Herself to himself

Helga Schroeder was teaching a discourse workshop in Kenya with five mother tongue translator teams. Their languages mostly do not use isolated personal pronouns (like “he, I, they”), but use prefixes or suffixes on the verb for both subjects and objects. Isolated pronouns only occur for reasons of focus, prominence, or disambiguation.

All the mother tongue translators in the workshop used English as the source language in translation. Since English uses isolated pronouns all the time, they also used a lot of these isolated pronouns. The result was something that had the flavor of  “He himself went to the river, and she herself saw him himself,” with most of the pronouns inappropriately empha­sized.

After finding out the pattern of their own languages, all the translators went back to their translations and removed most of their isolated personal pronouns.

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