Understanding translation as a site of language contact: The potential of the Code-Copying Framework as a descriptive mechanism in translation studies

Sofia Malamatidou


This paper begins by acknowledging translation as an important site of language contact and its primary aim is to reinterpret a theoretical framework from the field of language contact, namely Johanson’s Code-Copying Framework (1993, 1999, 2002a), with translation in mind. The framework is then systematically applied to empirical data and a corpus-based study is conducted, using the translation of popular science articles from English into Greek as a case in point, and in particular examining any change in the frequency of passive voice reporting verbs. The discussion and corpus analysis suggest that the Code-Copying Framework offers a new vantage point for understanding translation as facilitating linguistic development in the target language, and that translation studies can benefit from adopting it as a descriptive mechanism when comparing instances of contact through translation across languages.

Table of contents

Translation as an instance of language contact between the source and the target language is a field of research that has traditionally been ignored by both linguistics and translation studies. Recent studies, however, mainly dictated by interest in the status of English as a modern lingua franca, have begun to address issues relating to translation and language contact and change. Ballard, for example, argues that “translation as management of two languages by the same individual, is a particular and acute form of language contact” (2003, 253) [my translation]. House (2003, 2006, 2008) and her team (Baumgarten and Özçetin 2008; Becher, House, and Kranich 2009; Kranich, Becher, and Höder 2011; Kranich, Becher, and House 2012) have also taken an interest in the investigation of the ways in which translation from English may affect other European languages, namely German, French and Spanish, in popular science and economic texts. Their research concludes that, while some changes observed are a result of direct influence from English, others are most likely instances of a more general tendency towards subjectivity in the genres (House 2011). McLaughlin (2011) reports that news translations from English have led to changes in the way in which information is presented through syntactic means in the genre in French, and similar observations have been made about Italian economic texts (Musacchio 2005), German business articles (Bisiada 2013), and Swedish fiction (Gellerstam 2005) translated from English. Finally, Bennett (2007a, 2007b) argues that the anthropocentric worldview typically encoded in Portuguese academic discourse is abandoned in favour of the English positivist worldview, when Portuguese academic articles are translated into English. These studies provide evidence that translation can give rise to language change, but also take a step forward from the obvious lexical changes to an examination of the possible effects that translation from English might have on the development of native genres. Although attempts have been made to provide some explanation of the role played by translation in linguistic change in specific contexts, for example by observing that there is a decline in the “cultural filtering” in translations from English (Kranich, Becher, and House 2012; House 2011), or by establishing the factors that might have an impact on contact through translation (Kranich, Becher, and Höder 2011), these studies provide only partial links between translation and the wider processes of language contact and change. Thus, the question of how exactly translation can contribute to change in a range of contexts has not so far been adequately addressed.

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