Translation / Linguistics: Fully Funded Joint PhD at Swansea: TransMet: Translating Metaphors

  • Phd
  • Full cost of UK/EU tuition fees, plus a stipend
  • 29 September 2019

Translation / Linguistics: Fully Funded Joint PhD Scholarship: TransMet: Translating Metaphors: The Learner, the Translator and the Machine

This scholarship is funded by Swansea University and Université Grenoble Alpes.

Start date: October 2019

Subject areas: Translation, Corpus Linguistics, Machine Translation, Language Learning

  • Dr Caroline Rossi (UniversitĂ© Grenoble Alpes)
  • Professor Andrew Rothwell (Swansea University)
  • Dr Maria Fernandez-Parra (Swansea University)

Project description:
Both Europe and English-speaking countries have witnessed the decline of methods of language teaching based on grammar and translation, as direct methods were promoted, followed by communicative approaches. This change is well documented in France (see e.g. Harvey 1996), but also in the English-speaking sphere, including India and Pakistan, while translation is still used in language teaching in China (Malmkjaer 2010). Despite recent collective work on the part that translation could play in contemporary language teaching (Witte et al. 2009), translation and language learning have remained a poorly matched couple (Carreres 2006). Cognitive sciences have also explored translation competence as developing from a bilingual substrate (see Schäffner & Adab 2000). However, to our knowledge, the literature lacks systematic comparisons of the linguistic expertise of the professional translator with that of the second language learner.

The translator’s practice involves a whole set of complex tasks, whose description and analysis is currently undertaken by both translation process research (Carl et al. 2016; Ehrensberger-Dow et al. 2015) and translation studies (Chesterman 2017). One way of coming to grips with this complexity is to look at notoriously difficult aspects of translation, and metaphor is one such aspect. Because metaphors are often culturally specific, their untranslatability has been singled out in both contrastive linguistics and translation textbooks half a century ago (see e.g. Vinay & Darbelnet 1959, and Nida 1969). For example, the French metaphor "casser sa pipe" (in which life is likened to a pipe) should be translated into English as the metaphor "to kick the bucket", located in another conceptual field. This asymmetry results in inadequate machine translation outputs, e.g. the Google Translate system translates "il a cassé sa pipe pendant la nuit" as "he broke his pipe overnight". Metaphors, especially those that are less conventional than "kick the bucket", represent a crucial difficulty for translators, second language learners and automatic systems alike.

This difficulty results from the nature of metaphor that is a multifaceted object of study. The positive consequence of this complexity is that it allows researchers to look at human cognition and communication from several angles. Metaphor was initially studied from a linguistic point of view as a process of extending meaning to different levels (morphological, lexical or syntactic) or as a rhetorical device for implementing persuasion and manipulation effects. But with Lakoff and Johnson’s (1980) ground-breaking work in the framework of cognitive linguistics, metaphor started to be analysed as a conceptual operation involving cognitive processes and its study has now reached many other fields of cognitive and social sciences.

The cognitive approach to metaphor is still scarce in Translation studies (but see Schäffner 2004, Vandaele & Lubin 2005 and Sjørup 2013) and no common methodology has emerged (Mirzoyeva 2014 : 170). In much the same way, motion events expressions have been extensively studied for at least 3 decades (starting with Talmy’s 1985 seminal paper on lexicalization patterns) bringing together cognitive and contrastive linguistics, but applications to the study of human and machine translation are lacking. Thus, the proposed study will seek to establish a robust method for analysing metaphorical expressions involving motion verbs and their translation into two typologically distinct European languages (English and French) as well as in two Romance languages (French and Spanish).

Finally, the current project will be implemented in a context where translators are facing profound challenges related to contemporary business practices and digital technologies (Kenny 2017). They are increasingly being asked to correct (or "post-edit") machine translation outputs rather than translate from scratch. Consequently, the particular technological configurations with which translators work can lead to ergonomic problems (Ehrensberger-Dow et al. 2016). These changes profoundly affect the roles and tasks of translators, as well as their conception of language. Language teaching is also evolving, with many possible contributions of digital technologies reported over the past decades. Unexpectedly these technologies have also brought translation back to the forefront of teaching methods: indeed, several pedagogical proposals have been made, based on machine translation systems (Niño 2009, Shei 2002). Whether it is a matter of post-editing the outputs of machine translation systems or using them in the language classroom, metaphors are problematic because they put these systems, the learners and the translators in difficulty.

The current project seeks to bridge the above gaps in the literature. Its first originality is to study the translation of the metaphors both in expert translators and in automatic systems. Its second originality is to use the scientific knowledge accumulated on second language acquisition to better understand the ability of professional translators to face the cultural and linguistic challenges caused by the translation of metaphors.


As this is a joint degree, applicants must meet the entry/funder requirements of both universities: a recognised master’s degree in Linguistics and/or Translation Studies and an appropriate English language qualification.

Experience in teaching translation and/or working as a translator or interpreter would be a plus.

Due to funding restrictions, this scholarship is open to UK/EU candidates only.


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This scholarship covers the full cost of UK/EU tuition fees (50% by Swansea University, 50% by Université Grenoble Alpes) and an annual stipend of £15,009 reviewed every year.

Additional funding is available from Swansea University to assist with travel, accommodation and immersive training experiences.


Please visit our website for more information.

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