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Doctoral defence of Katarzyna Wiśniewska, MA, 19 Nov 2022: Description of force dynamics and cognitive retention in literary and audiovisual translation

The doctoral dissertation in the field of Translation Studies will be examined at the Philosophical Faculty, Joensuu Campus and online.

What is the topic of your doctoral research? Why is it important to study the topic?

The topic of my doctoral research is Description of force dynamics and cognitive retention in literary and audiovisual translation. It is important to study this topic because of a general lack of systematised means and tools necessary for a cognition-oriented description of translation, despite many studies venturing into cognitive aspects of the translation product and process. With the need of constructing a systematic and empirically justified description of translation at the sentence level in mind, I embarked on a journey towards a more unified theoretical model investigating the proportion of cognitive information being mediated in translation regardless of language pairs and translation directions.

The study followed one of the central categories in Leonard Talmy’s (2000) model of cognitive semantics – force dynamics. The general objective of my work was to analyse how force-dynamic meanings are either retained or altered in literary and audiovisual translation between three languages: English, Finnish, and Polish. The category of force dynamics comprises many kinds of causative and other relationships that involve two opposing forces directed against each other, with one stronger than the other. The grammatical coding of the force entities varies. For example, both can be coded as grammatical subjects, depending on the overall clause-level construction and particularly on the verb, which is the most essential element expressing any force-dynamics relationship. Besides causation, force dynamics comprises such relationships as ‘letting’, ‘hindering’ or ‘helping’. In addition to relationships of physical interaction, the force-dynamics model also applies to the more abstract psychophysiological, social, and modal domains.

What are the key findings or observations of your doctoral research?

My research established a methodological tool for comparison of cognitive-semantic features between languages in a previously understudied translation setting. It determined that retention of cognitive, lexical and syntactic structures in translation is dependent on text-types specificities, as well as translators’ linguistic and stylistic choices. Moreover, it was hypothesized that cognitive retention in translation correlates to a greater extent with lexical rather than syntactic retention. With this hypothesis left for further consideration and testing, the study advocated the possibility of application of the established tool in translation training, with the focus on translation process research, as it allows for a more precise description of the source texts and their target texts, as opposed to a mere intuitive account.

The study viewed the phenomenon of cognitive retention in a wider scope and provided stronger empirical evidence for the cognitive retention hypothesis, coined by Mäkisalo and Lehtinen based on their 2014 pilot study. My study, apart from extending the existing research by its new text-type combination and more language pairs, took a more qualitative approach to the investigation of the phenomenon than its predecessors, yet still, statistically testing and approving their cognitive retention hypothesis. More cognitive structures were retained in translation than their linguistic counterparts. The study provided evidence that support for the cognitive retention hypothesis is stronger in literary translation than subtitling due to major differences in the studied text types. At the same time, it confirmed the earlier observations that cognitive retention is generally more stable in translation, although accompanied by highly varied lexical and syntactic realisations.

My research adds to the establishment of the immense impact of cognitive aspects on the process and product of translation, proposing new hypotheses to be used in process research. The study illustrated how the notion of force dynamics, imported from cognitive semantics into the general translation problem of the form-meaning relationship, may contribute to a better understanding of the translation process. It also showed that translation constitutes an interesting empirical field to test basic assumptions of cognitive linguistics.

Mining for a deeper understanding of languages in my research, I showed cognitive similarities in the way typologically (different languages express causal relationships and force interactions. Beneath apparent lexical and grammatical differences lie a highly similar fashion in which languages code perceptual organisation of information.

How can the results of your doctoral research be utilised in practice?

Since my doctoral research constitutes an empirical study with a descriptive focus through the observation and analysis of authentic translation and subtitling samples, it contributes to the practice of translation and the dynamic development of translation studies combined with linguistics, emphasising the genuine but neglected inseparability of the two disciplines. Apart from translation as interlingual communication, I oriented the study towards usage-based cognitive linguistics, an interdisciplinary branch of linguistic sciences which combines knowledge from both psychology and linguistics, describing how language interacts with human cognition. After all, although translation studies and cognitive linguistics rarely draw on each other, they both analyse language processing and can complement one another, which I provide evidence for in my piece of research.

As a scientific field and a profession in one, translation has always played a highly important role in bilingual or even multilingual transfer of culture and information by attempting to interpret concepts as faithfully and accurately as possible. Therefore, by providing necessary tools to describe translation from the cognitive perspective, my study provides cognition-based explanations for equivalence-related problems faced by translation trainers and scholars, as well as making room for introducing novel methods in translation teaching. Bridging theoretical models of cognitive linguistics with the semantic phenomenon of translation is likely to enrich translation training and translators’ intellectual experience. The main purpose of this is to raise awareness of the complex networks of lexico-syntactic interrelations that play a part in meaning conveyance, which starts with the comprehension and analysis of a text, and ends with the production of a translation. Awareness of the cognitive reasons behind variance in meaning could help translators make more conscious translation decisions instead of relying on immediate and unconscious intuition.

What are the key research methods and materials used in your doctoral research?

In my research, I surveyed the framework of cognitive semantics, which offers various components that could fruitfully be exploited to the advantage of translation studies. With this overarching research approach in mind, showing an interplay between the two disciplines in addressing language processing, I proceeded to collect empirical data. The aim was to complement and extend the cognitive retention framework and to look into the phenomenon of force dynamics from a multilingual perspective. I took a specific empirical approach, lending itself to corpus-based research, using qualitative and quantitative methods and data for different purposes, but also integrating them in the analysis and interpretation of the end results, exhibiting features of a mixed-methods approach. The qualitative part of the data analysis consisted of an extensive, intuitive, distributional linguistic analysis of selected samples, whereas the quantitative part of the data analysis was carried out with the help of statistical hypothesis testing.

The study was carried out on small-scale, self-compiled and self-annotated corpora of phrases containing force-dynamics patterns from officially published fragments of English, Finnish and Polish literary fiction, as well as film dialogues and their subtitles in these three languages. The corpora included phrases containing verb strings of interest for further analysis. In each source-text phrase, three structures were identified: cognitive, linguistic and syntactic. Then, the corresponding phrases in both translations were inspected with the aim of finding out whether the source-text structures are retained, modified or not retained in the translations. With the help of the so built and organised corpora, a methodology allowing for a qualitative interlingual analysis of cognitive semantics in the translation context, as well as case categories of cognitive-retention behaviour of force dynamics, could be defined.

For more information, please contact:
Katarzyna Wiśniewska, katarzyna.wisniewska(at)

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