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Across Languages and Cultures 4 (1), pp.

53–62 (2003)



University of Joensuu, Savonlinna School of Translation Studies
P.O.Box 48, FIN-57101 Savonlinna, Finland
Phone: +358 15 511 7739, Fax: +358 15 515 096
E-mail: tiina.puurtinen@joensuu.fi

Abstract: The article applies to translation some ideas from critical discourse analysis
and discusses the potential effects of translational solutions on the ideological content of
texts in the light of a small-scale study on student translations. Ideology refers here to the
ways in which linguistic choices made by the writer or translator of a text, first, create a par-
ticular perspective on the events portrayed, second, may reflect the writer’s opinions and at-
titudes, and third, may be used to influence readers’ opinions. Particular linguistic struc-
tures, such as vocabulary, finite and nonfinite constructions, active and passive forms, and
grammatical metaphors, can be seen as conscious or unconscious strategies which realise
ideological meanings. In translation, ideologically motivated linguistic structures of a
source text may be manipulated either unintentionally because of insufficient language
and/or translation skills or lacking knowledge of the relationship between language and ide-
ology, or intentionally owing to translation norms, requirements of the translation commis-
sion or the translator’s own attitudes towards the source text subject. The analysis of Fin-
nish translations of English magazine articles made by translation students focused on ex-
plicitating and implicitating translation strategies. Implicitation was found to be much more
frequent than explicitation. Explicitation included, for instance, replacing a source-text
nominalisation with a Finnish verb phrase and making clausal relations more explicit by
adding connectives to the texts. Implicitation involved turning verb phrases into nominalisa-
tions and complete relative clauses into complex premodified noun phrases. These strategies
changed the viewpoints and occasionally even modified the opinions expressed by the
source-text writers. The students’ non-systematic application of opposite strategies suggests
that source text manipulation was mainly caused by insufficient skills and knowledge rather
than ideological motivations.
Key words: explicitation, implicitation, ideology, grammatical metaphor


Every text reflects the writer’s attitudes, beliefs and viewpoints, or more gener-
ally, the values and taken-for-granted assumptions of a social group or culture.
Such (often unconscious) ideological meanings, or so called “common sense”
(see e.g., Fairclough 1990:77–108; Fowler 1987:490), tend to be unintentionally
encoded in linguistic expression. This relation between ideology and language
is the field of interest of critical discourse analysis (CDA; e.g., Fairclough 1990,
1995a, 1995b; Fowler 1991; Finnish studies include Heikkinen 1999; Kallio-

1585-1923/$ 20.00 © 2003 Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest


koski (ed.) 1996; Karvonen 1995, 1996). In recent years, ideas and findings pre-
sented by critical discourse analysts have gradually made their way into transla-
tion studies (Hatim 1997:108–122; Hatim and Mason 1997:143–163; Knowles
and Malmkjaer 1989, Puurtinen 2000).
This article applies to translation some ideas from CDA and discusses the
potential effects of translational solutions on the ideological content of texts in
the light of a small-scale study on student translations. Ideology, which is an
ambiguous and evasive concept, is here (following Simpson 1993:5) loosely de-
fined as taken-for-granted assumptions, beliefs and value systems shared collec-
tively by social groups. In this article, however, ideology is used mainly as an
umbrella term for three phenomena: the ways in which linguistic choices made
by the writer or translator of a text, first, may create a particular perspective on
the events portrayed, second, may reflect the writer’s opinions and attitudes,
and third, may be used to influence readers’ opinions. Before a detailed discus-
sion of the effects of different translation strategies on source text ideology,
some general information on a few central notions and concepts is given.


Ideological meanings are intentionally or unintentionally encoded in texts. A

distinction can be made between explicit ideology, which refers to explicitly
verbalised opinions and attitudes (e.g., I think X must do Y), and implicit ide-
ology, i.e., possibly subconscious assumptions underlying the writer’s linguistic
choices (cf. Hollindale’s (1988) three levels of ideology, summarised in
Knowles and Malmkjaer 1996:65–68). The present focus is on implicit ideol-
ogy, which is more difficult to detect and whose effect is consequently more
difficult to avoid by the reader.
The lexical and syntactic choices made by the writer of a text to describe
events, characters and their relationships are bound to reflect beliefs and world-
views and to present the portrayed processes from a particular viewpoint. Even
a choice between, for example, active and passive structures, is a decision to
foreground certain part(s) of the sentence and certain participant(s) of the pro-
cess. In the following simple sentences, Tiina’s responsibility for the glass be-
ing broken varies according to the prominence given to Tiina by the different
syntactic structures.

Tiina broke the glass.
The glass fell out of Tiina’s hands.
The glass was broken (by Tiina).

Across Languages and Cultures 4 (1) (2003)


Such linguistic encoding of processes belongs to the transitivity system of

a language (Halliday 1994:106), which makes it possible to describe an event
either as a concrete process with the actor, goal, consequences and causal rela-
tions explicitly mentioned, or as an abstract entity (noun) so that the actor,
causal relations and responsibility for the event become obscured. The latter
type of realisation has been labelled as masking (Ng and Bradac 1993:143–
171) or mystification (Fowler 1991:80), which implies that it can be used inten-
tionally to hide or neutralise negative, unpleasant operations.
The use of nominalisations instead of verb phrases is a frequent type of
grammatical metaphor (see e.g., Halliday 1994; Ravelli 1988), an incongru-
ent, marked form of encoding, whereby a process is not realised congruently by
a verb but by a noun (as a Thing); other metaphorical encodings include, for in-
stance, expression of qualities with nouns instead of adjectives, and clausal rela-
tions with nonfinite verb forms instead of connectives (see Example 2 in section
3.1.). Grammatical metaphors are an inherent element of language typical of
and even necessary for certain text types, but they can also be a powerful ideo-
logical tool in argumentative texts. More “innocently”, they can be used – with
or without a conscious motive – to portray an event in a way which differs from
the expected, most usual formulation. The extensive, loose definition of ideol-
ogy adopted in this article covers also such potentially innocent and yet mean-
ingful usage.
Ideologies embedded in texts are interesting both for translators and for
translation scholars, not only because ideologies of societies and cultures are
different, but also because the lexico-grammatical realisation of ideology is
likely to vary in different languages. However, several studies (e.g., Heikkinen
1999, Karvonen 1995, 1996) have shown that nominalisations, passive struc-
tures and premodified constructions (for an example, see section 3.4. below),
for instance, can play a similar ideological role in Finnish texts as in English
texts by making dynamic processes seem static and abstract, by deleting process
participants and by conveying subjective views as if they were natural and gen-
erally accepted.
In translation, ideologically motivated linguistic structures of a source text
may be manipulated either unintentionally because of inadequate language
and/or translation skills or insufficient knowledge of the relationship between
language and ideology, or intentionally owing to translation norms, require-
ments of the translation commission or the translator’s own attitudes towards
the source text subject. Rather than potential explanations for manipulation, the
following brief account of the mediation of ideological meanings in student
translations concentrates on the effects of particular translation strategies.
Nevertheless, some speculation about possible reasons for students’ failure – or
perhaps conscious refusal – to mediate source text ideology unchanged will be

Across Languages and Cultures 4 (1) (2003)


included, although it is impossible to determine the motives for the chosen

strategies on the basis of the translated texts only.


The research material consisted of two articles, one column, one editorial and
one informative news story (taken from In Focus, New Scientist, New States-
man, The Economist, and The Futurist), and their Finnish translations made by
ten students at the Savonlinna School of Translation Studies. The total number
of translations was 42. With the exception of one purely informative text, all
source texts can be regarded as argumentative in that they express and argue for
the writers’ opinions (on the future of developing nations, and the bad effects of
increasing traffic, wildlife tourism, and mobile phones). The translations were
made as normal assignments on a translation course for 2nd- and 3rd-year stu-
dents with English as their major or minor subject. The relation between lan-
guage and ideology or the translation strategies the present article focuses on
had not been systematically taught in their translation courses, but the differ-
ence between using, for example, complex or simple Finnish clause structures is
likely to have been discussed at least occasionally.
The ideational and interpersonal content of the source and target texts was
compared by using Halliday’s functional grammar (1994) as a tool for analysis.
The analysis focused on explicitating and implicitating translation strategies,
particularly verb phrases vs. nominalisations and other grammatical metaphors,
active vs. passive constructions, and the expression of clausal relations. It was
hypothesised that first, actions, processes and causality, conveyed explicitly (by
e.g., complete finite clauses) in the source texts, would tend to be implicitated in
translation by the use of nominalisations; second, source text nominalisations,
other grammatical metaphors and passive constructions would tend to be ex-
plicitated by complete, active target language clauses; and third, such transla-
tion strategies would alter the values and opinions expressed and viewpoints
chosen by the source text writers.
The main purpose was not to obtain exact quantitative information on the
frequencies of different translation strategies, although some figures are also
given below, but to identify Finnish linguistic constructions which may easily,
even inadvertently, change source text ideology. The examples discussed in the
following sections are meant to illustrate such constructions.
It must be emphasised that although the presented translational solutions
can be assigned ideological interpretations, the students’ translation strategies
are not taken as evidence of any particular ideological motivations and deliber-
ate manipulation of the source texts. As pointed out previously, the source text –
target text comparison alone is naturally unable to uncover the reasons for their

Across Languages and Cultures 4 (1) (2003)


behaviour. The present interest lies in the end products, the translations, and the
possibly different effects they might have on the reader because of the target-
language formulation of the source-text message.

3.1. General Observations

A noticeable strategy common to all students and more or less manifest in all
target texts was the explicitation of clausal relations by using clause connectives
(conjunctions, adverbs) more frequently than in the source texts, possibly in or-
der to create more cohesive translations in compliance with appropriate Finnish
text type conventions (see Øverås 1998 for similar findings on grammatical ex-
plicitation in English – Norwegian and Norwegian – English translations). Al-
ternatively, this may be an unintentional habit, which can be interpreted as evi-
dence of the hypothesised translation universal of explicitation, i.e., tendency of
translations to become more explicit than their source texts (Baker 1995).
Occasionally clausal relations were also obscured by omitting a source text
conjunction and merely implying the type of relation by using a Finnish con-
tracted clause (often complex construction with a nonfinite verb, used to replace
a subordinate clause), as in Example 2 below (the English conjunction as and
the Finnish contracted clause in bold).

Road transport accounts for one-fifth of world carbon-dioxide output, and
the share may grow as developing countries get wheels. (Curbing the car
… ja määrä kasvaa edelleen autojen yleistyessä kehitysmaissa.
(Literally: … and the amount will grow with cars becoming more common
in developing countries.)

There were no other conspicuous universal tendencies towards either sys-

tematic explicitation or systematic implicitation. Instead, the test group included
a few individual translators who tended to systematically either explicitate or
implicitate source text processes. Most students, however, used both strategies
non-systematically even within one single translation.
Therefore it is perhaps surprising that there is a considerable difference be-
tween the frequencies of explicitating and implicitating strategies applied: the
total number of explicitating translation equivalents for source text processes
(i.e., excluding clausal relations) in all 42 translations is 96, whereas the number
of implicitating equivalents is as high as 182. Apart from indicating clausal rela-
tions, then, in purely quantitative terms these translations fail to strongly sup-
port the explicitation hypothesis.

Across Languages and Cultures 4 (1) (2003)


The comparison of active and passive structures in source and target texts
did not yield interesting results from the ideological point of view. Source text
active clauses with inanimate, abstract Actors (e.g., country, economy, future)
were sometimes turned into Finnish passive constructions, perhaps owing to the
difficulty of imagining an abstract entity as an active “doer”. There is no purely
linguistic reason for such a change, since abstract Actors are equally possible
and common in Finnish as in English.

3.2. Nominalisation → Verb

Example 3 illustrates an explicitating structure whereby a source text noun (in

bold) is replaced with a target text verb phrase, which concretises the conse-
quences of a new invention for an individual car driver.

This would implant an electronic smart card in cars’ engine-management
systems, to monitor the quantity of polluting emissions. The results would
then be totted up every year to produce a tax bill. (Curbing the car 1996)
. . . ja näiden lukemien perusteella autoilijaa voidaan kerran vuodessa ve-
(Literally: . . . and on the basis of these figures a car driver can be taxed
once a year.)

Thus, the experiential distance, i.e., distance between text and the reality which
it portrays (Eggins et al. 1993), is reduced and the text is likely to become more
effective, having a stronger impact on the reader than the more abstract and dis-
tant source text. In argumentative texts, such a change might of course be con-
sidered an improvement, if the purpose of the translation is to convince the
reader. On the other hand, an extensive use of this kind of explicitation which
involves splitting up nominalisations and “demystifying” grammatical meta-
phors by making process participants visible in the sentence may result in al-
tered clausal relations and even change the text type from argumentative into

3.3. Verb → Nominalisation

The reverse strategy to the previous one, turning verbal constructions into
nominalisations, grammatical metaphors, may obscure agency and responsibil-
ity, as in Example 4.

Across Languages and Cultures 4 (1) (2003)


If we fail to reorient wildlife tourism in this fashion, climate change will
(most probably) turn many of today’s lovely parks into deserts devoid of
life. (Mittler 1997)
Tässä tehtävässä epäonnistuminen johtaa ilmastomuutoksiin, jotka muut-
tavat tämän päivän ihanat kansallispuistot elottomiksi aavikoiksi.
(Literally: Failure in this task will lead to climate changes . . .)

The target text contains no animate Actor, whereas the source text appeals di-
rectly to “us”, including the reader, who are responsible for climate change.
Therefore, the translation with no named participants might be regarded as less
effective than the direct address of the source text. This nominalising strategy
can have a harmful effect on the purpose of the translation, because it increases
the experiential distance, making the depicted processes seem remote and static,
as if they happened without actual involvement of people.

3.4. Relative Clause → Premodification

The structure illustrated by Example 5 could be seen as some kind of nominalis-

ing strategy as well, because it turns a source text relative clause into a nonfinite
premodification (participial attribute construction, where the verb is in particip-
ial form with its own premodifiers, and the whole construction acts as a pre-
modifier to the head noun).

Cleaning up city air is also easier than curbing output of carbon dioxide, a
gas thought to cause climate change. (Curbing the car 1996)
Kaupunki-ilman puhdistaminen on helpompaa kuin ilmaston lämpene-
mistä aiheuttavien hiilidioksidipäästöjen rajoittaminen.
(Literally: . . . climate’s warming-causing carbon dioxide emissions)

The quality expressed by the premodifier becomes taken-for-granted, forming a

fixed unit with the head word. In this particular example, taken-for-grantedness
is enhanced by the omission of the source text hedge thought to, which has no
equivalent in the translation. Thus, the interpersonal meaning, more specifically
modality (degrees of probability and usuality, see Halliday 1994:88–91), of the
clause has been changed from uncertainty to certainty, an undisputed fact. Such
nuances of meaning are crucial to the ideological content of texts, and even mi-
nor, seemingly superficial changes can have unintended consequences for the
translated text as a whole. It must be pointed out, however, that no linguistic
construction is ideologically loaded as such, but it can serve ideological pur-

Across Languages and Cultures 4 (1) (2003)


poses; the choice between alternative ways of expression is a choice between al-
ternative points of view, which in turn may represent alternative conceptions of
the described event, even of the world.


One possible explanation for explicitating source text nominalisations particu-

larly in argumentative texts, as mentioned above, is the conscious desire to
make the text more concrete and effective. Reducing the experiential distance in
translation by demystifying abstract nouns (e.g., the source text migration is
transformed into a Finnish verbal construction which refers directly to people
who are forced to move from their homes) is likely to be considered a justified
method in line with the imagined translation commissions, which required
maintaining the operativeness of the source texts. Another conscious motive,
which might apply to the opposite, nominalising strategy, is the creation of a
particular information structure: a verb phrase may be turned into a nominalisa-
tion in order to thematise a process. In this material, however, nominalising
strategies seemed to be mostly unmotivated by textual relations. It is more
likely that typically Finnish linguistic structures (such as premodified participial
attribute constructions) are used almost automatically, i.e., unconsciously, to re-
place e.g., source text relative clauses regardless of potential ideological conse-
quences. Students may also act according to a mistaken belief that argumenta-
tive texts, or factual newspaper and magazine texts in general, are expected to
be predominated by heavy structures and abstract, nominalised language.
Since the majority of the student translators were still at the beginning
stages of their studies, some of their unsuccessful translational solutions and
non-systematic application of explicitating and implicitating strategies were
likely to be caused by insufficient language and/or translation skills. A student
may simply use the target language structure that comes first to mind and seems
the easiest to use. Moreover, most of them were probably not yet aware of the
relation between language and ideology, but were accustomed to seeing form
and meaning as separate phenomena. The fact that they applied a mixture of ex-
plicitating and implicitating strategies in one and the same translation shows
that they tended to regard linguistic form as secondary to meaning, which in
their view remains unaltered even if it is packaged differently. Therefore, their
translational solutions were not based on ideological considerations but on some
more superficial factors – apart from the possible decision to enhance effective-
ness by explicitation. Both explicitating and implicitating translation strategies
are, however, powerful means which go beyond the surface in expressing and
influencing attitudes. Both types can modify the opinions and viewpoints con-
veyed in source texts, but whether such modifications are justifiable or even de-

Across Languages and Cultures 4 (1) (2003)


sirable depends on their effect on the text as a whole and on the purpose of the

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42 student translations

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