Themes and Rhemes in Translation: What are They all About?

Last Updated On: June 19, 2017

inTranslation Tips

TranslationTranslation service providers, especially those that specialise in legal document translation services or wherever terminology and vocabulary are highly specific are often confronted with more challenges than the run of the mill translator that deals with simple everyday business document translation or the translation of certificates.

There are many different specialisms that translators can tackle and they all have their own unique qualities. What about the literary translator for instance? Some translators who opt to tackle literary works from bygone years, whether prose or poetry are in a special class of their own.


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Take the two terms: theme and rheme. They sound so similar, but are quite different in meaning. They are hardly areas which bother the average document translation provider, but are important to those trying to translate a novel or a great piece of poetry or even an ancient piece of text.
Themes are the parts of a sentence that are context dependent while rhemes are context independent. Rhemes are also pieces of textual information that are new, while themes are always already familiar to the reader.

The theme in a sentence consists of two main systems. The first is thematization. This is all to do with organising the position and distribution of information in a clause. It controls the beginning of the clause and directs the attention of the reader to the aspects of the clause which the writer intends to communicate.

While the theme in the sentence organises the information in a specific way, the rheme, by contrast is the part that contains novel information. Another way to differentiate the theme and rheme is to think about the theme as the initial constructional part of the clause while the rheme is the remainder.

Confused? Never mind. This little article is just a reminder that translation can be a divers and complex task and the budding you translator should consider where and what they want to specialise in if at all and prepare to learn new skills that will allow them to provide a professional and accurate product whatever type of text they are translating.

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