The Role of Contrastive Linguistics in Italian Translation

Contrastive linguistics is a sub-division of linguistics, or the study of languages, that developed in the 1950s. Contrastive linguistics engages in a systematic comparison of the structural bases of two or more languages with the aim of developing a compendium of their similarities and differences. Contrastive linguistics improves our understanding of a language by revealing its specific features. It explains difficulties that users may face when handling a foreign language by pointing out its differences with the user’s native language. It can even anticipate the difficulties that might arise when handling two language systems. The structural bases on which contrastive linguistics focuses are phonology, grammar, and semantics. Case marking, agreement, word order, the position of the verb and valence alternation are some of the other areas that it examines.


Initially, the purpose of contrastive linguistics was to make foreign language teaching more effective. Now its findings have been transposed to Italian translation. It makes its effectiveness in translation by highlighting the similarities between two languages that can facilitate translation from Italian into another language, and the differences that may cause problems. Contrastive linguistics also suggests ways of solving those problems. It is a useful field of study for translation because it enhances cross-cultural competence.


The role of contrastive linguistics in Italian translation will befocusing attention only on the structural differences between Italian and English, which have been perceived as the commonest stumbling blocks in an Italian translation. Structural similarities can safely be ignored for the purpose of this discussion. The discussion will also seek to educate the translator in the very many options that are available to him in dealing with these structural variations in an Italian translation. Although variations and discrepancies exist at several levels between the two languages, only four aspects have been chosen. They are the aspects of nominalization, determiners, adverbial expressions, and how the two languages express condition and time.

Nominalization refers to the process by which a verb or an adjective has been converted into a noun, for example, replacing ‘move’ with ‘movement’, ‘discover’ with discovery’ and so on. Determiners are words that come before nouns and modify them, that is, they tell us something else about them. Determiners can be the articles ‘a’, ‘an’, and ‘the’; possessive nouns indicated with an apostrophe, as in ‘my mother’s’; possessive pronouns such as ‘his’, ‘their’, ‘our’, etc.; numbers such as ‘one’, ‘two’, etc.; indefinite pronouns like ‘few’, ‘more’, ‘each’; and demonstrative pronouns like ‘this’ and ‘that’.

Adverbial clauses modify a verb by answering questions like ‘how’, ‘when’, ‘why’, and ‘how much’. Adverbial clauses always begin with a subordinating conjunction. Some of the most common subordinating conjunctions in English are ‘after’, ‘before’, ‘unless’, ‘until’, etc. In order to deal with these stumbling blocks in Italian translation, an Italian translator often must resort to tools like grammatical transposition and compensation. Any method that he or she adopts must guarantee minimum translation loss of idiomaticity and register.

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