The English and German Passive and its Use in the Translation of Novels

Research Paper (postgraduate), 2011

21 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of Contents

1.0 Introduction

2.0 The Science of Linguistics-A general overview
2.1 What is Contrastive Linguistics?
2.2 The Science of Translations

3.0 The English Passive
3.1 Status of the English passive in linguistic theory
3.2 Comparison of English and German passive constructions

4.0 The Use of the Passive in English translations
4.1 The frequency of the passive in comparison

5.0 Conclusionp


1.0 Introduction

Due to the change in linguistic science from systematic analysis to a more communicative based study, grammatical properties become more and more relevant to our everyday life. One of these grammatical constructions is the passive that has become one of the most controversial topics in the discussion of contrastive linguistics. But what is contrastive linguistics?

The factor globalization, accompanying us within every cultural based field of research, has also spread its tentacles around languages. Linguists from different countries are therefore interested in how far languages are comparable and if they are, whether or not differences can be found within the constructions of the passive and its usage. Still, this venture can not be completed over night.

Over decades different ways of research have been developed, parameters were defined and even new scientific branches came into being.

The outcome was that everyday procedures like reading a book and economic affairs for instance translating a book in order to throw it on the market, are now connected through the field of linguistics.

In my paper I want to show that the passive is one of the most extensive parts of grammar. I will investigate where the differences and similarities of this grammatical phenomenon are located in a comparison between English and German. I claim that the use of passive in English differs to a large extend to its usage in German.

The choice of these two languages is based on the economical background that English and German literature is located within the top five of the most translated works in the world. I will focus in particular on novels because they have a market share of approximately 50% and are therefore predestined for researches such as this. To establish a context to the field of contrastive linguistics and the science of translation, I will briefly summarize the developments within these branches.

2.0 The Science of Linguistics- A general overview

2.1 What is Contrastive Linguistics?

Often the subject of contrastive linguistics is being named along with American Structuralism and foreign language acquisition (Rein, 1-33). The Prague school developed the concept of “comparaisonon analytique” that was originally concerned with the improvement of language teaching (Sternemann, 28). Based on Skinner's theory that language acquisition is triggered through conditioning, reinforcement and generalization, the majority was convinced that the problem lies within the clash of two languages. However, one could also conclude that the influence of a mother tongue could also have a positive effect on second language acquisition.

Later the works of Charles Fries and Robert Lado provided the basis for the Contrastive Studies Series by Kufner and Moulton that concentrated particularly on German. Among other works, this series contributed to the success of Contrastive Linguistics. They also provided the background for the conclusion that mistakes in foreign language learning are not resulting from differences, but from similarities of two languages. Therefore the original intention of contrastive linguistics to explain the problems of second language acquisition was abolished.

Since then the new goal was the analysis of mistakes as a contribution to the inter-language research for example by Hopkins with the central question in how far languages can be compared at all (Oldenburg, 19). The outcome was a growing gap between practice and theory (Heindrichs, 124). Critics of this new goal argued that every language is a closed system in itself and can therefore not be compared to another language system (James, 167). Fisiak subscribes to this point of view and argues that “one of the concepts which has not been definitely worked out until today, but which is fundamental […] is that of tertium comparations” (Fisiak, 6). Basically stating that there is no common reference value to compare languages.

Supporters of contrastive linguistics on the contrary, regarded the similarity and partial correlation like lexeme, modality and causality and the general possibility for translating languages, as adequate justification for their comparison (James, 168). Further more, it was explained that the tertium comparations is always dependent on the different theoretical approaches and goals of the comparisons (Fisiak, 12).

Recently the progress in the field of contrastive linguistics has lead to a vast amount of sub genres, paying particular attention to the social and situational context for example propositional text understanding concentrating on the content of a sentence (Helbig, 167-170).Further approaches focused on interactivity of communication between two cultures (Oldenburg, 35).

In conclusion, Contrastive Linguistics have developed fast and gained more and more attention since the 1950s. The change in purpose and the far reaching field of sub genres are proof for the up-to-dateness and importance of comparing languages from a linguistic point of view.

2.2 The science of translation

Translation studies is an area of study that can be dated back to the ancient world. However, the way of scientific translation approaches started to establish in the mid of the twentieth century (Koller, 34-58). The central goal was to find out whether translations have to adapt to the stylistic and cultural conditions of a language or if they should favor incorrect translations in order to stick as close as possible to the original (Koller, 35).

Due to the daily use of translations in news or other media, the communicative models, developed in the school of translation studies in Leipzig, played the most important role (Oldenburg, 37). Otto Kade developed a model in which translations were seen as a special form of communication. The translator acting as an agent between receiver and sender (see fig.1) and plays therefore the role of receiver and sender at same time (Oldenburg, 37).

illustration not visible in this excerpt

However, Koller argues that the problem of this model is the presumption of simple code conversion without taking the intercultural differences of sender and receiver into account (Koller, 107).

As a result of Kade's first attempt, scientist declared the identification of grammatical and lexical relationships between source language and target language as their main focus in translation studies (Neubert, 206). Therefore the representatives of this approach called stylistique compareé developed five different types of equivalence (see Koller 228,240). Literary texts were neglected due to the fact that the possible equivalence in scientific texts is rather clear. To define an equivalence is rather hard regarding the vast number of opinions about this term. One possible view is to look at it as some kind of synonym for the term coherence. Critics argued that this is not really of assistance, reminding that there is a certain coherence in every translation. Therefore Albrecht argued in favor of the invariance instead of equivalence (see Albrecht). However the term equivalence asserted and is still not completely defined until today.

This changed with the analysis by Reiß who developed a system that enables to differ between three types of texts: the ones with emphasis on content, the ones with emphasis on form and others with emphasis on appeal (Reiß, 32). Hence, different sorts of texts can be related to one of the three types e.g. a direction for use belongs to the category of informative texts (Reiß, 29). This general categorization of texts is, according to Reiß, directly connected to the way of translation. The outcome is that every text has different criteria of equivalence (Reiß, 23).

However, other theories e.g. by Koller claim that there are not just gradual differences but also in quality especially between fictional and non-fictional texts (Koller, 273). One argument in favor of this theory is that the expectations of the translator vary, concerning the category of text (see fig.2).


Excerpt out of 21 pages


The English and German Passive and its Use in the Translation of Novels
University of Hannover  (English Seminar)
Contrastive Linguistics
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english, german, passive, translation, novels
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Sascha Ranke (Author), 2011, The English and German Passive and its Use in the Translation of Novels, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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