A corpus-based study of the rendition of contrastive markers in Chinese‒English political interpreting

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Political interpreting, as part of political discourse (cf. Van Dijk, 2002; Schäffner and Bassnett, 2010), requires a high level of pragmatic competence (Arroyo, 2015). It is usually situated at the intersection of politics, media and language, which poses great difficulty as compared to other types of interpreting. Interpreters are often easily chosen “scapegoats”, especially when frictions or problems occur (Buri, 2015). It would therefore be interesting to see how interpreters deal with the pragmatically high-risk linguistic indicators that lead to potentially unfavourable or unexpected contrasts. Will they choose to intensify the contrast posed by the linguistic code, orto weaken the contrast? What would be context for them to decide which strategy to take? Not much research has been done to answer these questions.

It is under this background that the present study was conducted to investigate and examine the rendition of contrastive markers (CMs) in Chinese‒English political interpreting. The study employs the definition of Fraser (1996, p. 168, 187), which specifies CMs as “the linguistically encoded clues” that signal “a denial or a contrast of some proposition associated with the preceding discourse”. Two representative CMs in Chinese are 不過 (suggesting concession, a “lighter” version of contrast) and 但是 (indicating denial, a “stronger” version of contrast) in Chinese, equivalent in meaning to however and but respectively in English, were chosen for analysis. Two parallel corpora were constructed for the purpose of the study: one composed of the annual Reports on the Work of the Government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and their interpretations in English, and the other including Policy Addresses delivered by the Chief Executives in the Hong Kong SAR on an annual basis and their English interpretations. The speeches represent two varieties of the Chinese language (i.e., Putonghua and Cantonese), and their renditions two types of interpreting (i.e., consecutive and simultaneous interpreting). The corpora were aligned at the paragraph level. A semi-automatic process was employed to identify the use of 不過 and 但是 in the Chinese part of the corpora, after which, their renditions in English were manually extracted.

Findings of the study suggest that apart from being rendered into their total equivalence, i.e., however and but, both不過 and 但是 were interpreted into different CMs in English. The renditions of the two CMs could be roughly categorized into four cases: 1) intensification (a CM is rendered into a “stronger” version, e.g., interpreting 不過 into but), 2) total equivalence; 3) mitigation (a CM is rendered into a “lighter” version, e.g.., interpreting 但是 into however or nevertheless); and 4) omission (there is no equivalence of the CM in the interpreted version). The study shows that total equivalence seems to be the most common strategy employed by interpreters, which was then followed by mitigation or omission. These strategies were then examined in the contexts of simultaneous and consecutive interpreting, and of Putonghua and Cantonese source texts.

The study shows the preferred strategies employed Chinese‒English political interpreters in the rendition of CMs, a set of pragmatically high-risk pitfalls, in different contexts. Its findings will provide insights into the training of political interpreters.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages2
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jun 2018
EventCorpora and Discourse International Conference 2018 - Lancaster University, Lancaster, United Kingdom
Duration: 22 Jun 201824 Jun 2018
https://ucrel.lancs.ac.uk/cad2018/ (Conference website)
https://ucrel.lancs.ac.uk/cad2018/doc/CAD2018_FINAL_Programme.pdf (Conference program)
https://ucrel.lancs.ac.uk/cad2018/doc/CAD2018_Abstract_Book.pdf (Abstract Book)


ConferenceCorpora and Discourse International Conference 2018
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


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