Rottet (2017)

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  • Rottet, Kevin. 2017. 'Translation and contact languages: The case of motion events', Babel 63(4):523-555.

 In this study we use a translation corpus of English novels translated into two closely related Celtic languages, Welsh and Breton, as one way of shedding light on the extent to which languages can influence each other over time: Welsh has a long history of contact with English, and Breton with French. Ever since the work of Leonard Talmy (1991, 2000 etc.), linguists have recognized that languages fall into a small number of types with respect to how they prefer to talk about motion events. English is a good exemplar of the satellite-framed type, whereas French exemplifies the verb-framed type. Translation scholars have observed that translating between languages of two different types raises interesting questions (Slobin 2005b, Cappelle 2012), and the topic is also of interest from the perspective of language contact: is it possible for a language of one type, in a situation of prolonged and intense bilingualism with a language of another type, to be influenced or perhaps even to change its own rhetorical preferences? The translation corpus provides a body of data which holds constant the starting point – the cue in each case was an English motion event in the source text. We do indeed find that Welsh and Breton have diverged in important ways in terms of their preferences for encoding motion events: Breton is revealed to have moved significantly in the direction of French with respect to these preferences.