Translation as Rational Communication

Project B7

Project B7 focuses on the specific linguistic properties of translation, i.e. non-randomly-occurring linguistic features that distinguish translations from original productions. Such properties are commonly referred to as “translationese” and emerge through the translation- inherent dilemma of ensuring source language fidelity while adhering to target language rules and norms. Our overarching research question is to what extent translationese effects can be described and explained in an information-theoretic framework of rational communication. Our approach is corpus-based using selected computational language models and information-theoretic measures including surprisal and entropy to assess translationese effects. Adopting an information-theoretic perspective on translationese is a novel idea and promises new insights into the general mechanisms underlying translation.
In the first project phase our focus was on comparable corpora, i.e. records of translations, both written and spoken (interpreting), and comparable (in-domain), original productions in the target language, which we built specifically from European Parliament data. We employed selected information-theoretic measures to compare models of different translation modes (interpreting vs. translation), expertise (professionals vs. learners) and languages (German, English, Spanish). Across all our studies, we found that interpreting overemphasizes features of oral, online production and translation overemphasizes features of planned, written discourse.
In the next project phase, we embark on explaining our descriptive findings on rational communication grounds. First, we plan to extend our modelling efforts with a memory component and analyse the interplay between memory and surprisal for an overall mechanistic explanation of translationese. Specifically, we expect that some translationese features are associated with the attempt to optimize working memory, especially in a high-pressure situation like simultaneous interpreting. We will investigate selected linguistic phenomena that we found to be involved in translationese/interpretese in more detail in terms of surprisal and the interplay of memory and surprisal, including vocabulary and syntactic biases, use of specific discourse markers (connectives, particles) and (co-)reference patterns as well as disfluencies (interpreting). Second, we gear linguistic analysis to the translation relation proper because this is where explanations of translationese effects must ultimately be sought, complementing results from comparable corpora with analysis of parallel corpora to micro-inspect possible triggers in the source language for specific target language choices, thus bringing in a contrastive-linguistic/typological perspective.

Keywords: human translation