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The cognitive basis of translation universals

The cognitive basis of translation universals

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Published by ehsaan_alipour
Translation Research Paper
Translation Research Paper

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: ehsaan_alipour on Dec 02, 2012
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05/31/2013

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The cognitive basis of translation universals
*
Target 
 
15:2
 
(
2003
),
 
197
241.
issn 0924
1884
/
e-issn 1569
9986
©John Benjamins Publishing Company 
Sandra Halverson
University of Bergen, Norway At present, there are few attempts to provide external explanations for thepatterns subsumed under the heading of “translation universal”. In thispaper, I discuss the possible cognitive basis for the patterns/processes thathave been variously referred to as simplification/generalization, normaliza-tion, standardization, sanitization, and exaggeration of target languagefeatures. The framework that I adopt is that of cognitive grammar, and my claim is that all of the above arise from the existence of asymmetries in thecognitive organization of semantic information. I also propose that theconverse case is true: cases involving a lack of conspicuous cognitive asym-metries will demonstrate the opposite effect in translated text. In closing, Iplace the argument in a larger perspective by adopting Croft’s (1990) scalarnotion of generalization in a discussion of explanation in translation studies.
Keywords:
translation universals, translation and cognition, translation andsemantic networks, explanation in translation studies
1.
Introduction
Research into so-called “translation universals” is a productive and innovativearea in Translation Studies. Not only is empirical research expanding throughthedevelopmentofelectroniccorpora;thetheoreticalconstructsonwhichthisresearch is based are also being questioned and refined (see e.g.Chesterman2001,Englund-Dimitrova2001,Mauranen2001,Tirkonnen-Condit2001).The level of activity and increasing generation of empirical results make it all themore imperative that we begin to posit
explanations 
for these findings.In this paper I elaborate on the view that a number of the various lexical/semantic patterns that have been subsumed under the heading of “translationuniversals”
1
may be explained with reference to general characteristics of 
 
198
Sandra Halverson
human cognition. In making my case, I build on the theory of cognitivegrammar,primarilyaselaboratedby Langacker(1987).Thetheoryprovidesanaccount of how broad and general cognitive processes are reflected in humanlanguage. Essential to the current discussion are the notions of 
schematic networks 
and
cognitive salience and asymmetry 
.The paper is organized as follows. In Section 2 I present the necessary introduction to Langacker’s theory of cognitive grammar and the principles of cognitive organization that it incorporates, including brief mention of the key processes involved. In addition, I link this account to current research onsemantic representation in bilinguals. In Section 3, I present my hypothesesconcerning the role of cognitive organization in translation. In Section 4 I link the discussion in Section 3 to findings from related investigations in anothermetalinguistic environment, more specifically second language acquisition. Ialso briefly touch on the origins and development of cognitive structure. In theconclusion I discuss the implications of the argument for Translation Studies.
2.
The cognitive organization of information
Langacker’stheoryofcognitivegrammarrestsonanumberofgeneralassump-tions. In the following, I will present those that are of greatest relevance for thediscussionofresearchontranslationuniversals.Mypresentationisnotcompre-hensive, nor do I elaborate on the relative significance Langacker imputes to thevarious assumptions or aspects of them. In fact, in presenting such an overview,I run considerable risk of oversimplification. Readers are referred toLangacker(1987)for the full account.
2.1
Basic assumptions
In the introductory chapter to
Foundations of cognitive grammar 
(1987),Langacker outlines the general and methodological assumptions on which hisproject rests. The first of Langacker’s general assumptions is that “language issymbolic in nature” (1987:11). This statement is more portentous than it may appear at first glance. Langacker continues:
From the symbolic nature of language follows the centrality of meaning tovirtually all linguistic concerns. Meaning is what language is all about; … Butit is not enough to agree that meaning is important if this results, say, inpositing a separate semantic “component” treating grammar separately as an
 
The cognitive basis of translation universals
199
autonomous entity. I contend that grammar itself, i.e. patterns for groupingmorphemes into progressively larger configurations, is inherently symbolic andhencemeaningful.Grammar issimplythe structuringandsymbolization of semantic content; … (1987:12)
This particular idea is one that sharply divides cognitive grammar fromgenerative grammar or from other formalist approaches. Where generativegrammarpositsastrictdividinglinebetweenthesymboliclexiconandthenon-symbolic, fully generative grammar,Langacker’s program provides for aunifiedapproachto symbolization,and grammar andthe lexicon differonly in degree,not in kind. From this follows that the same cognitive structures and processesare held to account for both grammatical and lexical structure.The secondguiding assumption, concerning the relationship of language togeneral cognition, is particularly important in the context of the current discus-sion.Langackerclaimsthat,“…languageisanintegralpartofhumancognition.Anaccountoflinguisticstructureshouldthereforearticulatewithwhatisknownabout cognitive processing in general …” (ibid). The reader is again referred toLangacker (1987:99–146 in particular) for a detailed account of the mostcentral processes. For the current purpose, I shall focus on a smaller subset.Cognitive grammar in general is taken to be a “usage-based approach” tolanguage(1987:45–47,494).Thetheoreticalramificationsofthisstatementarenumerous,butatthis stageletusfocusonthe issueofemergenceandactivationof structure for the individual. Langacker describes a cognitive, includinglinguistic,
event 
as:
a cognitive occurrence of any degree of complexity, be it the firing of a singleneuron or a massive happening of intricate structure and large-scale architec-ture. We can assume that the occurrence of any such event leaves some kind of neurochemical trace that facilitates recurrence. If the event fails to recur, itstrace decays; recurrence has a progressive reinforcing effect, however, so anevent (or more properly,
event-type 
) becomes more and more deeply 
en-trenched 
through continued repetition. … An event type is said to have
unit status 
when it is sufficiently well entrenched that it is easily evoked as anintegrated whole, i.e. when it constitutes an established
routine 
that can becarried out more or less automatically once it is initiated. I will refer to theexecution of such a routine as its
activation 
. (1987:100, author’s emphasis)
For the purposes of our discussion, the most important notions here are thoseof entrenchment and activation. In a linguistic event, e.g. encountering a wordor expression, certain cognitive routines are activated. The more frequently theevent-type is repeated, the more “permanent” its activation pattern becomes.

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