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Review of Introducing Corpora in Translation Studies
Annelie Ädel, English Language Institute, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Maeve Olohan's "Introducing Corpora in Translation Studies" is an introductory work that explains how the analysis of corpus data can make a contribution to the study of translation. Its primary audience is "those who are familiar with translation studies but not corpora" (p. 1), but it is clearly also of interest to those who already use corpora. It deals with the role of corpora in three areas of translation studies: (i) translation studies research, (ii) translator training and (iii) translation practice. For an indication of how firmly the focus is placed on the first of these, we might note that only 8 pages are dedicated to (ii) and 14 to (iii) out of a total of 192 pages. The book documents the early years of corpora in translation studies (originating with Mona Baker's 1993 book) and "gives an insight into some of the difficulties and achievements" (p. 1) so far.
Chapter 1 introduces translation studies research. It begins with a discussion of "the lack of consideration or relative invisibility of the translator" (p. 4) and ends with an overview of recent theoretical approaches taken in translation studies. The author makes it clear that she finds it more fruitful to consider the corpus-based approach a methodology than to consider it a "paradigm" of its own. Chapter 2 gives a brief introduction to corpus linguistics and descriptive translation studies. It then summarises recent translation research that has made use of corpus-linguistic tools.
Chapters 3 and 4 deal with parallel and comparable corpora, respectively. Chapter 3 is critical of the way in which parallel corpora have traditionally been used in contrastive linguistics. In Olohan's analysis, instead of showing interest in the translation process per se, researchers have considered the translations in the corpus "first and foremost a reflection of the possibilities offered by the target language system" (p. 24). In chapter 4, the use of comparable corpora in translation studies is reviewed, with special attention given to research that aims to find universal features of translated language (according to Baker's original suggestion in 1995). The kind of comparable corpus work discussed here "argues in favour of studying translations without looking directly at source texts or at the relationship between source and target text" (p. 43).
Chapter 5 is about corpus design, especially as it applies to translation studies. It also gives a range of practical advice on corpus compilation, even paying attention to the often neglected issue of copyright and difficulties in obtaining permissions. The chapter does not go into much technical detail. Alignment, for example, is treated quite briefly. Olohan ends the chapter by turning our attention to six different corpora used in translation studies research, by summing up the design criteria used.
Chapter 6 generally describes corpus tools and data analysis. Like most introductory textbooks on corpus linguistics, it describes phenomena like concordances and POS-tags. It also provides some simple quantitative measures, primarily frequency lists, type/token ratio and keywords. It is understandable that the author wishes to give the intended audience a basic introduction to primarily monolingual corpus tools, but the next edition will hopefully include more than a page on tools that directly apply to translation studies.
Chapters 7 and 8 summarise previous and current corpus-based research in translation studies. Chapter 7 revolves around the idea that translated language is "characterized by specific, identifiable features that may be related to the nature of the translation activity itself" (p. 90). The features of translation on which the author focusses are explicitation, normalization, simplification and "levelling-out" (all suggested by Baker in the mid-1990s). Olohan also includes four of her own case studies to illustrate in more detail how corpus-linguistic methods can be used to explore these features. Chapter 8, entitled "Translators, style and ideology", primarily gives suggestions for how to use corpora to analyse a translator's style, briefly reviewing some of the literature on stylometry and stylistics. The ideology aspect is merely touched upon. Two of the author's own case studies conclude the chapter, which look at contraction patterns and lexical choices using keyword analysis.
Chapters 9 and 10 shift the focus from theory and research methods to useful applications for students of translation and professional translators. The chapters are aptly called "Corpora in translator training" and "Corpora in translation practice". The former focuses on suggestions for the use of parallel and comparable corpora by students and teachers of translation. The latter gives examples of how corpus methods can be used in technical as well as literary translation. It also gives a brief outline of corpus availability on the internet.
The three-page Conclusion is used to highlight some of the "more salient issues raised in the volume and touch upon potential future developments in the use of corpora in translation studies" (p. 190). Here, Olohan brings up the necessity of building corpora of translation for a larger number of languages. She also concedes that her book "will appear to have foregrounded research into literary translation" (p. 191) and goes on to motivate why this should be the case. Olohan draws attention to the fact that corpus-based studies of translation overwhelmingly deal with contemporary texts and encourages diachronic perspectives on translation studies research, specifically in order to explore the influence of norms. She goes on to argue that there is "still scope for continued cross-fertilization" (p. 191) between translation studies and other disciplines, giving stylometric methods as a prominent example of a discipline that has contributed to studies of translator style. Another promising method that Olohan draws attention to is the "dual approach" (p. 192) of combining findings from comparable and parallel corpus analyses.
The final point Olohan highlights in the Conclusion is that finding richer causal models (involving the formulation and testing of explanatory and predictive hypotheses) is both desirable and achievable, but only if we combine corpus techniques with other analytical tools: "we need to study not just the texts but the translation situation, from perspectives that are social, cultural, historical, political, cognitive, and so on" (p. 192).
All chapters end with a brief passage of recommendations for further reading. The majority of chapters also include a final section called "Discussion and research points". There is also a three-page glossary, which, although helpful, is surprisingly brief (there is, for example, no definition of a comparable or parallel corpus). Also, judging from the lack of consistency in the definitions, the glossary would have benefitted from further editing.
Olohan's textbook will, no doubt, be a "must read" not just among researchers in translation studies interested in corpus methods, but also among corpus linguists interested in translation. Reading this book is an excellent way to get up do date with recent developments in the use of corpus methodology in translation studies. The chapter on corpus design is a particularly excellent introduction with plenty of good advice and tips for the amateur corpus compiler. Not surprisingly, references to Olohan 2004 are already showing up in other publications in the field, such as Aijmer & Alvstad (2005:1) who argue that "[t]he methods of corpus linguistics and the use of corpora have become an [...] important tool in translation studies reflecting the growth of computer technologies and the use of corpora in general linguistics (Laviosa 2002, Olohan 2004)".
On the whole, the discussion and research points that end every chapter address relevant and useful issues. Only occasionally do the questions extend much beyond the book itself, as in the case of a question about identifying "points at which translation studies adopted ideas, theories and methods from contrastive linguistics" (p. 34). The question is raised despite the fact that contrastive linguistics is not described in any systematic way, which makes it impossible to answer without more background from some other source. Also, I find somewhat ungenerous the fact that contrastive linguistics is dealt with from the perspective of no more than one article (Altenberg 1998).
The chapter on corpus tools and data analysis mainly deals with general concordancing tools for monolingual corpora. There is only one page of running text on bilingual concordancing (p. 75) in particular, which is surprising. Even semantic prosody is given more space, although it is not treated from a translation perspective at all. The final section on statistics will probably also leave most readers wondering whether any particularly useful measures exist that apply to translation. In other words, the chapter could have been more targeted to translation. As it stands, only 3 pages out of 28 deal directly with translation.
Several case studies from the author's work in progress are presented in chapter 7. These studies are generally interesting and the budding corpus-using translation researcher will doubtless find plenty of food for thought here. Only occasionally do the case studies make the chapter (by far the longest chapter of the book) seem overly rich in information. For example, the chapter confusingly re-uses the same table three times (7.7, 7.11, 7.17), instead of referring back to one single table.
The chapter on corpora in translator training is only 8 pages long, which makes it the shortest chapter of the book. It would have been highly interesting to have more background here. For example, a discussion of questions like "How widely used are corpora in translator training?" and "Are they becoming the norm?" would have been useful.
The chapter on corpora in translation practice contains a section called "Web as corpus", which takes a somewhat naive approach. The only argument mentioned against using the web as a corpus is that the "results will not appear in a format appropriate for browsing linguistic data" (p. 184). Fundamental issues in corpus design are conspicuously absent, like representativeness, reliability (the extent to which an investigation yields the same results on repeated trials) and verifiability (whether other researchers who have access to your material can verify or falsify your results), which enable researchers to make generalizations about language use. Related to this overly insouciant view of what a corpus is is another point that I would have liked to see discussed more, namely, the claim that a translation memory "may be regarded as a type of parallel corpus" (p. 187). This is misleading from the point of view of (attempted) representativeness being a basic characteristic of a corpus, as defined by corpus linguists. A translation memory does have aligned sentences in two different languages, but the resemblance to an actual linguistic corpus basically ends there.
The book shows a laudable awareness of the common Anglo- American bias in corpus linguistics and explicitly states a desire to spread the use of corpora to a larger number of languages. The latter is emphasised as a "salient issue" in the book--it is important that "we continue to expand the languages for which we build corpora for translation" (p. 190)--although such statements are more or less restricted to the Conclusion. Chapter 10 does include a section on the "availability of corpus resources worldwide", but it gives a fairly insular impression in that only the UK and the main languages relevant to the situation in the UK are mentioned.
The absence of any discussion of machine translation (MT) is noteworthy. MT is a large area of corpus application on the basis of number of translations performed, yet it is only mentioned twice--in passing. Of course, Olohan is certainly not the only culprit in this respect and, considering that translation studies is an emerging field, with the use of corpora being particularly recent ("spanning no more than ten years", 1), it is to be expected that there will be discussion regarding delimitations and definitions. I do think, however, that the intended audience will be left wondering why MT is not offered some space in a large publication on corpora in translation studies, especially since chapters on translation training and translation practice are included. Furthermore, since translation studies "is the academic discipline that concerns itself with the study of translation" (p. 1), the potential and limitations of MT should be highly relevant topics.
Olohan's book is written in a lucid style and the topics are presented in a clear manner. (My main complaint concerning reader-friendliness is that more illustrations would have made it even clearer.) Yet another merit of "Introducing Corpora in Translation Studies" is that it is unusually balanced for an introductory book. The fact that it concludes that corpus techniques "can only go so far on its own" and that they will "play a vital role in combination with a range of other approaches and methods" (p. 192) seems to suggest that corpus linguistics is becoming more mature.
Aijmer, Karin & Cecilia Alvstad. 2005. "Introduction". In Aijmer, K. & C. Alvstad (eds) New Tendencies in Translation Studies: Selected Papers from a Workshop Göteborg 12 December 2003. Göteborg: Acta Universitatis Gothoburgensis. Gothenburg Studies in English 90. University of Gothenburg.
Altenberg, Bengt. 1988. "Connectors and Sentence Openings in English and Swedish". In S. Johansson & S. Oksefjell (eds) Corpora and Cross-Linguistic Research. Amsterdam: Rodopi.
Baker, Mona. 1993. "Corpus Linguistics and Translation Studies: Implications and Applications". In M. Baker, G. Francis & E. Tognini- Bonelli (eds) Text and Technology: In Honour of John Sinclair. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Baker, Mona. 1995. "Corpora in Translation Studies: An Overview and Some Suggestions for Future Research". Target 7: 223-243.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Annelie Ädel is a postdoctoral fellow at the English Language Institute of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She earned her Ph.D. in English Linguistics from Göteborg University, Sweden, in 2003. Her research interests include text and corpus linguistics, discourse analysis, translation and contrastive linguistics. She has presented her work at conferences in Sweden, Norway, Italy, Spain, Belgium, the UK and the US, and recently spent two years as a visiting scholar at Boston University. She combines her research and teaching with work as a professional translator.