Mira Kim and Christian M.I.M. Matthiessen
University of New South Wales, Australia | Hong Kong Polytechnic University

Discourse analysis has grown in applied linguistics since the 1970s and its application in translation studies became prominent in the 1990s (Munday 2012, 137). One of the topics in discourse analysis that has been given particular attention by translation scholars is the translation of choices within the textual metafunction, with particular focus on the role of Theme and its impact on thematic development in text. A number of studies have generated new insights into the translation of textual choices, for example concerning failures to recreate patterns of thematic progression. The growth of this area of research is a highly encouraging development since it had previously been largely neglected in translation studies (House 1997, 31). While these studies have focused on separate micro-issues in specific language pairs, the present article attempts to conduct a comprehensive review of existing studies on this topic in order to (i) highlight major topics addressed so far and (ii) make suggestions for further studies into this important area of translation from a systemic functional linguistic perspective.

Table of contents

The growth of discourse analysis in applied linguistics since the 1970s, and in the service of translation studies, has helped translation scholars to approach translation as a phenomenon that is organized multi-dimensionally (Munday 2012, Chapter 6). Interpreted in systemic functional terms (e.g., Halliday 1978), one of these dimensions is the spectrum of different modes of meaning—the different metafunctional modes of meaning: ideational (logical and experiential), interpersonal and textual. If we see translation as centrally involving the recreation of meaning through choices made by the translator in the interpretation of the source text [ p. 336 ]and through choices in the generation of the translated text (Matthiessen 2001), it follows that all modes of meaning are equally implicated: translation involves recreating ideational meanings of the logical kind, ideational meanings of the experiential kind, interpersonal meanings and textual meanings. Each metafunctional mode of meaning involves particular meaning-making resources—particular sets of systems in any language—and part of the difficulty translators face is that different languages may have evolved somewhat or even fairly different sets of systems for each metafunction. For example, translators translating between English and Chinese face the challenge of moving between two very different ideational models of time—tense (a model concerned with the location of a process in time; e.g., past vs. present vs. future in relation to the ‘now’ of speaking), in the case of English, and aspect (a model concerned with the unfolding of a process through time; e.g., bounded vs. unbounded), in the case of Chinese (Halliday and Matthiessen 1999, Chapter 7; Halliday and McDonald 2004).

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.


Baker, Mona
(1992) 2011In Other Words. London: Routledge.   DOI logoGoogle Scholar
1993 “Corpus Linguistics and Translation Studies: Implications and Applications.” In Text and Technology. In Honour of John Sinclair, ed. by Mona Baker, Gill Francis, and Elena Tognini-Bonelli, 233–250. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Caffarel, Alice, J.R. Martin, and Christian M.I.M. Matthiessen
eds. 2004Language Typology: A Functional Perspective. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Contreras, Heles
1976A Theory of Word Order with Special Reference to Spanish. Amsterdam: North-Holland Publishing Company.Google Scholar
Daneš, František.
1974 “Functional Sentence Perspective and the Organisation of the Text.” In Papers on Functional Sentence Perspective, ed. by František Daneš, 106–128. The Hague: Mouton.Google Scholar
Duff, Alan
1981Third Language: Recurrent Problems of Translation into English. Oxford: Pergamon.Google Scholar
Espindola, Elaine
2013“Quando a Sabedoria está na ordem das palavras: Uma visão Linguístico Sistêmico-Funcional sobre um corpus paralelo [When wisdom is found in the order of words: a systemic-functional linguistic view over a parallel corpus].” EntreLetras 4 (1): 10–23.Google Scholar
Firbas, Janos
1992Functional Sentence Perspective in Written and Spoken Communication. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Frawley, William
1984 “Prolegomenon to a Theory of Translation.” In Translation: Literary, Linguistic and Philosophical Perspectives, ed. by William Frawley, 159–175. London: Associated University Press.Google Scholar
Fries, Peter H
1981 “On the Status of Theme in English: Arguments from Discourse.” Forum Linguisticum 6 (1): 1–38.Google Scholar
Ghadessy, Mohsen, and Yanjie Gao
2000 “Thematic Organization in Parallel Texts: Same and Different Methods of Development.” Text 20 (4): 461–488. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Givón, Talmy
ed. 1983Topic Continuity in Language. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Halliday, M.A.K
1973Explorations in the Functions of Language. London: Edward Arnold.Google Scholar
1978Language as Social Semiotic: The Social Interpretation of Language and Meaning. London: Edward Arnold.Google Scholar
[ p. 348 ]
1985 “It’s a Fixed Word Order Language is English.” ITL Review of Applied Linguistics 67-68: 91–116. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
2001 “On the Grammatical Foundations of Discourse.” In Grammar and Discourse: Proceedings of the International Conference on Discourse Analysis, University of Macau, 16-18 October 1997, ed. by Ren Shaozeng, William Guthrie, and I.W. Ronald Fong, 47–58. Macau: University of Macau Publication Centre.Google Scholar
Halliday, M.A.K, and Edward McDonald
2004 “Metafunctional Profile of the Grammar of Chinese.” In Language Typology: A Functional Perspective, ed. by Alice Caffarel, J.R. Martin, and Christian M.I.M. Matthiessen, 305–396. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Halliday, M.A.K., and Christian M.I.M. Matthiessen
1999Construing Experience through Meaning: A Language-based Approach to Cognition. London: Cassell.Google Scholar
Hansen-Schirra, Silvia, Stella Neumann, and Erich Steiner
2012Cross-linguistic Corpora for the Study of Translations: Insights from the Language Pair English-German. Berlin: de Gruyter. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Hasan, Ruqaiya
1973 “Code, Register and Social Dialect.” In Class, Codes and Control. Volume 2: Applied Studies Towards a Sociology of Language, ed. by Basil Bernstein, 253–292. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
Hasselgård, Hilde
1998 “Thematic Structure in Translation between English and Norwegian.” In Corpora and Cross-linguistic Research, ed. by Stig Johansson and Signe Oksefjell, 145–168. Amsterdam: Rodopi.Google Scholar
2004 “Thematic Choice in English and Norwegian.” Functions of Language 11 (2):187–212. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Hickey, Leo
1990 “The Style of Topicalization, How Formal Is It?” In The Pragmatics of Style, ed. by Leo Hickey, 52–70. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
House, Juliane
1997Translation Quality Assessment: A Model Revisited. Tübingen: Gunther Narr.Google Scholar
Kim, Mira
2007aA Discourse Based Study on Theme in Korean and Textual Meaning in Translation. Ph.D. diss. Macquarie University, Sydney.Google Scholar
2007b “Using Systemic Functional Text Analysis for Translator Education: An Illustration with a Focus on the Textual Meaning.” The Interpreter and Translator Trainer 1 (2): 223–246. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
2011 “A Systemic Functional Approach to the Tangled Thread Issues of Korean Theme Study.” International Review of Korean Studies 8 (1): 101–138.Google Scholar
Kim, Mira, and Zhi Huang
2012 “Theme Choices in Translation and Target Readers’ Reactions to Different Theme Choices.” T&I Review 2: 79–112.Google Scholar
Liu, Xiangjun, and Xiaohu Yang
2012 “Thematic Progression in English-Chinese Translation of Argumentative Classics: A Quantitative Study of Francis Bacon’s ‘Of Studies’ and Its 11 Chinese Translations.” Perspectives: Studies in Translatology 21 (2): 272–288. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Martin, James R
1983 “Participant Identification in English, Tagalog and Kate.” Australian Journal of Linguistics 3 (1): 45–74. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Mathesius, Vilém
1975A Functional Analysis of Present-day English on a General Linguistic Basis, ed. by Josef Vachek. The Hague: Mouton. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Matthiessen, Christian M.I.M
1992 “Interpreting the Textual Metafunction.” In Advances in Systemic Linguistics: Recent Theory and Practice, ed. by Martin Davies and Louise Ravelli, 37–82. London: Pinter.Google Scholar
[ p. 349 ]
1995 “THEME as an Enabling Resource in Ideational ‘Knowledge’ Constructions.” In Thematic Development in English Texts, ed. by Mohsen Ghadessy, 85–104. London: Pinter.Google Scholar
2001 “The Environments of Translation.” In Beyond Content: Exploring Translation and Multilingual Text, ed. by Erich Steiner and Colin Yallop, 41–124. Berlin: de Gruyter.   DOI logoGoogle Scholar
2004 “Descriptive Motifs and Generalizations.” In Language Typology: A Functional Perspective, ed. by Alice Caffarel, J.R. Martin, and Christian M.I.M. Matthiessen, 537–673. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
2013 “Appliable Discourse Analysis.” In Developing Systemic Functional Linguistics: Theory and Application, ed. by Fang Yan and Jonathan J. Webster, 135–205. London: Equinox.Google Scholar
In press. “Register in the Round: Registerial Cartography.” Functional Linguistics.
Matthiessen, Christian M.I.M., Kazuhiro Teruya, and Canzhong Wu
2008 “Multilingual Studies as a Multi-dimensional Space of Interconnected Language Studies.” In Meaning in Context, ed. by Jonathan Webster, 146–221. London: Continuum.Google Scholar
Matthiessen, Christian M.I.M., and Christopher Nesbitt
1996 “On the Idea of Theory-Neutral Descriptions.” In Functional Descriptions: Theory in Practice, ed. by Carmel Cloran, David Butt, and Ruqaiya Hasan, 39–85. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Munday, Jeremy
1998 “Problems of Applying Thematic Analysis to Translation between Spanish and English.” Cadernos de Tradução 1 (3): 183–213.Google Scholar
2012Introducing Translation Studies: Theories and Applications. 3rd ed. Abingdon: Routledge.Google Scholar
Nord, Christiane
1991Text Analysis in Translation. Amsterdam: Rodopi.Google Scholar
Røvik, Sylvi
2004 “Thematic Progression in Translation of Fiction from English into Norwegian.” In Translation and Corpora, ed. by Karin Aijmer and Hilde Hasselgård, 149–161. Gothenburg: Acta Universitatis Gothoburgensis.Google Scholar
Sanz, Rosa Lorés
2003 “The Translation of Tourist Literature: The Case of Connectors.” Multilingua 22: 291–308. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Snell-Hornby, Mary
1995Translation Studies. An Integrated Approach. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Steiner, Erich
2004Translated Texts: Properties, Variants, Evaluations. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.Google Scholar
2005 “The Heterogeneity of Individual Languages as a Translation Problem.” In Translation: An International Encyclopedia of Translation Studies, ed. by Harald Kittel, Armin Paul Frank, Norbert Greiner, Theo Hermans, Herbert Koller, José Lambert, and Fritz Paul, 446–454. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.Google Scholar
Taylor, Christopher
1993 “Systemic Linguistics and Translation.” Nottingham Occasional Papers in Systemic Linguistics 7: 87–103.Google Scholar
Teich, Elke
2003Cross-linguistic Variation in System and Text: A Methodology for the Investigation of Translations and Comparable Texts. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Teruya, Kazuhiro, and Christian M.I.M. Matthiessen
2015 “Halliday in Relation to Language Comparison and Typology.” In The Bloomsbury Companion to M.A.K. Halliday, ed. by Jonathan J. Webster, 427–452. London: Bloomsbury Academic.Google Scholar
[ p. 350 ]
Toury, Gideon
(1995) 2012Descriptive Translation Studies—And Beyond. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Vasconcellos, Muriel Havel de
2008“Text and Translation: The Role of Theme and Information.” Ilha do Desterro A Journal of English Language, Literatures in English and Cultural Studies 27: 45–66.Google Scholar
Vinay, Jean-Paul, and Jean Darbelnet
1995Comparative Stylistics of French and English. A Methodology for Translation. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Ventola, Eija
1995 “Thematic Development and Translation.” In Thematic Development in English Texts, ed. by Mohsen Ghadessy, 85–104. London: Pinter.Google Scholar
Williams, Ian A
2006 “Towards a Target-Oriented Model for Quantitative Contrastive Analysis in Translation Studies: An Exploratory Study of Themerheme Structure in Spanish-English Biomedical Research Articles.” Languages in Contrast 6 (1): 1–45. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
2009 “Discourse Style and Theme-Rheme Progression in Biomedical Research Article Discussion: A Corpus-based Contrastive Study of Translational and Non-translational Spanish.” Languages in Contrast 9 (2): 225–226. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Wu, Canzhong
2009 “Corpus-based Research.” In A Companion to Systemic Functional Linguistics, ed. by M.A.K. Halliday and Jonathan Webster, 128–142. London: Continuum.Google Scholar