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«Sonia Mariano Linguistics and Languages Thesis, May 2002 1. INTRODUCTION. Conversation is dynamic. Listeners and speakers alike must be constantly ...»

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A Study of the Translation of Discourse Markers in

Italian in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone,

by J. K. Rowling

Sonia Mariano

Linguistics and Languages

Thesis, May 2002


Conversation is dynamic. Listeners and speakers alike must be constantly alert to pick up

a number of subtle signals, according to Schiffren (1982). These can refer to changes in

the conversational topic as well as understanding and interest on the part of the

participants. Schiffren continues by suggesting that there is a category of words which aid in conversation not by their lexical meaning, but in some other way. They can be single words such as therefore and well, or colloquial phrases like I mean like, or rhetorical questions, such as …aren’t they? These functional units have come to be called discourse markers.1 Subtleties dependent on non-lexical aspects of conversation are not the same in cultures and languages which differ. Thus it follows that this category of words may also differ greatly in range, connotation and usage in different languages.

This thesis investigates discourse markers (DMs) and how they are dealt with in translation, and considers what impact this has on the resultant text. It will focus on the value of the functionality of discourse markers within conversational text.

1.1 INVESTIGATION I will be investigating the translation of DMs in the popular ‘children’s’ novel Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling, which was translated from English into Italian by Marina Astrologo. I have chosen this text because it is current, and its popularity suggests that the writing and conversational style in the book is very realistic and engaging. Unfortunately, in order to study this aspect of conversational language, it is necessary to use written text, because a degree of standardisation exists in the translation which could not be provided by comparing snippets of spoken speech.

However, Harry Potter is high in discourse, and because it is marketed as a children’s book, the conversation is highly natural and colloquial – perhaps one reason this author’s writing has achieved great popularity recently.

The nature of discourse markers adds a complication to the already difficult process of translation. Since DMs are a functional, instead of a lexical category, they can’t be translated based on the meaning of the word. Some other method for translation must be found. The discourse markers must be understood in terms of their function within the discourse, so that the pragmatic value, rather than the lexical meaning of the

word, is translated. This suggests that when translating DMs, there is not a 1:1

translation of a word in the original language into the corresponding word in the host language. Perhaps there are DMs in one language which require a number of corresponding DMs in another language in order to carry the same conversational impact.

In this thesis I will talk about the meaning, classification and variety of discourse markers in English and Italian in section 2, followed by an analysis of the data found in the translation of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and lastly, I will summarise the effects that discourse markers have on a translation effort, and how this can be seen in the Harry Potter translation.

Alternately termed, in various sources: discourse connectives, discourse operators, pragmatic connectives, sentence connectives, and cue phrases. Fraser (1999) The data that I will be working with relates to the sentences in the Italian version of Harry Potter which used discourse markers, and the English language original. I will use the patterns discovered in these translations in order to observe the distribution and ostensibly conclude something relevant regarding these particular discourse markers, the attention that had to be given them in the translation, and differences between them in terms of meaning within a discourse, which must be considered.

One important question which has been asserted previously regards the discourse markers which do not exist in the English original, and which appear in the Italian. I will pay special attention to these cases, where it seems that words with no lexical value are important enough that they are added into the text in translation. Another important consideration is the value of translating these words in the first place, since they have no lexical value. What other attributes of the discourse must be taken into consideration when translating, to fully understand the value added by discourse markers in conversation?


In this section, I will first discuss the characterisation of discourse markers in section 2.1.

I will elaborate on the multiplicity of DMs functions in section 2.2, and in section 2.3 I will begin to discuss the interaction of DMs in English and Italian, and the effect of translation upon them.


In the following section, I will discuss recognition of discourse markers in section 2.1.1, their use in section 2.1.2, and their origins and linguistic categorisation in section 2.1.3.

2.1.1 RECOGNITION OF DISCOURSE MARKERS Discourse markers are the lexical items which are used by the speaker to comment upon the discourse plan and goals. This covers a large assortment of lexical items in English, which do not otherwise fall into traditional parts of speech, such as oh, ah, uh, certain uses of well, say, y’know, like, and non-conjunctive uses of so and but, among others. A sentence has the same truth value whether or not there is a DM.2 This means that discourse markers themselves do not affect the meaning of the sentence and provokes the question of how their presence can be justified.

Schiffrin, through her research of DMs, tries to answer this question. She says that DMs impose a relationship between some aspect of the discourse segment they are a part of, and some aspect of a recent previous discourse segment. For example, oh has a role in information site transitions because oh marks a focus of speaker’s attention which then also becomes a candidate for hearer’s attention. This creation of a joint focus of Murphy, M. Lynne. 1993. Squib: Discourse markers and sentential syntax. In Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 23(1):163-67 attention not only allows transitions in information state, but it marks information as more salient with a possible increase in speaker/hearer certainty as to shared knowledge.3 2.1.2 USE OF DISCOURSE MARKERS The work done by Fraser leads him to develop categories for discourse markers based on

their function. These categories are the following:

-DMs which allow the derivation of a contextual implication (so, therefore, too, also)

-DMs which strengthen an existing assumption, by providing better evidence for it (after all, moreover, furthermore)

-DMs which contradict an existing assumption (however, still, nevertheless, but)

-DMs which specify the role of the utterance in the discourse (anyway, incidentally, by the way, finally.)4 However, the work by Fraser relies almost solely on written discourse markers, which may be considered a contradiction in terms. As Schiffren's analysis has shown, discourse markers are relevant to spoken conversation. Because written language is often far more formal than spoken language, although Fraser's analysis of the class of discourse markers agrees with research by Schiffren and others, the words that he believes are discourse markers is a far more limited group. In his paper “What are Discourse Schiffrin, Deborah. 1982. Discourse markers, semantic resource for the construction of conversation. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Penna.

Markers?” he asserts that words such as like, whatever, uh, and um are not considered discourse markers, which is contrary to current belief. The benefit of considering discourse markers in written text is obvious – it is far easier to procure.

However, Fraser’s analysis may show that acceptable DMs in written text differ from acceptable DMs in colloquial speech. I have chosen a current, popular children’s novel for this purpose. It has a high density of conversational text, and is written in a colloquial style which closely mirrors natural speech. In translating this book, the translator must face the challenge of keeping the conversational text equally fluent.

Fraser’s article also reminds us that discourse markers as a subcategory of discourse analysis are still a fairly new topic. It is not always easy to define what words have a secondary use as a DM, especially since it differs even within one language due to location, dialect, age, social class and other factors which will not be considered in depth in this thesis.


It has frequently been observed that discourse markers tend to be multifunctional.5 DMs come from all different categories of speech. Some of them are imperative verb forms (look!), others are conjunctions (and, but) or filler words (uhh...) These formally identical counterparts are not used as markers, and do not contribute to the propositional In Fraser, Bruce. 1999. What are Discourse Markers? Journal of Pragmatics 31: 931Hansen, Maj-Britt Mosegaard. 1998. The semantic status of discourse markers.

Lingua 104: 235-260.

content of the utterance. This shows that when a discourse marker is used, it no longer carries the lexical meaning of the original word.

This is important in translation because it means when a translator opens the dictionary to look for the lexical translation of a word – that is no longer appropriate.

Many discourse markers have a real lexical meaning, which is not the same as the DM functionality of the word. Thus, the translator must understand the difference, and strive to translate not the lexical meaning, but the conversational impact of the DM phrase or discourse.

However, since discourse markers come from many different lexical classes, it becomes very difficult to categorise them. Fraser posits that they be considered a pragmatic class, because they contribute to the interpretation of an utterance rather than to its propositional content. (Fraser, 1999) However, Fraser’s interpretation is also quite

limited, and in his analysis he continues, saying:

“With certain exceptions, they signal a relationship between the segment they introduce and the prior segment. They have a core meaning which is procedural, not conceptual, and their more specific interpretation is negotiated by the context, both linguistic and conceptual.”6 This interpretation is useful although rather limited. One deficiency with Fraser’s study on DMs is that he considers only literary texts, not live, current, or colloquial discourse. Since discourse markers refer directly to the interaction between speakers more than they refer to the interaction between parts of a sentence, his analysis lacks depth into the variety of DMs which exist. Discourse markers do probably belong to a pragmatic category of words. They are originally culled from other lexical categories, which they relate to with varying strengths, depending on the DM. Their function is to Fraser, Bruce. 1999. What are Discourse Markers? Journal of Pragmatics 31: 931-952 aid speakers in following a discourse and interacting with other participants. In the following section, I will begin to relate the diversity of DMs and how they are used in speech.


In this section I will summarise the multiplicity of DMs functions. They are: interactive functions on the part of the speaker, discussed in section 2.2.1, interactive functions on the part of the speaker or listener, discussed in section 2.2.2, and finally, metatextual functions in section 2.2.3.

This research was done on DMs in Italian (Bazzanella, 1995) and in relating these examples I have attempted to find or create a discourse marker which reflects the same attributes as the Italian example. In some cases this is more successful than in others.

The difficulty in creating parallel examples is one sign that the uses of discourse markers in Italian and English cannot be translated in a straightforward manner. All Italian examples come from the same source. All translations from the Italian are mine.


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