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SENTENTIA. European Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences

Thematic progression and its reproduction in translation from English to Russian

Vechkanova Ellina

PhD in Philology

Docent, the department of Foreign Languages No.2, V. I. Vernadsky Crimean Federal University

295007, Russia, respublika Krym, g. Simferopol', prospekt Akademika Vernadskogo, 4

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Abstract:  This article is dedicated to studying thematic progression as a text-forming and discourse-forming phenomenon. The notion of thematic progression is analyzed in terms of the functional sentence perspective theory, theory of actual division of the sentence, and discourse linguistics. Thematic progression contributes to the cohesive development of discourse, distribution of given and new information that needs to follow certain patterns. That is why the article also dwells on the thematic progression patterns and peculiar characteristics of their themeatic-rhematic organization. Basic thematic progression patterns are: simple linear thematic progression, thematic progression with a continuous (constant) theme, thematic progression with derived themes and thematic progression with a split rheme. They are considered to be universal, peculiar to many languages. That is why thematic progression patterns of English discourse units translated into Russian language often remain the same. Their high informativity, grammatical complexity, as well as differences in grammatical systems of English and Russian languages, necessity to adapt these units to the norms and rules of the Russian language can cause changes in thematic progression patterns of the translated units. The abovementioned facts can also lead to compression / decompression of information, changes of the word order in Russian translations.


Thematic Progression, tex, discours, theme, rheme, patterns, translation, compression, decompression, discourse forming phenomenon

Linguists have always striven to understand the nature of language and the principles of its functioning. Attempts to explain how a language functions developed in two directions: formal and functional. The functional approach proved to be a real incentive in sentence studies when the sentence is analysed in the context and analysis goes beyond the sentence boundaries. The theory of Functional Perspective has evolved and expanded into a number of related concepts, like the Communicative Dynamism, the Pragmtic Perspective, the Thematic Progression.

Although a considerable amount of work has been published on the relation of Functional Sentence Perspective [3; 5; 13], much less work seems to be available on the analysis of Thematic Progression. The topicality of this paper is stipulated by the fact that the concept of Thematic Progression has not been extensively studied and is sometimes controversially valued in relation to its patterns and peculiarities of their reproduction from one language into another.

The theoretical framework of the paper aims to clarify what is thematic progression and how it is reproduced in the process of translation from English into Russian. To achieve the purpose, the following objectives are to be met:

- to analyse the notion of thematic progression in terms of the Functional Sentence Perspective theory, the theory of actual division of the sentence, discourse linguistics;

- to clarify main thematic progression patterns;

- to reveal how thematic progression patterns are reproduced in transaltion from English into Russian.

Thematic Progression means ‘the choice and ordering of utterance theme, their mutual concatenation and hierarchy, their relationship to the hyperthemes of the superior text units (such as paragraph, chapter), to the whole text, and to the situation. Thematic Progression is viewed as the skeleton of the plot’ [3, p. 114]. Thematic Progression is also understood as ‘the exchange of information between successive Theme and Rheme pairings in a text’ [6, p. 32].

Thematic Progression investigates the contribution that thematic realization makes to cohesive development of the text (disourse) and helps to demonstrate the manner in which paragraphs are organized across sentence boundaries by exploring the way in which Themes and Rhemes of successive sentences are linked and merge into a text microstructure. In other words Thematic Progression structurally reflects the internal organization of a text and its sentences.

Every sentence has Theme and Rheme. The concepts of Theme and Rheme were introduced by H. Weil in 1879 and developed by V. Mathesius, the founder of the theory of Functional Sentence Perspective in the Prague School. Functional Sentence Perspective is a property of uttered sentences (utterances), which means that it always operated witing a context [13, p. 32].

As a Czech linguist and a representative of the Prague School of linguistics, J. Fibras emphasized, that ‘the theory of Functional Sentence Perspective composes a part of the so-called ‘three-level approach to syntax’ which includes the semantic level, the grammatical level and the level of contextual organization’ [5, p. 86]. If a sentence is uttered or written down, it necessarily has a context. Thus language functioning can be fully described only with reference to its context of use in other words, only by analyzing text sentences.

J. Fibras further investigated syntactic constructions from the Functional Sentence Perspective view and developed all-handled generalization operative at third level of this ‘three-level approach to syntax’ [5, p. 92-104]. Any sentence is the result of the interaction of the semantic, syntactic and communicative level. The ‘three-level approach to syntax’ is the interaction of form, meaning and the use in which the grammatical structure of the sentence is identified with its semantic structure and textual organization. The respective levels are: 1) level of the semantic structure of sentence; 2) level of grammatical structure of the sentence; 3) level of the organization of the utterance [2, p. 227].

F. Danes denominated the third level as the organization of utterance. The framework of this level if Functional Sentence Perspective as it ‘employs different devices in different languages’ [2, p. 228]. Any sentence should be treated as a unit of communication. The hierarchy of syntactic meaning, which exists in the structure of grammatical sentence pattern is identified in with ‘functional perspective of sentence’, i.e. with the Theme-Rheme, as they are ‘two communicative functions, assigned to different portions of the sentence when it is used, in the capacity of utterance, in a particular act of communication’ [6, p. 202].

J. Fibras defined it as the one that ‘makes it possible to understand how the semantic and the grammatical structure function in the every act of communication, i.e. at the moment they are called upon to convey some extra-linguistic reality reflected by thought and are to appear in adequare kind of perspective’ [5, p. 34]. To single out the communicative level of the sentence, V. Mathesius suggested the idea that the formal analysis of a sentence into subject-predicate should be distinguished from the functional analysis of a sentence into a Theme-Rheme [13, p. 17].

According to M. Halliday, the founder of systemic functional linguistics, Theme is the ‘point of departure for the message, the element the speaker selects for ‘grounding’ what he is going to say. It is that with which the clause correlated within its context’, while the Rheme is a remainder [8, p. 24]. The scholar emphasizes that the Theme should be indicated ‘only by a position in the clause’ [8, p. 25]. That means that the Theme always takes the first position in a clause accompanied by the Rheme. M. Halliday also points out that the thematic progression pattern appears when a set of meaningful sense groups constitute a coherent discourse, and some connections may be used between theme and rheme of a clause, and it may promote the orderly development of a discourse [8, p. 26].

The interaction of Theme and Rheme shows how the information in a text develops. Different constructive ways of Theme and Rheme are called Thematic Progression patterns as they are Theme-Rheme extension patterns.A thematic progression pattern appears when a set of meaningful sense groups constitute a coherent discourse and some connections may be used between Theme and Rheme of a clause. It may promote the orderly development of discourse.

The present paper focuses on F. Danes classification of thematic progression patterns. Four basic types of them were differentiated by the scholar: simple linear thematic progression, thematic progression with a continuous (constant) Theme, thematic progression with derived Themes and thematic progression with a split Rheme [4, p. 188-189].

The pattern of simple linear thematic progression can be observed in the following sentence:

The first of antibiotics was discovered by Sir Alexander Fleming in 1928. He was busy at the time investigating a certain species of germ which is responsible for balls and other troubles [11, p. 565].

As we see from the example an item from the rheme of the first clause becomes the theme of the subsequent clause. Simple linear pattern is considered to be most elementary.

In continuous (constant) Theme pattern the theme of the first clause is also selected as the Theme of the subsequent clause:

The Rousseauist especially feels an inner kinship with Prometheus and other Titans. He is fascinated by any form of insurgency. He must show an elementary energy in his explosion against the established order and at the same time a boundless sympathy for the victims of it. Further the Rousseauist is ever ready to discover beauty of soul in anyone who is under the reprobation of society [16, p. 136].

The pattern of thematic progression with derived Themes is observed in the example below:

New Jersey is a flat along the coast and southern portion; the north-western region in mountainous. The coastal climate is mild, but there is considerable cold in the mountain areas during the winter month. Summers are fairly hot. The leading industrial production includes chemicals, processed food, coal, petroleum, metals and electrical equipment. The most important cities are Newark, Jersey city, Peterson, Trenton, Camden. Vacation districts include Asbury Park, Lakewood, Cape May an others [12, p. 14].

The themes of the abovementioned extract are derived from a hyper-theme or from the same overriding theme, i.e. the given extract (divided into separate sentences), an amount of order is considered as the hypertheme (New Jersey).

The pattern of thematic progression with a split Rheme is revealed in the following sentence:

All substances can be divided into two classes: elementary substances and compounds. An elementary substance is a substance which consists of atoms of only one kind … A compound is a substance which consists of atoms or two or more different kinds… [10, p. 32].

In this pattern a rheme nay include a number of different pieces of information, each of which may be taken up as the theme in a number of subsequent clauses. This pattern shows us that the Rheme is ‘explicitly or implicitly doubled (R′+R′′) or multiple (R′+R′′ + R′′′ + …); these partial progressions may be of one type only or they may represent a combination of different types, without having necessarily a parallel structure’. This type of progression F. Danes called a ‘combination of a higher order, the most important frame’ [4, p. 194].

Moreover, the Thematic Progression contains such a pattern as a Split Theme. It can be developed when Theme contains more than one idea and these ideas are developed in different clauses:

Table 1 and table 2 present the results. Table 1 shows the frequency and the percentage of theme types and patterns. Table 2 presents the result of chi-square analysis [7, p. 31].

This sentence represents the pattern when the theme of the first clause is the hypertheme that is ‘an element which the theme of the subsequent clauses is derived from’ [4, p. 195].

Thematic Progression may be employed in various combinations, which reveal a certain regular pattern. There are a lot of Thematic Progression combinations in different English texts, i.e. linear ‒ constant progression, constant ‒ linear progression, elliptic progression and many others. M. Bloor points that the most frequent combinations of English texts are Simple linear Thematic Progression pattern and constant Thematic Progression pattern [1, p. 34].

Furthermore, F. Danes mentioned that ‘every text is interwoven with expression signaling significant point of Thematic Pogression of the text; the distribution of such expressions in a particular text might termed its network of orientation’ [4, p. 196]. G. Francis pointed out that ‘linguists presented a highly beneficial theory of Functional Sentence Perspective, Thematic Progression and its patterns for interlanguage translation’ [6, p. 203].

Although G. Francis made such comments more than 20 years ago from an angle of discourse linguistics, his views on translation theory and practice are still of great referential value even today [6]. M. Halliday, the founder of systemic functional linguistics, stated that ‘any clause is composed of two parts: theme and rheme, and that the constructive way of theme movement constitutes a thematic progression pattern which can be found in a discourse’ [8, p. 132]. Hence, the linguistic analysis of thematic progression pattern can be regarded as a kind of discourse analysis, which is different from the traditional syntactic linguistic analysis. The translation for thematic progression pattern is a sort of discourse translation. And as far as the discourse level is concerned, the interlanguage translation can be treated as a kind of transformation from one type of thematic progression pattern to another type of thematic progression pattern.

From the current literature, we can find that researchers in translation studies began to borrow the Theme-Rheme structure theory about 20 years ago [9, p. 73; 15, p. 34]. Most of them combined the views and ideas of Prague School and those of Systemic Functional School to analyze the information distribution at the sentence level, and the cohesion and coherence problems at the textual level. For example, D. Newmark analyzed the role and distribution of the old and new information structure in the sentence from the view of Syntactic Function of Prague School [15, p. 30-42]. In the discussion of discourse coherence, B. Hatim and I. Mason combined theme-rheme structure and informative structure, and offered concrete examples to explain thematic progression patterns closely related to discourse coherence [9, p. 69].

Basic patterns of Thematic Progression of the discourse translated from English into Russian usually remain the same, for example:

We worried about you’. She stood up and smiled happily to welcome their sudden intrusion [16, p. 36].

«Мы беспокоились о тебе». Она встала и радостно улыбнулась, чтобы поприветствовать их внезапное вторжение.

The simple linear thematic progression pattern observed in the original remains the same in the translation. The direct reproduction of the pattern T1‒R1 + T2‒R2 helps to preserve information, as well as semantic, grammatical structures of the original discourse and its coherence. As a result functionally and communicativelly equivalent translation in Russian appears.

Another pattern of thematic progression is also reproduced directly as the following example shows:

The Council adopts measures to ensure administrative cooperation between the relevant departments of the Member States of European Union. It acts on the basis of a Commission proposal of the European Parliament [14, p. 71].

Совет принимает меры для обеспечения административного сотрудничества между соответствующими ведомствами государств-членов Европейского союза. Он действует на основании предложения Комиссии Европейского Парламента.

The informative, semantic and grammatical structure of the given discourse is represented by the pattern with a continuous (constant) Theme T1‒R1 + T1‒R2 . This pattern remains the same in the translation.

The following example shows the derived Themes progression pattern:

A young woman lay under an umbrella opening a book on the sand. Her bathing suit was wonderful. Her face was beautiful but sad. Her eyes met Rosemary’s but she did not see her. Beyond her was a fine man in a jockey cap [16, p. 32].

Молодая женщина легла под зонтом, открывая книгу на песке. Ее купальный костюм был великолепным. Ее лицо было красивым, но грустным. Ее глаза встретились с глазами Розмари, но она не видела ее. За ней был прекрасный человек в жокейской шапочке.

The pattern T1‒R1 +T1‒R2+T1‒R3+T1‒R4 of the derived Themes progression observed in the original discourse is directly reproduced into the target language. It helps to create adequative and communicativelly equivalent discourse in Russian.

It is necessary to remark that basic patterns of Thematic Progression usually remain the same in translations, because they are viewed as universal, peculiar to many languages [6, p. 202; 9, p. 36].

The Thematic Progression pattern can remain the same in translation of the discourse with inversions, for example:

There was a definite ‘right’ answer; no alternative arrangements worked nearly as well [16, p. 32].

Тут был правильный ответ, и ни один из альтернативных вариантов не работал так хорошо.

The first clause of the discourse with the inverted rheme subject in English is translated into Russian without changes in the order of words. Such way of translation helps to highlight the ‘new’ information of the original. Despite the fact that the second clause of the discourse is translated without changes in the word order the transformation of adding is used to adapt the clause to norms (lexical, grammatical, orthoepic, communicative, etc.) of the Russian language.

Thematic progression pattern of the original can be also changed due to compression / decompression of information in translation.

A fixed rudder further stabilized the ship by projecting below the hull to prevent side slipping, like a modern centerboard [18, p. 34].

Руль, прикрепленный к борту, навсегда стабилизировал судно. Руль был расположен ниже корпуса для того, чтобы предотвратить боковое соскальзывания, как в современных парусниках.

The simple linear thematic progression pattern T1‒R1 of the original does not remain the same in the translation. It is presented by the pattern T1‒R1 + T1‒R2, i.e.

thematic progression with a continuous Theme. Decompression of information in the translation is stipulated by high informativity and grammatical complexity of the original clause, differences in grammatical systems of the languages, necessity to adapt the clause to norms and rules of the Russian language.

Thematic Progression plays an important role in discourse constructing. Basic thematic progression patterns are: simple linear thematic progression, thematic progression with a continuous (constant) Theme, thematic progression with derived Themes and thematic progression with a split Rheme. They are considered to be universal and observed in many languages. Despite the fact that thematic progression patterns often remain the same in the discourse translated from English into Russian, high informativity, grammatical complexity of English clauses can require changes for their adequate translation into the Russian language. Thematic progression patterns of English discourse can be also changed due to compression / decompression of information in Russian translations.

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