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Hedges and all that: is vagueness translatable?

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Published

Journal publication date1997
JournalBabel
Journal number1
Volume43
Number of pages13
Pages1-13
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

The following is a study of a set of various linguistic items, from the so-called discourse particles to whole clauses, which perform the pragmatic function of compromising. We discuss them here under the common heading "hedge". A revision of the literature on English hedges precedes what appear to be their semantic and pragmatic equivalents in Spanish, as illustrated by their distribution in the translation into Spanish of Julian Barnes' novel Talking It Over (Hablando del Asunto) and the English and Spanish editions of the Mediterranean Magazine, which are the reference points for the whole discussion. The formal divergences in the translation of hedges reflected in Hablando del Asunto converge upon the difficulty of rendering compromising attitudes, on the part of the speaker, by linguistic means which differ in the two languages. Whilst there is usually formal equivalence between English and Spanish as far as clause-terminal tags and disclaimers are concerned, the difficulties seem to be that the latter possesses a wider range of semantically equivalent verbs whereas the former resorts mainly to modal expressions and detensifying adverbs. Following Hübler's (1981) distinction between internal and external gradators, we envisage the differences in the distribution of hedges as being in strict correlation with a greater flexibility in the Spanish syntactic structure. The fact that the Spanish version lacks hedging devices present in the original leads us to consider the role of pragmatics in translation in order to account for vagueness as a linguistic phenomenon that reflects compromising attitudes on the part of the speaker which should be conveyed into the target language, if not by semantically equivalent phrases, at least by pragmatically equivalent means.