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English there be construction and corresponding Japanese expressions: an analysis using bi-directional parallel corpus

Posted By admin On May 31, 2013 @ 9:29 am In Abstracts for 2013, Linguistics and Language Teaching | Comments Disabled

Yoko Niimi, Language Instructor

Erciyes University, Turkey

English there be construction can be translated into Japanese sentence whose main verb is different from English be in respect of lexical aspect. For example, Japanese translation of (1a) is (1b) although (1c) is also grammatically correct[1] [1].

(1) a. At this moment there was a tremendous uproar.

b. Choudo kono toki ni, monosugoi sawagi ga okita.

Just this time-at, tremendous uproar-Nom happen-Past.

“At this moment, a tremendous uproar occured.”

c. Choudo kono toki ni, monosugoi sawagi ga atta.

Just this time-at, tremendous uproar-Nom be-Past.

“At this moemnt, there was a tremendous uproar.”

The main verb of (1a) is was and it is a state verb. On the other hand, the main verb of (1b), okita (happen-Past), is an achievement verb. Granted that original text and its translation describe same event in different languages, Japanese prefer to describe the event with achievement verb when English describe the same event with state verb. Not only the case of “there be + Event Noun” patterns, but also “there be + Common Noun” patterns would be translated into Japanese with main verb of different lexical aspect. Natural translation of English sentence (2a) would be (2b), not (2c)[2] [2].

(2) a.  Ah, there’s the porter.

b.  aa, akabou ga kita.

Ah, porter-Nom come-Past.

“Ah, the porter came.”

c.  aa, akabou ga iru.

Ah, porter-Nom be-Present.

“Ah, there’s the porter” or “Ah the porter is there.”

Main verbs used in (1b) and (2b) are achievement verb and they describe process while English main verb is state verb which describes static existence. This aspectual difference can be regarded as a result of difference between result-focused expression of English and process-focused expression of Japanese.

Previous English and Japanese comparative studies have led to the general conclusion that English favors result-focused expression while Japanese tends to choose process-focused expression. Examples like (1) and (2) support the previous studies. However the previous studies had based on sentence level comparison and thus lacked the examination beyond sentence level such as discourse level. Besides, most of them had used translations of one direction. It had been presumably due to the lack of available empirical data for comparison. In the emergence and development of corpus linguistics, parallel corpus attracts much attention because it provides comparative linguistics with a much more solid empirical basis than before. In this paper, parallel corpus is used to refer to ‘corpus containing Source Text and Target Text pairs’ (Malmkjaer 1998: 539). When using source texts and its translations for comparative research, it is undeniable that translated text is influenced by language of source text.  In order to obtain examples while controlling the influence of translation, English and Japanese bi-directional parallel corpus had been constructed for this study. Bi-directional parallel corpus makes it possible to check against original and translated texts in the same language (Johannsson 1998). The corpus consists of 4 English novels with their Japanese translations and 4 Japanese novels with their English translations. The total size of the corpus is about 512,000 words (English original texts plus English translation texts) and 1,426,000 characters[3] [3] (Japanese original texts plus Japanese translation texts).

This study tries to show and under what conditions Japanese favors result-focused expression or process-focused expression to describe an event which English chooses there be construction to describe. Examples are retrieved from originally constructed English and Japanese bi-directional parallel corpus. It investigates the discourse environment, the viewpoint of narrative, compliment noun types of there be construction, and the translation direction of the pairs like (1) and (2). The same method could be applied to comparative studies of other languages. Finally it draws conclusions for comparative studies, corpus linguistics, and language teaching.


Johansson, Stig. 1998. On the role of corpora in cross-linguistic research. In S. Johansson and S. Oksefjell (eds). 1998. Corpora and cross-linguistic research: Theory, method, and case studies. Amsterdam: Rodopi. 3-24.

Kunihiro, Tetsuya. 1985. [In Japanese] Ninchi to gengo katsudou. Gengo Kenkyu. 88. Tokyo: 1-19.

Malmkjaer, Kirsten. 1998. Love thy Neighbour: Will Parallel Corpora Endear Linguists to Translators? In S. Laviosa (ed.) L’approche basée sur corpus/The Corpus-based Approach: 534-541.

[1] [4] (1a) and (1b) are taken from George Orwell’s Animal Farm and published Japanese translation. (1c) is a translation by the author of this paper.

[2] [5] (2a) and (2b) are examples from Kunihiro (1985). (2c) is a translation by the author of this paper.

[3] [6] Since Japanese text is not written with a space, word count requires morphological analyzing whose result depends on the dictionary. To avoid the instability of morphological analyzing result, we used character count for Japanese texts here.

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URL to article: http://www.najaks.org/?p=1071

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