Concluding remarks: Methodological and theoretical challenges in investigating translation and language contact

Methodologically speaking, much of the research on contact effects arising from the individual translation event has relied on corpus methods.This method, while offering several advantages, also has limitations. A corpus allows researchers to statistically identify patterns based on “aggregate data that pools the productions of many speakers and writers” (Arppe et al., 2010, p. 3)— and translators. At the same time, it is also important not to lose sight of the effects of variation between individuals, and the mediated nature of the text: translations, like other written texts, are subject to editorial changes by a number of people other than the original writer or translator. Despite the fact that careful corpus designs and advanced multifactorial statistical methods can go some way towards separating out cognitive and social factors in language (and translation) production (see Kruger & De Sutter, 2018), a combination of corpus methods with experimental or quasi-experimental methods allowing us to understand language processing under more (or less) controlled conditions is essential in order to understand how communication under conditions of bilingual language activation affects language production in similar and different ways across different contact settings.

Current diachronic corpus-based research on the role of translation in contact-induced change remains inconclusive. All in all, it appears that under some (very limited) socio-linguistic conditions, in particular registers, the widespread use of translation may influence frequential patterns, leading to changes in pragmatic, stylistic or register preferences. Translations may also introduce lexical forms to a language. A major methodological challenge to this kind of research is to separate the effects of language contact through translation and language contact more generally (Neumann, 2011).Translation is, particularly in a contemporary globalized world, one among many gateways of language contact, and disentangling the effects of different sources of contact may well prove an intractable problem.

Other limitations of existing research include the relatively short timespans investigated (most studies of the modern period focus on spans of no more than 30 years), the focus on single registers, and limitations in the contact situations investigated (see Dai, 2016; Redelinghuys, 2019 for exceptions). More studies focusing on multiple registers, more diverse contact situations, and longer timeframes are needed to more definitively investigate the role of translation in contact-induced change.

Moving beyond corpora, a further crucial extension of this research is the application of process-type or experimental methods to understand both the production of the translated text as a contact-influenced event and the propagation ot contact-influenced linguistic features from translations to monolingual text production. Taking the methods of iterative learning and agent-based modelling of language interaction, competition, change and evolution (e.g. Steels, 2011) into this area of research constitutes a frontier for studies of LCTT (see Fernandez et al., 2017 for experimental evidence of the psycholinguistics of language change). The combination of corpus-based and experimental work will further assist in disentangling the complex web of social and cognitive factors that influence translation as a type of language contact.


This chapter draws on conversations and collaborative work with Karien Redelinghuys and Bertus van Kooy over a period of five years. Their contributions to the development of the arguments presented here are gratefully acknowledged.


  • 1 As represented in, for example, wide-ranging work by Johanson (2002), Heine and Kuteva (2005), Thomason and Kaufmann (1988),Thomason (2001),Van Coetsem (2000), and Weinreich (1953).
  • 2 In contact linguistics, a range of terms are used for the two languages involved in the contact situation. For ease of understanding, and to ensure consistency, this chapter avoids using these terms, and instead uses terms familiar to readers from Translation Studies: source language (SL) and target language (TL).
  • 3 Bilingual language activation or discourse production is not the only constraint raised, however; the constraints introduced by reproducing or relaying an existing message are also often cited in this work.
  • 4 It should be pointed out, however, that there are also differences between various contact-influenced varieties (e.g. L2 varieties) and translation, which can be ascribed to different conditions of contact, or different communication situations. For more detail, see Kruger and Van Kooy (2016a).

Further reading

Backus, A. (2014). Towards a usage-based account of language change: Implications of contact linguistics for linguistic theory. In R. Nicolai (Ed.), Questioning language contact: Limits of contact, contact at its limits (pp. 91—118). Leiden: Brill.

A theoretical proposal for the integration of usage-based theories with theories of language change, with a particular focus on language contact.

Kramch, S. (2014). Translations as a locus of language contact. In J. House (Ed.), Translation: A multidisciplinary approach (pp. 96—109). New York: Palgrave Macmillan..

An overview of theoretical and methodological issues in viewing translations as a possible factor in language change, and an outline of some key findings.

Kramch, S., Becher, V, & Hoder, S. (2011). A tentative typology of translation-induced language change. In S. Kramch,V. Becher, S. Hoder, & J. House (Eds.), Multilingual discourse production: Diachronic and synchronic perspectives (pp. 11—44). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

An outline of relevant factors affecting translation-induced language change.

Kruger, H., & Van Rooy, B. (2016). Syntactic and pragmatic transfer effects in reported-speech constructions m three contact varieties of English influenced by Afrikaans. Language Sciences, 56,118—131.

A case study of cross-linguistic influence in different contact varieties, proposing a set of constraints that play a role in different forms of language contact, including translation.

Malamatidou, S. (2016). Understanding translation as a site of language contact. Target, 28(3), 399—423.

A theoretical proposal for viewing translation as a form of language contact, accompanied by an empirical study.

Muysken, P. (2013). Language contact outcomes as the result of bilingual optimization strategies. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, /6(4), 709—730.

A proposal for integrating the psycholinguistics of bilingualism with language-contact outcomes.

Neumann, S. (2011). Assessing the impact of translations on English-German language contact: Some methodological considerations. In S. Kramch,V. Becher, S. Hoder, & ). House (Eds.), Multilingual discourse production: Diachronic and synchronic perspectives (pp. 233—256). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

An outline of methodological considerations for studying language contact and change through translation.

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