Deixis as an interactive feature in literary translations from Romanian into English

Ian Mason and Adriana Şerban
Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh | University of Leeds

This study aims to investigate the use of deixis in a corpus of translations from twentieth century Romanian literature (novels and short stories) into English. Viewing deixis as an interactive feature of texts, it endeavours to find whether there are significant differences between the use of deixis in source texts and translations, and to see how systematic shifts as well as single occurrences can contribute to the shaping of a translated text which positions the reader in a different way from the source texts. It also explores ways in which the translators position themselves with respect to the text. The study finds that the main tendency is one of distancing, whereby proximal deictics tend to become distals, with the effect that readers will be presented with a translation which elicits less involvement on their part than the original text did in its context.

Table of contents

The phenomenon of deixis, held to be a more or less universal feature of natural languages, relates to the spatio-temporal co-ordinates of the speech situation. That is, languages display structural characteristics which allow users to orientate their expression to the here-and-now of the speaker, the place and time of utterance. Traditional categories are thus person deixis (e.g. I/you/he, she), place deixis (here/there; this/that; come/go) and time deixis (now/then; tense systems). To these may be added (Levinson 1983: 62) discourse deixis (‘the encoding of reference to portions of the unfolding discourse’, as in ‘We list below...’ or ‘And that is how the story ends’) and social deixis (‘the encoding of social distinctions that are relative to participant-roles’, e.g. French tu/vous). In this article, we shall restrict discussion to place and time deixis and specifically [ p. 270 ]to those two-termsets which, in the language systems of Romanian and English, reflect relative nearness (proximals) or distance (distals) from the point of view of the speaker/writer. Thus, in what follows we shall be particularly interested in translators’ responses to the Romanian proximals and distals and to their use of corresponding English forms. Table 1 below lists some basic Romanian indexicals (as deictics are called) and their English counterparts.

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