LINGUIST List 14.2089

Thu Aug 7 2003

Review: Discourse Analysis/Translation: Doherty (2002)

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  1. 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

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

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

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

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

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

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.
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