Discourse and register functions of detached structures: A case study of the translations of two plays

Sarah Cummins

This article examines how “detached” elements (such as those at the beginning and end of Moi aussi, j’aime beaucoup ça, le beurre de peanut) have been handled in the translation of two Quebec plays into English. In French, detachment plays an important role in discourse, marking topic, focus, or emphasis; moreover, it is a strong marker of an informal conversational register. In English, other means are typically used to mark information structure and they do not necessarily differ in conversational and written registers. The study shows that the information structure conveyed by detachment is faithfully rendered in the translations, but the register function is undertranslated. Explanations for this undertranslation are proposed.

Table of contents

This case study investigates how “detached structures” have been dealt with in translation from French to English. In such structures, sentence arguments, such as subject or object, do not occupy their canonical position within the clause, but instead appear in a peripheral position at the beginning of the clause (in which case they are called “left-detached”) or at the end of the clause (“right-detached”). The detached arguments are linked to a clause-internal pronoun marking their grammatical function. The examples in (1) illustrate both types of detached structures; the detached arguments are marked in bold, and the clause-internal pronouns they are linked to are underlined.

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