Focus Lecture FLC2018: Elaine Espindola

Interdisciplinary dimensions: Systemic functional linguistics and translation competences

Elaine Espindola
Universidade Federal da Paraíba



The practice of translating is as old as the human civilization (Baker, 1998: 277). However, the academic discipline as such dates back to the 70’s when Holmes (1972) proposed the term of Translation Studies to include studies of various forms of translation (literary and non-literary, for instance) as well as forms of interpreting studies. Since then, the area of Translation Studies has been seen as an empirical discipline concerned with the many phenomena of translation and translating. Within the categorization Holmes (ibid) proposed, Translation Studies is subdivided into two fields, that of Pure and Applied Translation. The author states that while the former is concerned with Descriptive and Theoretical Translation, responsible for describing the translational phenomena, the latter devotes efforts to explain the phenomena of translating. One may then say that on the one side there is the interface with fields like Cultural Studies while on the other side Applied Translation Studies rely more on fields such as Linguistic Studies.

A cultural approach to Translation Studies can shed light on the analysis of particular translation practices as Cultural Studies is the academic discipline consisting of a conglomerate of “a diverse body of work from different locations concerned with the critical analysis of cultural forms and processes in contemporary and near-contemporary societies” (Green, 1996:125). The composite theoretical framework deriving from the association of concepts from the two disciplines – Cultural & Translation Studies – have provided fruitful insights into translation practices. The term linguistic approach to translation is defined as “any approach which views translation as simply a question of replacing the linguistic units of ST with equivalent TL units without reference to factors such as context or connotation” (Shuttleworth & Cowie, 1997: 94) (italics added). This definition diminishes the concept of ‘linguistic approaches’ to a homogenized and monolithic principle that may cause resemblance with formal linguistics. The semantics of the simplistic replacement of linguistic units conveys a view of translation equating it to a mere substitutive operation. However, “one’s view of the role of linguistics in translation (practice or theory) will depend, among other things, on what linguistics is referred to” (Ivir, 1996: 151). In the case of this talk, the linguistics referred to – Systemic Functional Linguistics/SFL – does not see language as a formal system, but as a system of social semiotics that establishes a ‘close connection between the linguistic system and other semiotic systems’ (Butler, 1988: 96) extending it to include the cultural system.

This paper will look into texts from above (Context of Culture), from round about (Context of Situation) and from below (lexico-grammar) to explore the extent to which translating to a non-mother tongue may have implications in terms of reconstructing an equivalent target text that carries the same semantic load (Lavid, Arús & Zamorano, 2010) when compared to its original text. This methodology can help not only learners, but teachers in identifying and focusing on whatever aspects of language in use are in most need by language students (translation, second and/or foreign language). Thus, the investigation of non-mother tongue translation practices can lead to guidelines for effective production of a foreign language text. In unveiling the meaning making of a language as a modeling system of reality(ies) (Espindola, 2010) along lines suggested by SFL, the dilemma of non-mother tongue translation/production will be elucidated by revealing the necessary competences a second/foreign language writer needs to possess for an effective production of a foreign text.



Elaine Espindola has an MA and a PhD in Linguistics from Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina – UFSC, and has carried out her Posdoctoral Fellowship at The Hong Kong Polytechnic Unviersity, working under the supervision of Professor Christian M.I.M. Matthiessen. She has worked as a Language Instructor at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, later at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso, and currently she is as Assistant Professor at Universidade Federal da Paraíba. Her research focuses on Systemic Functional Linguistics; Teacher Training, Translation Studies and Text typology.

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