English-Polish Dictionary of Collocational Phrases


Literal translation is often the best

This online dictionary of English and Polish collocational phrases can be a resource for English-Polish translators and for Polish-English translators. The art of translation requires a deep knowledge of the way English phrases translate into Polish phrases and how Polish phrases translate into English phrases. Surprisingly, there are many examples which show that word-for-word translation can be the best, and other examples that show that only a slight change is needed for an almost literal translation to be the best.

Below follows a statement of scientific motivation behind this dictionary.

Similarities between Polish and English collocational phrases and where these similarities come from

Collocations are frequently co-occurring combinations of words, other than compound words or idioms. Cowie reports that in the course of preparation of the Oxford Dictionary of Current Idiomatic English, thousands of fixed collocational phrases were found (Cowie 1988). It would be unreasonable to believe that English is the only language which abounds with collocations. There are just as many stable multi-word units in Polish, of which I am well aware being a native speaker of this language. Words are more or less restricted in their collocalibility (Carter 1987: Chapter 4 and passim). The consequence of this fact is that in certain linguistic contexts only one particular word is possible. In such cases, the use of a similar or even synonymous word makes the whole phrase sound awkward. But the knowledge of how words collocate in a given language does not only prevent us from forming odd-sounding phrases. This knowledge has also an important economizing role in speech production (Peters 1983). It is simply faster to use whole fixed formulas rather than string individual words together.

Keeping that in mind, the author of this research set out to create a dictionary of English and Polish collocational phrases that bear close resemblance in terms of syntactic structure, semantic meaning of words that make up a phrase, and extralinguistic notion behind a phrase. Examples of such phrases are: 'to raise a hand to (a child)' for which there is an equivalent Polish phrase 'podnieść rękę na (dziecko)', 'to fall into oblivion' which translates as 'popaść w zapomnienie' and 'to succumb to temptation' which means 'ulec pokusie'. This dictionary will be published online and it will hopefully constitute a helpful tool for translators and learners. It will only contain the phrases that can be translated word for word from one language into another. If it should turn out that the number of such phrases reaches a few thousand, this could change the view that the amount of Polish should be kept to a minimum when learning English. It might even be used by applied linguists in the discussion on the positive and negative transfer.

However, the research will go far beyond collecting fixed expressions that happen to be identical in the two languages. Its greatest emphasis will be placed on the explanation of their striking syntacto-semantic similarity. So far, the researcher has come up with several hypothetical explanations.

The existence of the same collocations in Polish and English (and other languages as well) may be due to the fact that the speakers of these languages perceive the world in a similar way. In many cultures, anger is likened to heated liquid in a container - the body (Aitchinson 1994: 152). This conceptual representation of anger is reflected both in English and Polish, in phrases like: 'She exploded with anger.' (= Wybuchła ze złości.), 'He couldn't contain his anger.' (= Nie mógł powstrzymać złości.) or 'He was simmering with anger.' (= Kipiał ze złości.).

Another example of a universal and cross-cultural schema that brings about similarities in the two languages is the 'ladder' image, also called an 'up-and-down scale' (Aitchinson 1994: 154). According to this schema, everything that is good is placed at the top, and everything that is bad lies at the bottom. Phrases like 'low morale' (= niskie morale) or 'to have a high opinion of sb' (= mieć o kimś wysokie mniemanie) are excellent examples how the verticality schema influences our language. It is quite possible that the vast majority of universal schemas derive from the Bible and Ancient Mythology.

Of course, the similarity of some collocations may have a purely linguistic explanation. Certain identical Polish and English phrases can have a common Latin origin. To ascertain the extent of Latin influence on a given phrase, the researcher will refer to the dictionary of Latin and will seek help of those who know Latin. Other reference sources will be movie scripts, as it is likely that some contemporary Polish collocations are loan translations from English.

Finally, the research will serve as a validity test for the Neuro-Linguistic Programming's theory of the so-called representational systems and their influence on the language we use. According to this theory, if a person experiences the world through the Auditory system rather than Visual and Kinesthetic, he or she is likely to use words and phrases which refer to the sense of hearing. Some examples are: 'He's deaf to my arguments.' (= Jest głuchy na moje argumenty.), 'We're on different wavelengths.' (= Nadajemy na różnych falach.) and 'That sounds good.' (= Brzmi dobrze.). So far, the NLP's theory has only been tested on English. It is hoped that the data gathered in the research will show how well this theory holds in Polish.

Marta Włodarczak