ILS Colloquium


17 March 2022
15:30 - 17:00
Hybrid meeting: Drift 21, Sweelinckzaal and online in MS Teams

Haidee Kotze

Constrained communication: What we can learn from a comparative variationist approach to translated language

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Utrecht University

Translated language demonstrates linguistic patterns that systematically distinguish it from non-translated language, a finding evident from both computational-linguistic and corpus-linguistic research. These findings have been interpreted as support for the notion that translated language is a kind of ‘third code’ shaped by the sociocognitive constraints that operate in mediating between two linguistic codes.

While we have ample empirical evidence that differences between translated and non-translated language exist, the reasons for these differences (i.e., the particular sociocognitive constraints in play, and how they interact) are still poorly understood and under-theorised. In part this is because this area of research has defined itself principally in relation to a theoretical framework first proposed in the early 1990s: that of the so-called ‘translation universals’. This focus has fostered an ‘inward’ disciplinary gaze, which has had the consequence of exceptionalising translational linguistic production – thus isolating research on translated language from linguistic research more generally.

In this presentation I set out a theoretical framework explicitly developed to address this limitation, and to allow for studying translated language alongside other (biligualism- or contact-influenced) varieties: The constrained communication framework (see Kotze & Van Rooy 2016; Kotze 2022; Van Rooy & Kotze forthcoming). It draws on usage-based linguistics, variationist linguistics, probabilistic grammar and comparative linguistics, and allows for modelling the recurrent features of different forms of constrained communication conceptually and empirically, along theoretically justified dimensions of constraint. The theoretical outline is followed by an discussion of two studies carried out in this framework that have investigated translation alongside other contact-influenced varieties. The first focuses on the that/zero alternation in written contact and non-contact varieties, while the second ‘scales up’ the approach to investigate aggregate patterns of register variation across contact varieties. I demonstrate how this approach can help identify the effects of shared and distinct constraints in different contact-influenced varieties (including translation), and conclude by highlighting limitations and desiderata for work in this area.


Kotze, Haidee. 2022. Translation as constrained communication: Principles, concepts and methods. In Sylviane Granger & Marie-Aude Lefer, eds. Extending the Scope of Corpus-based Translation Studies. Bloomsbury. pp. 67-98.

Kotze, Haidee & Van Rooy, Bertus. 2016. Constrained language: A multidimensional analysis of translated English and a non-native indigenised variety of English. English World-Wide 37(1): 26-57.

Van Rooy, Bertus & Kotze, Haidee, eds. Forthcoming. Constraints on Language Variation and Change in Complex Multilingual Contact Settings. Contact Language Library (CoLL). John Benjamins.