A linguistic and semantic approach to the theory and practice of literary translation

  • Gisele Saint-Jacques-Tavakoli

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This work explores the relevance of semantic and linguistic description to translation, theory and practice. It is aimed towards a practical model of approach to texts to translate. As literary texts [poetry mainly] are the focus of attention, so are stylistic matters. Note, however, that 'style', and, to some extent, the conclusions of the work, are not limited to so-called literary texts. The study of semantic description reveals that most translation problems do not stem from the cognitive (langue-related), but rather from the contextual (parole-related) aspects of meaning. Thus, any linguistic model that fails to account for the latter is bound to fall short. T.G.G. does, whereas Systemics, concerned with both the 'Iangue' and 'parole' (stylistic and sociolinguistic mainly) aspects of meaning, provides a useful framework of approach to texts to translate. Two essential semantic principles for translation are: that meaning is the property of a language (Firth); and the 'relativity of meaning assignments' (Tymoczko). Both imply that meaning can only be assessed, correctly, in the relevant socio-cultural background. Translation is seen as a restricted creation, and the translator's encroach as a three-dimensional critical one. To encompass the most technical to the most literary text, and account for variations in emphasis in any text, translation theory must be based on typology of function Halliday's ideational, interpersonal and textual, or, Buhler's symbol, signal, symptom, Functions3. Function Coverall and specific] will dictate aims and method, and also provide the critic with criteria to assess translation Faithfulness. Translation can never be reduced to purely objective methods, however. Intuitive procedures intervene, in textual interpretation and analysis, in the choice of equivalents, and in the reception of a translation. Ultimately, translation, theory and practice, may perhaps constitute the touchstone as regards the validity of linguistic and semantic theories.
Date of Award1980
Original languageEnglish


  • linguistic approach
  • semantic approach
  • literary translation
  • sociolinguistic factors
  • function
  • formal-semantic links
  • contextual/cognitive meaning
  • situation

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