Text analysis in translation

Systematic framework for external analysis. Audience, medium and place of communication. The relevance of the dimension of time and text function. General considerations on the concept of style. Intratextual factors in translation text analysis.

Рубрика Иностранные языки и языкознание
Вид курс лекций
Язык английский
Дата добавления 23.07.2009
Размер файла 71,2 K

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Which sentence types occur in the text?

Does the order of sentence constituents correspond to the theme-rheme structure? Are there any focussing structures or deviations from normal word order?

Is there any text relief?

Are there any syntactic figures of speech, such as parallelism, chiasm, rhetorical question, parenthesis, aposiopesis, ellipsis, etc.? What function do they perform in the text?

6. Are there any syntactic features which are determined by audience orientation, text-type conventions, or by the medium? Does the translation skopos require any adaptations?

Suprasegmental features

General considerations

The suprasegmental features of a text are all those features of text organization which overlap the boundaries of any lexical or syntactical segments, sentences, and paragraphs, framing the phonological "gestalt" or specific "tone" of the text.

The particular framing of a text depends, first and foremost, on the medium by which the text is transmitted. In written texts, the suprasegmental features are signalled by optical means, such as italics, spaced or bold type, quotation marks, dashes and parentheses, etc.

In spoken texts, the suprasegmental features are signalled by acoustic means, such as tonicity, modulation, variations in pitch and loudness, etc.. This applies both to spoken texts which are produced spontaneously (e.g. a contributions to a discussion, a statement by the witness of an accident) and to written texts which are presented orally (e.g. lectures, radio and television news, etc.).

It is important to distinguish suprasegmental features, in their function as features of verbal text organization, from the non-verbal or para-verbal elements accompanying the text, such as facial expressions, gestures, etc. On the other hand, habitual psycho-physical and physical features of speech (such as quality of voice or excitement) as well as features resulting from biographical factors (such as origin, age, status, e.g. social or regional dialect) must be distinguished from "controllable" functional features, i.e. features depending on the sender's intention or on other situational factors such as the relationship between sender and receiver etc.

Prosody, intonation, and stress

The concept of intonation refers to "the totality of prosodic qualities of utterances which are not linked to individual sounds". It includes the general features of tonicity and pitch, modulation, rhythmicality, speed, loudness, tension and pauses.

Intonation as a means of text organization (as opposed to intonation indicating psychical states, habitual characteristics of the sender or even psycho-pathological phenomena) serves mainly to mark the information structure and to divide the speech stream into tone units separated by pauses. The tone units usually correspond to information units. Another function of intonation is to mark the semantic nucleus of the sentence.

Moreover, intonation helps to disambiguate the various possible meanings of a sentence (e.g. serious vs. ironic meaning in the sentence "That was very clever of you!"). The "meaning" conveyed by intonation is independent of, i.e. not subordinated but coordinated to, that of lexical and semantic units. Intonation signals the attitude of the speaker towards the message and, in this respect, its function can be compared with that of the stylistic function of lexis and sentence structure. It can be analysed only in connection with the other two factors.

The analysis of prosodic features is of particular relevance to the interpreter. It facilitates the comprehension of content and text composition, since stress markings are a textological instrument for making the relations of coherence between sentences explicit. For example, the stress on the word money in the sentence "John found some money today" points to it in the following sentence: "But he spent it immediately." In simultaneous interpreting, the analysis of intonation therefore can make it easier for the interpreter to anticipate how the text will continue. The pauses between the informational elements, whether "empty" or "filled" by sounds such as ah, hum, etc., divide the stream of speech and give a breathing space to the interpreter.

On the other hand, "contrastive" stress may reveal the speaker's intention. In the sentence pair "John found some money today" and "Peter found happiness", the stress on money forms a paradigmatic contrast with the stress on happiness. Syntagmatic contrast is produced by the two stress points in the sentence "John found some money today" if the following (or preceding) sentence is "He found happiness yesterday". In English, contrastive stress is often combined with certain syntactic structures, such as clefting: "It was John who found some money today, but Peter was the one who found happiness." Contrastive stress, too, can be very helpful to the interpreter because it limits the variety of possible "next sentences" and thus makes anticipation easier. Of course, the procedures for source text analysis have to be automatized or internalized in interpreter training, since there is not much time to start thinking about contrastive stress in the process of simultaneous interpreting.

Word stress can serve to differentiate meaning, e.g. in conduct vs. conduct, whereas tone-unit stress sets focus points (e.g. "a clever child" vs. "a stupid child"), and sentence stress often signals emphasis. Some forms of sentence intonation or "intonation contour" are linked by convention with certain sentence types (e.g. question, inclusion, incomplete sentences, etc.) or rhetorical intentions.

Certain genres, such as a radio commentary of a football match or the arrival of a train being announced by loudspeaker at a railway station, are characterized by a specific intonation which we would be able to identify at once even if we did not understand the information or if we heard the text in another place.

The "phonology" of written texts

The representation of suprasegmental features in writing

The phonological organization of a text is represented in writing by the selection of particular words, word order, onomatopoeia, certain features of typeface such as italics or spaced words, orthographic deviations

In this sense, we can distinguish between "syntactic" or "discoursive" punctuation marks (full stop, comma, question and exclamation marks), which serve to guide comprehension by conventional signals, and "stylistic" punctuation marks which give "elegance and expressivity" to the sentence. Thus, punctuation, whether conventional or stylistic, is used principally as a means of representing intonation and prosody in writing.

The analysis of suprasegmental features often yields information about the content (e.g. irony) and the subject matter (e.g. the "solemn" tone of a funeral address), as well as presuppositions (e.g. an interruption of the intonation contour in allusions) and composition (e.g. pauses, stress on the rhematic parts of the utterance). Of the extratextual factors, it is the aspects of sender, intention, place and motive/occasion and text function which are mainly characterized by suprasegmental features.

e. How to elicit suprasegmental features in a written text Affectivity and expressivity are mainly reflected in the choice of lexis. Certain affirmative words, such as actually or in fact, and emphatic evaluations like fantastic or great seem to attract sentence stress.

In syntax, it is mainly focusing structures, such as clefting (e.g. It was John who kicked the ball), inclusions, which are spoken in a lower tone and at a higher speed than the embedding sentence, ellipses, or aposiopeses which seem to suggest special intonation patterns. Asyndetic enumerations, for example, are characterized by a higher speed than polysyndetic enumerations {John, Peter, Mary, Paul were there vs. John and Peter and Mary and Paul were there).

If not supported by lexical or syntactic means, contrastive stress is usually produced by the context. If the context is not sufficiently clear, the reader has to be guided by graphic features, such as underlining, spaced or bold type or italics, quotation marks, etc.

Finally, the phonological image of a text is also determined by theme-rheme structures. Since the thematic element normally links a sentence to the preceding utterance, it is often put in initial position with the rheme forming the end of the sentence, which is, of course, the appropriate place for the elements which the sender wants to stress. A deviation from this pattern causes surprise or leads to a certain tension between the two sentences, which is also reflected in the intonation contour.

For the translator, these considerations on phonology and intonation are of particular importance because the reader's acoustic imagination is determined by language-specific patterns. Each receiver reads a text against the background of their own native knowledge of intonation and stress patterns. Since in most cases this is an intuitive knowledge, they may not be able to adapt themselves to strange patterns even if they are told that they are reading a translation. After analysing its functions, the translator should therefore adapt the ST intonation to TL patterns.


The following questions, referring to prosody and intonation in spoken texts and their graphic representation in written texts, may be helpful in analysing suprasegmental features:

Which suprasegmental features are present in the text? How are they represented graphically?

Are the suprasegmental features genre specific?

Do the suprasegmental features provide any clues to the habitual characteristics or to the emotional or psycho-pathological state of the sender?

Can the text be divided into prosodic units? Does the intonation contour indicate the sender's intention to clarify, stress or focus any elements of the utterance?

Do the suprasegmental features correspond to the theme-rheme structure of the text?

Does the translation skopos require any adaptations of suprasegmental features to TL patterns?

Example of Intratextual Text Analysis


Bertolt Brecht: Measures Against Violence

When Mr. Keuner, the Thinking Man, pronounced himself against violence in front of a large audience, he noticed that his listeners backed away from him and left the room. He turned round and saw behind him - Violence.

"What did you say?" asked Violence.

"I pronounced myself in favour of violence."

After Mr. Keuner had also left, his disciples asked him where his backbone was. Mr. Keuner replied: "I haven't got a backbone. It is me who has to live longer than Violence."

And he told the following story:

One day, in the time of illegality, there came to the house of Mr. Egge, a man who had learned to say no, an agent who presented a document signed by those who held sway over the city, which stated that to him should belong any house in which he set foot; similarly any food should be his for the asking; and any man that he set eyes on should serve him.

The agent sat down, demanded food, washed himself, went to bed, and said, with his face to the wall, "Will you be my servant?"

Mr. Egge covered him with a blanket, shooed away the flies, and watched over him while he slept; and, as he had done on the first day, so did he obey him for seven years. But for all that he did for him, there was one thing he took good care not to do, and that was to say a word. And when the seven years had passed and the agent had grown fat by all the eating, sleeping and giving orders, the agent died. And then Mr. Egge wrapped him in the tattered, old blanket, dragged him out of the house, cleaned the bed, whitewashed the walls, breathed a sigh of relief and replied: "No."

As the title suggests, the subject matter of the text is what can be done against violence. Mr. Keuner is a fictitious person who also appears in some other of Brecht's stories. Therefore he can be introduced by his name as somebody "known" to the reader. It may be assumed that the name Keuner is a distortion of keiner ("nobody"). Mr. Keuner, who is characterized by the epithet the Thinking Man, exhibits a particular behaviour towards violence: having pronounced himself to be against violence in public, he denies his conviction when personally confronted with violence. By means of the parable of Mr. Egge he tells his disciples, who wonder why he shows so little backbone, that it is more important to outlive violence than to become its victim. Mr. Keuner (and Mr. Egge) apparently submit to violence in order to outlive it.

The content of the story points to the subject matter suggested in the title: measures (i.e. "non-measures", in an ironic meaning) against violence, and determines the composition of the text. It is a frame text embedding a parable. The frame does not appear again at the end of the story because the readers are supposed to draw their own conclusions. The narration consists of two parts which are formally linked by the cataphoric element following story.

The subject matter and the content have a strong influence on lexis. In the first part the word violence is mentioned four times, twice as an abstract and twice as an allegory (indicated by the capital letter in the English translation). In the second part the word violence is not mentioned, but the concept is paraphrased in different forms. The document signed by those who held sway over the city states that the "agent" is a representative of violence, which is supported by the story (things belong to him, he demands, gives orders, and his behaviour in Mr. Egge's house shows his superior position). The isotopy of serving (belong to, serve, servant, obey and Mr. Egge's activities: covered him, shooed away, watched over him) characterize the contrasting semantic field.

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