Multilingual discourse production

Multilingual discourse production: Diachronic and synchronic perspectives. Ed. by Svenja Kranich, Viktor Becher, Steffen Höder, and Juliane House. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2011. Pp. 320. ISBN 9789027219329. $113 (Hb).

Reviewed by Louisa Buckingham, University of Nizwa

This monograph containing twelve articles focuses on the effect of language contact, particularly through translation, on language variation and change. Bringing together insights from historical linguistics, corpus linguistics, and translation studies, the book comprises three sections: the first two address diachronic perspectives considering both long-term and recent changes, and the third focuses on synchronic perspectives.

The first chapter outlines a typology for translation-induced language change, which serves as a framework for a subsequent analysis of Latin–Old Swedish language contact. It acknowledges the importance of sociopolitical, cultural, and linguistic factors in translation-induced change and recognizes different linguistic manifestations of change.

The subsequent four chapters discuss aspects of historical language change involving Latin, French, English, and German. These include the role of translation in lexical innovation and grammatical constructions in English that reveal evidence of the influence of Latin/French in the genre of parliamentary rolls, which were written trilingually.

The following chapter examines particular stylistic changes with regard to the formulation of directives in German made by translators of French cookbooks published from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century. The author notes an increased level of formality in the formulations found in later texts which, according to the author, subsequently influenced the textual conventions of German cookbooks.

In the second section of the book, dedicated to investigations of recent linguistic changes, two studies consider the extent to which English lexico-grammatical features typical of a certain text type occur in German translations and in German parallel texts. The final chapter examines non-translated written discourse of bilingual speakers of Faroe and Danish for the transfer of communicative conventions.

Encompassing synchronic studies, the final section looks at how contact with English has induced lexico-grammatical or textual changes in particular text types in Japanese, German, Spanish, and the Salish languages. The discourse genres studied include corporate reports, newspapers, and oral language. Specifically, one study examines the use of personal pronouns as a variable to indicate the application of a ‘cultural filter’ in Japanese and English translated corporate reports. Another study investigates the infiltration of English lexico-grammatical features in a major United States–based Spanish newspaper and concludes that, contrary to expectations, it is not lexical items but the diffusion of particular morphosyntactic items typical of English that can be found in Spanish journalistic writing in the United States.

One study on oral language is included in this compilation. Looking at variations on the conventional verb-initial word order of Salish languages, the author refutes earlier claims that instances of subject-initial word order arose through language contact with English, postulating rather that this variation was pragmatically motivated.

This collection of corpus-based studies documents contact-induced lexico-grammatical and textual influence on a target language, in terms of either translation or discourse conventions in a second language with prestigious status within a given discourse community. Owing to the book’s strong empirical approach, the studies avoid the prescriptive and normative tendency common in the translation field. This book is a suitable companion to studies in translation and language variation at graduate level.