A Register Analysis of the Persian Translation of McCarthy’s novel ‘The Road’ in light of Steiner’s model | July 2015 | Translation Journal

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A Register Analysis of the Persian Translation of McCarthy’s novel ‘The Road’ in light of Steiner’s model

McCarthys novel The Road


Analyzing the translations of literary works has long been of a common interest to researchers, translators and linguists. Among the analytic models used to analyze translations, Steiner's model of Register Analysis has been less explored as compared to that of House, Halliday, Baker, etc. However, the detailed and comprehensive framework of this theory has made it a reliable basis of analyzing translated texts. Therefore, the present research aims to adopt this model in order to analyze the translation of an award-winning English post-modern novel written by Cormac McCarthy in 2009. Its Persian translation has been produced by several authors among whom we chose to analyze Hossein Noosh Azar's (2010). The main register components of Steiner's model, field, tenor and model along with their sub-components were investigated in the translated text and actual instances were extracted from both the source and target translated text and were presented in the results section. This paper is in fact the first academic effort to adopt Steiner's model to analyze the Persian translation of a postmodern literary work in Iran.

Key words: translation, Steiner's model, register analysis. McCarthy.

1. Introduction:

In many different contexts such as text production, text interpretation, representation of multilingual knowledge, and especially in translation, texts need to be analyzed before being processed. Although these analyses are not the aim of the process itself, are in such contexts important tools for making text structure explicit and for preparing the meaning encoded in the text for representation in a different form. One special case is translation that is the encoding in a different natural language (Steiner, 1997).

1.1. Steiner's point of view

As a member of the German SFL school of translation Erich Steiner is considered to be a functional linguist. In the nineties, in two of his articles, 1997 and 1998, he proposed an overall model of context, text and language for translation purposes. He worked on English-German language pairs and put forth his model based on that. His register analysis had in fact been rooted in SFL, but had some additional elements which made it particularly fit for translations (Manfredi, 2012).

Steiner began with the assumption that all texts are situated language. By 'situated' he meant being manifestations of a language system under contextual restrictions. He did not view texts as strings of sentences from some idealized language system, but instead as instances of language varieties which are determined by the context of situation (Manfredi, 2012).

Steiner's register theory is a theory of the context of situation and of linguistic variation in such contexts. This theory was found to be particularly useful in offering a theoretically motivated model to the practical analysis of a source text and the evaluation of a translated text. It was able to connect language, text and context.

1.2. Steiner's tripartite model:

In his model, each register variable i.e., Field, Tenor and Mode is divided into 3 sub-variables. Examine figure 1:

Figure 1

Figure 1- Steiner's model of register analysis (Steiner, 2004)

1.2.1. Field

Three internal aspects are conceived of for the Field of discourse: experiential domain, goal orientation, and social activity.

Experiential domain is actually the subject matter or topic of discourse. In translated texts it is better to talk about domains rather than domain since there are many involved which need to be recognized by translator. The most typical linguistic that is morphosyntactic realizations are:

  • transitivity of clauses
  • types of participants
  • lexical fields
  • terminologies
  • cohesive lexical chains
  • time / tense / aspect features
  • aspects of reference
  • headings/ titles
  • paragraphing.

By social activity, Steiner shows interest in the function that the text has in its context of culture. The different types of social activity he thinks of are: production, exchange, communication, reproduction, consumption, etc. (Steiner, 1997).

With goal orientation, Steiner shows interest in participants' goal, both the author's and the translator's and on the function of both source text (ST) and translated text (TT). The goal of a text can be: interchange, exposition, persuasion, argumentation, description, narration, etc. Steiner distinguishes between short term and long term goals. The latter is related to the global rhetorical aim of the whole text and the former is about the aim(s) on descending ranks (text- paragraph-clause-complex). Goal orientation is perceived to be basic in translation because it can change from the source text to translated text (Steiner, 2004).

In Steiner's model some of the more prominent morphosyntactic realizations of goal are:

  • mood
  • ellipsis / non-ellipsis
  • tense
  • transitivity (in particular, agency patterns)
  • conjunctive relations
  • patterns of thematic progression
  • patterns of topic construction
  • paragraphing
  • rhetorical relations

1.2.2. Tenor

As Steiner puts it, Tenor is concerned with the relationship between participants (author and translator). Steiner distinguishes between three main sub-variables (Manfredi, 2012):

  • Agentive roles
  • Social roles
  • Social distance

Translation problems often show up when we have to do with Tenor, for differences in languages, texts and contexts, not only because of different morphosyntactic structures, but also of different cultural practices.

Agentive roles is the first sub-variable. It is related to the semiotic roles defined by the type of action that takes place and also the goal(s) attributed to author, reader or hearer such as:

  • vendor vs. customer
  • giver vs. receiver
  • sayer vs. listener
  • teacher vs. learner, etc.

In most cases, morphosyntactic realizations are:

  • Mood
  • Ellipsis
  • Modality
  • Use of specialist language

Social roles are concerned with social power relationships between participants that are encoded in a text. They can be defined on the basis of hierarchies or according to the extent of certainty. With regard to the former, such hierarchies can be concerned with:

  • Social class
  • Gender
  • Age
  • Ethnicity
  • Religious affiliation

As for the degree of certainty they can depend on the Level of expertise and the Level of education of the participants.

The basic option seems to be between equal and unequal statuses. Steiner finds its common linguistic realizations in the interpersonal systems and in those structuring texts and dialogues such as:

  • modality
  • mood
  • choice of specialist terminology
  • forms of address
  • formality

The third sub-variable of tenor is social distance. It refers to the frequency of previous interaction and is indicative of a choice between 'familiar' and 'anonymous'. Its morphosyntactic realizations are:

  • tagging
  • modality
  • types of forms of address
  • colloquialism
  • jargon
  • accents/dialects/sociolects

The fourth sub-variable is affect which can be realized morphosyntactically by lexical selection, grammatical choices and rhetorical devices (Steiner, 2004).

1.2.3. Mode

This is the last register variable of the context of situation as Steiner views it. Its sub-divisions are: Language role, Channel, and Medium.

As for language role, texts differ from each other in terms of whether they are part of a linguistic activity (constitutive) or part of a non-linguistic activity (ancillary) (Steiner, 2004). Typical morphosyntactic realizations are: ellipsis, mood, reference. As regards the channel of discourse which is related to the physical means through which texts are produced whether 'graphic' or 'phonic' the major options are:

  • Sound waves
  • Electronic channels
  • Paper
  • Telephone line, etc.

The Medium which is either spoken or written can be realized morphosyntactically through:

  • use of pronouns vs. full words
  • exophoric vs. endophoric reference
  • types of cohesion
  • clause complexity
  • Grammatical Metaphor, etc.

1.3. Steiner's overall view

A decent translation requires that the register remains relatively constant even across the process of translation. In his view, the more register changes, the more the translated text will not represent a translation in the narrower sense (Steiner 1998).

Steiner argues that while a Register Analysis, is a valuable tool for translation text analysis and evaluation, it does not offer a model of transfer, because two languages are involved, with 'typological differences', and some problems are particular to translation. After a register- analysis, considerations which go beyond the Context of Situation are indispensable: they have to be based on the language pair a translator is working with and related to the Contexts of Culture they are set in. However, the final criteria to assess texts remain "functionally motivated" (Steiner 1997).

1.4. Purpose of study

Steiner's functional model of translation analysis has been less explored as compared to those of House, Baker and others. Especially in the realm of literature and literary works, there is a dearth of research illuminated by this model. As for English-Persian translations of literary works, this research is in fact a pioneering work in its own turn. After pinpointing the main components of Steiner's model, the present research has sought to analyze the Persian translation of the award winning postmodern apocalyptic novel "The Road" written by Cormac McCarthey in 2006.

2. Review of Literature

Unfortunately, the register approach has not found much application in translation studies until the 1990s. And this comes only when translation theorists found out the nature of translation as a textual thing (House, 1981), a cross-cultural communication which is both socially and culturally necessary and useful (Gregory, 2001). Since then there has been a growing interest in the relevance of the idea of register, and the model of register analysis, to a translation-oriented analysis and evaluation of texts (Marco, 2001).

Marco (2001) contributed to register analysis in the field of translation quality assessment by specifically justifying the use of register analysis in literary translation. He mentioned that such a tool provides the necessary link between a communicative act and the context of situation in which it occurs. For him, register analysis is the most comprehensive framework proposed for

the characterization of context, and has the benefit of providing a very limited number of variables based on which any specific context might be defined" (ibid.).
Like Marco, team-workers Hatim and Mason (1990, 1997) also used register analysis as part of their overall account of context in translation. Despite their claim that there are other contextual factors, i.e. pragmatic and semiotic ones, which transcend the framework of register, they continue to assume that identifying the register membership of a text is an essential part of discourse processing.

Also noteworthy in the application of register analysis for practical translation studies are House (1981, 1997) and Baker (1992) who not only employed Halliday's model of register analysis but also developed reliable criteria by which both the source text and translated text can be systematically compared.

3. Methodology:

We adopted an analytic approach to study a postmodern literary work. In an exploratory content analysis, we looked for instances of the main components of Steiner's register model in selected parts of the novel. Sample sentences representative of the main components of the target model were extracted and presented in the results. For feasibility matters, we could not analyze the whole text; therefore, we acted selectively and our extracts belonged to different parts of the novel. 'The road' was our main material. It will be briefly introduced below.

3.1. Source text (ST)

The award winning postmodern novel 'The Road' was written by Cormac McCarthey and first published in September, 2006 in English. Its main characters are a nameless father and son. The genres of this literary work could be Fiction, Literary fiction, Apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction, Science Fiction, Speculative fiction. It was published in English.

The author is an American novelist, playwright and screenwriter born in 1933. He has written ten novels, spanning the Southern Gothic, Western and post-apocalyptic genres. His novel 'The Road' won Pulitzer Prize for fiction and MacArthur Fellowship.

The plot of the novel is about a father and son who walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape except for the ash in the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is gray. The sky is dark. Their destination is the coast, although they do not know what, if anything, awaits them there. It is a readable book because it is exactly what a book about our future as human beings ought to be.

3.2. Translated text (TT)

This novel has been translated three times into Persian: in 2008 by Iraj Mesal Azar, in 2009 by Mohammad Reza Ghelichkhani, and in 2009-2013 by Hossein Noosh Azar. The last one was published three times.

Hossein Noosh Azar is an Iranian Writer and translator who lives in Germany. His translated book was published by Morvarid Pub. Co. in Tehran. The translated book covers 274 pages.

4. Results:

We begin with drawing attention to the main components of register in Steiner's model which are Field, Tenor and Mode. We should like to present our analytic results in the same order.

4.1. Field

The first internal dimension Steiner (2004) distinguished was experiential domain, which as mentioned previously, had to do with the topic or subject matter. Let's consider the title of our target text:

ST: The Road

TT: 1

The author chose the title 'The Road' the meaning of which is not understood until you manage to finish the whole story which shows the main two characters (father and son) travelling along a road that is in fact the pathway of their life guiding them towards an unknown future. Translator has used literal (word-to-word) translation of the title and is loyal to the inherent mystery and vagueness intended by the original author.

As for the 'tense' of the text, it is observed that in all the source text, the descriptive parts except for dialogues are in past tense: simple past, past perfect and past progressive. These are best suited to narrative type texts. The target translation text is in: 2

Here are some sample extracts:

ST: in the dream from which he'd wakened he had wandered in a cave where the child led

him by the hand

TT: 3

As for 'paragraphing', we could observe that the translator has exactly translated each paragraph from the source text to one paragraph. However, we see that English texts are sometimes fraught with lengthy paragraphs. When they are translated into Persian they become yet longer. Therefore, the translator could have broken the paragraphs into smaller ones. That is what the translator had not taken into account. See the following example:

ST: When he woke.....into the dark (one paragraph consisting of 15 sentences)

TT: 4

The second internal dimension of Field that Steiner distinguished was goal orientation. And it implied both the author's and translator's goal and its function in the source and translated texts. Steiner talked about 2 types of goals: long term and short term.

The author of the source text in this research (McCarthy) seems to seek for a long-term goal since his novel is not for commercial purposes. It aims to touch deep human thought and prospects. It is timeless. Its theme refers to all human beings at all times. The translated text seems to have managed to convey the same theme.

The main 3 goals followed in both source text and translated text were found to be: description, narration and exposition. This is in line with the genre of the text: a literary work, a novel, a fiction. Both the source and translated texts are full of descriptive words: adjectives, adverbs, etc. See the following extracts:

ST: on the far shore a creature that raised its dripping mouth from the rimstone pool

and stared into the light with eyes dead white and sightless as the eggs of spiders

TT: 5


The third internal dimension of Field pinpointed by Steiner has been social activity. By social activity Steiner implies the function of the text in a given culture or context. Steiner enlists some of these functions: production, exchange, communication, reproduction, consumption, etc.

The original text here is seen to serve 2 purposes in the original context of culture: 1. entertainment, 2. thought elicitation and awareness raising (since McCarthy is famous for these and has won a number of prizes for these qualities)

The translator seems to do a real translation and not a reproduction of the text, since he seems to be very loyal to every single statement.

4.2. Tenor

Tenor of discourse is concerned with the relationship between participants. The first sub- variable he distinguishes is agentive role. Agentive roles refer to those roles played by participants: author-reader and translator-reader. Now let's consider this variable in the source and translated texts.

In ST: Author-reader → thought provoker-thinker describer-analyzer
In the TT: Translator-reader → describer-analyzer

It is evident that if the translator used shorter paragraphs, he would give more chances (at the intervals between paragraphs) to readers to wait and analyze the content.

The next sub-variable of Tenor, in Steiner's words is social roles. By social roles Steiner means

participants' (author, translator, reader) age, gender, ethnicity, social class, etc.

It was observed that the ST was addressed to all human beings regardless of age, gender, time span, geography, etc. Both young generation (son) and old generation (father) were involved. Both genders were involved. The characters have been chosen to be anonymous intentionally so that they could represent all post-war human beings, and their fate be that of all humanity.

In the TT the same pattern persists all throughout the translated text. It attests to the translator's awareness of and faithfulness toward author's intentions.

Social distance is yet another sub-variable of Tenor as specified by Steiner by which he refers to the amount of shared contextual space between participants (author/translator and reader). The shared contextual matter between author/translator and readers is humanity or a life all human beings share. One way for its revelation could be through forms of address. In both the source text and translated version of 'The Road', we see that addressing was both direct and short as in the following examples:


Father: "What is it son?"
Son: "we're gonna die?"
Father: "we all will die one day".



The translator has showed an awareness of the intentional selection of highly casual and brief exchanges between the main two characters, father and son in their encounters. Such concise addressing has been similarly rendered in the target language.

4.3. Mode

The final register variable of the context of situation in Steiner's model is mode. As mentioned previously, Steiner proposed three subdivisions for this variable namely language role, channel and medium.

As for the first subdivision, Steiner talked about two language roles: constitutive and ancillary. The former is when the text written is part of a linguistic activity. And the latter is when the text is part of a non-linguistic activity, as in advertisements.

In the case of the novel studied here, it seems that both ST and TT are of the former type (constitutive) since the text is a literary work. It is not an advertisement or movie text or the like. The translated text had nothing but to adhere to this fact and reflect it the same way as it was in the source text.

The next subdivision of mode, in Steiner's terms is channel of discourse which can be either graphic or phonic. Here in 'The Road' we found that the channel of discourse in both Source text and Translated text was of graphic type, paper type and printed material.

As for the final sub-variable of Mode, Steiner drew attention to medium. Steiner distinguishes between written and spoken medium, of which the former applied to the ST and TT of the novel 'The Road' obviously here.

5. Conclusion

Steiner's highly detailed model is meant to be used as a tool for pre-translational text analysis and evaluation. The main question he asks is: Do register variables need to remain unchanged under the process of translation? His answer is that a proper translation requires that the register remains constant even across the process of translation. In his view, the more register changes, the more the TT will not represent a translation in the narrower sense (Steiner, 1998).

As the application of Steiner's model on the Persian translation of McCarthy's award-winning novel 'The Road' showed in this study, we were mostly confronted with constancy than divergence. There were little mismatches along the main three register variables, Field, Tenor and Mode and their sub-variables in both ST and TT as our analysis revealed. This attests to the high quality of the translation made by Hossein Noosh Azar with respect to keeping the register of the translated text as close as possible to that of the source work.


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