Comparative Overview

After analysing the lexical richness of the English text, we made a first experiment to compare the lexicon of some translations of Jane Eyre (French, Italian, Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese) with the English original.

The editions used for this comparison are:

The first full French translation by Lesbazeilles Souvestre, Jeanne Eyre ou les mémoires d’une institutrice (Paris, D. Giraud, 1854).

The first, anonymous, Italian translation (Milan: Treves, 1904)

The anonymous Spanish translation, Juana Eyre (Barcelona: Mentora, 1928).

The second edition of the c. 1916 Brazilian Portuguese translation, Joanna Eyre ( Petrópolis: Vozes de Petrópolis, 1926).

The initial idea was to compare these four languages as a step towards building a comparative model to be used for all translations across all languages. But we soon realised that this case was linguistically very interesting in itself.

To show why this is, we have built two graphs in which we superimpose lines that represent the type-token ratio per chapter for each of the languages mentioned above, differentiating them by color. The line of black dots represents the variations in lexical richness of the English original.

It is important to note that these numbers do not allow us to compare richness of vocabulary in the literary sense: they do not show that the Italian, Portuguese and Spanish translations make less usual word choices than the English (in fact the opposite is likely to be the case). The reason is that the TTR is affected by the system of the given language. For instance, the English ‘I am late’ has three tokens; the Italian equivalent, ‘io sono in ritardo’ has four – but we would not say that the Italian is using a more inventive vocabulary.

Here is a a fuller example, taken from chapter 30. ‘In a week, Mr. Rivers and Hannah repaired to the parsonage: and so the old grange was abandoned.’ In English, there are 16 different types, and 18 tokens (ie the total number of words), so the TTR is 0.889. Here is the anonymous 1904 Italian translation: ‘Dopo una settimana il signor Rivers e Anna erano stabiliti al presbiterio e la vecchia casa restava abbandonata.’ It has 17 types and 18 tokens, so a TTR of 0.994.

What immediately stands out from the graph above is the extreme closeness of the early French translation – in terms of lexical variety – to Charlotte Brontë’s English. The difference between this and the other translations is surprising since they too are in Romance languages: the pattern they all show, of shadowing the movements of the English but at some distance, is what we would expect of languages in the same family.

The following graph shows even better how the lexicon of the French translation follows the English, especially from chapter 3 to chapter 12. The striking exception is chapter 37, when Jane returns to find Rochester at Ferndean: a chapter which consists very largely of dialogue.

Looking at the graph once again, however, it is clear that the Italian translation, too, has some peculiarities. If you look at the points corresponding to chapters 5 and 24 – Jane’s arrival at Lowood School, and the chapter that follows the marriage proposal – it is easy to see how the lexical richness suddenly changes its trend against the current of all the other languages represented. This is a prompt for readers to look again at the language of these chapters, and ask – why?

If you have found the explanation, please share it with us via the Contribute button in the sidebar.

Text and research by Giovanni Pietro Vitali