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Review of  Translation-based corpus studies.

Reviewer: Svetlana Kurteš
Book Title: Translation-based corpus studies.
Book Author: Diana M. S. M. P. Santos
Publisher: Rodopi
Linguistic Field(s): Computational Linguistics
General Linguistics
Text/Corpus Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 16.673

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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
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

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


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,

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

Smith, Carlota 1991. The parameter of aspect, Kluwer Academic Publishers,

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,

Vinay, J-P and J Darbelnet 1977 [1958]. Stylistique comparee du francais
et de l'anglais: methode de traduction, Didier, Paris.


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

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