Distant Reading across Languages

About the Project

Dataset Repeteme Visuals Bibliography Team

DRaL experiments with the ways of quantifying and visualising translatorial responses to formal word repetitions found in William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury (1929), considered to be one of his most experimental novels. From among many innovative features, his use of word repetitions to map the minds of narrators is of interest to this research because of psychologically dynamic effects that repetitions may have on translators. DRaL focused initially on three translations of The Sound and the Fury – that is, Lithuanian, Russian, and Polish, all produced under varying ideological circumstances. Additional data from another Russian translation and the first French translation were added in 2019 (see Dataset and Bibliography).

The project challenges the widely accepted view that translators, taught and thought to be avoiding repetition out of aesthetic boredom or pressure (Toury, 1991; Ben-Ari, 1998; Malmkjær, 1998; Jääskeläinen, 2012), routinely implement this principle in their practice. Underpinning the project is the important premise that a translator’s decisions are more complex and fuzzier than envisaged by the mainstream assumption. Instead, they are grounded in the historical, physical, and imaginary topographies of our encounters with texts. A translator’s choices are forged at the confluence of multiple factors from within and outside the text, such as word frequencies, content, and distance between repetitions, as well as contextual pressures and personal anxieties. DRaL aims to demonstrate this complexity by means of computing and modelling visually human response as unstable omission patterns. Drawing on Salciute Civiliene’s concept and terminology (2016), the project treats the occurrences of the same word, its forms, and compounds as parts of non-contiguous strings of repetitions and charts the translators’ responses to those parts as psychologically, physically, and culturally motivated fluctuations, considered in their spatio-temporal dimensions (see Repeteme).

The vision of the PI of this project is to develop a form of distant/deep reading that would allow scholars and translators to cut across a large body of translations and examine them by the idiosyncratic patterns of how translators omit or replace word repetitions with variants which may be near and distant synonyms or even unrelated words. The applied significance of such patterns lies in their capacity to point at the effects of censorship of a political or a psychological kind due to which some words are deleted more persistently than others; at personal commentaries on social and cultural inequalities represented in the original work; and at genetic inter-dependencies among translations that often remain hidden or unnoticed in close reading.

Further to this, the project lays the groundwork for considering each translator’s decisions in the cultural and ideological context in which each individual translation was produced. In terms of technical solutions, the project establishes a blueprint for collecting, processing, and visualising lexical data across many languages and beyond literary genres.

The project website provides access to the project data via a series of visualisations that chart translatorial omissions (or lack thereof) in response to repetition. The option for users to upload, proofread, and visualise their own translation data is currently available in the beta version for project partners only and will be refined and released publicly pending further funding. Further to this, the visualisations of lexical variation are envisaged at a later stage.