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Wide influence of context
Wide influence of context

  • The concept “context”, since it was raised by the Polish anthropologist B. Malinowski in 1923, has drawn wide attention in many fields such as pragmatics, semantics, logics, anthropological linguistics, socio-linguistics, psycholinguistics, applied linguistics, etc. In the past twenty years, context has been the focus of attention in linguistics. Translation, either as an independent science or a branch of comparative linguistics, should draw on the wealth of context theories so that it may be further enriched and developed.


The various definitions of context by different scholars
The various definitions of context by different scholars

  • Hu Zhuanglin (2001: 405-406) introduces Firth’s theory as follows:

  • (1) The internal relations of the text

  • (a) the syntagmatic relations between the elements in the structure;

  • (b) the paradigmatic relations between units in the system;

  • (2) The internal relations of the context of situation

  • (a) the relations between text and non-linguistic element, and their general effects;

  • (b) the analytical relations between “bits” and “pieces” of the text (words, parts of words, phrases) and the special elements within the situation (items, objects, persons, personalities, events).


Register and view of london school
Register” and view of London school

  • Firth’s student M.A.K. Halliday made still further contribution to the study of context and put forward the notion “register” in 1964 (Wang Dechun, 1992: 129), which is a representation of the context of situation. Features of the context of situation include “things like what is going on, who is taking part, and what the speech act are designed to achieve”(Halliday, 1985: 365).

  • The three men formed the mainstream of London school, and their views on context are said to be static, for they failed to consider communication events in terms of the psychological environment of the speaker and hearer and neglected such personal factors such as the communicators’ experience, knowledge etc.


A more dynamic view
a more dynamic view

  • With the thrust of pragmatics, a more dynamic view of context emerged.

  • Mey, in his Pragmatics: An Introduction, defines context as: “Context is a dynamic, not a static concept: it is to be understood as the continually changing surroundings, in the widest sense, that enable the participants in the communication process to interact, and in which the linguistic expressions of their interaction become intelligible (1993, 2001: 39)”.


D sperber s understanding
D. Sperber ‘s understanding

  • According to D. Sperber (1986, 2001: 15), a context is a psychological construct, a subset of the hearer’s assumptions about the world. It is these assumptions, of course, rather than the actual state of the world, that affect the interpretation of an utterance. A context in this sense is not limited to information about the immediate physical environment or the immediately preceding utterances: expectations about the future, scientific hypotheses or religious beliefs, anecdotal memories, general cultural assumptions, beliefs about the mental state of the speaker, may all play a role in interpretation.


Conclusion of mey s and d sperber s views
Conclusion of Mey’s and D. Sperber’s views

  • The two linguists believe that context is a psychological construct that exists only in the hearer’s mind and is constantly changing. It is a variable.


Wang jianping s definition of context
Wang Jianping’s definition of context

  • The Chinese scholar Wang Jianping (1989: 24) gives a very good definition of context. He points out that context comprises those factors manifested as linguistic forms before or after a linguistic expression and those subjective or objective environmental factors on both of which a good grasp of the definite meaning of the linguistic expression depends during the process of communication.



The functions of context
The functions of context

  • Restrictive Function

  • Interpretive Function


Restrictive function 1
Restrictive Function(1)

  • First, let’s see how extra-lingual context restricts people’s way of using language.

  • The same animal “狗”in Chinese and “dog” in English have different associative and affective meanings in different cultures. In Chinese we have “狗腿子”, “狗头军师”, and “狗屁”. While western people often say “love me, love my dog”, “a lucky dog”, etc.


Restrictive function 2
Restrictive Function(2)

  • Next, let’s see how intra-lingual context realizes its restrictive function.

  • Saeed (1997,2000: 182-183) provides a good case in point, where the same text with different titles is understood in different ways.

  • A Prisoner Plans His Escape (A Wrestler in a Tight Corner)

  • Rock slowly got up from the mat, planning his escape. He hesitated a moment and thought. Things were not going well. What bothered him was being held, especially since the charge against him had been weak. He considered his present situation. The lock that held him was strong, but he thought he could break it.


Interpretive function 1
Interpretive function(1)

  • First, we will see how intra-lingual context realizes the interpretive function. The word “quick” has many senses. But in the following two sentences, its meaning is definite.

  • a. He has a quick ear for music.

  • b. Taxis are quicker than buses.


Interpretive function 2
Interpretive function(2)

  • Para-lingual context also helps to narrow down the meaning of an utterance.

  • Niu and Chen (1999: 33) give an example to illustrate how intonation helps the interpretation of utterances.

  • A: It’s lovely weather, isn’t it?

  • B: Lovely weather, isn’t it?

  • According to the two authors, if B answers the question with a rising tone, it means B takes a fancy and wants to continue talking with A; if B answers with a falling tone, then probably B is interested in the conversation and wants to end it as soon as possible.


The definition of translation context
The definition of translation context

  • Translation context (TC) involves various factors manifested as linguistic forms and subjective and objective factors in both the source language society and culture and target language society and culture that affect the translator’s comprehension of the SLT and reproduction of the SLT in the TLT.


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