Question tags in translation
An investigation into the translatability of English question tags into Dutch
Canonical question tags feature prominently in spoken English, where they display great versatility. At face value they are meant to elicit a response from a co-participant in the form of (dis)agreement with the proposition to which the tag has been added. Their pragmatic scope is, however, considerably broader: they serve as politeness strategies but also emphasize the speaker’s convictions or mark accusations. Like many other languages, Dutch does not have a similar structure, which raises questions as to what devices Dutch employs to serve the same purpose as question tags. This contrastive study examines such correspondents in a parallel corpus of English novels and their Dutch translations. Three structures can be identified: pragmatic markers, clause-final parentheticals and combinations of these. The data indicate a preference for pragmatic markers (most notably hè and toch), which predominantly appear either as invariant tags or clause-medially, indicating subtle shifts in utterance interpretation.
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