An Analysis of Recurrences in Harold Pinter's Plays Using CATMA Concordancing Software

poster / demo / art installation
  1. 1. Tomaz Onic

    Department of English and American Studies - University of Maribor

Work text
This plain text was ingested for the purpose of full-text search, not to preserve original formatting or readability. For the most complete copy, refer to the original conference program.

An Analysis of Recurrences in Harold Pinter’s Plays Using CATMA Concordancing Software
Onic, Tomaz, Department of English and American Studies, University of Maribor, Slovenia,
Recurrence is a crucial feature contributing to a recognizable style of dramatic characters in the plays by contemporary British playwright Harold Pinter. His characters sometimes repeat whole phrases or sentences, sometimes with slight changes, which almost always indicate a change in the speaker’s intention. The repeated passage either follows its first appearance closely, or can be delayed for a few lines – or sometimes pages. In general, the most noticeable recurrences for the audience are those consisting of multiple repetitions, containing unusual words or phrases attracting our attention, or consisting of closely repeated passages.

Beaugrande and Dressler (1988, 54) define recurrence as a direct repetition of a textual element which has appeared earlier in the text. They do not call it repetition because, according to Beaugrande (1991, 18), only seldom is the repetition of part of text a real repetition. Such absolute recurrence, as he calls it, would have to carry exactly the same meaning potential of the repeated phrase as did its first appearance. In most cases, that does not happen, as it is usually the very intention of the speaker that causes the recurrence: “Saying the same thing over again normally carries a context-sensitive message, such as approval, insistence, anxiety, doubt, surprise, or irony. /…/ thus, recurrence is typically an instance of ‘incremental recursion’, where the repeated event adds to the value of the original” (Beaugrande 1991,18).

A less strict variation of recurrence is partial recurrence, defined by Beaugrande and Dressler (1988, 54-55) as the re-appearance of a certain word in the form of a different part of speech. As such, it is similar to polyptoton, a figure of speech that is often defined as repetition of the same word in various inflected forms. In a later article, Beaugrande (1991) defines it as the repetition of a word cluster that does not repeat as a whole; not even all the elements need to repeat. It suffices that some elements of the original sentence repeat in the same or a sufficiently similar form.

Some partial recurrences (which can also originate in language system functions) are random; others appear as a result of the writer’s or speaker’s intention. Pinter’s characters can be classified into a combined category, since their speech – together with recurrences – is carefully designed in order to sound random.

The role of recurrence in Pinter’s dramatic texts represents an important translation issue. It is vital that this stylistic feature be preserved in the target language as faithfully as possible, since it is not only an important decorative device but represents one of the key Pinter’s stylistic trademarks. Unfortunately, however, the existing research results have shown that this stylistic element is often disregarded in translation. It often comes second to meaning or other similar language elements, but usually its loss can be attributed to the translator’s lack of awareness of the importance of recurrence.

A substantial potential danger of omitting recurrence from translation is the fact that this is not a feature that disturbs the audience with its absence. For this reason, it may seem a harmless translation shift; however, it is, in fact, damaging to the audience’s perception of Pinter’s style, which is skewed owing to the absence of such an important stylistic element.

Having been involved in Pinter Studies for about ten years, I have conducted several research activities concerning recurrence in Pinter’s plays – into originals as well as translations – manually. Therefore, the natural next step was to perform selected parts of this body of analysis again using digital methods and thus confirm and broaden – possibly also correct – the existing results.

The first step in the project was to digitize and mark up the original texts and their Slovene translations. These texts were then uploaded into the new CATMA (Computer-Aided Textual Markup and Analysis) concordancing program. Since CATMA allows for searching not only by word or phrase, but also by “grade of similarity”, it is expected that this will be useful in attempting to identify those phrases which are not exact repetitions, but which are similar enough to be construed as a type of repetition in the reader’s mind. This will also lend more weight to any confirmation of the existing idea that recurrences often are not preserved in translation. Figure 1 shows how CATMA allows searching with “grade of similarity” for phrases close to “like a”; when the results are shown on the screen, you can then select an item or not depending on whether it is similar enough to possible be what you are looking for. In this case you would definitely not select the first two examples, ie detail and Special. Since the similarity percentage requested here is only 60%, it is understandable that such items will be deemed as similar; should you raise the measure to 80%, they, and other items like them, will not be included in the results.

Fig. 1 Screen shot of the similarity function in CATMA

Full Size Image

Hopefully, the results obtained through this research will strengthen the awareness of how important it is to consider this element in translation, and potentially contribute to a higher quality of the translation theory and practice in the Slovene cultural space of translated foreign language literature.

I feel that participating at the DH2011 would offer a good opportunity to discuss this undertaking and its practical implementation with other participants who have experience with similar projects, particularly in the field of drama which has its own specifics.

Beaugrande, R. de 1991 “Coincidence in Translation: Glory and Misery Again, ” Target, 3 1 17-53

Beaugrande, R. de in W. U. Dressler 1988 Introduction to Text Linguistics, Harlow Longman

CATMA, University of Hamburg, Germany (link)

Pinter, H. 1977 Complete Works: Two, New York Grove

If this content appears in violation of your intellectual property rights, or you see errors or omissions, please reach out to Scott B. Weingart to discuss removing or amending the materials.

Conference Info


ADHO - 2011
"Big Tent Digital Humanities"

Hosted at Stanford University

Stanford, California, United States

June 19, 2011 - June 22, 2011

151 works by 361 authors indexed

XML available from (still needs to be added)

Conference website:

Series: ADHO (6)

Organizers: ADHO

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None