Translation: universals or cognition? A usage-based perspective

Nina Szymor

Abstract

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.

Keywords:
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).

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