Abstract: In this article, grammatical forms in context are viewed as processual patterns of choice activity. A hierarchy of choice factors is presented, using the example of the present perfect forms in parallel translations from Russian into several languages. To ensure adequacy of comparison, the notions of grammatical contextual complex and universal grammatical integral are introduced and used as the required tertium comparationis . Particular attention is devoted to the interplay of universal and language-specific features in processes of grammatical choice in translation.
Résumé: Les formes grammaticales en contexte sont envisagées comme des modèles procéduraux d'une activité de choix. Une hiérarchie de facteurs sélectifs est établie à partir des formes du passé composé dans des traductions parallèles du russe en plusieurs langues. Pour assurer l'adéquation de la comparaison, on distingue les notions de complèxe grammatical contextuel et de constituant grammatical universel; ces deux notions servent de tertium comparationis. Les processus de choix grammaticaux en traduction impliquent une interaction entre des traits linguistiques universaux et ceux qui sont particuliers aux langues.
When speaking about a grammatical form, we usually regard it as a discrete element, which exists in the grammatical system of this or that language. The “rules” of the language in question determine the usage of this form, and the “rules” of translation define the ways of re-coding. It is in no way dubitable, so long as we are describing the already-written and already-translated texts. However, if we change the ‘point of view’, or the ‘position of observation’ from that of a describing linguist to that of a producer of the not-yet-written and the not-yet-translated texts (which is actually the position of a language user or of a translator), and if we try to see how exactly grammatical choices are made, we will find that a form never appears as an existing thing, or as a point in time, but rather as an event of choosing. This event is not governed by a rule or a set of rules with a definite ‘output’, but rather by various factors of a different nature, having different degrees of influence and priority. Thus, the grammatical forms, from the point of view of the language user or of the translator, do not 'exist', they 'happen', they develop in time as a process of making a choice.
Leaving aside the actual temporal sequence of producing a grammatical
element, we would like to dwell on the factors that influence the language
user's or translator's choice of grammatical forms. We will also try to
show the difference in the priority accorded to the respective factors,
not so much in terms of their temporal order as in terms of their relative
dominance and importance for the final choice.
0.1. The Role of Context in Grammatical Usage
Traditionally, the usage of the grammatical form is correlated with the context. Anyhow, every formal deterministic rule of the type CONTEXT A -> GRAMMATICAL FORM B (context A definitely implies the use of form B) leaves open the question: And who is, finally, the author of the context? Traditionally, context is regarded as an objective and even natural circumstances, given a priori to the speaker or translator, so that the question never arises. Even if the question were to be asked, the answer may seem puzzling: the speaker him-/herself is the author of both the context and the chosen grammatical form. The context is not given, it is created by the speaker while conceptualizing and coding his or her message. The actual grammatical usage thus turns out to be a process of choice activity seeking balance between at least two parameters, the aspect totally disregarded in the deterministic paradigm of traditional (and some modern) grammars.
In translation (we are taking only the grammatical side of the process) the outward situation is even more misleading: the first step towards balance (situational conceptualization) has already been taken by the author of the source text. So the situational and - to a high degree - contextual background seems to be provided initially for the translator. Nevertheless, re-coding is only a part of translation activity; the latter also includes monolingual understanding, occurring prior to re-coding. The translator first has to be the receiver of the message, and only then does s/he change his or her role to become the sender of the re-coded message. It might turn out to be more efficient to regard the overall process of interlingual communication (translation in the broad sense of the term) not purely as a deterministic response to source language stimuli with target language means, but as part of the integral probabilistic choice activity which is effectuated with the aim of striking a balance between several factors of various rank and range.
Thus, there appear to be two aspects to the use of a grammatical
form as a processual pattern of choice activity. One may center on the
multiple possibilities of translating one and the same utterance, or part
of an utterance (grammatical form in context, in particular). The other
might take into consideration the variety of choice factors in the actual
grammatical activity of a speaking/writing/translating subject. The first
aspect is essentially deterministic and straightforward: a situation stimulus
or contextual position implies one or a limited number of grammatical choices,
i.e. a -> b, if a, then b. The second, however, seems
to fall outside of the deterministic paradigm, drawing closer to
the probabilistic nature of linguistic activity.
1. The Process of Grammatical Choice
Many years ago Wilhelm von Humboldt claimed that understanding in communication is limited to the point where two cones meet. Each cone represents the microuniverse of one of the participants in the process of communication, or consensual interaction, in Humberto Maturana’s terminology ( Maturana 1970: 50-55). A linguistic sign (a grammatical form) taken statically, can be regarded as an intermediary, Vermittler, within a consensual domain between two interacting systems (microuniverses) of the speaker and the receiver of the message (Humboldt 1851: 54-55). Dynamically, this intermediary point turns into a universe, a continuum of its own. It reflects a grammatical process, and if we observe grammar in real time parameters (Yurchenko 1994: 8-9; 1995: 15-18) each grammatical unit will display different time perspectives, depending on the point of view of the observer: the sign to be used by the speaker - and the sign already used, the sign to be understood by the receiver - and the sign already understood, etc. Each communication participant interprets his or her own role in the overall grammatical process, trying to find consensual balance between counteracting factors, and not just mechanically ‘obeying the rules’.
The speaker, as an acting linguistic subject, in his or her attempt
to find a [temporary] balance between what s/he would like to express,
and what s/he would like his or her interlocutor, the hearer, to understand,
faces a menu of options, a graded set of possible choices, which is close
to the widely used concept of functional field (grammatical, lexical,
and contextual means of conveying a certain grammatical idea or covering
a certain ‘domain of meaning’) (Bondarko 1975; 1987: 11-13). This field
has a hierarchical structure in two senses. Materially and statically,
the grammatical means (or rather grammatical event patterns) as discrete
units are distributed between the center (more probable choice)
and the periphery (less probable choice). Processually, the hierarchy
of choice factors within the field (as well as between the fields) can
be graded into several steps of different priority.
1.1. Grammatical Choice in Translation
In re-coding (translating) a grammatical categorial situation (part of an utterance) with the help of the target-language means, a translator is also engaged in a probabilistic activity of choosing from a sui generis ‘field of possible means of translation’. This field includes not only grammatized forms, but also other means from different levels of language structure which could be correlated with the functional potential of the grammatical form in the source language. Due to asymmetry in form and content between different languages, we have to take, as a minimum basic unit of comparison and translation, a unit smaller than a complete sentence (which includes at least two grammatical events), but bigger than a separate grammatical form or a discrete contextual element.
We define this optimal unit as a grammatical contextual complex (GCC) which correlates with a [presumably] universal grammatical integral. The latter is defined as a universal functional type, a functional (semantic) integrity on the universal scale, or within a universal semantic domain. The following formula reflects the structure of GCC in a particular language:
( 1 ) Russ. Po nebu polunochi angel letel (Lermontov) //
Grammatical integrals and GCCs may also suggest a pattern which could
embrace not only inter-, but also intralinguistic variation. Variants of
translation, formerly named as static, can also be included into the field
of choices with more or less probable preference factors. Intra- and interlinguistic
variants of representing the universal grammatical integrals can be deduced
from the GCC formula by means of ‘subtractive generation’. The latter
implies posissibilities of zero representation of GCC components in specific
languages, and thus can embrace both overt and covert (latent) grammatical
means in every language. In fact, the GCC and the grammatical integral
seem to form the only possible theoretical foundation and tertium
comparationis in language contrasts. Translation, then, is one of
the instances in language contrasts, and grammatical translation in particular,
is effectuated only within the GCC, and not within a whole utterance or
at the level of a separate grammatical form. The GCC is a minimal (the
optimal?) consensual domain of interlinguistic contact (contrast) and interaction
of variants and levels.
2. Choice Hierarchy
The strategic guidelines in the choice hierarchy (the factors of choice) seem to be analogous in different languages, in procedure at least, if not in content. They may be outlined as follows: (1) textual (or stylistic) background; (2) general situational background; (3) categorial background; (4) contextual background; (5) lexical background.
The universality of choice factors (in content) diminishes with their
rank number, i.e. choice factors of a lower order seem to be more language-specific.
It should also be noted again that if in monolingual communication nobody
predetermines anything for the speaker (situational conceptualization,
etc.), in the process of translation we take the first stages for granted.
The mediating translator is in a more ‘advantageous’ position than the
original speaker/ writer/ sender: s/he presumably knows what to say, at
least to the extent that s/he has understood the original text. So, s/he
has a [the?] starting point, which is the original text, and all the choices
s/he makes refer to a new text, constructed by him/her using the target
language, and following the conceptualization and categorization lines
of the writer of the original. It is exactly at this point that his or
her ‘advantages’ turn into problems. S/he has to find relatively adequate
[grammatical] means of conveying the same idea as in the original. Fortunately,
linguistic relativity is not a powerful monster to hamper and stop altogether
the process of transcoding. Besides, the translator has also a very strong
friend in the face of universal grammatical integrals and universal grammatical
[semantic] zones, functions and their clusters, etc. As it has been stated
by many researchers, universal features are responsible for translatability.
Perhaps that is why translation studies and universal grammar go hand in
hand and can supply mutually helpful results.
2.1. Choice Factors for the Present Perfect
To exemplify the suggested model for the hierarchy of choice factors
in the grammatical side of translation process, let us take a closer look
at factors of choice which lead to the use of the present perfect form.
We are drawing on a corpus of parallel translations of Russian literary
and technical texts into several languages which possess a form of this
type in the overt grammar. We shall restrict our main commentary to the
English language, just for the sake of economy.
2.1.1. Textual and Stylistic Background
For many grammatical forms (events), if not for all of them, it is very important to take into consideration the factors external to the situational/conceptualizational ones, namely factors referring to units wider than a separate utterance. The textual sequence of verbal forms, article hierarchy, etc. fall into the concept of textual interrelations, Textpartitur (Weinrich 1969: 66-67; Schopf 1984: 404-407), general (stylistic) textual register. For the present perfect the most relevant of these seems to be the antinomy of Erzählung / Besprechung (story-telling/speaking about) in Weinrich’s conception of text grammar (1977: 18-21, 57). Hierarchically, these factors seem to rank higher in order of preference than the situational ones. Situational factors refer to one utterance (or, rather, to one GCC), while the textual register is ‘switched on’ for the whole text (portion of the text). The textual register Erzählung (author’s story in literary texts) switches the speaker/writer to the menu which does not include the present perfect as an option (in English), whereas the menu of Besprechung does. Actually, in the author’s remarks in a literary text there are some instances when a dialogue between him/her and a possible reader is implied. These fragments of Besprechung within the framework of the author’s story can use the present perfect as an option. It should be stressed that this feature in the way it is described here is peculiar to the English language and the English present perfect. In other languages preferences may be different, though the framework of Erzählung / Besprechung remains. The difference lies in the third-rank factor which is more language-specific.
2.1.2. General Situational Background
The notion of general situational background suggests defining the situation as perfect or non-perfect (Kashkin 1991: 38-47). This is one of the primary ‘objective’ factors for the translator, all the rest being more or less ‘subjective’, or rather, consensual. This objectivity nevertheless corresponds to the subjective motivation of this or that choice in the original author, which can be reflected in the nearest text. It serves as a positive starting point for the translator. Situative motivation could often be found in the broader context, reflecting the subjective value of the previous verbal action for the [original] speaker/writer at his or her present moment. We could name about ten motivational subtypes for the present perfect: visible result of a previous action (2); consequent action in the present (3) or in the future (4); change in emotional state; logical deduction; compassion, etc.
( 2 ) Russ. Liza, Liza, podi suda posmotri, kakogo karasya ya poymala (Turgenev)//
220.127.116.11. The paradigmatic menu is a factor of typological order, and with the present perfect the problem is formulated very simply: Does the paradigm of the target language include a grammatized form to denote the relevant grammatical situation or it does not? With the English language the answer will be in the affirmative, but with some other languages (such as Hungarian or Polish, or Russian, if it becomes the target language for translating from English) we would have to turn to other verbal forms, as well as to the non-grammatized and contextual periphery since the verbal paradigm in these languages does not include a separate form for the present perfect (see example 5 below).
18.104.22.168. The functional typology (of the present perfect) is based on the universal functional potential of the integrated semantic dimension ‹PRESENT PERFECT› . The functional types or grammatical integrals within this transcendental universal category are fully or partly represented in the verbal paradigm of a specific language. Direct formal representation in a language-specific verbal form can also equal zero. In languages with zero and with partial representation, the semantic complex ‹PRESENT PERFECT› and its functional types are not lost, in any case. The representation of this (or any other) semantic dimension is distributed between the constituents of what we have called the GCC, and - significantly - can be restored in formal means when translating into languages with direct formal representation. Typologically, we are dealing here with overt and covert grammatical representation of universal (transcendental) semantic dimensions. Grammatical integrals and types of language-specific GCCs serve as tertium comparationis in language contrasts (translation being one of contrast types), since no discrete formal means in a specific language can be absolutely equal to any (even analogous) means in another language (Kashkin 1991:14-16).
Russian is exactly a case where the universal semantic domain ‹PRESENT PERFECT› finds zero representation in formal means. The functional types pertaining to this domain find their way ‘out to the surface‘ in GCCs with simple past (perfective and non-perfective aspect) or some other verbal forms, aided by the meanings of the verbal lexeme (terminative/non-terminative, etc.) and the contextual elements (adverbials, etc.). Some authors list more than twenty ways of representing the semantic domain in question with Russian covert grammar means (Stepanov 1981: 344-346).
Not all of the universal functional types belonging to the domain ‹PRESENT PERFECT› are represented formally even in English, though we designated the universal domain with an English grammatical term, since the English present perfect form is very close to the transcendental ‹PRESENT PERFECT› . Some of the functional types within this domain take other verbal forms, and some find a restricted representation in the English present perfect form.
Thus, in English (as well as in Spanish) we generally do not find the functional type ‹DISTANT PRESENT PERFECT› , and there is a strong ban on combining the present perfect form with adverbial modifiers of punctual time localization in the subjectively distant past. The case is different with the analogous forms in German, French and Italian where the distant functional type retains the present perfect form (5).
( 5 ) Russ. Vchera
v'echerom ty ne vid'el moyey sem'i: polubuys'a
||Engl. Yesterday evening you did not see my family, now you can admire them// Sp. Anoche no viste a mi famiglia; aquí la tienes//||Germ. Gestern Abend hast du meine Familie nicht gesehen, nun schau sie dir einmal an// Fr. Voici ma petite famille, tu ne l’as pas vue hier soir// It. Tu non hai visto la mia famiglia hiersera, ebbene, guardala ora//|
( 6 ) Russ. Ya tolko
odnogo vas i molila u boga ves' den'
||Germ. Den ganzen Tag über habe ich gebeten// Fr. J’ai prié toute la journée// It. Non ho fatto altro che pregare//|
( 7 ) Have you ever tested it in these conditions?
= Vy kogda-libo proveryali yego v etikh usloviyakh?
( 8 ) You have known for a long time.
= Sami davno znaete...
( 9 ) As soon as I've saved enough money, I'll go there.
= Kak tolko ya skopl’u dostatochno deneg, ya poedu tuda.
This is primarily due to non-isomorphic paradigmatic correspondences between these two languages. If we are speaking of more than two languages, this disparity becomes infinite. It is partly for this reason that we have to apply the transcendental universal model (universal semantic dimension — grammatical integrals or functional types — language specific GCCs) as a tertium comparationis for language contrasts, and translation in particular.
2.1.4. Contextual Background
Though in general the context itself is produced by the speaker/writer, the producer of a translated text has at his/her disposal some contextual elements as given in the original. The contextual elements can serve as constraints in choosing this or that grammatical form. As for the English present perfect, the most frequently noted constraint is that of incompatibility with the adverbial modifier of punctual time. This is also a logical and a categorial constraint, related to the semantic essence of the perfect: indefinite localization in the past. That is why the dates and the wh-question words (when, where, who) adhere to punctual adverbial modifiers, though this factor may sometimes surrender to more powerful factors of situational background and subjective conceptualization.
It should be stressed again that the choice factor model does not work as a deterministic algorithm, at least it is not a fully deterministic one. If contextual constraints can preclude the choice of the present perfect form in certain ‘forbidden’ contexts, there are, as it seems, no contexts which force the speaker/translator to use the present perfect or any other form. Thus, adverbial modifiers of non-distant past and of non-localized time do not necessarily demand the present perfect form, as it is sometimes implied in grammar manuals where one is trained to respond with this form to these contextual stimuli; sometimes the simple past or present are a very possible variant of choice. By the way, it has been noted by several authors that English-speaking Russians (and even professional translators of literary texts) tend to overuse the present perfect form. This ‘hyperperfectization’ of the translated text can be regarded as ‘grammatical accent’ and is certainly due to deterministic overestimation of ‘objective’ factors in the process of grammatical choice.
We can draw some strategic inference from the above. First, there is always a certain degree of freedom of choice. Second, subjective factors of situational conceptualization have always the final word. Third, there are no ‘rules and exceptions’; there is freedom of grammatical action and freedom of choice, which are counteracted by certain constraints on grammatical processes. Freedom of choice is clearly seen in those peripheral zones of the overall semantic dimension, where there are no constraints and where two or more variants are possible (10). Each particular choice, though, provides particular nuances. The latter is most evidently seen in those situations of generic reference where either the indefinite, or the definite, or likewise zero article form could be used, though each of the articles adds a particular ‘flavor’: abstractness with the zero, exemplarity with the indefinite and qualitative totality with the definite article form.
( 10 ) Kakoe eto vy promolvili slovo (Turgenev)
= you have just said // = you just said
2.1.5. Lexical Background
Lexical background or lexematic filling of the form within the GCC may be considered the factor of choice of the lowest degree. As an example, some lexical groups of verbs which display reluctance to combine with the present perfect form in English can be cited by way of example. Thus, verbs describing speech events in non-rhematic usage are preferably in the simple past (11) even if the contextual factors speak for the present perfect form. At the same time, when the action itself is moved into the focus of the speaker’s attention, the choice of the present perfect form is more probable (12).
( 11 ) On skazal (mne segodn'a), chto my dolzhny uyti.
= He said that we must go. (He told me today that we must go).
( 12 ) Itak, ty eto skazal!..
= So, you have said it! (pronounced, uttered etc.)
In other languages this factor also holds, though groups of verbs
(and words) are certainly language-specific in each particular case. So
again we have to admit the universal strategic principle which takes into
consideration the lexical background as a factor of choice, while actual
realization differs from language to language. And again, there is freedom
to ‘break the rules’ for the sake of the factors of higher rank, perhaps
reflecting the way the functional potential of a grammatical form develops
in a specific language.
3. The Grammatical Unit of Translation
The center, around which the factors of grammatical choice operate,
has to be a unit which is translated or re-coded. It has already been stressed
that this cannot be a separate grammatical form. On the other hand, since
we are speaking about choosing grammatical forms or about grammatical event
patterns, this unit has to be smaller than a simple sentence which is a
sequence or a complex of grammatical events. That is why in constructing
a model for grammatical actions and for translation activity in the domain
of grammar, we have to refer to the GCC, which is a minimal part of an
utterance relevant for the performance of a particular functional type.
The GCC includes the nearest relevant grammatical context reflecting the
situational factors of grammatical choice. At the same time, it is only
within the framework of the GCC that the process of re-coding (translation)
can be modeled at the optimum level. It is neither the minimum level (of
forms), nor the maximum level (of complete simple sentences). The optimum
level reflects actual linguistic activity, whereas the minimum refers to
its formal representation and is somewhat sub-linguistic, and the maximum
extends beyond the boundaries of linguistic activity and is somewhat extralinguistic.
3.1. Grammatical Integrals
Moreover, the GCCs of specific languages correspond to transcendental
grammatical integrals which do not change between languages. Elementary
grammatical senses within these integrals are distributed between specific
language means and re-distributed in translation within the framework of
GCCs. Striking examples of this phenomenon can be illustrated by parallel
translations from a language with zero formal representation of the relevant
grammatical category into languages where this category is presented in
the overt grammar (13). Translators practically never fail to recognize
the necessary event patterns, which becomes even more striking if we take
into consideration the fact that the translations included in our corpus
were done independently, in different time periods, and are repeated in
thousands of instances with many grammatical phenomena (not only with the
articles or the present perfect).
The GCC seems to be not only a convenient practical model for translation,
but also a theoretical concept which correlates language-specific and transcendental
phenomena. By transcendental here we refer to phenomena which cannot be
seen directly either in each particular language, or in actual translation
practice, but which are the underlying basis of these processes. The transcedental
(or, in other words, universal) phenomena can unite all languages on one
basis at the level of grammar. Elementary grammatical senses, united in
the universal grammatical integral are distributed among specific language
means within the GCCs and redistributed between the GCC constituents in
translation, while the transcendental grammatical integral (or the functional
type) remains constant. Strategical guidelines for the choice processes
in grammatical activity are also constant and universal, forming a hierarchy
of choice factors, though factors of lower rank are more subject to
3.2. Choice Factors in Coding and in Translation
The above-mentioned hierarchy of choice factors works symmetrically
in both coding and decoding, these activities being the roles of the two
main participants in the communication process: the speaker/writer and
the hearer/reader. The speaker is seeking balance between his or her intention
and planned adequate understanding of his or her intention by the speaker.
The balance lies in the language means s/he chooses. The hearer/reader
is aiming at restoring the intention of the speaker via the language means.
The translator has, in fact, to combine both roles: first s/he is the receiver,
and second, s/he is the sender of a re-coded message. S/he has to correlate
the understood intention of the source-language speaker with a possible
interpretation of the receiver via a consensual domain of more or less
adequate grammatical means in the target language. S/he has to deal with
a field of possible translation choices, a field of possible grammatical
event patterns united on the basis of an interlinguistic consensual domain
of universal semantic dimensions.
The present article did not touch upon many other factors of a social, cultural, and even personal and other nature which may influence choices in the grammatical behavior of the speaker (translator), but we are just in search of a possible theory of translation, and a search is also a process... We shall try to draw some methodological conclusions to finish the present stage in that process.
There exists a somewhat mythical belief, shared not only by naive
language users, but also by some professional translators and foreign language
users, that there should be one ‘ultimate’ correct translation of each
particular sentence. Even when variants are outwardly admitted, this prejudice
goes down to the level of the subconscious and hampers methodologically
the training of interpreters and translators, as well as their subsequent
practical activity. Though actual language contrasts and linguistic research
have taught those who have to deal with languages, that the situation is
somehow less deterministic, this view still subsists and finds additional
support in the present-day systems of grammatical training based on the
concept of ‘rules and exceptions’.
4.1. Methodological inference
Actually, in language as a semiotic system deterministic relations are not basic, the key equation in language being not that of implication: a -> b, if a, then b, but that of arbitrary consensual correspondence: a - - b, if a, then let it be [denoted by] b. The viewpoint which has been criticized up to now is non-dynamic; it regards a linguistic sign as an existing thing. But in fact, linguistic signs (grammatical forms, in particular) do not exist, they happen or occur. This means that a linguistic sign is not an object in the usual sense of the term (‘words’ in texts or in dictionaries are secondary or even tertiary), it is a pattern of subjective linguistic activity of language users. It seems more appropriate to consider grammatical forms as grammatical actions, events, or event patterns, i.e. as more or less stable attractors in which the randomness of linguistic activity assumes a certain non-random shape.
Linguistic signs are centers of consensual balance between opposite
forces and principles: arbitrariness vs. motivation, speaker’s intention
vs. hearer’s inference, deterministic rules vs. freedom of choice, etc.
These contradictory principles can hardly be explained statically. It is
only in admitting the concept of linguistic actions, that it becomes possible
to balance processually the interaction between the opposites. The
sign in this model ceases to be an object, a point in space and time. It
assumes two processual stages: the not-yet-used sign and
the already-used sign. From this point of view, the sign-to-be-used
is at the highest degree of speaker’s intention, combined with some prognosis
of the hearer’s inference. When the sign has been used, the priorities
are inverted: the hearer’s inferences are aimed at restoring the speaker’s
intention (Figure 1). In both cases we have a plurality of choices
governed by a hierarchy of factors: first for the speaker, second for the
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