Translation: universals or cognition? A usage-based perspective

Nina Szymor

This paper contributes to the ongoing debate on the existence of translation universals by investigating the use of aspect in modal contexts in translated and non-translated legal Polish and by analysing the observed differences with reference to insights from cognitive linguistics. Corpus analysis highlights significant distributional differences in the use of the two aspectual forms of Polish verbs (imperfective and perfective) in modal contexts. I argue that cognitive mechanisms called ‘chunking’ (Langacker 1988; Bybee 2006) and ‘entrenchment’ (Bybee 2010) underlie these differences. I show that what may at first glance seem as behaviour unique to the translation process, is in fact caused by general cognitive processes. The study has implications for both translation studies and cognitive linguistics: it offers support for the basic assumptions about the usage-based nature of linguistic knowledge and highlights the importance of taking these assumptions into consideration when investigating the translation process and translation universals.

Publication history
Table of contents

Frawley (1984) put forward the idea of translated language being a language in its own right – a ‘third code.’ This notion inspired the search for translation universals, that is, “features which typically occur in translated texts rather than original utterances and which are not the result of interference from specific linguistic systems” (Baker 1993, 243). In other words, translation universals are features inherent to the translation process and to translational behaviour – they are not influenced by the languages that the translator works with. There are claims that non-translated and translated texts differ at the level of syntax, lexicon and discourse in a way that is not a result of properties of the target or source language. For example, it has been shown that the language of the source text is simplified in the target text (Baker 1996, 176), that idiosyncratic features of the source text are transformed to conform to the conventions of the target language (Laviosa 2002, 54), or that information that is implicit in the source text is made explicit in the target text (Olohan 2001, 424). Few scholars have looked at differences at the semantic level to see whether the process of translation influences the use and meaning structures of lexical items. One recent exception is the work by Vandevoorde, De Sutter and Plevoets (2015), who use the semantic mirroring technique to measure and visualize similarity in a semantic field (129).

Full-text access is restricted to subscribers. Log in to obtain additional credentials. For subscription information see Subscription & Price. Direct PDF access to this article can be purchased through our e-platform.


Arnon, Inbal, and Neil Snider
2010 “More than Words: Frequency Effects for Multi-Word Phrases.” Journal of Memory and Language 62 (1): 67–82. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Baayen, Harald
2008Analyzing Linguistic Data. A Practical Introduction to Statistics Using R. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Baker, Mona
1993 “Corpus Linguistics and Translation Studies: Implications and Applications.” In Text and Technology in Honour of John Sinclair, edited by Mona Baker, Gill Francis, and Elena Tognini-Bonelli, 17–45. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
1996 “Corpus-Based Translation Studies: The Challenges That Lie Ahead.” In Terminology, LSP and Translation: Studies in Language Engineering, in Honour of Juan C. Sager, edited by Harold Somers, 175–186. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Barlow, Michael, and Suzanne Kemmer
eds. 2000Usage-Based Models of Language. Stanford, CA: CSLI Publications.Google Scholar
Bermel, Neil
1997Context and the Lexicon in the Development of Russian Aspect. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
Błaszczyk-Szabat, Agnieszka
2005 “The Relationship between Inherent Aspect and Past Tense in the Early and Late Acquisition of L2 Polish.” Poznań Studies in Contemporary Linguistics 40: 91–110.Google Scholar
Burnham, Kenneth P., and David R. Anderson
2002Model Selection and Multimodel Inference: A Practical Information-Theoric Approach. 2nd ed. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
Bybee, Joan
2006 “From Usage to Grammar: The Mind’s Response to Repetition.” Language 82 (4): 711–733. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
2010Language, Usage and Cognition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Comrie, Bernard
1976Aspect: An Introduction to the Study of Verbal Aspect and Related Problems. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Dąbrowska, Ewa, and Dagmar Divjak
eds. 2015Handbook of Cognitive Linguistics. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Dąbrowska, Ewa
2015 “Individual Differences in Grammatical Knowledge.” In Dąbrowska and Divjak 2015, 650–667.Google Scholar
De Sutter, Gert, Isabelle Delaere, and Koen Plevoets
2012 “Lexical Lectometry in Corpus-Based Translation Studies. Combining Profile-Based Correspondence Analysis and Logistic Regression Modeling.” In Quantitative Methods in Translation Studies, edited by Michael Oakes and Meng Ji, 326–346. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Dickey, Stephen M.
2000Parameters of Slavic Aspect: A Cognitive Approach. Stanford, CA: CSLI Publications.Google Scholar
Divjak, Dagmar
2004Degrees of Verb Integration. Conceptualizing and Categorizing Events in Russian. PhD thesis KU Leuven.Google Scholar
2006 “Ways of Intending: Delineating and Structuring Near-Synonyms.” In Corpora in Cognitive Linguistics. Corpus-Based Approaches to Syntax and Lexis, edited by Stefan Th. Gries and Anatol Stefanowitsch, 19–56. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.Google Scholar
2011 “Predicting Aspectual Choice in Modal Constructions: A Quest for the Holy Grail?” in Slavic Linguistics in a Cognitive Framework, edited by Marcin Grygiel and Laura Janda, 67–86. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.Google Scholar
Divjak, Dagmar, and Catherine Caldwell-Harris
2015 “Frequency and Entrenchment.” In Dąbrowska and Divjak 2015, 53–74.Google Scholar
Divjak, Dagmar, and Stefan Th. Gries
2006 “Ways of Trying in Russian. Clustering Behavioral Profiles.” Journal of Corpus Linguistics and Linguistic Theory 2 (1): 23–60Google Scholar
2009 “Corpus-Based Cognitive Semantics: A Contrastive Study of Phasal Verbs in English and Russian.” In Studies in Cognitive Corpus Linguistics, edited by Barbara Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk and Katarzyna Dziwirek, 273–296. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.Google Scholar
Divjak, Dagmar, Nina Szymor, and Anna Socha-Michalik
2015 “Less Is More: Possibility and Necessity as Centres of Gravity in a Usage-Based Classification of Core Modals in Polish.” Russian Linguistics 39 (3): 327–349. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Faber, Dorrit, and Mette Hjort-Pedersen
2009 “Manifestations of Inference Processes in Legal Translation.” In Behind the Mind: Methods, Models and Results in Translation Process Research (Copenhagen Studies in Language 37), edited by Susanne Göpferich, Arnt Lykke Jakobsen, and Inger M. Mees, 107–124. Frederiksberg: Samfundslitteratur Press.Google Scholar
Frawley, William
1984 “Prolegomenon to a Theory of Translation.” In Translation: Literary, Linguistic and Philosophical Perspectives, edited by William Frawley, 159–175. London: Associated University Presses.Google Scholar
Glynn, Dylam
2014 “Correspondence Analysis: Exploring Data and Identifying Patterns.” In Corpus Methods for Semantics. Quantitative Studies in Polysemy and Synonymy, edited by Dylan Glynn and Justyna A. Robinson, 443–486. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Gries, Stefan Th.
2006 “Corpus-Based Methods and Cognitive Semantics: The Many Senses of to run .” In Corpora in Cognitive Linguistics: Corpus-Based Approaches to Syntax and Lexis, edited by Stefan Th. Gries and Anatol Stefanowitsch, 57–99. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Gries, Stefan Th., and Naoki Otani
2010 “Behavioral Profiles: A Corpus-Based Perspective on Synonymy and Antonymy.” ICAME Journal 34: 121–150.Google Scholar
Halverson, Sandra
2003 “The Cognitive Basis of Translation Universals.” Target 15 (2): 197–241. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
2013 “Implications of Cognitive Linguistics for Translation Studies.” In Cognitive Linguistics and Translation. Advanced in Some Theoretical Models and Applications, edited by Ana Rojo and Iraide Ibarretxe-Antuñano, 33–74. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Hansen, Bjorn
2004 “Modals and the Boundaries of Grammaticalization: The Case of Russian, Polish and Serbo-Croatian.” In What Makes Grammaticalization: A Look from its Fringes and its Components, edited by Walter Bisang, Nikolaus Himmelmann, and Björn Wiemer, 245–271. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.Google Scholar
Hosmer, David W., and Stanely Lemeshow
2000Applied Logistic Regression (2nd ed.). New York: John Wiley & Sons. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
House, Juliane
2008 “Beyond Intervention: Universals in Translation?Trans-Kom 1 (1): 6–19.Google Scholar
Janda, Laura A.
2004 “A Metaphor in Search of a Source Domain: The Categories of Slavic Aspect.” Cognitive Linguistics 15 (4): 471–527. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Kaleta, Zofia
1995Gramatyka Języka Polskiego dla Cudzoziemców. Kraków: Nakł. Uniwersytetu Jagiellońskiego.Google Scholar
Langacker, Ronald W.
1988 “A Usage-Based Model.” In Topics in Cognitive Linguistics, edited by Brygida Rudzka-Ostyn, 127–161. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Lanstyák, István, and Pál Heltai
2012 “Universals in Language Contact and Translation.” Across Languages and Cultures 13 (1): 99–121. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Laviosa, Sara
2002Corpus-Based Translation Studies. Theory, Findings, Applications. Amsterdam: Rodopi.Google Scholar
National Corpus of Polish
Narodowy Korpus Języka Polskiego. http://​nkjp​.pl/
Nenadic, Oleg, and Michael Greenacre
2007 “Correspondence Analysis in R, with Two- and Three-Dimensional Graphics: The ca Package.” Journal of Statistical Software 20 (3): 1–13.Google Scholar
Nowak, Joanna
2011Modalność deontyczna w języku prawa na przykładzie polskiego i hiszpańskiego kodeksu cywilnego. PhD thesis Uniwersytet im. Adama Mickiewicza w Poznaniu.Google Scholar
Olohan, Maeve
2001 “Spelling Out the Optionals in Translation: A Corpus Study.” UCREL Technical Papers 13: 423–432.Google Scholar
Padučeva, Elena
2006 “Modality, Negation and Aspect: The Case of the Russian možet and dolžen .” Paper presented at the 39th Annual Meeting of the SLE, Bremen.
Schmid, Hans-Jörg
2010 “Does Frequency in Text Really Instantiate Entrenchment in the Cognitive System?” In Quantitative Methods in Cognitive Semantics: Corpus-Driven Approaches, edited by Dylan Glynn and Kerstin Fischer, 101–133. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Šmelev, Alexej, and Anna Zaliznjak
2006 “Aspect, Modality and Closely Related Categories in Russian.” Unpublished paper. Inaugural meeting of the Slavic Linguistic Society in Bloomington, Indiana 8–10 September 2006.Google Scholar
Snider, Neal, and Inbal Arnon
2012 “A Unified Lexicon and Grammar? Compositional and Non-compositional Phrases in the Lexicon.” In Frequency Effects in Language Representation, edited by Dagmar Divjak and Stefan Th. Gries, 127–164. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Szymor, Nina
2011Quality Control in Legal Translation: Translation of EU Legislation into Polish. Unpublished MA thesis University of Sheffield.Google Scholar
2015 “Behavioral Profiling in Translation Studies.” Trans-kom 8(2): 483–498.Google Scholar
Teich, Elke
2003Cross-Linguistic Variation in System and Text. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Vandevoorde, Lore, Gert De Sutter, and Koen Plevoets
2015 “On Semantic Differences between Translated and Non-Translated Dutch. Using Bidirectional Parallel Corpus Data for Measuring and Visualizing Distances between Lexemes in the Semantic Field of Inceptiveness.” In Empirical Translation Studies. Interdisciplinary Methodologies Explored, edited by Ji Meng, 128–146. Sheffield: Equinox.Google Scholar
Venables, William N., and Brian D. Ripley
2002Modern Applied Statistics with S. New York: Springer. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Więcławska, Edyta
2014 “On Linguistic Features of Legal Discourse.” Studia Anglica Resoviensia 11 (85): 105–115.Google Scholar