Vol. 2:2 (1999) ► pp.187–210
System-oriented and text-oriented comparative linguistic research
Cross-linguistic variation in translation
The main concern of this paper is to develop a model of cross-linguistic variation that is applicable to various kinds of comparative linguistic research. The motivation for this lies in the observation that there is little interaction among the major areas of comparative linguistic investigation — language typology, contrastive linguistics, translation studies, and the computational modeling of multilingual processes as implemented in machine translation or multilingual text generation. The divide between them can be characterized by a general orientation towards describing the relation between language systems (as in language typology) vs. describing the relation between texts (as in translation studies). It will be suggested that with a model of cross-linguistic comparison that accommodates both the system view and the text view on cross-linguistic variation, language typology, contrastive linguistics, translation studies and multilingual computational linguistics can be shown to have mutually compatible concerns rather than being entirely disjunct endeavors. The model proposed is based on Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL), using the representational categories SFL sets up as parameters along which cross-linguistic variation can be described. The fundamental assumption brought forward by SFL that acts as a unifier of concerns is that texts are ultimately instantiations of the language system under certain specifiable contexts of use. A model of cross-linguistic variation based on SFL thus bears the promise of opening up the text view for the system-oriented branch of cross-linguistic study, and the system view for the text-oriented branch. I illustrate the model with data from several European languages, concentrating on the register of instructional text.
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