A Corpus-Based Study on Original English Abstracts and Translated English Abstracts: A Case Study of Passive Voice and Pronouns

  •  Mingyao Chen    
  •  Qiongxia Ye    


On the basis of a large amount of corpus-based studies on translation works, the translation universals hypothesis is proposed. As it claims, translations enjoy some general features and Baker (1993) summarizes them into three universals, namely simplification, explicitation, and normalization, which are supported by many following researches.

However, some of the later studies contradict with these rules in several ways, and the usages of passive voice and pronouns are the two most controversial issues. Previous researches suggest that according to the universal features of explicitation and normalization, translated texts tend to have a lower frequency of pronouns while over-representing the passive voice. To examine such claimings, 160 original English abstracts from two leading journals in the field of translation studies, The Translator and Translation Studies, and another 160 English abstracts from Chinese Translator Journal and Chinese Science & Technology Translators Journal, which are translated from Chinese abstracts, are collected. Two corpora are then constructed, namely the Original English Abstracts Corpus (OEAC) and Translated English Abstracts Corpus (TEAC). The CLAWS Part-of-speech Tagger is used to tag the lexical items and word processing tool AntConc 3.2.4 is used for retrieving the words.

The comparison between the two corpora suggests that the translated English abstracts contain a lower level of frequency in the use of both passive voice and pronouns, which partially query the hypothesis of explicitation and normalization. A detailed analysis shows a higher frequency of past-tense passives in the OEAC and more passives in perfect tense in the TEAC. The OEAC also contains more relative pronouns while the other contains more indefinite pronouns. The norm theory is utilized to account for such phenomena. The detailed results of the study are expected to shed some lights on professional translating and academic writing.

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