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Dorothy Kenny


Corpus-based Translation Studies:

A Quantitative or Qualitative Development?



5. And What of the Translator?

Another area in which corpora have the potential to make a significant
contribution is in the study of the sometimes elusive “translator’s voice”. Corpora have already been used to reveal the presence of the  translator, and to reveal new ways in which this presence can be traced. An example of this type of research is Bosseaux’s (2004) investigation of deictic elements in two translations into French of Virginia Wolff’s The Waves. As had been shown in previous studies based on non-electronic corpora (for example, Mason and Serban 2003), adverbs and pronouns such as here and therethis and that, and now and then, serve to indicate the “viewing position assumed by the narrator” (Bosseaux ibid.: 260), in other words the narrator’s spatial point of view, as well as the “temporal dimension in which the subject of the fiction is framed” (ibid.), or temporal point of view. The deictic shifts that often happen in translation (Bosseaux ibid.; Winters 2005; Mason and Serban ibid.) thus combine to produce more or less subtle shifts in narrative point of view, and it can be shown that the translator-narrator’s point of view can differ from that of the original author. Even in cases where a target text is “fluent” and the translator’s visibility to the target text reader is thus diminished (Venuti 1995: 2), the translator’s presence in the text can still be brought out by the analyst who is equipped with appropriate analytical categories and a sufficiently large corpus.
      A related study that relies on corpus tools to extract, sort and display thousands of instances of formally predictable features is Winters (2005).5 Winters tracks the use of modal particles, a German word-class used principally to express speakers’ (or writers’) attitudes to their utterances, in two translations of Scott Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful and Damned. The use of epistemic modal particles like wohl can change the psychological point of view in a narrative, by expressing uncertainty about the content of an utterance. Depending on the placement of the particle, the uncertainty may be understood to operate at the level of a character, or the narrator. In some cases in Winters’ study, the addition of a modal particle makes it appear that the translator has better access to a character’s thought processes than did the original narrator. In other cases, the addition of a modal particle suggests that the narrator is less sure of characters’ motives than she/he might otherwise be. In Winters’ words:

The narrator generally used in The Beautiful and Damned is the omniscient Type B narrator, who knows the characters’ thoughts and feelings. In the instances which contain epistemic modality on the narrator’s level, the narrator becomes an external Type D narrator, whose knowledge is limited and who does not have access to the characters’ inner states.6

The following example demonstrates a shift from the relative certainty
of a character’s position in Scott Fitzgerald’s (FSF) original to the relative uncertainty of the same character’s position in Renate Orth-Guttmann’s (ROG) translation, whereby the positing of such uncertainty on the character level (largely realised through the modal particle wohl) can be understood as the translator enjoying greater insight into the character’s psyche than did the original author (emphases mine).

FSF: He considered, nevertheless, that he had given her an object-lesson and that the matter was closed…

HCO: Nichtsdestoweniger war er der Meinung, daß er ihr einen Denkzettel verpaßt hatte und daß die Sache damit erledigt war…

ROG: Immerhin, sagte er sich, habe er ihr eine Lektion erteilt und damit sei der Fall wohl erledigt.

This increased insight into the character’s psyche is supported by the
use of other devices that shift the focus from the narrator to the character in Orth-Guttmann’s translation. For example, Scott Fitzgerald uses reported indirect thought, in which a thought-act report verb considered is accompanied twice by the complementizer that, which has the effect of giving prominence to the fact that something is being reported, and hence to the act of narration, while in some ways delaying what is being reported. The adversative conjunction nevertheless can be considered as operating on the narrator’s level (i.e., it is the narrator who understands there to be some tension between what has been reported previously and what is about to be reported). The translation by Hans Christian Oeser (HCO) maintains this foregrounding of the narration through the use of a similar thought-act report verb war er der Meinung (“he was of the opinion”) in conjunction with two instances of the complementizer daß in German. Likewise, his placement of the equivalent of nevertheless (“nichtsdestoweniger”) allows the recognition of a tension to operate on the level of the narrator. Renate Orth-Guttmann, on the other hand, uses a verb that points to a reported internal speech act sagte er sich (“he said to himself”) in her reporting clause, which suggests greater immediacy and a more faithful rendering of Anthony’s original thought, and that it is Anthony who recognises a tension, expressed through the conjunction immerhin (“nevertheless”), rather than the narrator. Orth-Guttmann also eschews use of the German complementizer daß,7 and thus does not postpone the introduction of Anthony’s thoughts in the same way as Scott Fitzgerald and Oeser do. Crucially, however, it is the introduction of the modal particle wohl in the reported clause in Orth-Guttmann’s translation that suggests that Anthony is not entirely sure that the matter really is closed, and thus that Orth-Guttmann, who appears to focus more on character’s internal states than on the narration in general, has once again greater access to characters’ psyches than do either Scott Fitzgerald or Oeser.

      By revealing instances of where modal particles cause shifts in the psychological point of view between original and target text, as well as differences in point of view that arise between the two translations, Winters reveals a previously unexplored way in which the translator’s presence in the text can be felt, at least by a sensitive analyst. This level of innovation would not have been possible had the researcher not had at her disposal a sufficiently large electronic corpus and tools to manipulate it, and had she not taken a “data-driven” approach, from which hypotheses emerged following an initial “word crunching” phase in which differing distributions of certain modal particles were observed in the two translations.


5. My description here of Bosseaux (2004) and Winters (2005) is, of course, incomplete. Both authors consider other linguistic features (as we shall see below for Winters), for example, the use of modal verbs, transitivity, and speech act report verbs, in their treatments of the translator’s voice/style.
6. Winters (ibid.) broadly follows Fowler’s (1996) model of psychological point of view, positing four types of narrator: Type A is an “internal” narrator, who has access to characters’ consciousness, and tells the story from the point of view of a participating character; Type B is  also an internal narrator, but narrates from the point of view of a non-participating character; Types C and D are both “external”, that is they do not have access to characters’ consciousness. They differ in that Type C remains neutral and impersonal, whereas Type D narrators give their opinions and offer subjective judgements.

7. Note, however, that Orth-Guttmann uses the Konjunktiv I verb forms habe and sei to indicate the presence of reported speech.


(Journal of Translation Studies 9 (2006) 1, S. 43–58, hier S. 51-54)​

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