Text Comprehension Extending Cognitive Dimensions English Language Essay

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This chapter presents a brief overview of the role of background knowledge, in general as well as a preview of translation and quality assessment. Of note is that research on the role of background knowledge on translation quality has a relatively short history as compared to that of reading, writing, grammar, and speaking.

2.2 Text comprehension: Extending cognitive dimensions

2.2.1 Text comprehension: cognitive perspective

Within the L2 cognitive paradigm, listening and reading are primarily seen as listening and reading for meaning. They are perceived as cognitive, intrapersonal problem-solving processes that occur within the listener/reader's mind are closely related to his/her prior knowledge (Bernhardt, 1991; Swaffar, Arens, & Byrnes, 1991; Buck, 2003). Interestingly, the studies published 15 years ago view text comprehension as a meaning-extracting process (e.g Bernhardt, 1991, Swaffar et al., 1991), while more\ recent publications view it as a meaning-constructing process (e.g. Roebuck, 1998; Kern, 2000, Buck, 2003).

The meaning-extracting process heavily relies on the idea that meaning is embedded in texts and readers/listeners extract this meaning from the text, making connections between new information obtained from the text and their prior knowledge, drawing inferences and evaluating the authors' intent encoded in the text. Such a vision of the meaning making process, linked to the conduit or container metaphors of communication, has long dominated L2 comprehension research. It is based on the idea that texts contain meaning [and] language is a neutral transparent medium for carrying meaning. (Kern, 2000, p.49).

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In later developments, this point of view was challenged by the proponents of the meaning-constructing view on text comprehension, where it was argued that the meaning-extracting model does not adequately capture the complexities of human communication and can be compared to the transmission of information via a fax machine (Kern, 2000). However, as often occurs in human communication (e.g. in conversations), meaning is not determined ahead of time but is created at the moment when utterances are produced. It is believed that meaning is mutually co-constructed by all participants involved in communication processes that usually take place at the confluence of language and context. Therefore, contexts can also have an impact on comprehension. In this regard, Omaggio-Hadley (2000) claims that contexts supply important extralinguistic information that helps, to some extent, to fill up the gaps in understanding messages by activating the appropriate schema structures.

The advocates of the constructionist framework maintain that meaning is not something packaged in the text that the listener/reader has to unpack but is constructed by the listener [reader] in an active process of inferencing and hypothesis building. (Buck, 2003, p.29). Similarly, Roebuck (1998) notes that text comprehension is a meaning making activity that results in the interpretation of a text applicable only to this particular listener/reader (text receiver) at this particular time and depends on his/her intentions and decisions about how much meaning is to be actualized.

Recently the L2 research has begun to include voices arguing in favor of the inclusion of socio-cultural dimensions. For example, Kern (2000) is quite cautious about tendencies in L2 research that separate linguistic, cognitive and social factors in language acquisition. He argues that cognitive dimensions are not sufficient in themselves to explain the complex process of language development. Kern (2000) states that the predominance of the cognitive dimensions in L2 research, particularly in comprehension research, creates an illusion that, for example, reading acquisition is a naturally occurring process. and not a socially constructed phenomenon. (p. 34). In Kern's view, the inclusion of a socio-cultural dimension in the Vygotskyan tradition would allow L2 research to account better for social factors and might enhance our grasp of what happens when language learners try to produce or to understand spoken or written discourse. He overtly calls for a broader approach to language research and teaching in order to reinforce the language teaching/learning process. In his view, this kind of multidisciplinary approach should borrow from various theoretical frameworks and in so doing to extend the dimensions of L2 research paradigm. In the section that follows a brief overview of the socio-cultural view on text comprehension is provided.

2.2.2 Text comprehension: a socio-cultural perspective

In his works, Vygotsky repeatedly discusses the problem of comprehension due to its critical importance for the learning process (e.g. Vygotsky, 1987, 1996, 1997). In order to have a better grasp of the Socio-cultural Theory (SCT) view on this complex mental process, Leontiev (2003) first suggests considering Vygotsky's thoughts on reading comprehension. Leontiev (2003) refers to three of Vygotsky's ideas which in his view are fundamental for the present discussion; he emphasizes, however, that these ideas are not often cited. First, Vygotsky (1997a, p.143) states: Most think that understanding is greater with slower reading; however, actually with rapid reading, understanding is better [because] the different processes occur at different rates and the rate of understanding is more compatible with a rapid reading rate. Then, Vygotsky continues: unfortunately, experimental research has thus far studied reading as a sensory-motor habit and not as a mental process of a very complex order. To a certain degree, the work of the visual mechanism is subordinate to the processes of understanding (ibid). In Leontiev's view, this statement by Vygotsky still remains of critical importance today, specifically for educational psychology.

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Second, Vygotsky stipulates (1997a, p.143):

It is clear to us that understanding does not mean that in reading each sentence we generate pictures [images] of all objects mentioned in it [sentence]. Understanding cannot be reduced to a graphic resurrection of the object or even to naming of the word; more likely, it consists in operating with the sign itself and referring it to meaning, to a rapid movement of attention, and isolating different points that are at the center of our attention.

An imbecile's reading gives a very clear example of reading without understanding. P.Ya. Troshin describes an imbecile who in reading became delighted by every word: A ladybird (ay, a bird, a bird! . Agitated pleasure) doesn't know, doesn't know!. ([The same reaction]). Or "Count Vitte came (he came, he came!) to Petersburg (to Petersburg, to Petersburg!). etc.

Concentration of attention, attaching it to each separate sign, inability to control attention and transfer it so as to be oriented in the complex internal space that might be called a system of relations are the Imbecile's basic traits of "understanding the text. Conversely, normal understanding is the process of establishing relations, selecting the important [ideas], in a transition from separate elements to the meaning of the whole (Italics added).

Third, Vygotsky (1996, pp. 209-211, my translation) concretizes that:

Reading is a complex process in which the higher mental functions operate in thinking, and the child's developed or underdeveloped reading is tightly connected to his/her development of thinking ……….Text comprehension presupposes the preservation of the necessary proportional weight of words or modification of these proportions, until they produce a result which satisfies the goal of reading. Text comprehension is similar to problem solving in mathematics. It consists in the selection of the correct elements related to the situation, in the appropriate combination of these elements and in their evaluation in order to determine their relevance for text comprehension. The process of reading and the teaching of reading are tightly linked to the development of inner speech. (As cited in Leontiev, 2003, p.141)

In addition to these views of Vygotsky mentioned in Leontiev (2003), the following relevant quotation from (Vygotsky 1987, p.283) can be added:

Understanding the words of others also requires understanding their thoughts. And even this is incomplete without understanding their motives or why they expressed their thoughts. In precisely this sense we complete the psychological analysis of any expression only when we reveal the most secret internal plane of verbal thinking -its motivation.

While discussing the text comprehension process, Leontiev (2003) explains that in general terms, the text is considered understood if one can explain the idea of the text using his/her own words, i.e. using a paraphrase, a translation from one language to another, a semantic compression of the essential content of the original text (e.g. summary, key-words, annotation, etc.). In fact, Appel and Lantolf's (1994) study provides support for Vygotsky's idea on the importance of inner speech in the reading process and Leontiev's idea on paraphrasing in the comprehension process. In their study situated within the Vygotskyan framework, Appel and Lantolf investigated the effects of verbalization on text comprehension. The participants of the study were invited to complete L1 and L2 text recall tasks intended to mediate understanding of written texts through speaking. While producing their recalls and while facing difficulties related to text comprehension, adult participants often relied on private speech to help them make sense of what they were reading. Appel and Lantolf explain this phenomenon as follows: in the face of difficult tasks (cognitive, social, or emotional), adults have continuous access to ontogenetically prior knowing strategies [i.e., private speech, which originates in the egocentric speech of childhood] that allow them to maintain and regain control of their mental activity (p.438). In addition, Appel and Lantolf revealed that engaging in the verbal reconstruction of a silently read discourse provides readers with the opportunity to remember and organize the text and thereby enhance their comprehension (p. 449). On the basis of their experimental results, the researchers argue that humans continue to construct meaning of a read text through conversations with others, "with the self in the presence of others, or, as in the case of our subjects, with the self in the presence of no one other than the self. All of these activities are at their core social. (Appel & Lantolf, 1994, p.449).

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Leontiev (2003) further elaborates on his discussion and introduces the notion termed "the image of the text's contents" He notes that this is not the final result of text comprehension but rather it represents the content component of text comprehension process. The "image of the text's content" is dynamic. Leontiev provides a range of examples illustrating this notion. For instance, after having read a friend's letter one can feel that things are not going well for him or after having heard the verbal portrait of a wanted criminal one can imagine his appearance; or after having read a newspaper article, one can summarize it in one or two sentences. Leontiev concludes that texts are not functionally equal and can be differently understood.

For Leontiev, text comprehension is a complex activity that includes perception. He asserts that the perception of the text implies the same characteristics as perception of any other object. According to Leontiev, when we deal with a text, we operate with what goes beyond the text, i.e. with the ever-changing real world which exists outside and comprises diverse events, situations, ideas, feelings, intentions, human values, etc. Leontiev explains that humans reflect the real world in the image of the text's content, using a specific perceptive technique. The formation of the image of the text's content is mediated through this perceptive technique.

In his discussion of text comprehension Leontiev also refers to Bakhtin, who identifies text comprehension as the correct reflection of reflection. Through the author's reflection, the reader reaches the reflected object" (Bakhtin, 1986, p.484; as cited in Leontiev, 2003, p.141). For Bakhtin (1986), the content of the text is polyphonic and can result in many interpretations. In this regard, Leontiev points out that certainly everyone makes his/her own meaning out of the text. However, while perceiving a text, we do not construct different worlds but rather we come to see the same world from different perspectives.

2.3. Text processing models (schema theory)

2.3.1. Text processing: bottom-up, top-down and interactive models

Over the last several decades, comprehension research has yielded many models that have attempted to explain the process of comprehension,. However, Swaffar et al. (1991) point out that the question of "how cognitive processes operate to promote comprehension and learning is still a matter of conjecture. Even the relationship between comprehension and learning is itself unclear (p.52). The following paragraphs will focus on the most widely known text processing models used in L2 comprehension research, namely bottom-up, top-down and interactive models.

As stated by Flowerdew and Miller (2005), the first model of text comprehension was bottom-up; it was developed in the 1940s and 1950s. The bottom-up model primarily considers linguistic dimensions in text processing. From the perspective of bottom-up model, for example, the comprehension process involves the ability to recognize phonemes, which are then "combined into words, which, in turn, together make up phrases, clauses, and sentences" (Flowerdew & Miller, 2005, p.24).

In a similar vein, Buck (2003) describes bottom-up model as one involving the L2 learners' language knowledge, i.e. words, syntax, grammar, during text processing and outlines four stages of bottom-up oral input processing. During the first stage, learners decode phonemes; in the course of the second stage, they recognize words; during the third stage, the syntactic level and analysis of the semantic content occur and they "arrive at a literal understanding of the basic linguistic meaning"(Buck, 2003: 2); and in the fourth stage, they interpret the literal meaning embedded in the input depending on the communicative situation that helps them to understand the speaker's message. Buck claims, however, that the oral input processing does not always follow the preset order of stages presented above and entails the interaction of bottom-up and top-down processing, rooted in the individuals' knowledge of the world. Written input requires the same processing, i.e. readers do not operate exclusively from bottom up or top down, but work from both directions.

With regard to top-down model, it heavily relies upon previous contextual knowledge in text processing (Bernhardt, 1991; Carell, Devine & Eskey, 1991; Swaffar et al., 1991; Kern, 2000, Buck, 2003; Flowerdew & Miller, 2005). In this regard, a number of parallel theories have attempted to explain how the previous contextual knowledge is stored in memory. These theories are known as frame theory, script theory, scenario theory, schema theory etc., however, schema theory, proposed by Rumelhart and Ortony (1977), is considered to be the prevailing theory used in L2 research (Buck, 2003).

According to Rumelhart and Ortony's theory, schemata are structures that are stored in memory. These structures represent knowledge of events that repeatedly occurred in individuals' previous cognitive experience, e.g. going to a grocery store, being in an airport or checking in to a hotel. As soon as the structures of a particular event are "stored as a schema in memory, it aids individuals in negotiating future events, in allowing them to predict what is likely to happen. (Flowerdew & Miller, 2005, p.26).

L2 schema research has also shown that successful text comprehension depends on top-down processing. That is, comprehension depends on L2 learners' familiarity with the topic of the text and whether or not they share the same previous knowledge with the person producing a spoken or written message (Bernhardt, 1991; Kern, 2000). Clearly, the lack of the background schema usually hinders text comprehension (Swaffar et al., 1991). In this respect, L2 researchers have expressed concern about the extent to which L2 learners can share background knowledge with the producers of spoken and written texts. For this reason, Carell, Devine and Eskey (1991) propose to divide schemata structures into two types, i.e. content schemata and formal schemata. In their view, content schemata accounts for individuals' prior knowledge and guides their expectations regarding events and situations, whereas formal schemata centers on individuals' knowledge of the discourse structures used in different types of texts. Carell et al. (1991) highlight the importance of these two types of schemata for text comprehension process, specifically for L2 text comprehension which can be distorted because of schemata mismatch generated by cultural differences.

Thus, L2 studies point out that listening and reading comprehension are complex multidimensional processes in which many factors come into play. While reading or listening to texts, learners employ their prior contextual knowledge (top-down process) as well as their L2 knowledge (bottom-up process). For this reason, L2 researchers highlight the necessity of synthesizing both text processing models and call for looking at text comprehension through an interactive model when designing experiments. As noted by many researchers, the interactive model allows better understanding of how L2 learners process written/spoken texts and how bottom-up/top-down processes function in L2 learners (e.g. Bernhardt, 1991; Swaffar et al., 1991; Vandergrift, 1998; Roebuck, 1998; Rost, 2002; Buck, 2003; Flowerdew & Miller, 2005).

Rost (2002) provides a definition of text comprehension which integrates both of the text processing models and which nicely summarizes the present discussion on this complex process:

Comprehension is the process of relating language to concepts in one's memory and to references in the real world. Comprehension is the sense of understanding what the language used refers to in one's experience or in the outside world. "Complete comprehension"then refers to the listener having a clear concept in memory for every referent used by speaker (Rost, 2005, p. 59)

A critical point raised by recent cognitive research is that text processing models are often researched in laboratory settings and for that reason they do not look at how listening (or reading) occurs in real life situations (Flowerdew & Miller, 2005). Despite the proven value of text processing models in explaining how comprehension processes operate in listeners/readers, the recent findings in L2 comprehension research suggest that these models do not capture all of the components that accompany input processing because they do not account for social and cultural factors.

2.4. The role of background knowledge

According to Hirsch (2006), reading comprehension depends on a base of background knowledge and vocabulary. It is much more difficult for students to develop into strong readers without having background knowledge. Dochy, Segers and Buehl (1999) contend that it is difficult to ignore the contribution of individuals' prior knowledge. They state that prior knowledge is an essential variable in learning, and a springboard for future learning. Prior knowledge is the knowledge that students bring to the learning process. Dochy (1994) believe that prior knowledge can be considered as "the whole of a person's actual knowledge having three features: first, it is available before a certain learning task. Second, it is structured in schemata. Third, it is declarative and procedural. Fourth, it is partly explicit and partly tacit" (p.4699).

According to Vacca et al. (2003), when a teacher draws on a learner's prior experiences and helps him to connect those to new vocabulary and story concepts, it provides a basis for discovering meaning. It is essential for the learners to see the relevance of a story to their own lives. Classrooms with culturally relevant materials easily accomplish this task. They also stated that when learners see books and materials with characters that look and sound like themselves, their lives are validated (Vacca et al., ibid).

In addition, Carrell (1984) mentioned that the role of background knowledge in language comprehension is considered as schema theory. The earliest definition was suggested by Barlett (1932) when he said that comprehending a text is an interactive process between a reader's background knowledge and a text.

As far as schema theory is concerned, Johnson (1982) believes that activating or building readers' existing knowledge prior to reading would improve or alter reading comprehension and recall. Pearson, Hansen, and Gorden (1979) suggest that schemata can play two important functions during reading comprehension. First, they will create a framework in order to classify concepts which have been presented in a text. Thus, when there is a stronger framework, the more likely concepts are to be classified and available for subsequent retrieval from long term memory. According to the second function readers will be allowed to fill in gaps not completely specified in the text. That is, readers understand a passage by analyzing the text according to their schema, or their past personal experiences.

Braunger and Lewis (2006) contend that background knowledge is critical for the effective acquisition of literacy. Braunger and Lewis (2006) propose that teachers must be able to provide instruction appropriate to the wide range of students' experiences and needs.

Anderson and Pearson (1984) assert that the importance of prior knowledge in different skills has been obtained through research based on schema theory. The relation of background knowledge to text comprehension in processing and recalling information has been studied by schema theorists. According to schema theory, readers understand what they read only as it relates to what they already know. That is, background knowledge about a particular topic influences the extent to which children understand what they read about that topic. Pritchard (1990) also came to this conclusion that knowledge is stored in schemata, which are regarded as the organized representations of one's background experiences. Therefore, schemata allow one to relate new information to already known information.

2.4.1. The research done on background Knowledge

Applegate, Quinn, and Applegate (2002) explain that when readers encounter printed text, they comprehend by retrieving background knowledge rooted in their culture and their language. Language is a reflection of culture; therefore, understanding the cultural content of what one reads is a crucial factor in reading comprehension (Nelson, 1987). Levine, Haus, Sims, and Ramos (1987) claim that a reader's background knowledge is a major factor in reading comprehension, just as it is in first language reading.

Bartlett (1932) explained the influence of cultural schemata. He explained his observations of how Englishmen read and recalled stories based on North American Indian folk tales. Bartlett (1932) revealed that when it comes to processing unfamiliar texts, evidence of the cultural differences in schemata are quite apparent. Steffensen et al. (1979) also did another study in which 20 college-level students from the United States and 20 from India read and recall a passage describing a traditional wedding in each culture were included in their study. The results indicated that readers recalled more ideas from the passage about their own cultures, and they read the passage about the wedding in their own culture more rapidly.

Levine et al. (1987) investigated the effects of relevant background knowledge on the reading comprehension of 428 ELL high school students. The students read an authentic report of a soccer game and responded to reading comprehension questions. The results indicated that background knowledge put an influence on the reading comprehension of high school students.

Barlett (1932) proposes that a schema is the organization of a subject's past experiences that directly influence current perception. McKenzie and Danielson (2003) noticed that children read more fluently and comprehended at a much higher level when the content was familiar to them. Pearson-Casanave (1984) sees the reader as an active processor of information, one who selects only the most productive cues from the printed page. Readers bring to a text a store of background knowledge, which is used in conjunction with linguistic information to help them make and confirm predictions about content. She also finds that a text provides clues which enable readers to construct meaning from existing knowledge-the text activates and builds on existing schemata.

It is evident that schema plays an important role in text comprehension, both in first-, and second-language contexts. In addition, the studies previously discussed demonstrate that cultural background knowledge not only affects the reading comprehension of students with foreign cultural schemata but also students with subcultural background, such as African American culture, and American Indian culture. Therefore, whether reading in a first- or second-language, one can assume that both native and non-native readers will understand more of a text when they are familiar with content, formal, and linguistic schemata. An ELL reader, however, who does not possess content schemata, can experience schema interference, or a lack of comprehension.

However, by considering the results of activating background knowledge on different language skills, no study has been reported regarding the effect of background knowledge about different kinds of texts on the quality of translation, which was considered as the main reason behind the current study.

2-5. History of translation

Discussion of the theory and practice of translation reach back into antiquity and show remarkable continuities. The distinction that had been drawn by the ancient Greeks between metaphrase ("literal "translation ) and paraphrase was adopted by the English and translator John Dryden (1631-1700), who represented translation as the judicious blending of these two modes of phrasing when selecting, in the target language, "counterparts", or equivalents, for the expressions used in the source language.

The general formulation of the central concept of translation-equivalence-is probably as adequate as any that has been proposed ever since Cicero and Horace, in first century-BCE Rome, famously and literally cautioned against translation "word for word" (Kasparek,1983).In general, translators have sought to preserve the context itself by reproducing the original order, and hence word order -when necessary, reinterpreting the actual grammatical structure. The grammatical differences between "fixed-word-order" languages (e.g., English, French, German) and "free-word-order" languages (e.g., Greek, Latin, Polish, Russian) have been no impediment in this regard.

2.5.1. Source-Oriented Approaches to Translation

2.5.1.1. Equivalence

Equivalence is a key concept in translation. The entire corpus, which has been written on the theory and practice of translation, focuses on it as a sole reliable criterion for adequate translation. Assuming that language is a device for communicating messages, Nida and Taber(1969)contend that "the content is the conceptual intend of the message, together with the connotative values the source wishes to communicate; it is what the message is about. The form, on the other hand is the external shape the message takes to affect its passage from the source's mind to the receptor's mind". The argument further proceeds to confirm that the content of the message should be preserved at any cost considering the form, except in highly structured poetic texts, as largely marginal since the rules of relating content to form are extremely complex, arbitrary, and variable. Transferring the message from one language to another is compared to packing clothing into two different pieces of luggage; the clothes remain the same, but the shape of the suitcases may vary considerably. The validity of this parallelism is subject to critical judgment; for in communication the form of the message can either distort or highlight the content. Excessive fidelity to formal transfer will inevitably result in semantic loss, which can be compensated for through grammatical and syntactic transformations not incompatible with the linguistic conventions and norms of the receptor language. Thus, the expected loss of the semantic content will be minimized without jeopardizing the stylistic appeal of the original message.

2.5.1.2. Types of Equivalence

Perhaps the most well known types of equivalence are formal and dynamic equivalences posited by Nida(1964),Formal equivalence is concerned with the message in terms of its form and content. With this type of equivalence the message in the target language should match the different elements in the source language as closely as possible, including lexical, syntactic, phonological or orthographic. According to Catford (1965), a formal correspondent(or equivalent)is any target language category (unit ,class, structure, element of structure, etc) which can be said to occupy ,as nearly as possible ,the 'same' place in the 'economy' of target language as the given source language category occupies in the source language(Catford,1965, p.27)

2.5.2. Target -Oriented Approaches to Translation

Toury (1995, p.26) in his work Descriptive Translation Studies and beyond put forward the notion that the position and function of translations "are determined first and foremost by considerations originating in the culture which hosts them". Toury regards translations as "facts of target cultures" and in his discussion of traditional methods of examining texts, he mentions the fact that they "were primarily concerned with the source text and with its inviolable "sanctity" whereby target factors ,while never totally ignored, often counted as subsidiary especially those which would not falling target language text. And this is precisely how translations are generally viewed by readers.

2.5.3. Untranslatibility

Untranslatability, the translator's greatest nightmare and the translation scholar's chief interest. Douglas(1997) categorized untranslatability in two forms:

Linguistic: when the target has no corresponding words, tenses, poetic or grammatical entities that are present in the source language.

Cultural: when the target language and its culture lack a relevant situational feature for the source language text (allusions, symbols, puns).

In addition, translators deal with untranslatability by employing a number of procedures including:

Adaptation: when social or cultural reality of the source text with reality taken from the culture of the target language.

Borrowing: when the translator uses the word or phrase of the original, usually in italics.

Calque: when the translation of an expression is rendered word for word.

Compensation: when the translator adds element to the target texts to make up for their absence in the target language.

Paraphrase: when a word of the source text is replaced in the target text, by a whole group of words that explain a non-existent notion in the target language; translator's note -when translator breaks the flow of the text by an annotation that compensates the untranslatability.