The cognitive basis of translation universals

Sandra L. Halverson

At present, there are few attempts to provide external explanations for the patterns subsumed under the heading of “translation universal”. In this paper, I discuss the possible cognitive basis for the patterns/processes that have been variously referred to as simplification/generalization, normalization, standardization, sanitization, and exaggeration of target language features. The framework that I adopt is that of cognitive grammar, and my claim is that all of the above arise from the existence of asymmetries in the cognitive organization of semantic information. I also propose that the converse case is true: cases involving a lack of conspicuous cognitive asymmetries will demonstrate the opposite effect in translated text. In closing, I place the argument in a larger perspective by adopting Croft’s (1990) scalar notion of generalization in a discussion of explanation in translation studies.

Table of contents

Research into so-called “translation universals” is a productive and innovative area in Translation Studies. Not only is empirical research expanding through the development of electronic corpora; the theoretical constructs on which this research is based are also being questioned and refined (see e.g. Chesterman 2001, Englund-Dimitrova 2001, Mauranen 2001, Tirkonnen-Condit 2001). The level of activity and increasing generation of empirical results make it all the more imperative that we begin to posit explanations for these findings.

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