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PHATIC FUNCTION IN TRANSLATION
Phatic function is the function for maintaining, supporting and ending a friendly contact. The term is derived from Latin for, fatus sum, fari “to talk”. The term was introduced in the book The Problem of Meaning in Primitive Languages by the British ethnographer Bronislaw Malinowski (1935) who was the first to notice that at parties small talk, lacking any particular information, is unavoidable.
The phatic function is used for calling somebody’s attention, greetings and other etiquette formulas, interruptions, vocatives, small talk, etc. These means are called phaticisms – they are normal for social communication, which gave grounds for Peter Newmark to call them “the usual tramlines of language”.233
Phrases for calling attention and asking to repeat. A universal means for calling attention is Excuse me… - Простите. In Russian this phrase is often accompanied by an address word: Простите, девушка, вы не скажите… In English communication address forms are not used as often as in Russian. In America, the phrase I beg your pardon / Pardon is no less frequent than Excuse me.234
Either of these English expressions can be used for echoing questions or requests, when a person has not heard or understood something. Russians in a similar situation tend to ask Что?, which, if literally translated into English (What?), sounds rather impolite.
Forms of address. The English-speaking community uses the titles Mr., Mrs., Miss, Ms. [miz, mэz]. The titles Mrs. and Miss are opposed to Ms. on the basis of the marital status of a female. The titleMs.has been widely used for females from older teenagers upwards, especially in American English, since the 1970s, when it began to be used by women who did not want to be known according to whether or not they were married. Although in common use now, this title still carries associations of feminism.
The title Mrs. may be used either with the married woman’s forename (Mrs. Mary Brown) or, more formally and more rarely, with her husband’s name (Mrs. John Brown). In the latter case, her name is translated as госпожа Браун, супруга Джона Брауна.
The title Miss, placed before the name of an unmarried woman or girl, is becoming rare. It is still used in British English, though, as a respectful form of address by pupils to a woman teacher.
Translation of these titles depends on the text register. In official business register these titles are translated as господин, госпожа. In newspaper and magazine articles these titles are usually reduced in the Russian text (except for officialese). In fiction, the titles are usually transcribed: мистер, миссис, мисс in order to retain a national coloring of the text. There does not exist, as yet, a transferred term for Ms.
Beside these universal forms of address, a person may be called by his/her position or vocation: Your Excellency! – Ваше превосходительство! Г-н посол! (addressing the ambassador); Mr. President – Г-н президент; Mr./Ms. Chairperson – г-н/г-жа председатель, Prime Minister – г-н премьер-министр, Ladies and gentlemen – дамы и господа, Officer – г-н офицер (addressing a policeman, a customs officer), Doctor – доктор (a medical doctor), My lord – милорд (addressing a judge, a priest), Father – батюшка (a priest), Professor (Brown) – профессор (Браун) (addressing a British professor, formally), Doctor Brown – доктор Браун (addressing American professor, formally), waiter/waitress – официант(ка), porter – носильщик, nurse – нянечка, сестра. The last three forms of English address have recently been considered somewhat impolite. A universal form of address in the service sphere is sir or madam, which signal respect to a customer. But they are transliterated only when applied to a foreign (not Russian) situation: Can I help you, sir/ma’am? – Чем могу помочь, сэр/мадам? When addressing a Russian customer, no title is usually used.
Intimate and friendly addresses in English and Russian communication are also different. In the English-speaking community, the following forms predominate: My dear, darling, dear, love, honey, sweet – with the associations of tenderness, and love. Russian people use similar vocatives (дорогой, милый, любимый, сладенький – intensified by a diminutive suffix). Moreover, Russian vocatives are often metaphorical (солнышко), especially with the zoological image (рыбочка, котик, зайчик, цыпонька, etc.). In order not to produce a strange effect upon an English-speaking receptor, metaphors like these are left out in translation.
A very informal form of address in today’s American English is guys, corresponding to the Russian ребята, irrespective of the communicators’ gender.
In Russian, unlike English, there is no universal form of address. Дамы и господа is restricted to the world of business; товарищ is now outdated; сударь/сударыня sound pretentious, гражданин / гражданка are restricted to the sphere of law. More or less common for everyday usage are девушка, молодой человек, женщина, мужчина. In translation these forms of address cannot be calqued and should be substituted by proper English analogues.
Etiquette formulas. English greetings are usually accompanied by phatic phrases How are you? Or How are things? How are you getting on? How are you doing? What’s up? (very informal). These phrases correspond to the Russian Как дела?, but in Russian the phrase is a little less frequent than in English. Politeness requires to continue this small talk by I am fine (not nice!). How are you? With the shift of stress from how to you. Russians are apt to answer this question with Нормально, which by no means can be rendered by normally in English (it is a translator’s false friend).
This type of small talk allows communicators to establish a bioenergetical contact and in this way to show a friendly attitude to each other. Of course, this type of dialogue is informatively void; a recital of one’s physical and mental state as the answer to the “How-are-you?”-question is not acceptable. Recall a joke based on substituting the phatic communication with the informative one: Who is the most boring person in the world? One who, when answering a How are you? question, actually starts saying how he is.235
Bidding goodbye has also some peculiarities in English and Russian, (unfortunately, they are often not followed in video dubbing). When saying goodbye (especially over telephone) to a very close person, an English-speaking communicator will say I love you. In the Russian text it sounds more natural as Целую rather than Я люблю тебя.
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