A contrastive-linguistic and translation study of non-prototypical agents in subject position

Start - End 
2010 - 2014 (ongoing)
Type 
Department(s) 
Department of Translation, Interpreting and Communication
Department of Linguistics
Research Focus 

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Abstract

Prototypically, traditional approaches to the semantic description of verbal arguments assign a special participant role to each argument in relation to the verb, each of which have typical – though not exclusive – matches with grammatical functions. The three participants of English action verbs for instance, can be identified syntactically as the Subject (Su), the Direct Object (Do) and the Indirect Object (Io) and are matched to semantic roles such as the Agent (Ag), the Theme (Th) and the Recipient (Rec). Cross-linguistically, languages show similar preferences for the grammatical subject of a sentence typically taking the semantic role of Agent or related animate semantic roles, e.g. Experiencer and Recipient, whereas the object typically carries the role of Patient or Theme (Comrie, 1989: 107). However, languages do differ in terms of the number of restrictions on mapping non-human/animate agents as subjects of verb phrases denoting actions. While the options are not limitless, English is one of the languages that has a fairly broad range of different semantic roles that can occur in subject position with subjects that lack typical features (e.g. volition, intention and sentience, see Dowty 1991). Vandepitte and Hartsuiker (2011), however, have shown that there are fewer options in Dutch and that translation issues present themselves in cases where both languages do not overlap. This PhD analyses overlap and differences in terms of non-prototypical subject realization by focussing on the strategies that are used in Dutch translations. Intermediate results reveal that a fair share of non-human subjects are also translated as such in the target language, while other strategies include occasional humanization of the non-human source text subjects, reduction of valency patterns with reduced agentivity vis-à-vis the English source-text sentences and shifts in the mapping of semantic roles onto syntactic functions.

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