LINGUIST List 15.432

Mon Feb 2 2004

Review: Translation: Teich (2003)

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  1. Gabriela Saldanha, Cross-Linguistic Variation in System and Text

Message 1: Cross-Linguistic Variation in System and Text

Date: Mon, 2 Feb 2004 13:07:22 -0500 (EST)
From: Gabriela Saldanha <>
Subject: Cross-Linguistic Variation in System and Text

AUTHOR: Teich, Elke 
TITLE: Cross-Linguistic Variation in System and Text
SUBTITLE: A Methodology for the Investigation of Translations and 
 Comparable Texts
SERIES: Text, Translation, Computational Processing
PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter
YEAR: 2003

Announced at

Gabriela Saldanha, Centre for Translation and Textual Studies, School
of Applied Languages and Intercultural Studies, Dublin City

The aim of this book as stated in the Introduction (Chapter 1) is to
develop a methodology for the contrastive analysis of translations and
multilingually comparable texts based on the lexico-grammatical
features of those texts. In Chapter 2 the author describes the most
recent work on cross-linguistic variation in translation from the
perspectives of language typology, contrastive linguistics and
translation studies. Teich offers a critical review of Hawkins'
comparative typology of English and German (1986), Doherty's research
on English-German contrasts in translation (1991,1993), Baker's
universal features of translations (1995,1996) and Biber's
cross-linguistic comparison of register variation (1988, 1995).

Based on the insights provided by such works Teich establishes the
requirements for a new methodology that focuses specifically on the
analysis of cross-linguistic variation in translations and comparable
texts. This methodology starts from the assumptions taken from
translation studies - specifically from Baker's work - according to
which translations have specific properties that distinguish them from
original texts. The aim of the methodology is answering the research
questions arising from those assumptions, namely, which are those
properties and what are their underlying motivations. The analysis is
restricted to one language pair (German and English) and the features
to be analysed are selected from typological studies and register
analysis in the two languages. The hypotheses are formulated on the
basis of a model of cross- linguistic variation based on Systemic
Functional Linguistics (SFL). The analysis is then carried out using
corpus-based, quantitative techniques. The results are interpreted in
light of the contrastive account of commonalities and differences in
the two linguistic systems based on the model of cross-linguistic
variation proposed.

In Chapter 3 the model of cross-linguistic variation is
developed. Because this model is based on Systemic Functional
Linguistics (SFL), this chapter first discusses the main theoretical
assumptions and the core components of SFL. This description is quite
detailed and focuses on the six major representational categories of
SFL: stratification, metafunction, rank, axis, delicacy and
instantiation. The model of cross linguistic variation which is then
proposed simply outlines the possible variations across language
systems in each of the six dimensions. So, for example, regarding
metafunctions it is established that different languages may
distribute functional responsibilities differently across
metafunctions, and regarding instantiation, that even when there is a
basic commonality between two languages in a particular grammatical
system, the instantiations of the grammatical system may differ,
i.e. the two languages may still have different choice preferences
according to situational context (register). Examples of variations
across languages in each of the six representational categories are
then described for clarification. Finally, the advantages of this
model for the study of language typology and translations are
highlighted and two general hypotheses regarding the effects of
cross-linguistic variation on translations are formulated.

Chapter 4 offers a detailed account of grammatical contrasts and
commonalities between English and German. The description focuses on
the semantics of the clause and their grammatical realisation. At the
experiential level the systems of transitivity and voice are
described, at the interpersonal level, the systems of mood and
modality are described, and regarding the textual metafunction, the
theme/rheme and information distribution (new/given) options are
described for each language. The main contrastive features of English
and German regarding the nominal group, the prepositional phrase, the
verbal group and morphology are also discussed.

Both the description of the systemic functional model of language and
of the English and German linguistic systems are very detailed and
assume no previous knowledge on the part of the reader. While having
the advantage of making the book accessible for a wide audience,
which, given the interdisciplinary nature of the book, is highly
desirable, the high level of redundancy and technical detail makes
these two chapters relatively long and dense, especially taking into
account that not all of the information provided will be used in the
subsequent analysis and interpretation of results (there are hardly
any references in these sections to the systems of mood and modality,
for instance).

In Chapter 5 hypotheses regarding the nature of translated texts are
formulated and tested. Two hypotheses are first established on the
basis of two tendencies observed in translated texts by a number of
scholars: that of source language (SL) interference, which Teich calls
SL shining through, and that of target text (TT) normalisation.
According to the first hypothesis the lexico-grammatical properties of
the SL, as evident in a particular register, may shine through in the
TT. According to the second hypothesis, the lexico-grammatical
properties of the target language (TL) and the register features in
the TL may be overused in the TT. In both cases, the effect
contributes to making translated texts different from comparable texts
(i.e. non translated texts in the same register) in the target
language. The features selected for analysis are: - agency (frequency
of middle vs effective processes) - theme (frequency of marked vs
unmarked themes) - grammatical metaphor - transitivity (frequency of
relational processes compared to other processes, in particular
material processes) - passive voice (frequency of passive voice
vs. active voice and passive alternatives) - postmodification and
premodification of nominal groups, and density of modification (dense
modification compared to full relative clauses)

The hypotheses are further refined for each of the features to be
tested and according to the expected discrepancy in the frequency of
occurrence of such features as predicted by the typological
description of English and German. In general the theoretical argument
and linguistic information supporting the hypotheses is
sound. However, the means for testing the hypothesis concerning
grammatical metaphor (frequency counts of word classes involved in
grammatical metaphor: conjunctions, verbs, nouns, and prepositions)
are rather weak and therefore any conclusions in this regard will be,
at best, tentative, as the author herself will acknowledge in the

The hypotheses are tested on a corpus of scientific writing consisting
of four subcorpora: German originals, English originals, German
translations, and English translations. Each subcorpus contains
around 10,000 words. Since they are not exactly of equal size the
results (frequencies) are normed on the basis of 10,000 words. They
are submitted to statistical tests (chi square). The corpus is
annotated with extra linguistic information (in XML) and PoS tagged
using the TnT tagger. PoS based queries are used for retrieving
information on word classes, passives, predicative and attributive
adjectives, premodification and postmodification. The IMS Corpus
Workbench was used for this purpose and for retrieving parallel
concordances (the alignment tool used was D�j� Vu). More abstract,
functional-grammatical and semantic features such as transitivity,
agency and theme were coded (manually) and retrieved using CODER.

The analysis is carried out in three stages, first all the results for
German and English originals are presented. This allows the author to
confirm predictions regarding register features in both
languages. This information will also be used later to establish
whether a certain feature is actually overused in the translated
texts. Secondly, the results for each set of features in the
monolingually comparable subcorpora (for example, English originals
and English translations) are discussed. Finally, English translations
are compared with German originals and German translations with
English originals. The analysis of the parallel texts is done on the
basis of overall normed frequencies. Only at the interpreting stage
are parallel concordances used and then only to elicit extra
information to explain ambiguous results.

In the last section the results are summarised and
interpreted. Although this way of proceeding is useful in that it
highlights the relations between the subcorpora, sometimes it is
difficult to keep track of all the results for each particular feature
since this requires going back and forward across different
sections. (I should note here that there are a couple of
inconsistencies across the tables that can only be typos). In any
case, the summary of the results is very clear.

Although the hypotheses seemed to be competing with each other, the
results show that both TL normalisation and SL shining through can
co-occur, affecting different linguistic features and translation
directions. One of the possible explanations for some of the results
of this study makes an interesting hypothesis to be tested further:

Given a basic commonality in a particular grammatical system, if the
TL has more delicate options than the SL, it can afford to let the SL
interfere, and where the same compensatory means is used frequently,
we get SL shining through. If the TL has less delicate options, it has
to compensate, and where the same compensatory means is used
frequently, we get TL normalization(p. 223).

Teich insists on a distinction between compensation and
normalisation. She argues that one of the advantages of this
methodology over others generally used in translation studies is that
by requiring the contrastive analysis of comparable original texts
prior to the analysis of translations, it can establish with certainty
when in the translations there is significant difference in the use of
a feature compared to both source texts and target language originals
and thus make definitive claims regarding normalization.

Overall, more effects were found in German translations than in
English translations, and there was more SL shining through in German
translations compared to English translations. In English
translations, there were stronger normalisation effects. This leads to
the conclusion that German translations are more different from
comparable German original texts than English translations from
comparable English original texts.

Chapter six provides a summary of the previous chapters and the
results, an assessment of the methodology and suggestions of other
contexts for applying the model of cross-linguistic variation and
issues for further research. Although the interpretation of the
results in the light of the proposed model gives enough food for
thought and is already very interesting, it would have been
interesting to also compare with results in other corpus-based studies
of translations; for example with the results obtained by �ver�s
(1998) in her study of ''explicitation'', where it was found that
there were more effects (more implicitating and explicitating shifts)
in Norwegian translations than in English translations. This could
bring up the issue of the possible influence of different
translational norms for different languages, which is something that
Teich does not touch upon. Kenny's study of normalisation (Kenny 2001)
would also provide interesting ground for comparison. Kenny found, for
instance, that some types of normalisation were more common than
others and suggested that how individual translators approach their
task may be one of the reasons for diversity of results (Ibid. 188 and
208). This brings me to another issue which Teich does not mention in
her study and that is the variation across the individual texts in the
corpus. Are the effects stable across all the texts in a given

Apart from that, the conclusions are sound and very interesting,
opening up new paths for research in the area. To my knowledge, this
is one of the most systematic and comprehensive studies of
translations and comparable texts carried out so far. It has a robust
theoretical basis, which many other studies in the area lack, followed
by a thorough analysis of the results. It also uses more sophisticated
tools and methods of analysis than those usually encountered in the
area of contrastive typology and translation studies.


Baker, Mona (1995) 'Corpora in Translation Studies: An Overview and
Some Suggestions for Future Research', in Target 7:2 223-243.

Baker, Mona (1996a) 'Corpus-based translation studies: the challenges
that lie ahead', in Harold Somers (ed.) Terminology, LSP and
Translation: Studies in language engineering in honour of Juan
C. Sager, Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company;

Biber, Douglas (1988) Variation Across Speech and Writing, Cambridge,
Cambridge University Press

Biber, Douglas (1995) Dimensions of Register Variation: A
Cross-Linguistic Comparison, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press

Doherty, Monika (1991) Informationelle Holzwege, LiLi. Zeitschrift
f�r Literaturwissenschaft und Linguistik 84:30- 49.

Doherty, Monika (1993) Parametrisierte Perspektive, Zeitschrift f�r
Sprachwissenschaft 12 (1):3-38.

Hawkins, John A (1986) A Comparative Typology of English and Germn,
Croon Helm, London and Sydney.

Kenny, Dorothy (2001) Lexis and Creativity in Translation: A
Corpus-based Study. Manchester, St. Jerome Publishing.

�ver�s, Linn (1998) 'In Search of the Third Code: An Investigation
of Norms in Literary Translation', META, XLIII, 4, 571-588.


Gabriela Saldanha holds an MPhil in Translation Studies from UMIST, UK
and is currently doing a PhD in the same area at Dublin City
University, Ireland, where she also lectures on Corpus Linguistics and
Translation Technology. Her research interests include Corpus
Linguistics, Corpus- based Translation Studies, Translation
Technology, Stylistics.
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