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The Relevance of Foregrounding in Translation: Literarily Text in Focus

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April (2008)


This paper aimed at shedding light on the importance of foregrounding in translation. It actually sought at determining whether thematic structure specially marked theme or the foregrounding in source and target (ST/TT) is similar or different. For this purpose the first 100 sentences of two literarily texts: Hemingvay's ' Farwell to Arms' (1992), and Conrad's 'Lord Jim' (1949) and their Persian translations by Najafe Darya bandari, (1362) and Saleh Hosseyni,(1362) were compared and contrasted to see whether foregrounding process (marked thematic strture) were handled properly in translation or not. This study drew on the classification of marked theme by Schmid (1999), who has classified marked syntax into constructional operation, and non-constructional operation. In fact, His constructional division and its categorization, i.e. Left Dislocation (LD) Topicalization (TOP), Passivization (PASS), Cleft construction (CL) and Pseude_Cleft construction (PCL) the process that moves adverbials of all kinds leftward may be termed as Adjunct Fronting (AF) were exploited and the transitivity of each of them in English and Persian texts was examined.

The analysis of the data reveled that, on the one hand, it is significant to keep the marked thematic structure or foregrounding process of the source text in the target text; on the other hand, it is also necessary to make some appropriate alternations because of the differences between the two languages. Generally, it was established that, marked thematic structure or foregrounding, as an important textual features is of especial relevance in translation.

Key words: foregrounding marked theme, thematic structure, theme, translation.

1. Introduction

Translation is definitely a complicated activity . Although there has been a great deal of controversy over the issue of considering translation as art, science, theory, etc. it has been widely accepted that translation is an interdisciplinary practice, particularly related to the linguistics , hence the immensely influential linguistic turn in translation in 1960s and 1970s, which enriched translation study tremendously.

Discourse Analysis (DA) as a branch of linguistics, has also made its valuable contribution, including the application of T structure. Hallliday (1985) proposed that choice of clause theme play the fundamental role in the way discourse is organized. He explained the idea that the organization of discourse is a salient factor in translation because of its influence on the interpretation of the text and its implications. Actually, since both DA and translation have their primary focus on text, the use of DA theory is likely to be very productive.

The process of foregrounding can be applied to discourse at levels of phonology, lexicon and syntax. At the level of syntax, foregrounding is defined as the process that involves placing a constituent of a sentence into the focus position so that it becomes more prominent than other parts of the sentence (Tarrasoli, 1997). Brown and Yule (1983) point out, the choice of the beginning point will influence the interpretation of every thing that follows in the discourse.

If we accept the fact that every language has its own basic pattern which reflects the standard and normal order of its elements in linear arrangement, the foregrounding is deviation from the norm (Fareh,1995). Foregrounding is the fronting a constituent, if it is normally in a non-initial position (Pakravan,2004). The deviation from accepted linguistic norms in regard to foregrounding is concordant with the notion of marked thematic structure in syntax (Trassoli, 1998).

The concept of deviation from the norm is referred to the marked or less frequent constituents rather than the unmarked or more frequent use of standard constituents (Trrasoli,1997). In such a process, in particular when the sentences of the source language texts deviate from the unmarked word order, they carry an additional meaning that has to be explored and carried over the target language through translation.

Translation is as a process of reproduction through which translators try to communicate discoursal meaning across languages is at the same time more than purely semantic encoding of information. The way additional meaning is created and understood, should therefore also be focused as well from a syntactic-pragmatic angle (Hatim & Mason, 1990).This phenomenon which is an aspect of thematic structure sought to be of especial relevance in translation because understanding it can help to heighten our awareness of meaningful choices made by speakers and writers in the course of communication.

Thematic structure can be altered or manipulated by the use of marked thematic structure or foregrounding process. Thematic structure specially marked thematic structure or the foregrounding of the clause and text should in all probability plays a fundamental role in the reproduction of an equivalent in the discourse through translation. One specific are of interest in translation field is the relation between unmarked and marked thematic structure. Translator have to take into account the thematic structure of the original text to preserve the implication of the text producers'(Hatim& Mason,1990).

1.1. Halliday's Approach to Thematic Structure (Theme & Rheme)

The systematic theory of language on which Halliday's analysis of sentence structure is based on the theory which examine the notion that meaning in linguistic expression is determined by the speaker (Halliday, 1985). By examining the role of choice in the generation of the meaning through language, Halliday's approach tends to focus on the communicative intention of the speaker.

In Halliday's view every sentence contains Theme and Rheme which combine to form a message (Haliday, 1985, p.38). Halliday interprets the significance of the linear structure of the sentence in the light of systemic theory and divides the sentence into two sections: the Theme and the Rheme, which correspond roughly to the grammatical categories of subject and predicate: "the Theme is that with which the clause is concerned, The reminder of the message, the part in which the Theme is developed, is called the Rheme" (Hallliday, 1985.p.38).

According to Halliday the linear sequence of the Theme and Rheme is fixed in that the Theme must always occupy the initial position in the sentence. However, Halliday's adherence to systemic theory is demonstrated by his observation that the speaker is free to choose which elements of the sentence fulfill these roles and that they can be manipulated according to his/her communicative intention.

Halliday equates the thematic structure of the sentence to its information structure and remark that the Theme.

1.2. Application of the Thematic Structure Theory in Translation

Vilem Mathesius, first put forward the ideas of Theme and Rheme in his work Functional Sentence Perspective (1975). According to him, Theme is the part that comes first in a sentence, and Rheme remains the following part. In general Theme holds the old information, and Rheme carries the new. In 1970, F. Danes in his paper “On Linguistic Analysis of Text Structure” used the term thematic progression to signify the intricate relations between Themes in a text, and stated clearly that such thematic progression reflects the framework of the text. Based on these previous findings, M.A.K. Halliday, the representative figure of functional grammar, conducted a full investigation on thematic structure. Halliday analyzed this subject from the perspective of functional grammar. In his masterpieces An Introduction to Functional Grammar, Halliday indicated," As a general guide, the Theme can be identified as that element which comes in first position in the clause, and rheme is the remaining part. Based on Halidian approach (1994) a clause consists of two segments: "theme" and "rheme". Theme is what the clause is about. In both English and Persian he means of revealing the theme is initial position (Ketabi and Mosafa, 2005). Theme has two functions:

a) It acts as the point of orientation by connecting back to previous stretches of discourse and thereby maintaining coherent pint of view.

b) It acts as a point of departure of later stretches.

Rheme is what the speaker or writer says about the theme. Rheme is communicatively more important than the theme it means that theme contributes more to achievement of communication than theme (Hatim& Mason, 1990).

At clause level speakers/writers announce the topic of their message by putting it in the initial position. This process is called thematization (Baker,1992). In most cases the Thematic structure is not arranged at random; instead, there is usually some meanings behind it. In other words, it is not only a grammatical phenomenon, but also a kind of writing skills employed by the author. Maintaining and reproducing the original thematic structure not only conveys the untwisted meaning, but also more or less keeps the author’s style and taste. Translators have to take into account the thematic structure of the original text to preserve the implications and intention of the text producers (Hatim& Mason, 1990).

Translators must not underestimate the cumulative effect of thematic choice on the way the text is interpreted (Baker, 1992). This particular aspect of thematic organization is of especial relevance in translation because understanding it can help to heighten our awareness of meaningful choices made by speakers and writers in the course of communication. Comparison of English text as the source text (ST) in this study and the Persian text as the target text (TT) can determine whether the structure of the theme is similar or different.

1.3. Marked and Unmaked Thematic Structure in English and Persian

Considering speaker's/writer's selection of themes there are two types of the structure: unmarked vs. marked: Baker (1992, p. 130) says:

          The degree of markedness involved will depend on the frequency with which the element in the question generally occurs in the theme position and extend to which it is normally mobile within the clause. A given type of the clause will therefore have one unmarked thematic structure, variation of which will produce different types of marked theme.

If the Theme of the clause is unmarked, it means that the Theme is normal and usual choice. Take the declarative clause as an example in the majority of the cases the Theme coincides with the subject, so the unmarked choice is the subject, on the contrary, “A Theme that is something other than the Subject in declarative clause is referred to as MARKED THEME” (Halliday, 1985, p. 44).

Thematic choice is always meaningful because it indicates the speaker’s or writer’s point of departure. But some choices are more meaningful than others, because they are more marked than others (Baker, 1992, p.129). Between unmarked and marked syntax the later though heavier and less automatized is of greater communicative value to the producer, he former iconically motivated and easier to process, is of greater value to the receiver (Hatim& Mason, 1990). Thematic choice of marked or unmarked elements in the clause should be treated carefully by the translator because it is a meaningful choice made by writers to orient or guide readers properly.

The marked thematic structure or foregrounding process is the complex elements in both English and Persian not only, in the numerous forms that they take in these languages, but also because of the many semantic and discoursal features that is involved in their use.

Marked thematic structure may first be divided into two types of functions: non _constructional ad constructional operations (Schmid, 1999, p.49). Non-constructional operation is those to which a mere reordering operation is applied. Typical instances of these kinds of operation in English are Subject-verb inversion. Constructional operations are those for which a specific grammatical operation is necessary. Passivization for instance, is a process in English which is the result of specific grammatical operation (Pakravan,2006).

The two main operations may further be divided into specific types. The marked thematic structure or foregrounding process structures are complex element in both Persian and English not only in the numerous forms that they take in these languages but also because of the many semantic and discoursal features that are involved in their use. For a translator this may be major problem since he has to bring into consideration the different functions and features of the marked thematic structures in both English and Persian.

 Marked thematic structure forms have different functions in English consider PAS, for instances. Regarding English and Persian, PAS is not used in Persian as much as in English. Also Persian passive does not include all the communicative features of English passive. This means that in translating from English to Persian, the translator should be careful to observe all the aspects involved. For a translator this may be major problem since he has to bring into consideration the different functions and features of the marked thematic structures involved in English and Persian. In this study we will analyze the constructional division and it is categorized into: a) Topicalizatin, b) left-dislocation, c) passivization, and d) cleft and, pseudo-cleft sentences.

Different structures of constructional operation or foregrounding may be categorized with regard to the constituent fronted, whether it is nominal constituent or an adverb. The major processes fronting the nominal argument are Left Dislocation (LD) Topicalization (TOP), Passivization (PASS), Cleft construction (CL) and Pseude_Cleft construction (PCL) the process that moves adverbials of all kinds leftward may be termed as Adjunct Fronting (AF).

1.3.1. Left Dislocation and Topicalization 

In both of these marked thematic structure or foregrounding process an element of the clause is shifted to the initial position but there are some differences between these two processes. Topicalization and left-dislocation are different in term of their syntactic properties:

Left-dislocation usually leaves a prominent element in the place of shifted NP while in topicalization this never happens. Consider this example (Grzegorek, 1984)

This book, I have not read (it) yet.

This book I have not read yet.

LD is the nominal fronting process which of two elements: an explicitly detached noun phrase, and a pronominal which is correfrencial with the detached noun phrase. For example:

The man bought the piano. 

Det,NP Pro

The piano, the man bought for him.

Det,NP Pro

Top is another fronting process. Like LD a constituent is taken out of the sentence and is put in the initial position of a sentence. Unlike LD, however, the operation is limited to Front object (Schmid, 1996, p.70). In Persian fronting through LD and TOP is an existent process too for example: An example for LD in Persian is:

من به حسن غذا دادم.

حسن را من بهش غذا دادم

An example of TOP in Persian is:

به او بگویید کتاب بخرد.

 کتاب، به او بگویید بخرد.

1.3.2. Passivization  

Passive construction is an operation, which displace the object of the sentences putting it in the position that normally does not appear there. It is the syntactic device to reverse an ordering of the active sentences put information bits into the different pack (Hudelston and Pullman, 2002). Passive constructions are the most typical examples of this process, especially in English in which not only direct objects can be moved o the initial position and change into a grammatical subject, but also indirect and sometimes propositional objects. Passivization is a type of marked structure which is motivated by some of stylistic communicative and extralinguistic reasons. Passive sentences are marked in terms of thematic structure (Khanjan, 2002).

Regarding English and Persian, PAS is not used in Persian as much as in English. Also Persian passive does not include all the communicative features of English passive. Pakravan (2002) believes that one of the major reasons of using PASS in English is to put the object in sentence initial position. This point can be accommodated in Persian by shifting the direct object suffix 'ra', to initial position in an active sentence, rather than using PASS. This means that in translating PAS from English to Persian, the translator should be careful to observe all the aspects involved. Dabirmoghadam(2003)states that the true passive in Persian is the combination of past participle of the verb + shodan. Consider the example:

علي را كشتند علي كشته شد.

1.3.3. Cleft and pseudo-cleft constructions  

Both operation therefore “ provide a means for the producer of a sentence to place a certain words and phrases in the important sentence initial or final position , thus overcoming the limitation of word order rigidity”(Schmid,1999,p.71). both operation is communicatively marked because, it does not follow the sequence from the given to the new information the grammar of both operation is very similar by using more elaborate grammatical means , a sentence is divided into two clauses, each with its own verb (Huddleton and Pullman,20002)

a. I shall teach his lessons.

b. It is his lessons that I shall teach. (CL)

c. What I shall teach is his lessons. (PCL)

Hetzron cited in Grzegork (1984), p.71) summarizes the differences between cleft and pseudo-cleft in the following way: 

Both constructions are instances of focusing which elevate the communicative importance of an element above the level of the rest of the sentence. Yet motivation for such focusing may be varied. When an element is focused because it fills the gap in previous knowledge, it is brought forward in a cleft construction or another type of emphatic construction. When the focusing is necessary for paving the way for the latter use of the same element in the discourse, or for a pragmatic reaction, the cataphoric construction that moves by the focused element to the end is created.

Generally whenever speakers or writers want to give especial prominence to the new and most prominent information they use cleft constructions. Clefts are specially used in written English where stress cannot be shown (Grzegorek, 1984).

The two operations are divergent in some respects. CL sentences begin with “it” followed by the element which is being emphasized. In PCL, the “wh-clause begins the constructions and the emphatic element appear in the second clause.

In Persian the same process seem to be applicable to break a sentence into parts whereby forming two clauses:

مریم آمد.

مریم بود که آمد.

کسی که آمد مریم بود.

The CL and the PCL operations are flexible in English, since different parts in the sentence can be highlighted (Huddleton and Pullman, 2002).for example:

A. John wrote a white suit at the pretty last night.

B. it was John who wrote a white suit at the pretty last night.

C. it was white suit that John wrote at the pretty last night.

D. it was night that John wrote white suit at the pretty ….

In Hallidian terms these two operations are referred to as ‘predicative theme’ and ‘thematic equative’, respectively (Thompson, 1996).

1.3.4. Adjunct fronting

Adjunct is one of the constituents, though not from the major ones-S, V, and O, that moves around easily in sentences to overcome the restriction imposed by the rigidity of word order. Adjuncts are grammatically realized by single word adverbs like, 'yesterday' or, 'unfortunately' or propositional phrase such as ' in the garage'.

The same categorization may be followed in the Persian:

مهدی دیشب با آرامش خواید.

دیشب، مهدی با آرامش خواید.

با آرامش، مهدی دیشب خواید.

Adjuncts are fairly flexible elements which are often chosen to be pace in the initial position in sentences.

After analyzing the English texts and their translation in the Persian, these results have been gathered which are presented in the following tables.

4. Methodology

This study adopts a contrastive text analysis approach in handling the data. Following Halliday's functional grammar (1985), discussion and the division of marked syntax by Schmid (1999), the following research questions are answered: 

1. What strategies can be used in rendering marked structure in a related English argumentative text of this study?

2. What is the frequency of usage in each kind of marked structure in a related English argumentative text of this study and its translations into Persian?  

4.1. Materials

 In this study the first 200 sentences of a literary text, Hemingvay's 'Farwell to Arms'(1992), and Conrad's ' Lord Jim'(1949), and their Persian translations by Najafe Darya bandari (1362) and Saleh Hosseyni (1362), are compared and contrasted to see whether marked thematic patterning are handled properly in translation or not.

4.2. Procedures

In this study, the text is broken into its constituent clauses. According to Halliday clause is taken as the unit of analysis. The first 200 sentences of two English literary texts are studied and all marked structures are identified. The marked structures are founded are adjunct fronting, passivization, and cleft and, pseudo-cleft sentences, topicalization, and left-dislocation. The frequency of each marked structures is presented, then the translatability of each is discussed.

5. Date Analysis

In the following tables the data obtained from comparative text analysis is presented. The number of marked thematized structures of English original text and its translation into Persian and the frequency thereof is presented in the following tables:

No. of Sen
No. of marked
No. of unmarked
Marked Sen %
Sen %


No. of marked
Marked %
Marked %


(AF=Adjunct fronting, CL=Cleft Construction, PCL=Pseudo-Cleft Construction, PASS=Passivization, LD= Left Dislocation, TOP=Topicalization, Sen=sentence)

As the result in the table 1.1 shows, English literarily texts hold a higher percentage of marked sentences than their Persian counterparts.

Table 1.2 shows that in the marked English sentences of the two English literary texts, of 68.75% the markedness processes belong to adjunct fronting. The rest are divided into passivization, 15.62% cleft and pseudo cleft 9.37%, left dislocation and topicalization, 6.25%.

Based on the data from the same table regarding Persian translated texts 66.66% of the processes belong to Adjunct fronting. The rest of sentences have used passivization 19.04%, and cleft and pseudo cleft 9.52%, left dislocation and topicalization 4.76%.

It can be concluded from the table 1.2 that, English texts and their corresponding Persian translation use adjunct fronting more than other marked thematic structure. In what follows, the translatability of each marked thematic structure or foregrounding process is elaborated here. 

6. Discussion of the Results and Conclusion

Translators have to take into account the thematic structure of the original text to preserve the implication and intention of the text producers (Hatim& Mason, 1990). Baker (1992) points out that concerning the thematic structure of clauses translators generally face two main possibilities:

a) Translator may find that they can preserve the thematic patterning of the original without distorting the target text. If the elements placed in the theme position in the source text can easily and naturally be placed in theme position in the target text, the method of development of the two text will be the same or similar.

b)Translator may find that they can not preserve the thematic patterning of the original without distorting the target text.

During the process of translation syntactic and semantic considerations may often be given priority over the communicative consideration. This mar results in translation that does not follow the information status of the source language text, though they may be exact in rendering the propositional content of the original. In the following part the translatability of each kind of marked thematic structure is explained

Adjunct Fronting 

Adjunct fronting is a highly productive process in both English and Persian. Although both languages move, the circumstantial constitutes to the beginning of the sentences. The syntactic processes involved are somehow different.

The differences in the processes, nevertheless, would entail a difference structure.

Adjunct fronting is much less noticeable in Persian as a free word order. Therefore, any additional meaning emphatic or contrastive- created by the fronting of the circumstantial constituents has to be made more explicit in the translation.

One adequate rendering of the fronted circumstantial in English sentences is the addition of some morphemes to the Persian equivalence of the item in question. The morpheme added may be 'ham', 'hamin', and 'haman', 'An', or ' dorost', which are traditionally called adverbs, pronoun, demonstrative adjective, intensifier, respectively (Bateni, 1969).

Cleft Construction and Pseudo-Cleft Construction

The problem of finding equivalents for English CL and PCL sentences has been discussed less frequently. Although Persian has the formal structure of CL and PCL sentences, they are as indicated in the tale 1.2 less frequent in English. It is the critical decision for the translator to translate these sentences either by Persian CL and PCL sentences or some other constructions. The decision in turn is best made regarding the function and information status of the constructions and the context in which they appear.

Left Dislocation, Topicalization

It has been said that LD and TOP can be used to create additional speaker- based information which should be preserved, as far as, the means of the target language allows, through the process of translation.


In the process of translation from English to Persian PAS is trickier than the other marked constructions since besides preserving the additional information creates by PAS, the translator is obliged to choose from among different constructions in the receptor language the form that sounds most natural to the Persian reader.

In outlining the strategies for translation of marked word order of English into Persian, an awareness of information dynamics and the potential ways to express them through syntactic device is important in translation.

Thematic structures are considers one of the differences between SL and TL, which challenge seriously translation process in achieving functional equivalence. Also because in the foregrounding process (marked thematic structure), elements other than the subject come at the beginning, it is hypothesized that translators face a great challenge in rendering these constructions.

This study basically aimed at detecting the way that the foregrounding processes (marked thematic structure) in English literary texts are translated in Persian trough a comparative study. As the result of the study, it was concluded that both languages take advantage of adjunct fronting more than other marked thematic structure.

On the whole almost, one on forth of English marked sentences has been translated into Persian unmarked sentences. In other words, the thematic structure of the English sentences has not been transferred thoroughly to the target language. In fact the transfer of the thematic structure in the translation is of a paramount importance after convening the message.

In this study the first 200 sentences of a literary text, Hemingvay's ' Farwell to Arms'(1992), and Conrad's ' Lord Jim'(1949), and their Persian translations by Najafe Darya bandari (1362) and Saleh Hosseyni (1362), are compared and contrasted to see whether marked thematic patterning are handled properly in translation or not.

The analysis shows that in both English text (ST) and Persian text (TT), the highest percentage of occurrence belongs to AF. This is not surprising since adjuncts are the easiest sentence constitutes to move in theses two languages. The translator should translate the marked sentences of the original English text into Persian in such a way not only to preserve the basic content, but also to convey the additional meaning.

Translator could carry out the process of translation of marked syntax through the structure preserving translation or free translation approach. The choice is determined by a number of factors such as, the context involved, the intended additional meaning which speaker intends to convey. Free translation (FT) attempts to communicate the same message but not necessarily through the same syntactic form as that of source language text.


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Conrad, J. (1949). Lord Jim. London: Penguin Books

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Danes, Frantisek (1970). The instance of Prague School Methodology: Functional Analysis of Utterance and Text. In Paul L. Garvin (Ed), Method and Theory in  Linguistics, The Hague: Mouton, pp. 132-147.

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خان جان،ع. 1383. رویکردی نقش گرا به سا ختا ر اطلاعاتی جمله در ترجمه، مطا لعات ترجمه،  سال دوم، شماره پنجم


دبیر مقدم، م. 1382. مجهول در زبان فارسی، مجله زبان شناسی ، سال هجدهم ، شماره اول، بهار و تابستان


دریا بندری، ن. (مترجم). 1362. وداع با اسلحه، تهران: انتشارات نیلوفر

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