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International Journal of Applied Linguistics w Vol. 14 w No.

2 w 2004 276 w Jean Boase-Beier

Saying what someone else meant: style, relevance and translation

Jean Boase-Beier University of East Anglia, Norwich

Starting from the distinction between interpretive and descriptive use which Gutt (2000) takes from Sperber and Wilson (1995) and applies to translation, this article considers the consequences of the fact that the translator is saying what someone else meant. This other person can be seen as an inferred original author constructed by the reader. Stylistic devices in the text are assumed here to be relevant in constructing meaning, in Sperber and Wilsons sense, and to serve a dual function. Firstly, as evidence of a mind style, in the sense of Fowler (1977), they provide clues to a state of mind that can reasonably be reconstructed as being expressed by the author. Secondly, they create poetic effects in the mind of the reader. Translating a poetic text involves preserving these clues for the reader in order both to recreate the mind style of the text and, as far as possible, to reproduce its effects for the reader of the translation.

Descriptive and interpretive use, direct and indirect translation

Ernst-August Gutt (2000) was the rst person to see the importance for translation of Sperber and Wilsons development, in their 1986 book Relevance, of the distinction between descriptive and interpretive use in communication. Basically, this distinction can be summarized thus: in descriptive use, you say what you believe is true; in interpretive use, you say what you believe resembles what someone else thinks is true. However, the notion of truth in this distinction requires some clarication. As Sperber and Wilson ([1986] 1995: 263ff.) explain at some length, what is said by a speaker may not actually be true (or be believed to be true, or be believed to resemble something which is true) in a straightforward truth-conditional sense. It may instead be useful (or be believed to be useful or to resemble something useful), or it may be said because it is assumed to be an addition to knowledge. Communication, in Sperber and Wilsons sense, works on an assumption of optimal relevance, which in turn involves cognitive gains for the listener or reader. What is communicated is more likely to give rise to cognitive gains if true than if false. So the role of truth in the distinction between descriptive and interpretive use is a highly complex
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one, and the notion of truth applied in distinguishing one use from the other is a broad one. Relevance, the quality referred to above as the prerequisite for cognitive gains to a listener or reader, is in fact a sort of minimax principle (cf. Carroll and Tanenhaus 1975: 51): something is relevant if it involves the least amount of effort for maximum cognitive gain. When I speak in this article of what someone means, I am not referring to what someone believes to be true in the strict sense but what someone believes to be relevant. What is important for translation is the notion that what you say may be a representation of what someone else meant, rather than of what you mean yourself. This notion of interpretive use has been applied with respect to voice (McMahon 1996), irony (Wilson and Sperber 1992) and metaphor (Pilkington 2000). This is not the place to go into detail about these different potential manifestations of interpretive use, but clearly what they have in common is that all involve meaning at two levels, in that what is said is not what is meant by the speaker in question. In translation, it seems intuitively clear that what you say is not something to whose truth you as the translator subscribe, in either the strict truth-conditional sense or in the looser sense of being likely to lead to cognitive gains for your reader.1 We are more likely, as readers, to attribute responsibility for the truth to the original writer. Even so, most people believe that writers should not be persecuted for their opinions. But when a translator is persecuted for the original writers views, we feel an even greater sense of outrage.2 This is surely because we feel the translators responsibility falls short of encompassing the truth of the original text, or even its usefulness or the likelihood that it will contribute to knowledge. Gutt (2000: 136), in discussing translation as interpretive use, makes a further distinction, between direct and indirect translation. Direct translation, like direct quotation, he assumes to involve maintaining not just what was originally said but, crucially, how it was said. That is, the style of the utterance, which provides clues to the intended interpretation, is of paramount importance. This appears likely to be true for all literary translation, where the content is not all that matters and the style could be argued to be just as important. In fact I shall argue below that style is more important. Gutt assumes that indirect translation, on the other hand, is not concerned with style but only with content. Thus a leaet of instructions for using Christmas lights which were made in China and are to be sold in England does not need to be a direct translation from the original Chinese. A translation which conveyed the sense of the original would do. Alternatively, a re-writing of the instructions in English would also be possible on the assumption that all that matters is whether the lights work. In such cases the English version is not a translation at all but a new instance of descriptive use, and the fact that the original instructions were in Chinese is irrelevant to the communication act (Gutt 2000: 57). Where translation does take place, whether direct or indirect, it always involves interpretive use. In neither case
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does the translator take responsibility for believing what the original text said; whether she or he agrees, is sceptical, or holds no opinion at all is irrelevant. Though Gutt does not explicitly say that literary translation is direct translation, this would seem to be the consequence of his denition of direct translation as reecting not only the information content of what was said in the original but also the way in which it was expressed (2000: 135). The style of a literary text, as all translators know, is essential to its translation. I am therefore assuming that literary translation is always direct translation, and that any indirect translation of a literary text could not in fact reasonably be called a literary translation, because the latter must always pay attention to the style of the text. Stylistic devices I take to be elements in the text which are unusual, striking, or simply indicative of attitude. It is a term of convenience rather than a term with any particular theoretical or empirical impact, because the whole of the way a text is written could be said to constitute its style. However, in terms of the way we read a text, it does seem intuitively the case that certain stylistic devices stand out. Consider the following examples: 1) The self looks at the self only and tenders its tribute (Thomas 1990: 11) 2) blindness could lead to insight, and the public enactment of drama itself could provide a collective catharsis (Porter 2002: 15) In both these examples we notice the alliteration, in tenders its tribute and collective catharsis, and the repetition of the self in (1) and the contrast of blindness and insight in (2). I assume that such stylistic devices have two functional characteristics: they are communicative clues to the authors intention (Gutt 2000: 134), and they have poetic effects (Pilkington 2000) on the reader. Let us look at the rst of these characteristics. In a general sense, I take the authors intention in a literary text to be to convey a particular cognitive state: that of the author, the narrator or a character in the work. Stylistic devices, because they are the result of authorial choice,3 reect that intention by embodying what Sperber and Wilson (1995: 35ff.) describe as weak implicatures, that is, assumptions about what is meant which go beyond the explicit propositional meaning and for which there is not much conclusive evidence (ibid.: 198) but which are open to interpretation. In (1) above, I take the repetition of the self to allow for weak implicatures of this type; I assume it is a clue to R.S. Thomass intention to emphasise that the poem is a contemplation of what happens when we (metaphorically) look in a mirror rather than looking at the world. To formulate this as, for example, the self
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looks at itself would have lost the emphasis on mirroring. The alliteration I interpret as being a further means of emphasising reection, as opposed to looking outwards. In (2) I take Porters juxtaposition of blindness and insight as a clue to his view that the dramas of Sophocles (which provide the context of this utterance) showed how faults inherent to the human condition actually contain the path to their own resolution; that they are intimately connected. His alliteration I interpret as giving weight to the collective experience these dramas enabled. As the reader I thus assume the stylistic features in each case to be relevant and use them as clues to what I reconstruct as a feasible interpretation of the authors or narrators view, position, beliefs or, more generally, cognitive state, in each case. Assuming style is relevant, the extra effort required to process the alliteration and the other instances of repetition, which involves recognising the similarities that link the repeated elements, must result in greater cognitive gains. We can assume that the author intended to enable these gains. Author is in quotes here because it may not be the real author but an inferred one. We can subscribe to the view common in modern literary (and especially postmodernist) thinking that the author is inaccessible and yet still accept that we need to construct an author in order for literary communication to work. This is something which translators intuitively recognise since, undisturbed by discussions about the impossibility of nding the author, they have no choice but to make assumptions about what she or he meant in order to be able to translate. Relevance theory is very helpful here, because it has in a sense made discussion of the author respectable again. Relevance theory tells us that an inferred author which is similar to Booths (1961) implied author, though it places more emphasis on the readers role in doing the inferring is necessary for communication; we must think we know what someone is saying, even if we have few guarantees of being right. As a translator, you do not just need to think you know, you need to act on it, too. Stylistic devices play a key role in allowing inferences to be made about what the author may have intended. Besides devices like the repetition and alliteration given above, these may include, for example, the use of different registers, the use of specic syntactic constructions such as the passive to suggest a particular type of behaviour, or the repetition of words from the same semantic eld to indicate a state of mind. Poetic effects, which are the second characteristic of such devices, are a special case of cognitive gains: the changes to our state of mind in terms of added knowledge (see also Cook 1994) which relevant utterances effect. What is special about poetic effects compared to other types of cognitive gain, according to Pilkington (2000: 184), is that what is gained in cognitive terms has an affective aspect. That is, the stylistic devices in a literary text guide the reader not only towards increased knowledge but also towards a particular affective state associated with the text or passage in question. The reader can thus come to have the feeling as a result of reading the words.
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Poetic effects for the excerpts above could be, perhaps, a clearer sense of the self-reexiveness described in (1) or of the close link between fault and resolution in (2), ideas which would have a weaker affective impact without their particular stylistic realisations. Neither of these things inferences made about the author nor effects on a reader are stable and xed. The readers knowledge, the situation of communication, the conventions of literature, will all interact to render inferences about the author and effects on the reader different from one reader to another. It is in the nature of stylistic features as giving rise to weak implicatures to be open to such interaction. When I briey mentioned the notion of truth above in the context of interpretive use as saying what someone else believes to be true, I said (following Sperber and Wilson 1995) that truth could be expected to enhance cognitive gain. Yet we know that what a literary text says is by denition ction; it is not true. What I assume to be the importance of style in such a text is that it carries the authors intention and attitude to the content. This is not just a question of the practicalities of translation; it removes the burden of truth in a literary text from content to style, irrespective of whether or not translation is to take place. Style, as both the clue to the authors conveyed cognitive state and the part of the text which will ensure greatest cognitive gains for the reader, is what might be called the truth of literature.

Translation and the nature of the literary text

If the content of a literary text is ctional, the style carries a burden of truth in the broad sense set out earlier. It is the style that conveys the attitude of e.g. irony, approval, or scepticism. In so far as it is possible to separate content from style, this suggests that the content is secondary and is to some extent merely a vehicle for style. A religious text and a parody of a religious text, for example, are not the same, though they may have, broadly speaking, the same content. The attitude reected in the style is what makes the difference. Similarly, the same story told by different authors may be interpreted as an allegory, or a warning, or as a resolution of a problem, depending upon the style chosen by the author. For a translator, this means that the style will be paramount if we want to both preserve the same possible range of interpretations of the cognitive state expressed in the text as were implicated by the original and to keep the same potential range of poetic effects as the original, a common aspiration of translators (see, for example, Frame 1989: 81). The importance placed on style in the view put forward here also reects some of the traditional views about what translation does. Though, historically, truth (as the primary element to be preserved in translation) was often believed to reside in the content or message, translators nevertheless intuitively often opt to preserve style, as scholars such as Newmark (1988: 38) point out.
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Consider the following poem title (given with the rst 5 lines for context): 3) Skt. Hans P Sidevejen
Saint Hans on the-side-street

Kun fuglens mekaniske hjerte hres her

only of-the-bird mechanical heart is-heard here

vedvarende og stdigt
persistent and permanent

som den kronisk skizofrene

like the chronic schizophrenic

der hamrer sit hoved

who hammers his head

mod sengestuens vg
against of-the-ward wall

(Elsworth 2000: 48) Three things would seem important in the title of this poem: the alliteration of Skt. [Sankt] and Sidevejen; the ambiguity of the phrase Skt. Hans, which refers to both Midsummer Eve and a mental hospital in Copenhagen where the poet spent much time; and the contrast, underlined by the alliteration, between Skt. Hans, suggesting noisy celebrations, and Sidevejen, suggesting a quiet street. The translator, Bente Elsworth (2000), translates this title as Midsummer Madness in a Quiet Neighbourhood, thus preserving alliteration, contrast (madnessquiet) and also the ambiguity, here located in the word madness, which can suggest both jollity and insanity. The reference to an actual hospital is lost in the translation, but all the implicatures of these stylistic elements are kept. If the English title, Midsummer Madness in a Quiet Neighbourhood, is seen as an acceptable translation of the original title, this reinforces the view that style matters more than content, that the latter is a vehicle for style. In this connection Fowlers (1977: 103) notion of mind style is useful. He meant by this a pattern of linguistic features which give an indication of world view, attitude or ideology. In this way style can be seen as a reection of a particular cognitive state. Especially in a poem, it is this cognitive state (in the above example an ambiguous mixture of festivity and insanity, contrasting with surrounding quietness) which is to be conveyed, and the style, with its associated set of weak implicatures, is a direct pathway to it. Style in poetry can thus always be characterised as mind style. The intention of the inferred author (who may simply be the narrator or poetic voice and not the real author at all) is reconstructed by the reader as being the intention to convey a particular cognitive state, and the reader, in reconstructing this from the stylistic evidence, that is, from the implicatures of the text, will thereby experience, through poetic effects, a comparable state of mind. For the
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translator, then, it is easy to see how, by regarding the style as a mind style and recreating it, a translation might mimic the reading experience in allowing access to a similar cognitive state to that of the original and thus creating similar effects. The meaning of a poetic text could therefore be said to be the assumed cognitive state of an inferred author, as reconstructed under conditions of relevance. To recreate this meaning in translation, then, the translator must pay attention not only to the obvious (propositional) content of the text but especially to the set of weak implicatures which can be derived by inference from its various stylistic devices. The fact that they are weak means that the translator, like any reader, takes responsibility for creating meanings which she or he assumes are intended by the inferred author. The element of responsibility lies in that assumption, and it is this that translators may be held to account for, not the supposed views of the inferred author. Weak implicatures are the very essence of the poetic text: they make the reader work. This work results in particular states of mind, which could reasonably be said to resemble the state of mind embodied in the text. This is especially true of stylistic devices which involve the reader in thinking on two levels, such as irony, ambiguity, metaphor (cf. Werth 1999: 317). To some extent, the content of a poetic text can be seen as a supplier of context through which the style can be conveyed to the reader. For a translator, the result of this view is that not all content need be put in the translation of the poem. Footnotes are thus common in translations, especially of poetry. The following is Elsworths footnote to the title of the poem in (3) above: The Danish title of the poem, Skt. Hans P Sidevejen, means St Johns Eve on a side street. St Johns Eve is the 23rd of June when Midsummer is celebrated in Denmark with bonres. However, there is a mental hospital in Denmark named Skt. Hans, to which Strunge was admitted repeatedly, being a manic-depressive. (Elsworth 2000: 49) This provides the context which can be assumed as given knowledge for a Danish reader of the original poem. Annotations of this sort, as well as prefaces and introductions, are all ways of providing content and thus of supplying context for the style of the poem which has been translated. Translation, then, can be seen as involving two processes: a) deciding what cognitive elements the stylistic devices (resulting from the inferred authors conscious or unconscious choices and collectively constituting a mind style) are clues to, and b) recreating these clues, with the help of content and supplementary material to supply context, in order to recreate the suggested cognitive state for the reader, and thus to achieve maximum poetic effects.

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As an example of how these processes interact in practice, consider the following poem (4) and its English translation (5): 4) ENTSCHLAFEN, entfallen-asleep un /en-

5) Sleep-lost, dreamfree not even a straw. Think this and pull yourself into a ball. Most of my stars are lifeless.


nicht einmal
not even

ein Halm
a straw

Denk es,
think it

und zur Kugel

and to-the ball

nimm dich
pull yourself


Die meisten
the most


sind leblos.
are lifeless

(Meister 1979: 102)

(Boase-Beier 2003: 113)

The most salient stylistic device in the poem is ambiguity. The prex ent-, so strikingly foregrounded in the rst line, represents both an act of removing, as in entlasten (to unburden, from Last burden) and an act of movement away, as in entkommen (to escape, from kommen to come). Entschlafen could thus mean either to have awakened from sleep or to have fallen asleep. In the latter meaning it also suggests einschlafen, a verb meaning to fall asleep which is often used euphemistically for to die, as is the verb entschlafen itself. Enttrumt, similarly, can mean to have gone off into a dream or to have come out of a dream. There is no single prex corresponding to ent- in English. A rough equivalent in the rst meaning would be un- (to unburden entlasten, to uncover enthllen), de- (to detoxify entgiften, to deironise enteisenen) or dis- (to dishonour entehren, to discourage entmutigen), and in the second meaning an equivalent can often be found in the particles off, away or out (to run off entlaufen, to slip away entschlpfen, to open out entfalten). But there is no single prex in English which can have both these meanings, so this is likely to pose a problem for translation.

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Compounds are useful in poetry because they are inherently ambiguous: the specic relationship between elements needs to be supplied by the reader (Boase-Beier 1987: 37ff.). Thus the compound sleep-lost in the English version could mean lost in sleep or lost to sleep, and dream-free could mean free of dreams or free as in a dream. Lost and free are in themselves possibly somewhat contradictory, and the use of two compounds allows the device of repetition to be employed as in the rst two words of the German poem. Lost also echoes the German connotation of death in entschlafen. Nicht einmal (not even) in German picks up the idea of there being no dreams, and this, together with the connotations of straw as something to clutch at, suggests paradoxically that the freedom from dreams may also be an absence of dreams, which are (albeit insubstantial) things to hold on to. All these contradictions are embodied in the two English compounds. The second stanza continues the ambiguity. Nimm dich zusammen is an expression whose English equivalent is pull yourself together. This suggests coping with whatever situation or state of mind (the rst stanza has suggested death) is experienced here. But pull yourself together into a ball (zur Kugel nimm dich zusammen) suggests a defensive posture, like that of a hedgehog. So the situation is ambiguous, and an ambiguous state of mind is proposed in stanza 2 as a response to it. The nal stanza at rst appears to offer a resolution. We are told in the nal stanza that most stars are lifeless. The most immediate implication of this is that, if they give light even though actually dead, death is not to be feared as the end of everything. However, the nal stanza also contains a near-anagram of the authors name, Ernst Meister, in meisten Sterne. What happens at this point in reading the poem is that it is then re-interpreted as a poem about the authors own fear of death. By putting his own name in the poem, he becomes like the dead stars (but which still, to their viewers, give light). But there is another interpretation of most stars are lifeless. It may suggest their uselessness, or at least the authors fear that they are useless. Once entertaining this thought, the reader will then see that pull yourself into a ball may be reinterpreted not as referring to a hedgehog-like ball but to the globe of the earth a common meaning of the word Kugel, as in Erdkugel used as a contrast to the notion of a star as something brighter and better. The implication now seems to be that it is in fact better to mimic the earth (all-embracing, useful) than a star (bright but dead). The reader is thus shown a complex state of mind in this poem, beginning with the ambiguities of both waking up and falling asleep, through the alternatives of retreating into oneself or mimicking the earth, to the nal ambiguity of death as useless and empty or light-giving and eternal. The ambiguities are set up in the use of the ambiguous prex ent-, continued in the mixed idioms of the second stanza, and reach their nal culmination in the anagrammatic reection of the poets name. This nal ambiguity is especially difcult to convey in English, because Ernst Meister cannot be made into an anagram in English meaning most
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stars. However, there is a way out. The nal (covert) mention of the poets name stands in contrast to the earlier you addressed in stanza 2. By putting a my in the nal stanza, one can both suggest this same contrast and hope that my stars will echo Meister sufciently for the reader to infer a connection. It could be argued that my in stanza 3 involves the addition of something not directly expressed in the original poem. If, however, what we take the poem to express is not some concrete content but a particular state of mind, then such additions are justied and necessary. My can be seen as the nal element building up the mind style of the poem, which itself is a reection of the ambiguities in the speakers mind.

Conclusion: the relevance for translation

What the foregoing discussion suggests is that what is important for the translator about relevance theory is perhaps less the notion of relevance itself than the various other concepts interpretive use, direct translation, communicative clues and poetic effect which relevance theory gives us access to. This is not surprising given that poetic texts must be assumed to be by nature maximally relevant, in the sense that, in William Blakes words not a letter is insignicant (Keynes 1966: 611). Specically, the insights which relevance theory brings to translation are these: a) The notion of mind style, long used in stylistics, can be integrated into translation theory as a set of communicative clues to interpretation which work as weak implicatures. This suggests that a translator must start with the style, not the content. b) It allows a notion of mental representation, of cognitive state (including world view, knowledge, intention) to be seen as that which a translator will try to recreate, rather than the meaning in a truth-conditional sense. c) By allowing a view of style as conveying weak implicatures, it provides a framework and a legitimation for the translators interpretive freedom and the creativity of the translation act. d) By tying poetic effect to the extra work that stylistic features call for, it explains the common intuition of translators that preserving style helps recreate the effects of the source text on the target reader. All these insights reect very clearly what poetic translators do and feel they do, as the many statements by translators suggest (such as those in Honig 1985). These commonly involve a concentration on style, a sense that the author cannot be irrelevant, that some interpretations are more justied than others, and that, if one is to act upon interpretation rather than just entertain it, then there must be reasonable evidence for the interpretation chosen. These insights also suggest that the freedom to change content, which
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most poetic translators would argue for, is not just born out of the difculties of their job, but out of the nature of the poetry they translate, whose only essential truth is to be found in the style.

1. It must be the case that the translator often does accept the cognitive usefulness of what is said in the target text, and could therefore be said to mean it, at least to some extent. This would apply, for example, when the translator had chosen the text to translate because she subscribed to its views and strove to convey them in the target text, or when, having taken on a commission for a text she disagreed with, a translator altered the meaning to conform to her own views. It would not apply if a translator agreed to translate a text whose view she had no interest in, or disagreed with, and made no adaptation of these to her own view. 2. In 1991 Hitoshi Igarashi, Salman Rushdies Japanese translator, was murdered at Tsukuba University, presumably for his translation of The Satanic Verses. 3. Using the word choice suggests that these devices are optional linguistic elements; they do not have to be implemented. It does not necessarily suggest that they are the result of conscious decisions; they may arise from a cognitive state, view or conditioning of which the author is not aware.

Boase-Beier, J. (1987) Poetic compounds. Tbingen: Niemeyer. (transl.) (2003) Between nothing and nothing [Ernst Meister]. Todmorden: Arc Publications. Booth, W.C. (1961) Rhetoric of ction. University of Chicago Press. Carroll, J.M. and M.K. Tanenhaus (1975) Prolegomena to a functional theory of word formation. In R.E. Grossman et al. (eds.), Papers from the parasession on the lexicon. Chicago Linguistic Society. 4463. Cook, G. (1994) Discourse and literature: the interplay of form and mind. Oxford University Press. Elsworth, B. (transl.) (2000) Michael Strunge: a virgin from a chilly decade. Todmorden: Arc Publications. Frame, D. (1989) Pleasures and problems of translation. In J. Biguenet and R. Schulte (eds.), The craft of translation. Chicago University Press. 7092. Fowler, R. (1977) Linguistics and the novel. London: Methuen. Gutt, E.-A. (2000) Translation and relevance. Manchester: St Jerome Press. Honig, E. (1985) The poets other voice. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press. Keynes, G. (ed.) (1966) Complete writings of William Blake, with variant readings. Oxford University Press. McMahon, B. (1996) Indirectness, rhetoric and interpretative use: communication strategies in Brownings My Last Duchess. Language and Literature 5.3: 20923. Meister, E. (1979) Ausgewhlte Gedichte 19321979. Darmstadt: Luchterhand. Newmark, P. (1988) A textbook of translation. Hemel Hempstead: Prentice Hall. Pilkington, A. (2000) Poetic effects. Amsterdam: Benjamins.
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Style, relevance and translation w 287 Porter, R. (2002) Madness: a brief history. Oxford University Press. Sperber, D. and D. Wilson [1986] (1995) Relevance. Oxford: Blackwell. Thomas, R.S. (1990) Counterpoint. Newcastle: Bloodaxe. Werth, P. (1999) Text worlds: representing conceptual space in discourse. London: Longman. Wilson, D. and D. Sperber (1992) On verbal irony. Lingua 87. 1/2: 5376. [Received 18/6/03; revised 20/10/03] Jean Boase-Beier School of Language, Linguistics and Translation Studies University of East Anglia Norwich NR4 7TJ England e-mail: j.boase-beier@uea.ac.uk

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