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.

Detachment, highly 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, 1982].

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);

- particles-intensifiers (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 modal meaning.

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 speech, e.g.:

A ya hot’ slovo o den’gakh skazala?

Did I say a word about the money?

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’) [Zolotova, 2004].

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 – catastrophe’).

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, Fomina, 2002].

The above-mentioned 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

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