Register Analysis in Literary Translation
A Functional Approach
It is the aim of this paper to argue that register characterisation plays a relevant part in the translation-oriented ananlysis of literary texts. Register is defined (e.g., by Michael Halliday) as a semantic configuration that we associate with a particular situation type and characterised on the basis of three variables or components: field, tenor and mode. Contemporary stylistics, insofar as it is a stylistics of discourse and not only of text, emphasises the importance of the study of context in literary texts. As different scholars have pointed out, the context of literary texts is rather peculiar in that it shows a double articulation: there is an outer context and an inner context. It is precisely in the characterisation of the inner context that register analysis will prove helpful, as it will shed light on the fictional situation created within the text.
Although the detailed implication of register analysis for literary translation can be manifold, only a few items are singled out for illustration: degree of technicality and marked field mixing with regard to the variable of field, terms of address (especially T/V pronoun distinctions) and modality with respect to tenor, and the interplay between grammatical complexity and lexical density as markers of oral and written language in the area of mode.
Even though the notion of register cannot account for all contextual factors (over and above the context of situation there is the wider context of culture), register analysis still emerges as a powerful analytical tool and a necessary one, too, for communicative acts hinge upon the context of situation in which they occur. In translation-oriented textual analysis, register characterisation constitutes a good point of entry, for it offers an initial interpretative hypothesis which then has to be substantiated against the textual evidence provided by linguistic structures and refined or modified by reference to the broader context of culture.
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