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Translationese – a myth or an empirical fact? A study into the linguistic identifiability of translated language

Sonja Tirkkonen-Condit
Savonlinna School of Translation Studies, University of Joensuu

Abstract

This paper reports on a study in which subjects were asked to distinguish translations from originally produced (non-translated) texts. The aim was to identify the linguistic features shared by texts assumed to be translations, as well as those shared by texts assumed to be originally produced. The results show (i) that translations were not readily identifiable, and (ii) that the feature that seemed to guide the subjects’ decisions was the frequency vs. scarcity of target language specific (unique) items in the texts: their frequency led subjects to assume—correctly or incorrectly—that a text was original rather than translated. It is concluded that the unique items in non-translations vs. translations deserve further research in respect of their frequency and the impressions they make on readers.

Keywords
Table of contents

Translationeseis a term often used in discussion on the qualities of translated language. It has a pejorative ring, like that of similar terms such as journalese, officialese and legalese (see Fowler 1965Fowler, H.W. 1965 [first edition: 1926] A dictionary of modern English usage. Second edition, revised by Sir Ernest Gowers. London: Oxford University Press.). It is one of the challenges of Transla-tion Studies to find out by empirical research if translations are indeed systematically different from originally produced texts. If it turns out that they are different, we must try to find out why. We should also find out if translating perhaps inevitably causes phenomena that make the language of translated texts different from that of non-translated texts.

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