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Review of  Cross-Linguistic Variation in System and Text

Reviewer: Gabriela Saldanha
Book Title: Cross-Linguistic Variation in System and Text
Book Author: Elke Teich
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Translation
Issue Number: 15.432

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Date: Mon, 2 Feb 2004 12:13:19 +0000
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

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

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

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 conclusion.

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 Déjà 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.

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

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
Øverås (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 subcorpus?

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; 175-186.

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 für Literaturwissenschaft und Linguistik 84:30-

Doherty, Monika (1993) Parametrisierte Perspektive,
Zeitschrift für 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.

Øverås, 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,