Phraseological Units in Sommerset Maugham’s “The Moon and Sixpence”

1 January 2017

English and American linguists as a rule confine themselves to collecting various words, word-groups and sentences presenting some interest either from the point of view of origin, style, usage, or some other feature peculiar to them. These units are habitually described as idioms but no attempt has been made to investigate these idioms as a separate class of linguistic units or a specific class of word-groups. American and English dictionaries of unconventional English, slang and idioms and other highly valuable reference-books contain a wealth of proverbs, sayings, various lexical units of all kinds, but as a rule do not seek to lay down a reliable criterion to distinguish between variable word-groups and phraseological units.

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Attempts have been made to approach the problem of phraseology in different ways. Up till now, however, there is a certain divergence of opinion as to the essential feature of phraseological units as distinguished from other word-groups and the nature of phrases that can be properly termed phraseological units. The complexity of the problem may be largely accounted for by the fact that the border-line between free or variable word-groups and phraseological units is not clearly defined. The so-called free word-groups are only relatively free as collocability of their member-words is fundamentally delimited by their lexical and grammatical valency which makes at least some of them very close to set-phrases.

Phraseological units are comparatively stable and semantically inseparable. Between the extremes of complete motivation and variability of member-words on the one hand and lack of motivation combined with complete stability of the lexical components and grammatical structure on the other hand there are innumerable border-line cases. (Ginzburg 1979) Interest in phraseology has grown considerably over the last twenty years or so. While the general linguists’ view of phraseology before that time can probably be caricatured as “idiom researchers and lexicographers classifying and researching various kinds of fairly frozen idiomatic expressions”, this view has thankfully changed.

Nowadays, the issues of identifying and classifying phraseologisms as well as integrating them into theoretical research and practical application has a much more profound influence on researchers and their agendas in many different sub-disciplines of linguistics as well as in language learning, acquisition, and teaching, natural language processing, etc. While translating word-groups and phraseological units, grammatical and lexical phenomena are viewed as inseparably connected. Functions of word-groups and their particular meanings are determined only in certain sentences. A word keeps its semantic identity standing in different contexts. One of the main problems in the art of translation is phraseology.

In this context, it is a disheartening fact that most of the language-pair-related phraseological dictionaries are unidirectional (source language to target language) and based on a selection of the target language’s phraseological units. The problem with the unidirectional approach is the very important fact that phraseological units cannot simply be reversed. It is necessary to make a new selection among the idioms of the former target language in order to achieve a central, adequate corphraseological units s of lexical units (lemmata). On rare occasions the lexical meaning of idiomatically bound expressions can coincide with their direct, i. e. , not transferred meaning, which facilitates their understanding. There is also the possibility of a non phraseological translation of an idiom.

This choice is preferred when the denotative meaning of the translation act is chosen as a dominant, and one is ready to compromise as to the presentation of the expressive color, of the meaning nuances, of connotation and aphoristic form. In the case of non phraseological rendering, there are two possibilities: one can opt for a lexical translation or for a calque. The lexical translation consists in explicating through other words the denotative meaning of the phraseologisms, giving up all the other style and connotation aspects. In the case of the “hammer and anvil” idiom, a lexical rendering could be “to be in an uneasy, stressing situation”.

The calque would consist instead in translating the idiom to the letter into a culture where such a form is not recognized as an idiom: in this case the reader of the receiving culture perceives the idiom as unusual and feels the problem to interpret it in a non literal, metaphorical way. The calque has the advantage of preserving intact all second-degree, non-denotative references that in some authors’ strategy can have an essential importance. It is true that the reconstruction of the denotative meaning is left to the receiving culture’s ability, but it is true as well that the metaphor is an essential, primal semiotic mechanism that therefore belongs to all cultures. Phraseologisms – or expressions that would aspire at becoming so – are formed in huge quantities, but do not always succeed.

Sometimes are formed and disappear almost simultaneously. The only instances that create problems for the translator are the stable, recurrent lexical idioms, which for their metaphorical meaning do not rely only on the reader’s logic at the time of reading, but also, and above all, on the value that such a metaphor has assumed in the history of the language under discussion. Translating of national idiomatic expressions causes also some difficulties for a translator. Being nationally distinct, they can not have in the target language traditionally established equivalents or loan variants. As a result, most of them may have more than one translator’s version in the target language.

It may be either a regular sense-to-sense variant (an interlinear-type translation) or an artistic literary version rendering in which alongside the lexical meaning also the aphoristic nature, the expressiveness, the picturesqueness, the vividness, etc. of the source language phraseologism/idiom. The aim of this term paper is to investigate phraseological units in Somerset Maugham’s “The Moon and Sixpence” and their translation into Armenian, to explore peculiarities of some translation of phraseological units in the context.

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