Why change the subject? On changes in subject selection in translation from English into Norwegian

Stig Johansson

This paper reports on a study of syntactic changes in alternative translations of a short story and a scientific article, each translated by a group of ten professional translators. The subject is kept in approximately nine cases out of ten, with a somewhat higher degree of change in the scientific article. Where changes occur, they can very often be traced to differences between the languages on the lexical or syntactic level, but absolute differences signalled by identical behaviour of a whole translator group are as good as non-existent. After more features have been studied, it may be possible to identify profiles for the individual translators—and the two translator groups—showing to what extent their choices are guided by adequacy in relation to the source text vs. acceptability in relation to the target language.

Table of contents

The project presented in this paper should be seen against the background of our work on the English-Norwegian Parallel Corpus (ENPC), a bidirectional translation corpus containing English and Norwegian original texts and their translations into the other language. The design of the ENPC makes it possible to carry out studies of different kinds, focusing both on language contrasts and on translation (Johansson 1998). For the user of the corpus, it is often felt as a problem that there is just one translation of each text, although we know that “an actual translation exists against the background of shadow translations—possible alternative translations defined by the systemic potential of the target [ p. 30 ]language” (Matthiessen 2001: 83). Individual translations may differ depending upon who the intended receiver is and how the translator has viewed the translation task; and there may of course be outright mistakes in translation.

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