Matt Erlin


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The predictability of literary translation
Andrew Piper | Matt Erlin
Proceedings of the 2nd International Workshop on Natural Language Processing for Digital Humanities

Research has shown that the practice of translation exhibits predictable linguistic cues that make translated texts detectable from original-language texts (a phenomenon known as “translationese”). In this paper, we test the extent to which literary translations are subject to the same effects and whether they also exhibit meaningful differences at the level of content. Research into the function of translations within national literary markets using smaller case studies has suggested that translations play a cultural role that is distinct from that of original-language literature, i.e. their differences reside not only at the level of translationese but at the level of content. Using a dataset consisting of original-language fiction in English and translations into English from 120 languages (N=21,302), we find that one of the principal functions of literary translation is to convey predictable geographic identities to local readers that nevertheless extend well beyond the foreignness of persons and places.