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Playing with Adjectives: syntactic use of adjectives in Edgar Allan Poe’s Ligeia and

Cortazar’s translation.

Nicole L. Carvacho

Siham D. Lee

Pontifica Universidad Católica de Chile


Playing with Adjectives: syntactic use of adjectives in Edgar Allan Poe’s Ligeia and

Cortazar’s translation.

The purpose of Contrastive Linguistics is to systematically analyze how two different

linguistic systems can construe and describe experiences of reality. Contrastive Analysis,

studying the differences and similarities of two languages, can be applied to three different

main areas: translation, second language acquisition and psycholinguistics with the study of

linguistic relativity. In this sense, Contrastive Analysis can help us understand how linguistics

structures can be translated into another language that does not share the same linguistic

structures or features, whether the differences and similarities of two languages create an

advantage or disadvantage to the language learner and how two different language systems

can affect how we experience and think of reality.

Translation is a rather interesting field to apply Contrastive Analysis, specially

Literary Translation, as it deals with one of the biggest problems of translating one language

into another: keeping content, form and style as loyally as possible. Conveying the same

meaning is not the only aim, and most of the times translators have to prioritize one element

over the other. The resources to achieve this are many, and they depend on the characteristics

of the Target Language and the Source Language, and how similar or different they are

regarding these characteristics. Syntax is one of the elements that could become problematic

at the moment of a translation, and it could affect it in all of the three areas named above.

Adjectives, even though relatively easy to translate, impose a challenge when focusing on

their syntax, specially in languages in which this can cause a significant difference in

meaning, such as the case of Spanish.

Adjectives do not follow the same syntactic rules in English and Spanish. The

changes this can produce in the translated text do not necessarily imply a negative problem: it

is the translator’s work to play with the rules of the Target Language. In the case of

adjectives, this means using the rules of Spanish instead of English, in order to make it as less

obviously translated as possible (Newmark, 2009, p. 28) In this sense, the purpose of this

incipient research was to deal with the Spanish translation of an English literary work, to

compare and contrast the syntax of the adjectives used in both and explore how the

translation of linguistic constructions are different in both languages. For this, we chose

Edgar Allan Poe’s short story Ligeia, because of Poe’s well-known writing style and

abundant and detailed descriptions; for the Spanish translation we chose Argentinian writer

Julio Cortázar, who translated most if not all of Poe’s stories and poems, and whose

translations turned Poe famous in Spanish speaking countries. Because Cortázar was both a

translator and a writer, we expected to find in his translation features of his own writing, or at

least a much more free and creative translation. Following the same line, we were expecting

to encounter more post-nominal adjectives in the translation, as this is the usual position in

Spanish (Solé and Solé, 1979), and analyze this in terms of the meaning this could imply in

the Spanish language and in translation.


Theoretical Framework
Adjectives do not work the same way in English and Spanish, even though they share

the same function. According to Solé and Solé (1979), “the main function of adjectives is to

describe and determine nouns in some way” (p. 225), and this can be done in two different

ways: either with descriptive adjectives or with limiting adjectives. Descriptive adjectives

define and modify the nature of the noun, describing the shape, color, size, etc. Limiting

adjectives, on the other hand, modify nouns in relation to what is around them –this includes

possessives, numerals and demonstratives adjectives, among others–, but we will not deal

with them as they are of no interest for our analysis.

In terms of descriptive adjectives, and keeping in mind that we are interested in the

syntax of these, they can be positioned in predicative position or attributive position.

Predicative adjectives are joined to the noun by a copula, and they work in fairly similar ways

for both languages. Attributive adjectives pose a bigger challenge, since they are joined to the

noun by simply attaching it to it, which means they can be placed either before the noun –pre-

nominal position– or after the noun –post-nominal position–. In this sense, Spanish syntax is

more flexible, as it allows the movement of the adjective in a phrase or sentence, whereas in

English this is much more constrained. In the case of English, the most common, if not only

position for descriptive attributive adjectives is pre-nominal. Post-nominal position is

possible but rarely used, and the change in meaning or emphasis that post-nominal adjectives

can imply are usually conveyed through intonation. Spanish, as we already mentioned, is

much more flexible, and it allows the adjective to be placed in either pre-nominal or post-

nominal position; nevertheless, the most recurrent and common position for adjectives in

Spanish is post-nominal.

Solé and Solé, in their extensive analysis of Spanish syntax, claim that adjectives

imply different things depending on their position. Pre-nominal adjectives generally

“describe a quality which seems characteristic of the noun they modify, without necessarily

adding anything new to its idea or restricting or specifying its meaning.” (p. 233). These

adjectives are used to signal an inherent characteristic, to “enhance or express value

judgement” (p. 233) or to highlight an attitude towards the noun. For this reason, they are

related to non-restrictive adjectival clauses: they “provide supplementary information” (p.

235). When using pre-nominal adjectives, the speaker seems to be focusing more on the noun

that the adjective. Post-nominal adjectives, on the contrary, “usually restrict, clarify, or

specify the meaning of the modified noun by adding an idea not expressed by the noun” (p.

231), and as such they correlate with restrictive adjectival clauses because they provide the

information to identify the noun to which the clause is referring to. Post-nominal adjectives

are also used when talking about an inherent characteristic when this has the intention to only

describe –and not contrast or specify–, mainly for “stylistic and poetic reasons” (p. 232). In

these occasions, the speakers seems to be focusing more on the adjective than the noun. This

is also the case when speaking about how relevant is the information that the adjective is

providing (Hill & Bradford, 2000, p.4). In pre-nominal position, information is rarely

significant or unexpected, whereas in post-nominal the information adds something that is

necessary to distinguish the noun, which gives it a higher degree of relevance to the adjective.

The translation process involves four main elements a Source Text written in an

original language which will eventually be changed into a Target Text written in a Target

Language. (Munday, 2001, p.8) Additionally, when making a translation, the translator must

take the readership into consideration to provide a faithful rendition of the Source Text. This

is a difficult task considering that every Language has its different syntax and different words

that often do not convey the same meaning as they do in the SL, in this sense the translator

must make decisions regarding form and content, sometimes a nuance of meaning must be

sacrificed in order to maintain the form .


In a good translation “is expected that there will not be evidence of the language of

the source text” (Malmkjær, 2010, p. 122) that is to say, it is expected that TT follows the

grammatical rules from the TL instead of translating word by word and keeping the

grammatical structure of the SL. When this phenomenon occurs, it is pejoratively referred as

translationese, in said case the structure of the Source Language is evident in the Target Text

and the grammatical and lexical conventions of the Target Language are ignored. When the

features of the Source Text are purposefully copied, the phenomenon is referred to as Formal

Correspondence. This systematic use of the ST structures often results in a distortion of the

TL’s grammar and stylistics. (Newmark, 2009, p. 28)

There are many different types of texts that can be translated for different purposes.

For the purpose of this research, we will take a closer at Literary Translation. Within Literary

Translation, how things are said is equally as important as to what is said. In this sense, the

literary translator faces a great challenge: to create a rendition of the original text that is

similar not only in terms of content and meaning but also in terms of style and form. The

literary translator can sometimes incur in a creative or liberal translation in order to achieve

this goal as maintaining the equivalence of meaning and form is difficult. Since the corpus of

this research is a translation done by another fiction author, it is believed that this version

could be more flexible, and the translator would include personal stylistic devices in the

translation, however, it is found that “Córtazar offers a close, although not literal, translation

rather than a creative or liberal translation of Poe’s short fiction” (Esplin & Vale de Gato,

2009, p. 254)


This research aims at analyzing the position of adjectives in Poe’s Ligeia and

Cortazar’s translation. In order to do so, two paragraphs of 151 and 215 words each were

selected from the short story and the translated version. The paragraphs were later broken

down into sentences and for each sentence, descriptive adjectives were highlighted. Each

descriptive adjective was analyzed in terms of position (pre or post-nominal) and classified

according to marked and unmarked position. The adjectives were later quantified and

illustrated in a table. With this information, marked adjectives were analyzed in relationship

to the general impression and style that they give to the text, comparing both versions in

terms of their usage.



The data collected from the four paragraphs is detailed in the tables below. The first

two tables correspond to Edgar Allan Poe’s original version of Ligeia in English, and the

other two to Julio Cortázar’s Spanish translation. They show the total amount of descriptive

adjective and the number of pre-nominal, post-nominal, and also predicative adjectives


In the first paragraph we found 15 descriptive adjectives: sentence 1 has 5 pre-

nominal adjectives, sentence 2 has 8 pre-nominal and 1 post-nominal adjectives, sentence 3

has 0 adjectives, and sentence 4 has 1 pre-nominal adjective. In total, paragraph 1 has 1 post-

nominal adjective and 13 pre-nominal adjectives.



Sentence 1 0 5 0

Sentence 2 1 8 0

Sentence 3 0 0 0

Sentence 4 0 1 0

Total 15

Paragraph 2 of the English version has 31 adjectives, out of which 7 are predicative

adjectives. All the rest 24 attributive adjectives are in pre-nominal position, in the 5 sentences

that make up the paragraph. No post-nominal adjectives were found in paragraph 2.




Sentence 1 0 2 1

Sentence 2 0 3 1

Sentence 3 0 5 0

Sentence 4 0 7 3

Sentence 5 0 7 2

Total 31

The data collected from Julio Cortázar’s translation of Ligeia was divided in two

other tales. The total amount of descriptive adjectives found in paragraph one was 23, all of

them attributive. Sentence 1 has 6 post-nominal adjectives, sentence 2 has 6 post-nominal

adjectives and 9 pre-nominal, sentence 3 has 1 pre-nominal adjective and sentence 4 also 1

pre-nominal adjective. This paragraph contains 12 post-nominal adjectives and 13 pre-

nominal adjectives.



Sentence 1 6 0 0

Sentence 2 6 9 0

Sentence 3 0 1 0

Sentence 4 0 1 0

Total 23

Finally, in paragraph 2 we found 27 adjectives, of which 3 are predicative and 24

attributive. Sentence 1 has 1 post-nominal and 1 pre-nominal adjective, sentence 2 has 1 post-

nominal and 2 pre-nominal adjectives, sentence 3 2 post-nominal and 2 pre-nominal

adjectives, sentence 4 2 post-nominal and 4 pre-nominal adjectives and sentence 5 3 post-

nominal and 3 pre-nominal adjectives. In total, the paragraph contains 9 post-nominal

adjectives and 15 pre-nominal adjectives.



Sentence 1 1 1 0

Sentence 2 1 2 1

Sentence 3 2 3 0

Sentence 4 2 4 2

Sentence 5 3 5 0

Total 27


In the first sentence of the first chosen paragraph, we were able to identify five

adjectives in the English version (see Appendix A), in the Spanish version we identified six

adjectives. It is interesting to note that in the translated version, there are more adjectives and

that all of these adjectives are in an unmarked position. In the translation “luxurious” was

omitted and replaced by “plena y suave”, there is a reverse nominalization of the word

“smoothness” transforming it into “suave” (smooth) and the replacement of the adjective

“plena” instead of “luxurious”. This last change disrupts the tone of the description since

Poe’s choice of “luxurious” and “voluptuous” are evidence of his elevated diction.

The second sentence of the first paragraph, has ten adjectives in the English version

and fifteen adjectives in the Spanish version. Interestingly, the English version has one

postnominal adjective (marked position) “heavenly”. We argue that, the use of this

postnominal adjective was as to give a poetic tone to the description; since postnominal is the

unmarked position for Spanish adjectives, this structure was kept in the translation.

Additionally, the use of postnominal adjectives is usually archaic. The adjectives “dulce”

“magnifica” “breve” “suave” voluptuosa” “serena” “radiante” y triunfal” are in marked

position in Spanish. “Dulce” was used after “boca” to stress the characteristic of the mouth

“when the descriptive adjective precedes the noun, it enhances the noun or offers personal

estimation or value judgement concerning it” (Hill & Bradford, 2000, p.4). We argue that

corresponds to personal estimation of the mouth since the narrator is describing his beloved.

The last four adjectives in Spanish are stacked up to premodify the noun “sonrisa”. They are

in prenominal position, emulating the listing effect that they had in the English version

additionally, keeping the unmarked position of adjectives in this specific sentence would be

an awkward translation given that the adjectival phrase is unusually long.


The third sentence of the first paragraph does not have adjectives in the English

version, whereas in Cortazar’s version we found one. “Noble” was employed in replacement

of “gentleness”, again, we find that Córtazar is using reverse nominalization, gentleness is the

noun transformation of gentle and it is purposefully translated into an adjective in the Spanish

version. Additionally, the adjective is used in marked position as it is positioned before

“amplitud” (noun), it could be argued that this choice was made based on “relative

informativeness”, the translator is signaling to stress the adjective instead of the noun.

The last sentence of the paragraph contains only one adjective in both versions and it

is marked position in Spanish. The adjective “grande” is an exception to the rule of

postnominal adjectives in Spanish, if used after the noun, “grande” means, literally, “big” or

“large” when used after the noun (like in this specific case) “grande” means “great” or

“grand”. Córtazar gave “Grande” the limiting meaning by placing it after “ojos”.

Nevertheless, we argue that Córtazar chose to keep the postnominal structure to add a more

poetic sense to the Spanish translation, since “grandes ojos” implies that “grande” is an

inherent characteristic of Ligeia’s eyes instead of a mere description of them.

When analyzing the second paragraph, we find that in the first sentence there are two

adjectives in both versions (see Appendix B). Both adjectives are used in prenominal position

in English. “Profunda” is used in marked position, after the word “importancia, in this case

the translator is using this construction to keep the original syntax of the ST, (an example of

formal correspondence) the word “profunda” does not clarify a new meaning for

“importancia”. As Spanish native speakers we believe that keeping the unmarked position

“importancia profunda” is an awkward construction since “profunda” is not a word that

usually collocates with “importancia”, however, reading it as Cortazar intended “profunda

importancia” sounds seemingly more natural as “profunda” could be a synonym for the

limiting adjective “gran importancia” (and gran is usually placed before the noun).The

adjective “fantastico” is used in unmarked position.

The second sentence of the paragraph contains three adjectives in both versions. In

English the three adjectives are employed in their unmarked position whereas in Spanish only

one of them is in unmarked position and two of them are in marked position. “altas” is

employed before the noun “torrecillas” to enhance the inherent quality of the towers, in this

sense the adjective is working almost as an epithet, implying that the towers are, by

definition, tall. The adjective “vastas” is placed before “dimensiones” to specify the meaning

of the noun and to maintain the poetic diction of Poe’s work.

In the third sentence of the same paragraph, there are five adjectives in both the

original and translated version. In the original version all of the adjectives are in prenominal,

unmarked position. In Spanish we find three adjectives in marked prenominal position.

“unica” is used in pre nominal position to stress the fact that there is only one window, if the

adjective was placed after the noun “única” would be adding “uniqueness” to the window,

“unica” is therefore a limiting adjective. In “un inmenso cristal” “inmenso” is employed in

this position to stress the characteristic of the crystal, it could also be argued that the

postnominal position is used because of stylistic reasons, i. e. to maintain the pattern

adjective-noun since in this particular sentence the three prenominal adjectives are followed

by each other. In the noun phrase “sola pieza” the adjective sola is also a limiting adjective,

stressing that there is a single piece of glass.

The fourth sentence of the second paragraph contains seven prenominal unmarked

adjectives in English; two postnominal adjectives and four prenominal adjectives in Spanish.

“inmensa” “añosa” “macizos” and “sombrío” are all used in prenominal position to maintain

Poe’s original elevated tone. In Spanish, it is very rare to use premodifying adjectives, and

they typically are employed to create a poetic diction. All of the adjectives in this sentence

are used to enhance the characteristics of the noun rather than to merely describe the nouns.

Additionally, the unmarked position adjectives are used following the word “más” (más

extraños, más grotescos”) creating a parallel structure that is not used in the original version.

It is possible that Cortazar chose these structures to add rhythm to his description.

In the final sentence of the second paragraph, there are seven adjectives in unmarked

position in the Source Text. There are two postnominal and five prenominal adjectives in the

Target Text. “melancolica” is employed in prenominal position to enhance “relative

informativeness”, stressing the adjective which is new information in comparison to the

“boveda”, i.e. the characteristic is more important than the noun itself. In “sola cadena de

oro” the adjective sola is used in prenominal position as a limiting adjective, sola meaning

“single” instead of “alone”. “Largos eslabones” and “inmensos incensario” are used in a

similar way to “melancolica boveda”, emphasizing the new characteristics of the nouns, in

addition to sounding more poetic as it this type of construction is unusual in Spanish.



Contrary to our expectations, our analysis of both texts shows that Cortázar’s

translation uses more pre-nominal adjectives than post-nominal adjectives. Because of the

context in which they are used and the nature of the adjectives, we concluded that this might

be due to an attempt on Cortázar’s part to imitated Poe’s elevated language, which would

require the use of a less common syntax in Spanish. This could be due to the mimicry of

Poe’s structures and style –use of pre-nominals–, making use of formal correspondence in his

translation; however, it could also have to do with the effect that marked adjectives have in

the Spanish language, as they usually stress the characteristic of the noun through relative

informativeness. Pre-nominal adjectives also add a more poetic style to the text in Spanish,

mainly because they emphasize inherent information of the noun and add value judgement to

it, something that can be specially noticed in Ligeia’s description.



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University Press.

Hill, S. and Bradford, W. (2000). Bilingual grammar of English-Spanish syntax. Lanham

[etc.]: University Press of America.

Landers, C. (2001). Literary translation. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Malmkjær, K. (2010). The Translator's Choice. In S. Hunston & D. Oakey, Introducing

Applied Linguistics: Concepts and Skills (2nd ed., pp. 121 - 134). New York: Taylor

& Francis Group.

Membrives, E., Peinado, M., & Classen, A. (2012). Aspects of Literary Translation.

Tübingen: Narr Francke Attempto.

Munday, J. (2009). The Routledge Companion to Translation Studies. London: Routledge.

Newmark, P. (2009). The Linguistic and Communicative Stages in Translation Theory. In J.

Munday, The Routledge Companion to Translation Studies (1st ed., pp. 20 - 36). New

York: Taylor & Francis Group.

Poe, E., & Cortázar, J. (2002). Cuentos (4th ed.). Madrid: Alianza Editorial.

Solé, Y. and Solé, C. (1979). Modern Spanish syntax. Lexington,Mass.: Heath.


Appendix A

English and Spanish version of the first paragraph chosen, broken down into sentences.For

each language, adjectives in unmarked position are highlighted in pink, marked position

adjectives are highlighted in yellow and underlined. Predicative adjectives are highlighted in


1. There were the same luxurious smoothness of surface, the same scarcely
perceptible tendency to the aquiline, the same harmoniously curved nostrils speaking
the free spirit.
2. I regarded the sweet mouth. Here was indeed the triumph of all things heavenly —the
magnificent turn of the short upper lip —the soft, voluptuous slumber of the under —
the dimples which sported, and the color which spoke —the teeth glancing back, with
a brilliancy almost startling, every ray of the holy light which fell upon them in her
serene and placid, yet most exultingly radiant of all smiles.
3. I scrutinized the formation of the chin —and here, too, I found the gentleness of
breadth, the softness and the majesty, the fullness and the spirituality, of the Greek —
the contour which the god Apollo revealed but in a dream, to Cleomenes, the son of
the Athenian.
4. And then I peered into the large eyes of Ligeia.

1. Tenía la misma superficie plena y suave, la misma tendencia casi imperceptible a ser
aguileña, las mismas aletas armoniosamente curvas, que revelaban un espíritu libre.
2. Contemplaba la dulce boca. Allí estaba en verdad el triunfo de todas las cosas
celestiales: la magnífica sinuosidad del breve labio superior, la suave, voluptuosa
calma del inferior, los hoyuelos juguetones y el color expresivo; los dientes, que
reflejaban con un brillo casi sorprendente los rayos de la luz bendita que caían sobre
ellos en la más serena y plácida y, sin embargo, radiante, triunfal de todas las
3. Analizaba la forma del mentón y también aquí encontraba la noble amplitud, la
suavidad y la majestad, la plenitud y la espiritualidad de los griegos, el contorno que
el dios Apolo reveló tan sólo en sueños a Cleomenes, el hijo del ateniense.
4. Y entonces me asomaba a los grandes ojos de Ligeia.

Appendix B

English and Spanish version of the second paragraph chosen, broken down into sentences.

For each language, adjectives in unmarked position are highlighted in pink, marked position

adjectives are highlighted in yellow and underlined. Predicative adjectives are highlighted in


1. I have said that I minutely remember the details of the chamber —yet I am sadly
forgetful on topics of deep moment —and here there was no system, no keeping, in
the fantastic display, to take hold upon the memory.
2. The room lay in a high turret of the castellated abbey, was pentagonal in shape, and
of capacious size.
3. Occupying the whole southern face of the pentagon was the sole window — an
immense sheet of unbroken glass from Venice —a single pane, and tinted of a leaden
hue, so that the rays of either the sun or moon, passing through it, fell with a ghastly
lustre on the objects within.
4. Over the upper portion of this huge window, extended the trellice-work of an aged
vine, which clambered up the massy walls of the turret. The ceiling, of gloomy-
looking oak, was excessively lofty, vaulted, and elaborately fretted with the wildest
and most grotesque specimens of a semi-Gothic, semi-Druidical device.
5. From out the most central recess of this melancholy vaulting, depended, by a single
chain of gold with long links, a huge censer of the same metal, Saracenic in pattern,
and with many perforations so contrived that there writhed in and out of them, as if
endued with a serpent vitality, a continual succession of parti-colored fires.

1. He dicho que recuerdo minuciosamente los detalles de la cámara —yo, que

tristemente olvido cosas de profunda importancia— y, sin embargo, no había orden,
no había armonía en aquel lujo fantástico, que se impusieran a mi memoria.
2. La habitación estaba en una alta torrecilla de la abadía fortificada, era de forma
pentagonal y de vastas dimensiones.
3. Ocupaba todo el lado sur del pentágono la única ventana, un inmenso cristal de
Venecia de una sola pieza y de matiz plomizo, de suerte que los rayos del sol o de la
luna, al atravesarlo, caían con brillo horrible sobre los objetos.
4. En lo alto de la inmensa ventana se extendía el entejado de una añosa vid que trepaba
por los macizos muros de la torre. El techo, de sombrío roble, era altísimo,
abovedado y decorosamente decorado con los motivos más extraños, más grotescos,
de un estilo semigótico, semidruídico.
5. Del centro mismo de esa melancólica bóveda colgaba, de una sola cadena de oro de
largos eslabones, un inmenso incensario del mismo metal, en estilo sarraceno, con
múltiples perforaciones dispuestas de tal manera que a través de ellas, como dotadas
de la vitalidad de una serpiente, veíanse las contorsiones continuas de llamas