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The (near-)synonyms begin and start: evidence from translation corpora Thomas Egan & Susan Nacey Hedmark College Norway

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Presentation on theme: "The (near-)synonyms begin and start: evidence from translation corpora Thomas Egan & Susan Nacey Hedmark College Norway"— Presentation transcript:

1 The (near-)synonyms begin and start: evidence from translation corpora Thomas Egan & Susan Nacey Hedmark College Norway Rethinking Synonymy 28 – 30 October, Helsinki 28 – 30 October, Helsinki

2 Structure of paper 1.Begin/start: previous studies 2.Why translation corpora? 3.Description of ENP corpus 4.Translations of begin & start in ENPC 5.A closer look at transitive nominal and intransitive constructions 6.Summary & conclusions 2

3 1. Begin/start: previous studies Previous studies, among them Freed (1979), Dixon (1991, 2005), Duffley (1999), Mair (2002) and Egan (2008), all agree that begin and start are not completely synonymous. They also agree that it is difficult to tease out the difference between them. In many sentences start and begin may be substituted one for the other with little or no change in meaning […]. But there do appear to be some semantic preferences for each verb, which motivates their use to a considerable extent. (Dixon 1991: 176 & 2005: 181) 3

4 Start more common in spoken English There are slightly more occurrences of all forms of the verb begin than of start in the BNC as a whole. A search restricted to the spoken dialogue part of the corpus reveals that start is ten times as popular as its rival. Even start to infinitive, which is outnumbered three-to-one by begin to infinitive in the corpus as a whole, outnumbers begin to infinitive in the spoken dialogue sub-corpus by almost two-to-one. (Egan 2008: 257) 4

5 One semantic distinction proposed by Freed […] only from a sentence with begin does it necessarily follow that the nucleus (or characteristic activity) of the event has been initiated; a sentence with start followed by a to V complement can have as a consequence that only the onset of the event named in the complement has been initiated. We may conclude, therefore, that start refers to the onset of an event while begin refers to the initial temporal segment of the nucleus of an event. (Freed 1979: 71) 5

6 2. Why translation corpora? Translation corpora reveal which lexemes or constructions in language A are felt by competent speakers of both languages to correspond most closely to a given lexeme or construction in language B. (See, for example, Dyvik 1998, 2004, Noêl 2003, Johansson 2007, Egan in press) 6

7 Synonomous expressions in translation 1.If two lexemes or constructions in language A are completely synonymous, it should not be possible to predict the original form on the basis of translations into language B. 2.The greater the degree of semantic overlap there is between two constructions in language A, the more difficult it should be to predict the original forms given their translations into language B. 7

8 Possible consequences of semantic asymmetry between languages 3. In cases where a semantic distinction in the original language is not evidenced in the language of translation, one may be misled into postulating a greater degree of synonymy in the original language than is in fact the case. 4. The opposite case, where a semantic distinction in the language of translation is not evidenced in the original language, should not, however, carry the danger of leading to false conclusions. 8

9 3. Description of corpus Compiled under the direction of Stig Johansson at the University of Oslo, the English-Norwegian Parallel Corpus (ENPC) consists of 50 extracts from English texts of some 12,000 words in length, together with their translations into Norwegian, and 50 extracts from Norwegian texts of similar length, together with their translations into English. Both fictional and non-fictional texts are represented. For the present paper only the original English texts and their translations were consulted. 9

10 4. Begin & start in ENPC There are 433 tokens of begin and 232 tokens of start in the ENPC. They occur in four main constructions. (a)to-infinitive complement constructions (b) -ing complement constructions (c)Intransitive constructions (d)Transitive constructions with nominal objects 10

11 All tokens of begin & start in ENPC: Four types of complementation 11

12 Translations of begin & start in ENPC The translations are divided into five classes, according to how ( and whether) the ingressive aspect is encoded: (a)The Norwegian verb begynne: 481 tokens (b) Other ingressive verbs (including starte): 88 tokens (c)Divergent forms (encoding ingression): 47 tokens (d)Ingressive aspect not translated: 34 tokens (e)Whole phrase not translated: 15 tokens 12

13 Illustrations of four translation options (the fifth is avoidance!) (1)After a pause, Dorothy controlled herself and began consoling them. (DL1) … begynte å trøste… = began to console. (DL1) (2)He started breathing through his mouth. (JC1) …begynte å puste … = began to breathe (JC1) (3)Starvation began. (MAW1) Sulten satte inn… =set in (MAW1) (4)Her problems started the day she married him. (SG1) De oppstod … lit. They stood up (SG1) 13

14 (5) It is dark now and I stand at the end of a street, where the desert begins, and I weep like a fool. (RF1) …ved overgangen til ørkenen… = at the transition to the desert (RF1) (6) As the story starts (ROB1) I åpningen av denne historien … = At the beginning of (ROB1) (7) Is your scalp beginning to burn, dear?(RD1) Svir det i hårbunnen? = Is your scalp burning? (RD1) (8) The phone started to make gravelly noises. (PM1) Telefonen gryntet… = The telephone grunted (PM1) 14

15 All tokens of begin & start in ENPC: five translation strategies 15

16 Are differences significant? The difference between the translations of begin and start shown on the previous slide is significant at the p= level (Pearsons chi.sq= with four df). However: The difference between the two forms in the construction with to-infinitive complements is not significant (Pearsons chi.sq= with four df, p= ). Nor is there any significant difference between the forms with –ing complements (Pearsons chi.sq= with four df, p= ). 16

17 So The overall difference must be due to differences in either the translations of transitive nominal and intransitive constructions, or to both of these. And indeed: The difference between the two forms in the intransitive construction is significant (Pearsons chi.sq= with three df, p= ). Similarly, the difference between the two forms in the transitive construction is significant (Pearsons chi.sq= with three df, p= ). 17

18 Begin to as a guarantor of initiation? (9) I was so afraid that I got down from the barrel and started to move away when the girl pointed and cried: (BO1) …skulle til å gå … = was about to go (BO1) (10) Before he could add, as he had begun to, suppressing a tone of irony, "Only the people", she exclaimed, "Thank God for that! (RR1) Før han rakk å tilføye… = Before he managed to add (RR1) (11) I began to move away when my legs brushed against something hairy. (BO1) …hadde så vidt begynt å gå… = had just about begun to move… (BO1) 18

19 5. A closer look at transitive nominal and intransitive constructions Transitive constructions with nominal objects and intransitive constructions were analysed with respect to various parameters, including animacy and specificity of the subject (and object), TAM features of the verb and adverbial modification. The discussion that follows is limited to the most significant differences. 19

20 Just transitive tokens with nominal objects 20

21 Transitive tokens translated by begynne Semantic filed of object StartBegin Life2 13%4 16% Work2 13%6 24% Education4 26%4 16% Physical action/product 6 40%8 32% Abstract1 7%3 12% Total

22 Transitive tokens translated by other ingressives Almost all of the nominal objects of both begin and start that are translated by alternative ingressives are from the domains of work and physical activities/products. 18 tokens of start are translated by 10 forms. 6 tokens of begin are translated by 5 forms. 6 tokens of begin are translated by 5 forms. 2 forms are common to translations of both verbs, grunnlegge (=found) and påbegynne (=begin on). 2 forms are common to translations of both verbs, grunnlegge (=found) and påbegynne (=begin on). Both tokens of grunnlegge are from the same text and the object in both cases is the same: colony (of bees). 22

23 Ingressives exclusive to start 4 tokens of start are translated by its Norwegian cognate starte and 3 by sette i gang (= get going, lit. set in motion) (12) They're not interested in harming the earth or starting wars. (ROB1) … i å starte kriger... (ROB1) (13) As a result, it may cost more in foreign exchange to start domestic arms production. (CS1) … å sette i gang egen våpenproduksjon = to get ones own arms production going (CS1) (CS1) 23

24 Ingressives exclusive to begin Of 3 ingressives exclusive to begin, only one occurs more than once, innlede, which means open (lit. lead in). Of 3 ingressives exclusive to begin, only one occurs more than once, innlede, which means open (lit. lead in). (14) The banks, bursting with dollars, began a hard sell to encourage developing countries to borrow them. (LTLT1) … innledet en beinhard salgsprosess = opened (LTLT1) The other two forms just used for begin are legge ut på (set out on) and ta fatt på (get a grip on). 24

25 Just intransitive tokens 25

26 Intransitive tokens translated by begynne: with time adverbials 14 tokens (40%) of start and 14 (21%) of begin are modified by time adverbials. Of these, 11 tokens of start (79%) occur with an indefinite time adverbial, while 10 tokens of begin (71%) occur with a definite time adverbial. The Norwegian på nytt (= anew) is used in the translation of 7 of the start tokens and none of the begin tokens. (15) I hated the discouraging task of starting over (TH1) … begynne på nytt… (= begin anew) (TH1) 26

27 Intransitive tokens translated by begynne: with no adverbial modification 4 tokens (11%) of start and 28 (41%) of begin are not modified by an adverbial at all. Some typical uses: (16) "Don't start," he murmured. (MW1) "Ikke begynn med det der igjen …= Dont begin with that again (MW1) (17) "I'm the Billeting Officer for this area," she began. (MM1) …begynte hun… = she began (MM1) (18) Before the march-past began, the crowd looked up at the podium (MAW1) Før paraden begynte …= before the parade began (MAW1) 27

28 Intransitive tokens translated by other ingressives 27 tokens of start are translated by in all 12 ingressives. 11 tokens of begin are translated by in all 8 ingressives. There are three forms in common, ta til (lit. take to), used by the same translator in (19) and (20), komme i gang (= get going) and sette i (= set in). (19) The full exercise of their powers shall start from the first day of the third stage. (MAAS1) (MAAS1) (20) 1. The second stage for achieving economic and monetary union shall begin on 1 January (MAAS1) (MAAS1) 28

29 Ingressives exclusive to start 7 tokens of start are translated by its Norwegian cognate starte and 4 by oppstå (=emerge, lit. stand up) (21) We start from the Embankment. (PDJ3) Vi starter... (PDJ3) (22) Your mother's problems didn't start yesterday.(SG1) …oppstod ikke i går. = lit. didnt stand up (SG1) Two other translation equivalents used more than once are skulle til (= be about to) and ta fatt på (= get going on, lit. take hold of). 29

30 Ingressives exclusive to begin Of 5 ingressives exclusive to begin, 2 occur more than once, åpne (= open) and innlede, which also means open (lit. lead in). Of 5 ingressives exclusive to begin, 2 occur more than once, åpne (= open) and innlede, which also means open (lit. lead in). (23) The Senator's letter began "Dear Donald. (RDA1) …åpnet med "Kjære Donald",…= opened with (RDA1) (24) The year began with lunch. (PM1) … ble innledet med … = was opened with (PM1) 30

31 6. Summary and conclusions If we look at the various constructions containing begin and start through the prism of Norwegian translations, we are unable to predict originals in the case of begin to and start to, begin -ing and start –ing. These two pairs would appear to be, to all intents and purposes, synonymous. This degree of synonymy is presumably also a prerequisite for the current expansion of start at the expense of begin, a development noted by Mair (2002) and Skandera (2003). In the case of the constructions with nominal objects and the intransitive constructions, differences in favoured translation options presumably reflect semantic differences in the English originals. 31

32 In particular, only tokens of begin are translated by Norwegian equivalents of open, implying the preexistence of a participant (trajector or landmark) or process, while only tokens of start are translated by oppstå (= stand up), implying the creation of a new participant or process. Would the use of a translation corpus prove a useful addition to the methodological toolkit of the linguist studying synonymy? Insofar as translation corpora allow us access to the (spontaneous) intuitive insights of a cross-section of competent speakers, they are obviously to be preferred to the intuitions of a single analyst. 32

33 More particularly, translation corpora can contribute to studies of synonymy in two ways. Firstly, similarities/differences in translation equivalents can alert us to similarities/differences in the original constructions of which we may not have been aware. Secondly, the actual forms chosen in the case of different translation equivalents may highlight aspects of the semantics of the original forms (in the present case åpne/innlede for begin and oppstå for start). It goes without saying that translation corpora containing more than one language may be even more useful as diagnostics for differences and similarities. 33

34 References Cuyckens, H., Sandra, D. & Rice, S. (1999). Towards an empirical lexical semantics. In B. Smieja & M. Tasch (eds.), Human Contact Through Language and Linguistics Wiesbaden: Peter Lang. Reprinted in Evans, V., Bergen, B. & Zinken, J. (eds) (2007) The Cognitive Linguistics Reader. London: Equinox Dixon, R. M. W. (1991). A new approach to English grammar, on semantic principles. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Dixon, R. M. W. (2005). A semantic approach to English grammar (2nd. ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. Duffley, P. J. (1999). The use of the infinitive and the -ing after verbs denoting the beginning, middle and end of an event. Folia Linguistica, 33, Dyvik, H. (1998). A translational basis for semantics. In S. Johansson & S. Oksefjell (Eds.), Corpora and cross-linguistic research : theory, method, and case studies. Amsterdam: Rodopi Dyvik, H. (2004). Translations as semantic mirrors: from parallel corpus to wordnet. In K. Aijmer & B. Altenberg (Eds.), Advances in corpus linguistics : papers from the 23rd International Conference on English Language Research on Computerized Corpora (ICAME 23), Göteborg May Amsterdam: Rodopi

35 References continued Egan, T. (2008). Non-finite complmentation: a usage-based study of infinitive and –ing clauses in English. Amsterdam: Rodopi. Egan, T. (in press). Through seen through the looking glass of translation equivalence: a proposed method for determining closeness of word senses. In S. Hoffman, P. Rayson & G. N. Leech (Eds.), Corpus linguistics: Looking back - moving forward. Amsterdam: Rodopi. Freed, A. F. (1979). The Semantics of English aspectual complementation. Dordrecht: Reidel. Johansson, S. (2007). Seeing through Multilingual Corpora : On the use of corpora in contrastive studies. Amsterdam: Benjamins. Mair, C. (2003). Gerundial complements after begin and start: Grammatical and sociolinguistic factcors, and how they work against each other. In B. Mondorf & G. Rohdenburg (Eds.), Determinants of grammatical variation in English. Berlin: Mouton Noël, D. (2003). Translations as evidence for semantics: an illustration. Linguistics 41(4), Skandera, P. ). Start doing or start to do: Is the gerund spreading in American English? In C. Tschichold (Ed.), English Core Linguistics: Essays in honour of D. J. Allerton. Bern: Peter Lang Skandera, P. (2003). Start doing or start to do: Is the gerund spreading in American English? In C. Tschichold (Ed.), English Core Linguistics: Essays in honour of D. J. Allerton. Bern: Peter Lang


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