Date: Mon, 7 Mar 2005 15:04:34 -0800 (PST) From: Svetlana Kurtes Subject: Translation-based Corpus Studies: Contrasting English and Portuguese tense and aspect systems
AUTHOR: Santos, Diana TITLE: Translation-based Corpus Studies SUBTITLE: Contrasting English and Portuguese tense and aspect systems SERIES: Language and computers: Studies in practical linguistics, No 50 PUBLISHER: Rodopi YEAR: 2004
Svetlana Kurtes, Language Centre, University of Cambridge, UK
The volume presents a rewriting of the author's doctoral dissertation 'Tense and aspect in English and Portuguese: a contrastive semantic study' (Santos 1996), in an attempt to make clearer some methodological, theoretical and practical issues that arose in the course of the work on the dissertation. The intended readership is envisaged to be a range of specialists working in corpus linguistics, grammatical categories of tense and aspect, semantics, translation theory and contrastive analysis, given the fact that the author uses translation corpora, aligned translation corpora, to be more precise, as the empirical semantic data for her research of tense and aspect.
The volume is composed of six chapters: Introduction; Parallel corpora and contrastive studies; Tense, aspect and semantics; The translation network; Corpus studies; Language engineering, evaluation and applications. Preface; References.
Chapter 1 explains in more detail what the book offers and presents its layout. The author gives an introductory definition of aspect, stating that it 'is a verbal category in (among others) Slavic languages, in which a verb can have imperfective of perfective aspect. The notion of aspect is related to matters like completeness, iterativity, internal (temporal) perspective, etc. In other words, these are words and concepts usually employed to explain its meaning' (p.7).
In Chapter 2 the author elaborates further on the importance of translation theory to linguistics, generally, and contrastive studies, more specifically. By discussing what relevant facts actual translation performance can offer, Santos points out that 'the best way to carry out contrastive studies is precisely to study actual translation, and not to postulate abstract categories/rules and provide analyses of data which are flawed from the start by the unreality of [a priori postulated] "universal constructs", [...] heavily loaded with untestable hypotheses (articles of faith) and data carefully tuned to present only the cases that support [the] theory' (p.16; also Nagao 1988; Tobin 1993; Engh 1998). By adopting a more holistic view on language, and taking translation material, be it competence or performance, as the basis his/her analysis, the analyst will be 'able to produce a consistent description of an enormous amount of detailed differences' (p. 17). A good example of a practical contrastive study undertaking the approach is the seminal work by Vinay and Darbelnet (1977), Stylistique Comparée, where different styles are analysed by looking into the ways they are actualised and reflected in different text organizations, different grammars and different lexicon. Their aim was 'to elicit the differences between texts produced by monolingual brains in comparable situations' (ibid.), and by achieving it, they managed to bring to light many more differences between the observed languages and produce a detailed descriptive account of the analysed languages.
Santos' work is corpus-based and her main standpoint maintains that translation studies do not deal only with abstract concepts and 'global notions such as explicitation and simplification which are independent of specific languages' (Baker 1996: 185), but equally well with semantic, syntactic and lexical features of the languages in question. Paraphrasing the famous Jakobson's dictum stating that 'languages differ essentially in what they must convey and not in what they may convey' (1959: 236), the author sees translation as a bridge between the two language systems and concludes that 'languages differ in what they do convey, even if they can convey the same' (p.23).
Chapter 3, entitled 'Tense, aspect and semantics', gives a succinct discussion on the issues. The author embraces the relativist standpoint, maintaining that 'each language is one original way to encode a culture and a way of looking at the world, and therefore should be studied for its own sake, and neither as a parameterised difference from a group of languages nor as yet another instantiation of the same thing [...] (p.27). A host of literature inspired by Chomskyan linguistics takes essentially an untenable position by devising theoretical models that suit the structure of the English language mainly (if not exclusively) and analyse the other languages as deviating from that 'universal' norm. Santos looks more closely into Smith's (1991) parametric approach to aspect and shows that the three hypothesized situation types, purportedly universal, and the three viewpoints -- perfective, imperfective and neutral -- find their perfect match only in the structure of English, while in all the other languages analysed (French, Russian, Navajo and Mandarin Chinese) no such match was established. The author concludes that 'this makes it almost impossible for us, non-native speakers of English, to believe that the universal system is so strikingly identifiable with English' (p.29).
Santos' own working definition of tense and aspect specifies that 'tense is information having to do with order, position in a time line [...]' (p.39), while 'aspect is concerned with the temporal shape of an event or situation, how it distributes in time' (ibid.). Since it is arguable whether or not they are entities of the real world, for the analysis of a natural language they are to be taken as properties of the linguistic system, quite prominent to the way the Indo-European languages work.
The author adopts Vendler's methodology (1967), rather than categories, looking for 'clear grammatical contrasts that distinguish predicates in a language' (p. 41). Following this theoretical and methodological framework, there are three main aspectual classes to be distinguished in Portuguese: qualidades, estados and events. Qualidades, or properties, are to be referred to as permanent states, while estados as temporary states. Events occur in time, and are always determined by a definite and unique temporal and spatial location. They, therefore, have temporal identification criteria, meaning that 'the same participants in the same place at a different time instantiate a different event' (p. 43). In case on English, the author differentiates between two major aspectual classes - - events and states, and subcategorises events further into activities, accomplishments and achievements.
In Chapter 4 the author presents a model developed for the description of translation, termed the translation network. She maintains that the two languages should be described 'on their own terms' (p. 69) and not on the basis of a priori determined categories. Translation, according to the author, should be seen 'as establishing a mapping from the categories specific to the source language into the categories of the target language [...]. Metaphorically speaking, translation is like viewing a source text with target language eyes' (p. 69). The translation network model exemplifies the various situations instigated by two main possibilities -- namely, compared to what a source language native speakers sees, a translator can see either more or less. The following situations are then presented: coercion brought about by translation, addition of interpretations triggered by translation, creation of vagueness by translation, preservation of vagueness in translation, choice of the wrong alternative in translation, choice of part of a compact meaning by translation. It is concluded that 'a model of translation must accommodate "noise", i.e., explain both mistranslation and translationese' (p. 99).
In Chapter 5 the author presents in more detail the results of the contrastive analysis of the observed grammatical feature of the two languages. Since the analysis performed is corpus-based, further quantitative particulars about the corpus itself are given and the text processing explained. It consisted of two books and their translation into the other language. The text processing included three main tasks: scanning and subsequent proof-reading, sentence separation and sentence alignment.
The results of the analysis are presented in the form of a contrastive rule listing all the occurrences of the observed grammatical structures found in the corpus. More precisely, translation equivalents of Portuguese Imperfeito, conveying a bundle of meaning such as habituality, graduality, extendedness, marking of perspective, stativity, plurality, etc, have been rendered into English using a variety of structures/forms, e.g. Simple Past, Past Progressive, Gerund, Conditional, Passive, Pluperfect, Infinitive, etc. The frequency tables also revealed that the most common translation equivalent of the Portuguese Imperfeito was the English Pluperfect. The Portuguese Mais que Perfeito, on the other hand, rendered into the English Pluperfect only in 68% of the cases, and other translation equivalents included instances of Past Simple, Passive, Present Perfect, etc. Looking at the opposite translation direction, the author reports that The English Present Perfect was found to be rendered into Perfeito, Presente, Preterito Perfeito Composto, Imperfeito, Presente Conjuntivo, Mas que Perfeito, etc. Finally, the English Pluferfect was reported to render the following: Mas que Perfeito, Imperfeito, Perfeito, Mas que Perfeito Conjuntivo, Mas que Perfeito Condicional, Passiva (ser) and Mas que Perfeito Progressivo. It was also noticed that 'a change of aspectual class in the translation (with the consequent temporal change) was confirmed to be very common. Sometimes, the translation would subtly change the meaning [...], but it generally yielded a more idiomatic translation [...]' (p. 123-4). All standpoints are illustrated with appropriate examples.
Finally, Chapter 6 concludes the volume by suggesting possible further applications of the results obtained to other study fields, primarily to language engineering, corpus linguistics, translation studies and language pedagogy. The question of the (non)existence of the state of the art parallel text corpora and the problem of validation of contrastive corpus studies are also raised. The author pleads for the creation of a publicly available parallel corpus with a translation browser, revealing that 'vagueness is the most relevant property of a natural language, and only with its help can we understand language' (p. 161).
'Tense and aspect in English and Portuguese: a contrastive semantic study' is an authoritative volume that will be warmly welcomed by a range or specialists, including contrastivists, corpus linguists, translators and educationalists. The author bravely challenges some widely accepted attitudes to language and linguistics that were predominant for the most part of the 20th century and, by introducing an innovative theoretical and methodological framework, gives an insightful analysis that has brought to light contrastively very valuable results.
More specifically, the author draws attention to the question of translation equivalence that, despite being a key term of the contrastive analytical process, is left outside the focus of the theoretical apparatus of contrastive studies, remaining for decades a research interest of translatologists primarily. The translation network model that is introduced brings the much-needed contrastive analytical point of view in the understanding of the issue, serving at the same time as a pointer to the future research and theoretical development of contrastive analysis.
Furthermore, Santos' research project persuasively shows how and why modern contrastive analysis should essentially be 'looking at the source language with target language eyes'(p.16), i.e. study actual real language material by analysing parallel text corpora. By taking a more holistic analytical approach the contrastivist will be able to get a much more refined results revealing similarities and differences between the contrasted languages that would otherwise remain unnoticed.
The author deserves to be sincerely congratulated on bringing to light this well-organized and clearly written monograph. Her innovative ideas, redefinition of some theoretical concepts and analytical procedures will no doubt be deployed in future contrastive studies, confirming again the actual contribution this volume brought to our understanding of the issues examined.
Baker, Mona 1996. "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, John Benjamins, Amsterdam and Philadelphia, 175-186.
Engh, Jan 1998. "Normer, grammatikk og databehandling". In Ruth Vatvedt Fjeld & Boye Wangensteen (eds), Normer og Regler: festskrift til Dag Gundersten, 15. januar 1998, Universitetsforlaget, Oslo, 344-359.
Jakoson, Roman 1959. "On linguistic aspects of translation". In Reuben A. Brower (ed), On translation, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass, 232-239.
Nagao, Makoto 1988. "Language engineering: the real bottle neck of natural language processing". In Proceedings of COLING'88 (Budapest, 22-27 August 1988), 448-453.
Santos, Diana 1996. Tense and aspect in English and Portuguese: a contrastive semantic study, PhD thesis, Instituto Superior Tecnico, June 1996.
Smith, Carlota 1991. The parameter of aspect, Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht.
Tobin, Yishai 1993. Aspect in the English verb: process and result in language. Longman, London & New York.
Vendler, Zeno 1967. Linguistics in philosophy, Cornell University Press, Ithaca.
Vinay, J-P and J Darbelnet 1977 . Stylistique comparee du francais et de l'anglais: methode de traduction, Didier, Paris.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Svetlana Kurtes holds a BA in English Philology and an MA in Sociolinguistics from Belgrade University and an MPhil in Applied Linguistics from Cambridge University. She worked as a Lecturer in English at Belgrade University and is currently affiliated to Cambridge University Language Centre. Her research interests involve contrastive linguistics, sociolinguistics, pragmatics/stylistics, translation theory and language pedagogy.