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Review of  Language Processing in Discourse

Reviewer: Giampaolo Poletto
Book Title: Language Processing in Discourse
Book Author: Monika Doherty
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Language Documentation
Issue Number: 14.2089

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Date: Tue, 5 Aug 2003 07:55:33 +0200
From: Giampaolo Poletto
Subject: G.Poletto: Language Processing in Discourse. A key to
felicitious translation

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

Reviewed by Giampaolo Poletto, University of Pécs (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

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

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

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

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.


ABOUT THE REVIEWER 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.   ˆ

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