CONATIVE FUNCTION IN TRANSLATION



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CONATIVE FUNCTION IN TRANSLATION



 

Conative function is a voluntative expression denoting effort. As R. Bell put it, “where language is being used to influence others, we have a conative function.”236 The term is derived from Latin conatio “effort, attempt”. P. Newmark gives another name to this function – the vocative function.237

The conative function is frequently carried by commands, prohibitions, requests, permissions, advice, invitations, etc. Linguistic devices for expressing these meanings are, as a rule, typical set phrases, etiquette formulas, specific to various languages. Therefore, a translator should be aware of the main differences, which will make him/her sound natural in the target language.

In comparing English and Russian conative expressions, one marks a basic difference between expressions of request. In English, polite requests normally have the form of the interrogative sentence with a modal verb: Will you pass me the salt, please? May I introduce my wife to you? Could I speak to Mr. Robbin please? These utterances correspond to Russian imperative sentences: Передайте, пожалуйста, соль. Разрешите представить вам мою жену. Пригласите, пожалуйста, к телефону г-на Роббина. The interrogative form of request is also used in Russian, but with the negative verb in the Subjunctive mood, it is stylistically marked, and ceremoniously polite: Не могли бы вы передать соль? A contrary instance is a very informal non-modal request to do a simple thing238: Ты не сделаешь это? Вы не сделали бы это? (more polite than the former example). The latter request corresponds to the English Would you mind doing it?, which is not completely neutral. English negative interrogative imperatives are less tentative and more persuasive: Won’t you come and sit down? Couldn’t you possibly come another day? They expect a positive answer.239

Imperative sentences exist in both the languages. However, in English they are practically impossible unless supported by please: Give me a call, please. In Russian, the tag can soften a pushy and abrupt tone of the ‘bare’ imperative: Позвони мне, ладно? Structures like this are very informal. English imperatives can also have a tag: Give me a call, will you. However, these Russian and English tag-requests have a different imperative force, the English sentence sounding more like a command than a request.240

The conative word please is so inherent to the English imperative that it may be used without a comma (in the beginning of the sentence) and pronounced without a pause. For example, Please eat up your dinner. Please hurry up.241

The imperative meanings expressed by English modal verbs range from polite request, mild advice to strict and urgent command and prohibition:

· permission: might I…? may I…? could I…? can I…? shall I…? formal, very tactful formal very polite informal and neutral asking for instruction Не мог бы я (сделать)? Можно мне (сделать)? Можно мне …? Можно я (сделаю)? Мне (сделать)?
· request: would you…? could you…? will you…? can you…? most tactful tentative   informal and neutral Не могли бы вы…? (Сделайте), пожалуйста…
· advice: you should… you ought to… according to moral norms or logic informal Вам следует… Вы бы (сделали)
· admonition: you must… I think it is better for you (Сделай) Нужно (сделать)
· command: you are to… you will … you are supposed to… Formal pressing neutral   Вы обязаны… Вы (сделаете) Вы должны…
· prohibi-tion: you mustn’t you can’t you may not you are not to pressing advice   strict formal very formal Не должен, нельзя, не надо Нельзя, не смей Нельзя, запрещается Категорически запрещается

The conative function is frequently carried by utterances which appear to be innocently signaling something quite different.242 These utterances, taken out of context, seem to be carrying an absolutely different function, mostly informative. But in some situations they have a transferred function: У вас есть часы? meaning Скажите, пожалуйста, который час. Are you still here? meaning Go away at once! It’s so stuffy here meaning Open the window, please. As P. Newmark says, many informative texts have a vocative thread running through them, so it is essential that the translator be aware of this.243

The conative function can be performed by the utterances with performative verbs, that is verbs naming an action and performing it simultaneously. Perfomative verbs make the utterance very formal: I congratulate you… I inform you…May I invite you to dinner next Sunday? Я прошу… Я советую… Я предупреждаю… Perhaps, in Russian performative verbs are used more often; at least a typical Russian Можно спросить…is considered unacceptable in translation (Could I ask…). To prepare a listener for an enquiry, it is more natural to ask, Could you possibly answer my question…? Addressing another participant of the conversation, a Russian interlocutor will often begin by Скажите, пожалуйста… The literary translation of the phrase (Tell me, please…) strikes an English speaker as a little harsh sound – it is better to say Could you please tell me…?

Written discourse has its own conative formulas, which are more formal:

· request: I would be very grateful if… I would appreciate it if… Я был бы очень благодарен вам, если бы…

· invitations pointing to names, events, places, time: Mr. and Mrs. (name) request the pleasure of (name) at (occasion) to be held at (address), at (time) on (day, date).

R.S.P.V. (this French abbreviation requires your reply whether you accept the invitation or not).

Many manuals have been published recently with samples of all sorts of business correspondence, including invitations, regrets, gratitudes, etc.244

 

 



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