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TIP: The thematic character of the subject in English

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  • Melvyn
    Here is a useful point that I came across some time ago in Sentence Complexes in Text - Processing Strategies in English and in Czech - by Jarmila Tarnyikova
    Message 1 of 12 , Dec 20, 2012
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      Here is a useful point that I came across some time ago in Sentence Complexes in Text - Processing Strategies in English and in Czech - by Jarmila Tarnyikova (though this may be old hat to some of you).

      Mathesius pointed out that there is a strong tendency in English to construe the theme (as opposed to the rheme) of the sentence as the subject.

      Mathesius's example:
      Jan velmi dobre prospival. Ve skole horlive naslouchal kazdemu slovu svych ucitelu a doma mu pomahal otec, kdykoliv mu byla nejaka uloha prilis tezka. Prace vseho druhu se mu velice darila a rikalo se o nem, ze pracuje stejne prirozene jako dycha.

      John prospered very well. At school he eagerly listened to every word of his teachers. At home he was helped by his father whenever he found his task too difficult. He was successful in any kind of work and he was said to be working as naturally as he was breathing.

      Here Czech changes the subject five times, whereas English preserves the same (thematic) subject throughout the sequence.

      In order that thematic elements may be construed as the subject, English employs a number of means, such as different types of the passive, perceptive verbs and other devices. Mathesius concludes that as a result, in English the subject of several successive sentences need not change.

      While this conclusion is described as questionable in more recent studies I find that if a translated paragraph does sound very odd for some unknown reason it is often worthwhile to at least try recasting it along these lines in order to make it sound more natural.

      BR

      M.
    • James Kirchner
      I d like you to explain what you mean by theme here. I would identify John as having several different semantic roles here, and not just theme. In order:
      Message 2 of 12 , Dec 20, 2012
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        I'd like you to explain what you mean by "theme" here.

        I would identify John as having several different semantic roles here, and not just theme. In order: agent, agent, recipient, agent, theme, theme

        Jamie

        On Dec 20, 2012, at 6:16 AM, Melvyn wrote:

        > Here is a useful point that I came across some time ago in Sentence Complexes in Text - Processing Strategies in English and in Czech - by Jarmila Tarnyikova (though this may be old hat to some of you).
        >
        > Mathesius pointed out that there is a strong tendency in English to construe the theme (as opposed to the rheme) of the sentence as the subject.
        >
        > Mathesius's example:
        > Jan velmi dobre prospival. Ve skole horlive naslouchal kazdemu slovu svych ucitelu a doma mu pomahal otec, kdykoliv mu byla nejaka uloha prilis tezka. Prace vseho druhu se mu velice darila a rikalo se o nem, ze pracuje stejne prirozene jako dycha.
        >
        > John prospered very well. At school he eagerly listened to every word of his teachers. At home he was helped by his father whenever he found his task too difficult. He was successful in any kind of work and he was said to be working as naturally as he was breathing.
        >
        > Here Czech changes the subject five times, whereas English preserves the same (thematic) subject throughout the sequence.
        >
        > In order that thematic elements may be construed as the subject, English employs a number of means, such as different types of the passive, perceptive verbs and other devices. Mathesius concludes that as a result, in English the subject of several successive sentences need not change.
        >
        > While this conclusion is described as questionable in more recent studies I find that if a translated paragraph does sound very odd for some unknown reason it is often worthwhile to at least try recasting it along these lines in order to make it sound more natural.
        >
        > BR
        >
        > M.
        >
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      • Melvyn
        ... Tema is used (e.g. by Mathesius) to refer in general to that which is being spoken about as opposed to rema, the statement that is being made about it ,
        Message 3 of 12 , Dec 20, 2012
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          --- In Czechlist@yahoogroups.com, James Kirchner <czechlist@...> wrote:
          >
          > I'd like you to explain what you mean by "theme" here.

          Tema is used (e.g. by Mathesius) to refer in general to "that which is being spoken about" as opposed to rema, "the statement that is being made about it", i.e. the topic as opposed to the comment:

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Topic%E2%80%93comment

          http://czeng.wetpaint.com/page/017+Word+order+problems+-+theme+and+rheme

          BR

          M.
        • James Kirchner
          I see. It s another case where Czech linguistics is on a different planet from the rest of the world s and the terminology is coinciding. I was thinking of
          Message 4 of 12 , Dec 20, 2012
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            I see. It's another case where Czech linguistics is on a different planet from the rest of the world's and the terminology is coinciding. I was thinking of "theme" in the sense os semantic roles, as it's used in the rest of the world.

            Jamie

            On Dec 20, 2012, at 12:39 PM, Melvyn wrote:

            >
            >
            > --- In Czechlist@yahoogroups.com, James Kirchner <czechlist@...> wrote:
            >>
            >> I'd like you to explain what you mean by "theme" here.
            >
            > Tema is used (e.g. by Mathesius) to refer in general to "that which is being spoken about" as opposed to rema, "the statement that is being made about it", i.e. the topic as opposed to the comment:
            >
            > http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Topic%E2%80%93comment
            >
            > http://czeng.wetpaint.com/page/017+Word+order+problems+-+theme+and+rheme
            >
            > BR
            >
            > M.
            >
            > _______________________________________________
            > Czechlist mailing list
            > Czechlist@...
            > http://www.czechlist.org/cgi-bin/mailman/listinfo/czechlist


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          • Melvyn
            ... Run theme and rheme through Google and you will find theme cropping up with this meaning on tens of thousands of English-language sites. Dr Mona Baker,
            Message 5 of 12 , Dec 20, 2012
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              --- In Czechlist@yahoogroups.com, James Kirchner <czechlist@...> wrote:
              >
              > I see. It's another case where Czech linguistics is on a different planet from the rest of the world's and the terminology is coinciding. I was thinking of "theme" in the sense os semantic roles, as it's used in the rest of the world.

              Run "theme and rheme" through Google and you will find "theme" cropping up with this meaning on tens of thousands of English-language sites.

              Dr Mona Baker, Director of the Centre for Translation and International Studies at the University of Manchester, describes and frequently uses the term in In Other Words - A Coursebook on Translation* (which I very much recommend) and elsewhere, and I come across the term with this meaning a good bit in translation studies literature in general. AFAIK, it is originally from the Prague Linguistic Circle, but they were not working in complete isolation.

              BR

              M.
              *
              http://books.google.cz/books?id=iuviAXy9nvAC&pg=PA164&lpg=PA164&dq=%22theme+and+rheme%22+%22mona+baker%22&source=bl&ots=98RL_faVwH&sig=vDTGUVcqNDP7dndVRfZRpq92SFQ&hl=en&sa=X&ei=y2fTUN36BszIsgaqy4HYBA&ved=0CD0Q6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=%22theme%20and%20rheme%22%20%22mona%20baker%22&f=false
            • Charles Stanford
              We were taught about theme and rheme - never could get a handle on half of those linguistic terms but I think Melvyn is right Jamie ... [Non-text portions of
              Message 6 of 12 , Dec 20, 2012
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                We were taught about theme and rheme - never could get a handle on half of
                those linguistic terms but I think Melvyn is right Jamie

                On 20 December 2012 20:53, Melvyn <zehrovak@...> wrote:

                > **
                >
                >
                >
                >
                > --- In Czechlist@yahoogroups.com, James Kirchner <czechlist@...> wrote:
                > >
                > > I see. It's another case where Czech linguistics is on a different
                > planet from the rest of the world's and the terminology is coinciding. I
                > was thinking of "theme" in the sense os semantic roles, as it's used in the
                > rest of the world.
                >
                > Run "theme and rheme" through Google and you will find "theme" cropping up
                > with this meaning on tens of thousands of English-language sites.
                >
                > Dr Mona Baker, Director of the Centre for Translation and International
                > Studies at the University of Manchester, describes and frequently uses the
                > term in In Other Words - A Coursebook on Translation* (which I very much
                > recommend) and elsewhere, and I come across the term with this meaning a
                > good bit in translation studies literature in general. AFAIK, it is
                > originally from the Prague Linguistic Circle, but they were not working in
                > complete isolation.
                >
                > BR
                >
                > M.
                > *
                >
                > http://books.google.cz/books?id=iuviAXy9nvAC&pg=PA164&lpg=PA164&dq=%22theme+and+rheme%22+%22mona+baker%22&source=bl&ots=98RL_faVwH&sig=vDTGUVcqNDP7dndVRfZRpq92SFQ&hl=en&sa=X&ei=y2fTUN36BszIsgaqy4HYBA&ved=0CD0Q6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=%22theme%20and%20rheme%22%20%22mona%20baker%22&f=false
                >
                >
                >


                [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
              • James Kirchner
                I have no doubt that he s right. My degree is in theoretical linguistics, so I understand theme as one of several semantic roles assigned to noun phrases
                Message 7 of 12 , Dec 20, 2012
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                  I have no doubt that he's right. My degree is in theoretical linguistics, so I understand "theme" as one of several semantic roles assigned to noun phrases within a sentence. I have no background in literary theory or translation studies.

                  The Prague Linguistic Circle is more or less irrelevant to the main currents of linguistics as practiced throughout the world, from America through most of Europe all the way to Japan, and in actual linguistics courses they're never talked about. I think they were mainly embraced by the squishier disciplines of literary criticism, etc.

                  When I was in grad school, my professors mentioned that in the Czech Republic the linguists were off in their own bubble, and when I moved there and gathered material for my master's thesis, there was nearly nothing in Czech at the time that was of any use to modern linguistic analysis. I also remember seeing a very theoretical semantics lecture by a visiting professor from Prague, and he was off on a dead end somewhere as if the rest of the linguistics world didn't exist. At the same time, the Poles and Hungarians were on the same page as the Westerners and the East Asians.

                  I wonder if this in any way relates to the fact that at street level, when I worked with an English teacher from Russia, the two of us were always in conflict with the Czechs in our understanding of the structure of English. The Russian and I had been educated with exactly the same concepts, and the Czechs were off in some strange direction.

                  Jamie

                  On Dec 20, 2012, at 4:20 PM, Charles Stanford wrote:

                  > We were taught about theme and rheme - never could get a handle on half of
                  > those linguistic terms but I think Melvyn is right Jamie
                  >
                  > On 20 December 2012 20:53, Melvyn <zehrovak@...> wrote:
                  >
                  >> **
                  >>
                  >>
                  >>
                  >>
                  >> --- In Czechlist@yahoogroups.com, James Kirchner <czechlist@...> wrote:
                  >>>
                  >>> I see. It's another case where Czech linguistics is on a different
                  >> planet from the rest of the world's and the terminology is coinciding. I
                  >> was thinking of "theme" in the sense os semantic roles, as it's used in the
                  >> rest of the world.
                  >>
                  >> Run "theme and rheme" through Google and you will find "theme" cropping up
                  >> with this meaning on tens of thousands of English-language sites.
                  >>
                  >> Dr Mona Baker, Director of the Centre for Translation and International
                  >> Studies at the University of Manchester, describes and frequently uses the
                  >> term in In Other Words - A Coursebook on Translation* (which I very much
                  >> recommend) and elsewhere, and I come across the term with this meaning a
                  >> good bit in translation studies literature in general. AFAIK, it is
                  >> originally from the Prague Linguistic Circle, but they were not working in
                  >> complete isolation.
                  >>
                  >> BR
                  >>
                  >> M.
                  >> *
                  >>
                  >> http://books.google.cz/books?id=iuviAXy9nvAC&pg=PA164&lpg=PA164&dq=%22theme+and+rheme%22+%22mona+baker%22&source=bl&ots=98RL_faVwH&sig=vDTGUVcqNDP7dndVRfZRpq92SFQ&hl=en&sa=X&ei=y2fTUN36BszIsgaqy4HYBA&ved=0CD0Q6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=%22theme%20and%20rheme%22%20%22mona%20baker%22&f=false
                  >>
                  >>
                  >>
                  >
                  >
                  > [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
                  >
                  >
                  >
                  > ------------------------------------
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                  >
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                • Melvyn
                  ... In a linguistics course? BTW I actually contrasted theme with rheme on purpose in my message to make it clear where I was coming from terminologically. :-]
                  Message 8 of 12 , Dec 20, 2012
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                    --- In Czechlist@yahoogroups.com, Charles Stanford <charliestanfordtranslations@...> wrote:
                    >
                    > We were taught about theme and rheme

                    In a linguistics course?

                    BTW I actually contrasted theme with rheme on purpose in my message to make it clear where I was coming from terminologically. :-]

                    - never could get a handle on half of
                    > those linguistic terms

                    I find this is the big problem with a lot of this translation studies stuff. There are some useful points hidden away in there, but with all these unexplained linguistics terms some of it can be very abstruse.

                    And I find the late Peter Newmark (born in Brno, actually) is right on the money when he complains that "translatologists" rarely seem to give examples to back up their abstract musings (or words to that effect). BTW I recommend anything you can find by him. Lots of examples and neat ideas. Low on waffle.

                    Anyway, is this kind of insight useful? If it is then lots more where that came from.


                    BR

                    M.
                  • James Kirchner
                    I helped teach a translation fundamentals course here at home one time, and all semester I had to set aside several minutes of each session for the students to
                    Message 9 of 12 , Dec 20, 2012
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                      I helped teach a translation fundamentals course here at home one time, and all semester I had to set aside several minutes of each session for the students to open their translation studies textbooks, point things out and ask, "What the hell does THIS mean?!" I always marveled at the authors' ability to take simple, concrete concepts and make them completely unintelligible.

                      Like literary theory, translation studies is to some degree a parasitic profession.

                      Jamie

                      On Dec 20, 2012, at 5:48 PM, Melvyn wrote:

                      >
                      > --- In Czechlist@yahoogroups.com, Charles Stanford <charliestanfordtranslations@...> wrote:
                      >>
                      >> We were taught about theme and rheme
                      >
                      > In a linguistics course?
                      >
                      > BTW I actually contrasted theme with rheme on purpose in my message to make it clear where I was coming from terminologically. :-]
                      >
                      > - never could get a handle on half of
                      >> those linguistic terms
                      >
                      > I find this is the big problem with a lot of this translation studies stuff. There are some useful points hidden away in there, but with all these unexplained linguistics terms some of it can be very abstruse.
                      >
                      > And I find the late Peter Newmark (born in Brno, actually) is right on the money when he complains that "translatologists" rarely seem to give examples to back up their abstract musings (or words to that effect). BTW I recommend anything you can find by him. Lots of examples and neat ideas. Low on waffle.
                      >
                      > Anyway, is this kind of insight useful? If it is then lots more where that came from.
                      >
                      >
                      > BR
                      >
                      > M.
                      >
                      >
                      >
                      > _______________________________________________
                      > Czechlist mailing list
                      > Czechlist@...
                      > http://www.czechlist.org/cgi-bin/mailman/listinfo/czechlist


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                    • Michael Trittipo
                      ... Agreed. Theme/rheme is not limited to Czech or to translation studies. Theme/rheme is a core concept for Japanese, for example, in which
                      Message 10 of 12 , Dec 20, 2012
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                        On or about Thursday, December 20, 2012, 3:20:10 PM, Charles wrote:
                        > We were taught about theme and rheme - never could get a handle on half of
                        > those linguistic terms but I think Melvyn is right Jamie
                        > On 20 December 2012 20:53, Melvyn <zehrovak@...> wrote:
                        >> Run "theme and rheme" through Google and you will find "theme" cropping up
                        >> with this meaning on tens of thousands of English-language sites.

                        Agreed. Theme/rheme is not limited to Czech or to translation
                        studies. Theme/rheme is a core concept for Japanese, for example,
                        in which many sentences begin with は (wa), and in overly slavish
                        translations might be rendered "As for [state the topic here],
                        [state some proposition or make some comment here]." In
                        languages like English or French, the task of setting a framework or
                        topic can fall to structures like the "As for" noted above, or "Quant
                        à" or things like "speaking of" or even, after some more or less
                        specific antecedent that's the theme/topic, "à cet égard" and so on.
                      • Melvyn
                        ... Theme/rheme is a core concept for Japanese, for example, ... Chinese comes to mind in this regard too. As concerns/regards... As to/for... Concerning...
                        Message 11 of 12 , Dec 21, 2012
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                          --- In Czechlist@yahoogroups.com, Michael Trittipo <tritt002@...> wrote:
                          Theme/rheme is a core concept for Japanese, for example,
                          > in which many sentences begin with は (wa), and in overly slavish
                          > translations might be rendered "As for [state the topic here],
                          > [state some proposition or make some comment here]."


                          Chinese comes to mind in this regard too.

                          As concerns/regards...
                          As to/for...
                          Concerning...
                          Regarding...
                          With regard/respect to...
                          As relates to...
                          In respect of/to/that
                          As far as (X) is concerned...
                          When it comes to...
                          .... Talking of which,...

                          Co se tyka/tyce...
                          Pokud jde o...
                          ...?

                          BTW V tomto smyslu sometimes works as "to this end" or "accordingly" in my experience.

                          BR

                          M.
                        • James Kirchner
                          This is starting to come back to me. I think in grad school we covered it with regard to pidgin and creole languages. Thanks for jogging my memory, Michael.
                          Message 12 of 12 , Dec 21, 2012
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                            This is starting to come back to me. I think in grad school we covered it with regard to pidgin and creole languages. Thanks for jogging my memory, Michael.

                            Jamie

                            On Dec 21, 2012, at 12:00 AM, Michael Trittipo wrote:

                            > On or about Thursday, December 20, 2012, 3:20:10 PM, Charles wrote:
                            >> We were taught about theme and rheme - never could get a handle on half of
                            >> those linguistic terms but I think Melvyn is right Jamie
                            >> On 20 December 2012 20:53, Melvyn <zehrovak@...> wrote:
                            >>> Run "theme and rheme" through Google and you will find "theme" cropping up
                            >>> with this meaning on tens of thousands of English-language sites.
                            >
                            > Agreed. Theme/rheme is not limited to Czech or to translation
                            > studies. Theme/rheme is a core concept for Japanese, for example,
                            > in which many sentences begin with ? (wa), and in overly slavish
                            > translations might be rendered "As for [state the topic here],
                            > [state some proposition or make some comment here]." In
                            > languages like English or French, the task of setting a framework or
                            > topic can fall to structures like the "As for" noted above, or "Quant
                            > a" or things like "speaking of" or even, after some more or less
                            > specific antecedent that's the theme/topic, "a cet egard" and so on.
                            >
                            > _______________________________________________
                            > Czechlist mailing list
                            > Czechlist@...
                            > http://www.czechlist.org/cgi-bin/mailman/listinfo/czechlist


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