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Antonymic translation is a complex transformation when a source language construction is shifted to a target language construction, whose components are of opposite meanings.
There are three major types of antonymic transformations:
A situation may be described from different angles, which calls for conversive, or antonymic proper transformations.177. [Do not confuse the term ‘conversive’ with that of ‘conversion’, or changing the part of speech status of a word (water, n – to water, v)].
Conversives are words naming the situation attributes from different angles: to take – to give; to sell – to buy. In this type of translation, the translator and the source text author have the same situation in mind but they look at it from different directions. For example, They remain just as clearly divided in my mind as before. – Мысленно я по-прежнему их четко разграничиваю.
In this case translation is done on the situational level of equivalence (see Part I: Chapter 4: §3). The situation denoted in the source and target texts is the same but is described differently.
Sometimes this type of antonymic translation takes place because it implies a shift of negation: Authorized personnel only. – Посторонним вход воспрещен. The two clichéd commands are antonymous, since the English phrase implies a positive statement (Authorized personnel only is allowed) and the Russian corresponding form implies negation: strangers are not allowed to enter.
Substituting a negative component with a positive one results in synonymous relations both between the two languages and in one language. Compare: incorrect – erroneous, unsafe – dangerous; You are not serious? – Ты шутишь? This is the borderline where synonymy is very close to antonymy; thus translation equivalence is reached.
The English verb to fail is usually rendered by a negative Russian correspondence: She failed to notice it. – Она не заметила этого.
This type of modality is also observed in a number of set phrases. In Russian, negative structures are preferred; in English, affirmative ones. For instance, Hold on the line, please. – Не вешайте трубку. Keep off the grass. – По газонам не ходить. Stay out of the sun. – На солнце лежать нельзя. By verbalizing a regulation with a positive sentence (with negation implied in the postpositional adverb), an English speaker sounds somewhat less categorical than a Russian one.
As compared with Russian, a smaller degree of categorical statement is obtained in special English structures known as understatement. They use two negations logically leading to a positive meaning: I am not displeased to hear from you. – Я весьма рад получить от вас весточку. In Russian the categorical nature of the statement is softened by introducing the particles весьма, довольно, вполне: I don’t at all disbelieve you. – Я вполне вам верю.
Special attention should be given to the emphatic construction employing double negation: It was not until … that … The construction is rendered emphatically: It was not until 1959 that chemists succeeded in obtaining this component.178 – Только в 1959 году химикам удалось получить этот компонент. Similarly, personal constructions with not until (till) are rendered in Russian with the help of только: The reaction did not start until the next morning.179 – Реакция началаь только на следующее утро.
The shift in the negative element position usually takes place in compound sentences. Russians tend to express negation in the informative main part of the sentence, which is a postpositional subordinate clause: Думаю, что это не так. In English the sentence sounds less categorical due to expressing negation in the principal clause, which precedes the subordinate clause and informationally is similar to a parenthetical phrase: I don’t think it is so.
Antonymic translation may be caused by a lack of a regular one-word equivalent in the target language. For example, the word
inferiority is equivalent to the explicatory translation ‘более низкое качество, положение’. But this phrase is very awkward in some translations, so translators have to apply the antonymic translation: The adoption of the defensive does not necessarily mean the weakness or inferiority of our troops. – Переход к обороне не обязательно означает слабость наших войск или превосходство сил противника.
Besides vocabulary reasons, the antonymic translation may occur for pragmatic reasons. English speaking people tend to be less categorical in speech than Russians. Therefore, ignoring differences in the negative and positive structures leads to “pragmatic accent” apprehensible in a foreign speech. A foreigner may speak with his grammar absolutely correct; however, his speech will be recognized as foreign.
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