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A Systemic Functional Approach to the Passive Voice in English into Spanish Translation: Thematic Development in a Medical Research Article

Daniel Rodríguez-Vergara
  • Applied Linguistics Department, Foreign Language Center, National Autonomous University of Mexico, Mexico City, Mexico
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Published Online: 2017-03-01 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/opli-2017-0001


The purpose of this study was to explore, from the perspective of Systemic Functional Grammar, how passive clauses in a medical research article were translated into Spanish, specifically if they were kept in the passive voice, were changed into the active voice, or were turned into some other structure, and if voice change in the translated version affected the original thematic development. The medical paper chosen for this study was originally written in English and published in an Anglophone journal; it was then translated into Spanish and published in a Mexican journal. Both the original and the translated article were analyzed in terms of Theme and Rheme; all of the instances of passive and active voice were quantified and compared. The results show that in some cases the original thematic patterns were modified in the translation due to the use of the reflexive passive in Spanish, which results in the fronting of the verb in the sentences, thereby causing a change of Themes in the paragraphs with respect to the original structure. This study contributes to our understanding of the function of passive constructions in English and Spanish and its relationship with thematic progression.

Keywords: Theme-Rheme; research writing; systemic functional grammar


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About the article

Received: 2016-05-11

Accepted: 2016-11-28

Published Online: 2017-03-01

Published in Print: 2017-01-26

Citation Information: Open Linguistics, Volume 3, Issue 1, Pages 1–17, ISSN (Online) 2300-9969, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/opli-2017-0001.

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© 2017. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 License. BY-NC-ND 4.0

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