Subjective modality in literary translation from Russian into English
Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №10 - 2018
Author: Gersonskaya Valentina, Kazakh-American Free University, Kazakhstan
In literary translation
theory and practice, issues related to rendering subjective modality appear to
be quite relevant. The inventory of means of expressing subjective modality - a
relation between an external entity and the proposition [Bally, 2001] – is
unique in every language; therefore, to adequately translate a literary text,
one should be aware of the specifics of expressing subjective modality both in
the source and the target languages. The article attempts to generalize some
specifics of expressing subjective modality in the Russian language from the
literary translation perspective.
The modern theory of the
subjective modality category in the Russian language is based on works of V.V.
Vinogradov [Vinogradov, 1975], who noted that modality is a basic language
category, different in languages, which are not similar typologically. The
concept “modality” and modal means undergo historical changes. In European
languages, the category is expressed on all language levels.
The category, which
enables the writer to express the speaker’s attitude to the content of the
statement, is obligatory for the artistic text, the specificity of which lies
in the aesthetic impact, it has on the reader and the creation of imagery. Its
characteristic features are cultural coloring and clearly perceived belonging
to a certain time period; various deviations from the norms of the literary language,
inherent in the majority of texts; a certain communicative situation; types of
sequences as well as stylistic devices and expressive means unique for the
text; deviations from the maximum possible semantic accuracy in favor of
figurativeness and expressiveness; close connection between artistic images and
linguistic categories, as well as the individual style of the writer. In both
English and Russian, the subjective modality is expressed at different text
levels, with several modal means converging in the same sentence / text
passage, which contributes to the enhancement of the stylistic effect [Arnold, 2002].
Generalization of early
research de-dicated to means of expressing subjective modality in the Russian
language (V.V. Vostokov, E.M. Galkina-Fedoruk, I.P. Chirkina, G.V. Kolshansky,
I.P. Galperin, Zh. Vandries, N. Alexander) let Prosvirkina [Prosvirkina, 2002]
summarize their ideas. Vostokov includes intonation, conjugated verbs, modal
words and particles, and special syntactical structures. On Galkina-Fedoruk’s
list are repetitions, predicates expressed by verbs, certain sequence of
tenses, melodic repetitions, refrains, word-order in the sentence phraseological
units and detached parts of the sentence. Prosvirkina notes that, in general,
approach to subjective modality depends upon the branch of Linguistics. On the
phonetic level, focus is on means of creating euphony, in stylistics they consider
polysemantic words, homonyms, synonyms, antonyms and words restricted in use,
some scholars note that expressive means and their convergence, contrast or
repetition result in certain effects. According to Chirkina, subjunctive
modality is in parenthesis, modal particles and parts of words functioning as
modal particles, expressions with conjunctions and conjunction-like particles,
word-order, interjections, repetitions and special syntactical structures.
Kolshansky emphasizes that subjective modality can be expressed not only by
lexical, but grammatical means as well and focused much on the potential of
modal words. Galperin approaches subjective modality from the perspective of
text stylistics stating that modality should be considered on the text level.
Noting that subjective modality is created at different text levels –
morphological, lexical, phraseological, syntactical, compositional and
stylistic, he singles out epithet, simile, periphrasis, indirect
characterization, interjections and the text in general.
Our interest lies in
specifics of rendering some language means expressing subjective modality in
the Russian language in literary translation into English. Therefore, the
article will focus on most common modal means as well as those language units
rendering of which in literary translation can be rather challenging.
In written texts in the
Russian and the English languages, subjective modality can be shown by means of
graphons, detachment, punctuation marks and parcellation applied to show
intonation, pauses and logical stress as well as manner of speech which
express the emotional state of the speaker in discourse. Graphon, deliberate
distortion of the spelling of a word or phrase in order to show its actual
pronunciation [Kukharenko, 2000], is increasingly popular in Russian literary
texts, and as it is widely used in contemporary English, in the majority of
cases, its rendering into English will be absolutely easy. Parcellation can be
defined as an expressive syntactic construction - the deliberate dismemberment
of a text, bound intonationally and in writing, into several
punctuation-independent segments. As, in writing, the indicator of a syntactic
gap is a period (full stop) or another sign of the end of a sentence),
parcellation enables the reader to feel this pause and intonation when reading
[Apetyan, 2015]. In rendering parcellation, which is typical for the both
languages, one should be aware that in Russian subjective modality can be only
found in the so called ‘strong’ parcellation [Chernobrivetz, 2005]. In her work
Types of Parcellation in the Russian Language (K voprossu o tipakh partsellyatsii
v russkom yazyke), Chernobrivets notes that strong parcellation implies
breaking those syntactical connections between sentence members, which are
mandatory in the literary language. And, as a result, neither parcellation nor
the rest of the sentence have any structural or semantic completeness. With
weak parcellation, the main part of the sentence can function without it,
whereas parcellation cannot be understood.
expressive in the English language, is not significant for subjective modality
in the Russian language. According to Skovorodnikov, Russian detachment is only
of grammatical significance and does not have any modal meaning [Skovorodnikov,
Inversion, which is of
great stylistic significance for the English language, is quite common for the
Russian language, however, we cannot include it into the group of language
means with high modality, as the free word-order possible in Russian sentences
does not make it very expressive.
Particles with the
subjunctive modal meaning are widely used in Russian discourse and in writing
and can be divided into the following groups:
- exclamatory particles
(chto za, kak);
- particles expressing
doubt (vryad li, edva li);
(dazhe, zhe, daze i, ved’, ni, uzh, i vsyo taki);
- ambivalent particles
implying meiosis or demand (-ka).
In general, Russian syntactic means of expressing subjective modality include evaluative nominative sentences with emotive nouns and modal particles chto za (ambivalent;
used in exclamatory sentences with emotive words to express delight,
indignation, irritation, etc.), vot eto (used in exclamations to express
surprise or delight), prosto (used as an intensifier, ‘absolutely’) and
sentences with the modal particle kak, a personal pronoun in the 3d
person, and a verb (Kak on smeyet mne ukazyvat’?); interrogative sentences with modal particles, set expressions, as well as subject sentences without a predicate, infinitive
sentences, exclamations, sentences expressing order or wish, and rhetorical questions also have
In the Russian and the
English languages, there are quasi-sentences, whose stylistic effect is based
on the change of their syntactical meaning. They are similar in structure and
have the same modality. Quasi-affirmative and quasi-negative sentences normally
express negative emotions and are characteristic for affected colloquial
A ya hot’ slovo o
Did I say a word about
Chto tolku v muzhike, kotoryi
v butylku zaglyadyvaet?
What’s the good of man
behind a bit of glass?
The inventory of lexical
means of expressing subjective modality in the Russian and English languages is
practically identical. It includes stylistically colored lexis, stylistic
devices and expressive means, modal words, modal verbs and expressions, and
interjections [Skrebnev, 2003]. The difference lies in the Russian tendency to
show subjective modality with the help of modal words used as a part of the
predicate. They are moch’ (‘be able’), khotet' (‘want’), zhelat' (‘wish’), mozhno (‘may’), vozmozhno (‘possible’), zhelatel’no (‘desirable’), nuzhno (‘necessary’), dolzhen (‘must’), nameren (‘be intended’). In general, modal particles are quite typical
Russian modal means. Many of them are associated with introductory modal words which express the degree of
assuredness in the utterance: vryad li (‘highly
unlikely’), edva li (‘unlikely’), nebos’ (‘most likely’)
The both languages make
use of modal words in utterances which from the point of view of the speaker
are true (deistvitel’no – ‘really’, konechno –‘certainly’) or
false (kazalos’ by – ‘might seem, might expect, seemingly adj.’ ),
as well as in case when he/she is hesitant whether something is true or false (navernoe
– ‘perhaps’, skoreye vsego – ‘likely’) [Razlogova, 1998].
Certain difficulties may
occur in rendering Russian interjections as many of them are ambivalent, i.e.
they can render emotions, which are opposed, e.g. Bog moi! can express
surprise, indignation, joy, etc. To such interjections they refer Vashche!
Vot kak! Gospodi! Bog ty moi!, etc. [Apetyan, 2015].
In Russian written texts
and discourse, evaluation by means of words in figurative meaning is quite
typical: vorona (‘crow’ - an absent-minded person), dyatel (‘woodpecker’ – slang: dupe, sucker, sap), chulok (‘stocking’ – a
mannish woman-scientist), tryapka (‘duster’ – milksop, ‘a spineless
person’). Other powerful lexical means include groups of synonymous adjectives,
where one of the adjective has the negative prefix ne- (nedobry-zloi – ‘unkind
- wicked’, nedalyokiy - blizkiy – ‘not far – close’), numerous groups of
expressive synonyms (neschastye-gore-katastrofa – ‘grief – trouble –
Of special importance is
frequent use of morphemic means of expressing subjective modality, i.e.
suffixes. We consider these means of expressing modality most challenging, as
the English language does not have the same inventory of modal suffixes.
Moreover, it is these language means which modal meaning is either not
translated at all, or it is done inadequately. In Russian grammar textbooks,
eight groups of suffixes with modal meaning are normally specified:
- diminutive suffixes –ik,
-chik, used for derivation of nouns of masculine gender (slonik ‘little
elephant’, stolik ‘small table’);
- diminutive suffixes –k-(a),
- ochk-(a), -its-(a) used for derivation of nouns of feminine gender (sestritsa ‘dear sister’, dochka ‘dear daughter’);
- diminutive suffixes –ts-(e),
-ts-(o), -i-ts-(o), i-ts-(e) used for derivation of nouns of neuter gender
(bolotse ‘marsh’, pis’metso ‘letter’);
- ambivalent diminutive
suffixes –ushk-(o)/-yushk-(o), -ushk-(a)/-yushk-(a), -yshk-(o) used for
derivation of nouns of all genders (izbushka ‘small house’, starushka ‘old woman’, khlebushko ‘bread’);
- ambivalent suffixes –ishk-(o),
-ishk-(a) used for showing contempt or sympathy (diminutive) (zaichishka –
‘little hare’, pal’tishko ‘old/worn, /dirty/ cheap, etc. coat’);
- suffixes -on’k-(a)/-en’k-(a)for
derivation of masculine and feminine nouns with the modal meaning ‘contempt’ (-sobachyonka ‘small unpleasant dog’, devchyonka ‘unpleasant girl’);
- suffixes -on’k-(a)/-en’k-(a)for
derivation of masculine and feminine nouns with the diminutive modal meaning
(devon’ka ‘nice girl’, dochen’ka ‘dear daughter’);
- suffixes –ishch-(e),
-ishch-(a) used to derive nouns of all genders with the meaning of exaggeration
(tarakanishche ‘huge cockroach’, knizhishche ‘huge book’).
To the list, Rozental’,
Valgina and Fomina add the suffixes –ysh (glupysh ‘stupid’, malysh ‘baby’) and –onok/yonok (vnuchonok ‘grandson’) [Valgina, Rozental,
morphological means of expressing subjective modality are often found in
Russian literary texts, mostly in proper names. Current translation practice
demonstrates it that these modal means, with rare exception, are either not
rendered into the English language (translators use either transcription or
transliteration) or it is done inadequately. Specifics of nouns with modal
suffixes, particularly, proper names lies in the cultural information implied
in them. Therefore, each particular case requires consideration of both
linguistic and extralinguistic information conveyed in the text to be
translated [Borissova, Gersonskaya, 2014]. Cultural specifics of some means of
expressing subjective modality in the Russian language requires insight
research and developing certain recommendations on rendering their modal
meaning in literary translation from Russian into English.
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Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №10 - 2018