Visibility of the translator: a data-driven study of Julia Lovell’s translator style

  • Yaxin Zhang

Student thesis: PhD Thesis


Translator style is an underdeveloped field in translation studies. Though significant advances have been made since Baker (2000) published her seminal paper on identifying individual translators’ stylistic features, limitations exist in the conceptual confusion between translator style and translation style, the methodological issues such as “partial description” (Li, 2017) or “prior selection” (Rayson, 2008) of linguistic features, and quantitative description of corpus data without insightful interpretation. In addition, there is no effective theoretical or methodological framework that could guide research in this area (Saldanha, 2011a).
This study discusses the issue of translator style from an interdisciplinary perspective combining theories and methods from descriptive translation studies (DTS), stylistics, corpus linguistics and sociology. It examines the British translator Julia Lovell’s translator style by adopting a data-driven approach (Rayson, 2008) and constructing a multiple-complex model of corpora (Huang & Chu, 2014). It also attempts to explore the potential motivation behind the identified translator style by discussing Lovell’s translatorial habitus (Simeoni, 1998) from a socio-cognitive perspective.
This study proposes a working model for translator style study. Under this model, a multiple-complex collection of corpora including a total of 2,615,765 tokens has been built. The first stage research is under parallel corpus model, including《鲁迅小说全集》(The Complete Fiction of Lu Xun) and its three English translations by Julia Lovell, William Lyell and the Yangs (Yang Hsien-yi and Gladys Yang), with the aim of finding salient stylistic features as potential indicators of Lovell’s translator style. It adopts a data-driven approach (Rayson, 2008) in which there is no prior selection of linguistic features as style indicators, but the whole text is examined first to find specific meaningful features for further micro-level investigation in detail. The second stage is under comparable corpus model, containing all the eight English translations by Lovell to date and a reference corpus so as to test consistency of the identified stylistic features and thus to confirm Lovell’s translator style. Finally, it explores the potential motivation behind style by discussing Lovell’s translatorial habitus (Simeoni, 1998) from a socio-cognitive perspective.
It is found that absolute clauses and semantic enrichment in negative expressions can be taken as two potential indicators of Lovell’s translator style. Her use of words and translation strategies feature a diverse and complex tendency, which is reflected from her frequent use of rewording and semantic enrichment strategies that often make the target texts more informative and creative. At the micro-level, her translation has rich rhetorical and stylistic effects and thus arguably features more expressiveness and literariness. At the macro-level, her translation contributes to both characterization such as depicting the character’s complex inner world and construction of the fictional world.
It has also found that Simeoni’s (1998) translatorial habitus, a concept based on Bourdieu’s (1977/2013, 1992) habitus, can be an effective conceptual and descriptive tool to explain the motivation behind translator style. Firstly, Lovell’s initial habitus influenced by factors like family, education and early interest as important cultural capital probably contributed to the development of her professional habitus years later. Secondly, Lovell’s professional habitus that was mainly shaped by her multiple professions (i.e., translator, scholar, historian and author) and considerable insight into the adjacent fields of translation has played a pivotal role in her stylistic choices and material selection. In addition, part of her personal ideology, i.e., her view of language with contemporaneity at its core, her view of literature with emphasis on humanity, and her view of culture and history based on pluralist values, can explain most of her stylistic features such as expressiveness, diversity, complexity and creativity.
Overall, this study has made visible the translator’s subjectivity in the target text. Though such subjectivity is often complex and shaped by both individual experiences and external socio-cultural structures, it does validate the translator’s creativity and that personal ideology and aesthetic principles do have powerful effects on his or her stylistic choices in translation practice.
Keywords: translator style, data-driven, translatorial habitus, Julia Lovell
Date of AwardMar 2024
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Nottingham
SupervisorGeoff Hall (Supervisor) & Lily Yu (Supervisor)


  • translator style
  • data-driven
  • translatorial habitus
  • Julia Lovell

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