Representation of Conceptual Space in Student Translations: A Study of Textual Competence of Student Translators from the Perspective of Text World


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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  • Lu TIAN

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Award date14 Sep 2015


Informed by Text World Theory, this thesis, at the interface of Text Linguistics and Cognitive Linguistics, combines language use and space conceptualization to form a text-world approach to translation studies with special reference to the representation of conceptual space in student translations. As the notion of space is thought to be fundamental in language and cognition (see Pütz & Dirven 1996; Bloom et al. 1996; Mix et al. 2010; Levinson 2003), conceptual space, which is modelled upon the physical space (Werth 1999: 7), plays a pivotal role in organizing a series of coherent text worlds in a text. From a text-world perspective, the author advances “textual competence” as an integrated translation competence and investigates it via a comparative analysis of a short English narrative text and its Chinese translations by student-translators, alongside a provided “reference version”, to see how the structure of text worlds are re-presented in translation.

Characterized by its comprehensive application of cognitivist principles in analytical practice, Text World Theory is known as a cognitive-linguistic model bringing cognitive psychology to bear on discourse analysis with an aim to reveal the mental mechanisms of human beings in language processing (Werth 1999; Gavins 2007). In Text World Theory, a discourse is taken as a dynamic cognitive process when the content of the discourse, i.e. the text, is comprehended as mental representations, or text worlds. In this connection, translation is regarded as a cognitive communicative process of reproducing a text as world(s) in another language. Location, time and entities constitute the world-building elements of a text world. As the discourse continues, reference to other location, time or entities and utterances indicating attitudes or possibilities create world-switches into new conceptual spaces. The (in)coherence of the text worlds as they are represented in translation provides a legitimate criterion for the evaluation of textual competence. Competent translators are sensitive to the influence of language use on text world construction and could make proper use of the target language in order to present intended text worlds. From this perspective, it is not the individual components of translation competence such as the bilingual competence and the transfer competence (see Shreve 1997; PACTE 2003) that are under investigation, but the integrated textual competence in conceptualizing texts as worlds and re-presenting the text world series in a coherent and justifiable manner in the target text that draws our interest.

With Text World Theory as the theoretical basis and based on the present literature on space, language and cognition, a text-world framework of representation of space is proposed and further applied in the case study. The framework basically consists of two layers—connections between text worlds at the macro-level and representation of space within each text world at the micro-level. The case study in Chapter Five shows that in comparison to the expert-translated version provided for reference, many of the student-translated texts reflect a lack of coherence between text worlds. Overstatement and understatement of entities in terms of their spatial properties, spatial relations, and movements are commonly found in student-translated texts. Awareness of the representation of conceptual space in translation may thus help students become more sensible to language use in presenting intended text worlds. This thesis is constructive in two ways. On the one hand, by integrating language, text and cognition within the same framework of representation of space in a text, it intends to establish a systematic and comprehensive approach to the study of translation in terms of conceptual space representation which underlies the formulation of a text. On the other hand, by disclosing the underlying cognitive mechanism of translation process from a text-world perspective, it will have pedagogic implications for the cultivation of textual competence in translator training.