Thread: Research

A corpus-based study of find as a translation replacement of encontrar and hallar in medical research articles

Ian A. Williams – Santander, Spain

Despite the semantic equivalence of the Spanish verbs encontrar and hallar with English find, translation of these lexical verbs between the two languages is far from a straightforward process of replacement. This study examines potential translations of encontrar and hallar based on the examination of a large bilingual corpus of medical research articles.

Environments for use of the Spanish and English verbs were established according to functional and formal characteristics: citations via author reference (Aut3rd); statement of results in first person (Aut1st); other active statements (ActOther) made by doctors, patients, etc. or with a research noun as agent (studies, reports, etc.); impersonal findings in the passive (Pass), including a subcategory for English with the infinitive (Pass+Infin); description of state or position (Stat); and non-finite forms not classifiable under the above: adjectival participles (Adj); infinitives (Infin), and verbal gerunds (Ger). Quantitative analysis was used to compare the English and Spanish subcorpora. A qualitative contextual analysis was carried out to assess the translation potential of encontrar and hallar by find in the light of the statistical results.

Overall use of the Spanish verbs was higher than for find: 280 (encontrar = 223; hallar = 57) versus find 188 tokens. Comparison of the environments revealed higher frequencies in Spanish for the Aut1st and Adj categories and a lower use of the ActOther function. The Stat function was only found in the Spanish subcorpus. The contextual analysis showed that encontrar and hallar can be transferred directly by find with the same form and function in 40% of the instances, and by a different function of find in another 16% (total 56%), whereas 44% will require translation by other means. Most adjustments are required in the Aut1st and Pass categories, especially in the Results section. The figures for encontrar and hallar represent a contribution of 60% (direct transfer) and 24% (other functions) of the final profile for find. The remaining 16% derive from other related verbs of perception (comprobar, observar, descubrir, detectar) or cognition (considerar).

The apparent semantic equivalence of lexical items such as encontrar, hallar and find is deceptive and can lull the translator into a false sense of security. Bilingual corpora can provide extremely valuable statistical evidence indicating where attention should be directed and what translation options are available.

Ian Williams is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Philology, University of Cantabria in Santander, Spain. His research covers English for Specific Purposes, discourse analysis, contrastive linguistics, and corpus-based studies, with the focus placed mainly on medical English and English-Spanish translation of medical research articles.