A corpus-driven study of Chinese translators’ use of English collocations in commercial Chinese to English translation

Feng, Haoda
Crezee, Ineke
Grant, Lynn
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Doctor of Philosophy
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Auckland University of Technology

The issue of differences between translational language and native-speaker language has become a topic of increasing interest in linguistics and Translation Studies (TS). One of the primary tasks in this research area is to employ a corpus approach and analyse collocations with authentic language data by comparing comparable corpora consisting of translated and native-speaker texts. Collocation in linguistics and TS refers to the relationship of co-occurrence between lexical items. The present study shows that examining the use of collocations plays a very significant part in assessing the naturalness of second language (L2) use, and therefore can be a valid measure to make a distinction between translational language and native-speaker language. Nevertheless, the role of collocation has not been given enough attention or discussed systematically in TS and, to date, no translation theorist has clarified the mechanism of collocation in TS, by which translators acquire receptive and productive knowledge of collocations in their L2. In addition, previous research in this area is largely confined to Indo-European languages, resulting in a lack of empirical evidence involving Asian languages.

This thesis concentrates on the nature of collocation and explores collocation distribution patterns by comparing native-speaker English and English translated from Chinese in the commercial register. It focused on five main research questions. Firstly, it attempts to propose a conceptual framework of collocation to explain the nature of collocation in language operations. Based on relevant literature review, this study shows that collocation studies can be carried out on a multi-dimensional basis from the formal, semantic and functional perspectives. Therefore, the comparison between Chinese translators and native English speakers in terms of collocation use is carried out from these perspectives.

Secondly, this thesis attempts to describe the role of collocation in translation and demonstrate the key factors that might influence translators’ use of English (L2) collocations. This study proposes a theoretical framework which clarifies the role of collocation in influencing the relationship between translation universals and the native-like rendition of the target texts. It also discusses how translators’ implicit knowledge and explicit knowledge of collocations may influence the use of their L2. The results show that collocation appears to be very important and directly determines the natural use of language, because Chinese translators’ inappropriate use of L2 English collocations has made them introduce some translation universals into the target texts and produce foreign-sounding-ness in their L2. This also indicates that Chinese translators in the current research may not have reached the stage of implicit knowledge in terms of using L2 English collocations.

Thirdly, this thesis designed two comparable corpora and attempts to propose a method of retrieving collocations. The English texts in both corpora are first segmented into two groups of bigrams respectively, and then are ‘screened’ to provide collocation pairs with statistical measures. Finally, these collocation pairs are ‘refined’ according to the three filtering criteria established in this study to obtain qualified collocations in the commercial register.

Fourthly, this thesis employs the Contrastive Interlanguage Analysis approach and attempts to investigate the features of the variation, alternatively the deviation in collocation distribution patterns, in Chinese translators’ use of L2 English collocations in L1-to-L2 translations. The results show that, when compared with native commercial English, Chinese translators’ translation outputs depend heavily on the repeated use of high-frequency collocations. This is evidenced from the comparatively lower type-token ratio and the slower keyword growth rate in the corpus of translational commercial English. In addition, this study demonstrates that Chinese translators’ translation outputs tend to have more free combinations but fewer bound collocations and idioms; more collocations with literal senses but fewer collocations with delexicalized senses; more collocations with neutral semantic prosodies but fewer collocations with positive or negative semantic prosodies.

Finally, this thesis attempts to briefly offer constructive suggestions to translators who are L2 users of English, based on the findings from statistical and explanatory analyses. It is suggested in this study that the ‘real-life’ language-learning strategy, or situated learning, would appear to be a useful method for helping translators to identify L1-L2 differences and overcome their shortcoming in using L2 collocations in L1-to-L2 translations.

corpus-driven approach , collocation , translation universals , commercial translation , situated learning
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