Context of Situation in Translation

Shuqin Hu
2010 Journal of Language Teaching and Research  
Context is an important concept in language study. According to the theory of systemic-functional linguistics, context of situation determines the meaning system of a text, and therefore translation is a process of reestablishing situational context in target language. Since no identical contexts exist, different translation strategies should be made. From this perspective, the problem of translation criteria can be explored in a new way. Index Terms-context, context of situation, translation,
more » ... reservation, shift I. CONTEXT AND ITS FUNCTION IN TRANSLATION The concept of context has been extensively studied by different linguists from different perspectives, such as pragmatics and systemic-functional linguistics. Among them, Halliday's approach shows clear advantages in translation study with its emphasis on language function, and therefore will be employed in the analysis of this paper. In the framework proposed by Halliday, the concept of context consists of three strata: context of culture, context of situation and co-text. Context of culture and context of situation are outside of language itself. Co-text, also known as linguistic context, is certainly inside of language itself. There is a close interdependent relationship between language and context. Context determines and is constructed by the choice of language. On the one hand, language, when considered as a system--its lexical items and grammatical categories-is related to its context of culture. While on the other hand, the specific text and its component parts are related to its context of situation. To be specific, context of culture is related to genre, context of situation is related to register, and co-text to the discourse itself. Context of situation consists of three aspects: field, tenor and mode. Field refers to what is happening, to the nature of social action that is taking place. It answers such questions as what it is that the participant is engaged in. Tenor refers to who is taking part, to the nature of the participants, their status and roles: what kind of role relationship obtain among the participants, including permanent and temporary relationships of one kind or another, both the types of speech role that they are taking on in the dialogue and the whole cluster of socially significant relationships in which they are involved. Mode refers to what part the language is playing, what it is that the participants are expecting the language to do for them in that situation: the symbolic organization of the text, the status that it has, and its function in the context, including the channel and also the rhetorical mode, what is being achieved by the text in terms of such categories as persuasive, expository, didactic and the like. Collectively the three aspects of situational context are called register. Context of situation is closely related to various texts. Certain situational context asks for certain text and in return, certain text creates certain context. In the process of communication, the meaning system is largely determined by the three aspects of situational context: ideational meaning by field, interpersonal meaning by tenor and textual meaning by mode (Baker, 2000: 9). Studies in register analysis are of significance to translators. In the translation process, first, through the analysis of the linguistic feature of the SLT, its register can be identified and thus the determination of its context of situation is possible. Second, in the production of the TLT, the proper words and expressions in the TL should be chosen so that the corresponding context of situation can be reestablished in the TLT. Seeking the equivalence of meaning is in fact seeking the equivalence of situational context. In translation, equivalence should not be based on one aspect of meaning (say ideational meaning); the translator must pursue equivalence of three aspects of meaning at the same time. Since the complete identity of situational context and meaning system between cultures is impossible, the complete equivalence is equally impossible. "Texts in different languages can be equivalent in different degrees (fully or partially equivalent in respects of context, of semantics, of grammar, of lexis etc.), and at different ranks (word-for-word, phrase-for-phrase, sentence-for-sentence) (baker, 2000: 6). Something is always lost in the process. Then what should be "preserved" and what should be "given up"? The translator is obliged to take these register variables into consideration in the process of translation rather than make decisions randomly or according to his/her personal favor. This concept throws new lights to the age-old debate concerning the translator's priorities: "literal" versus "free", "form" versus "content", "formal" versus "dynamic" equivalence, "semantic" versus "communicative" translating, "domestication" versus "foreignization" and translator's "visibility" versus "invisibility". In order to answer the above question, the translator has to turn to cultural context, since "what are relevant to translation are not only situational context but also cultural context. Language is a substantial but partial reflection of a culture." (Newmark, 1991:73). A language reflects the culture of a society, not only in its option of vocabulary, but also in its syntax and way of organizing ideas. In single context world, the author communicates with the source text readers who share the same cultural background knowledge with him/her. Therefore, JOURNAL OF LANGUAGE TEACHING AND RESEARCH
doi:10.4304/jltr.1.3.324-326 fatcat:fami4dgms5ai7elzkgxpshcnt4