambridge Survey III. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 38-68. Grice, P. (1975) 'Logic and conversation'. In P.Cole and J.L.Morgan (eds) Speech Acts. Syntax and Semantics 3. New York: Academic Press. 41-58. Jakobson, R. (1959) 'On linguistic aspects of translation'. In R.A.Brower (ed.) On Translation. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 232-9. Quirk, R., Greenbaum, S., Leech, G., and Svartik, J. (1985) A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language. London: Longman. Sperber, D. and Wilson, D. (1986) Relevance. Oxford: Blackwell. Toury, G. (1983) 'Sharing relevant features. An exercise in optimal translating'. Meta 28(2): 116-29. Toury, G. (1995) Descriptive Translation Studies and Beyond. Amsterdam and Philadelphia, PA: Benjamin.


    Giampaolo Poletto is a student in Foreign Languages and Literature, English and Russian, and Humanities in Italy, with teaching qualifications for secondary schools in English and in Italian. Having taught in Italy and abroad for ten years, in universitarian institutes as well, Giampaolo Poletto is actually second year student of a PhD program in Applied Linguistics at the University of Pécs, in Hungary, with a research project on pragmatic and psycholinguistic aspects of humor, in relation to processes of second language acquisition, focusing on Italian humorous written texts, of both verbal and narrative humor, in the contemporary literary and non-literary production, to be analysed and processed in a semantic-oragmatic and psycholinguistic perspective, to then reflect on processes of implicit language learning, and, with reference to curricula of second language teaching, propose didactic applications, eventually multimedial for IL2 students from 11 to 18.