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User profiling in audio description reception studies: questionnaires for all

By Irene Tor-Carroggio & Pilar Orero (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Spain)


Defining disability is not an easy task due to its multidimensionality. This paper begins with a revision of some of the most common models to define disability. The second part of the article examines end user profiling in articles, European funded projects and PhD thesis’ related to one of the media accessibility modalities: audio description. The objective is to understand the approach taken by researchers. The final part of the article will propose a new approach in the study of end users in experimental research in Translation Studies, Audiovisual Translation, and Media Accessibility. This new approach gives a response to the International Telecommunication Union’s suggestion of leaving the biomedical approaches behind. Our suggestion is based on Amartya Sen’s capabilities approach, which has not yet been applied to user profiling in media accessibility studies. The article finishes by illustrating how this approach can be applied when profiling users in media accessibility questionnaires.

Keywords: media accessibility, capabilities, models of disability, audio description

©inTRAlinea & Irene Tor-Carroggio & Pilar Orero (2019).
"User profiling in audio description reception studies: questionnaires for all", inTRAlinea Vol. 21.

This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/index.php/archive/article/2410

1. Introduction

Defining disability is a daunting task given its connotations when applied to human conditions: physical, cognitive and social. Disability holds a human element in regards to a medical condition, associated with social and financial backgrounds that cannot be measured or simplified by one single definition or theoretical model (Albrecht et al. 2001). Theoretical models are useful and necessary, although it is important not to overlook the fact that they are simplistic and imperfect (Albrecht et al. 2001). Yet, models and definitions facilitate the task of researchers, as they offer a theoretical background and a methodology to work with. There are several models disability can be framed by, the medical one being among the earliest. Nonetheless, since studies into Disability began in 1994 at Syracuse University, there has been a radical, academic departure from it. This change of mindset has facilitated the emergence of other models that see disability as the result of a plethora of factors that have little or nothing to do with the person’s impairment.

This paper is divided into five sections. First, it will present some of the most popular models of disability. Second, it will look at research performed using these models. Third, it will describe a new approach from which to investigate disability within Media Accessibility (MA) studies. Fourth, some examples on how to apply this new model will be provided. Finally, some conclusions are drawn.

1.1. Models of disability

Fisher and Goodley (2007) explain the medical approach to disability:

A growing preoccupation with ‘normality’ meant that illness and disability became separated from everyday life and were constructed as forms of individual pathology. In this process the medical profession came to exert almost complete jurisdiction over the definitions of normality and abnormality (Fisher and Goodley 2007: 66).

The Medical Model is still dominating research in general. This is reinforced by our following of its linguistic composition, with the prefix “dis” changing the meaning of the word “ability”. In line with this, the lack or limitation on the capability of a person is classified by their condition. The Medical Model focuses on a biological reality being the cause of the impairment and it sees impairments as a personal condition that needs to be prevented, rehabilitated, or taken care of (Marks 1997). Despite its popularity, this model has been criticized on different grounds by activists and academics, for its failure “to acknowledge the defects in the environment” (Marks 1997: 87).

In contrast, the Social Model shifts the focus from health to society. It was mainly developed by Michael Oliver, who “sees disability, by contrast with impairment, as something imposed on disabled people by oppressive and discriminating social and institutional structures” (Terzi 2005: 201). This model has at least nine different versions (Mitra 2006) and deals with human diversity (Edler 2009). Disability is not the result of having a physical impairment, but the failure of society to consider individual differences (Bøttcher and Dammeyer 2016). Therefore, disability is not an attribute of the individual, but an environmental, social creation (Mitra 2006). However this model is not exempt from drawbacks. On one hand, and according to Shakespeare, “the simplicity which is the hallmark of the social model is also its fatal flaw” (Shakespeare 2010: 271). This author claims that the denial of impairment is an important factor in many disabled people’s lives and that the unrealistic concept of a barrier-free utopia, in which all barriers are removed are among the weaknesses of this model. On the other hand, Terzi (2005) considers there to be an aspect of over-socialization of sources and causes of disability, as well as the model overlooking the complex dimensions of impairment.

Even though these two models are paradigmatic, there are others worth mentioning. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) was initially drafted as a human rights convention that aimed to substitute the Medical Model for the Social Model. Yet, according to Degeners (2016), the drafters went beyond the Social Model and wrote a treaty based on a new approach: the Human Rights Model of Disability, to be implemented by the CRPD. It encircles many human rights: political, civil, economic, social and cultural. It goes beyond the anti-discrimination rights of disabled persons (Degeners 2016). Regarding its weaknesses, Berghs et al. (2016) underline that lack of enforcement has been issue and in turn, the lack of defined penalties. This is true for some world regions, but is not the case for the US, Australia or Europe, where laws have been enforced through heavy penalties applied by the CRPD. The Netflix caption lawsuit is a good example. In June 2011, the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) filed suit against Netflix for their lack of closed captioning for video streaming as a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The judge ruled in favor of the NAD and Netflix was ordered to provide captions in its video streaming library in 2014, and to continue captioning content published from that moment on, along with having to pay a hefty sum for legal fees and damages.

The Nagi Model (Nagi 1991) has a dynamic approach based on the differences between four different but interrelated concepts: active pathology, impairment, functional limitation, and disability. Disability is an “inability or limitation in performing socially defined roles and tasks expected of an individual within a sociocultural and physical environment” (Nagi 1991: 315). These roles and tasks are organized into spheres of life activities, such as work, education, family, etc. For instance, think of a 10-year-old girl with a severe hearing impairment who does not attend school but stays at the farm where she lives with her parents helping with farming chores. If she lives in a society where young girls are not expected to go to school, then she cannot be labelled as “disabled” under this model. Conversely, she will be labelled ‘disabled’ if she lives in a place where girls her age go to school, as she is therefore not performing her socially expected role.

The Biopsychosocial Model is a response to the over-medicalisation of the International Classification of Impairments, Disabilities and Handicaps (ICIDH). The UN World Health Organisation in 2001 published the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF). The ICF was intended to complement its sister classification system, the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) (Brown and Lent 2008). The ICF Model sees disability as the result of a combination of individual, institutional and societal factors that define the environment of a person with an impairment (Dubois and Trani 2009). It is set in motion by the World Health Organization Disability Assessment Schedule II (WHODAS II), and covers all types of disabilities in various countries, languages and contexts, which makes it suitable for cross-cultural use. Dubois and Trani (2009) consider the ICF to be limited in its scope and use, since its primary purpose is classification. They believe the complexity of disability requires a wider and more comprehensive analytical view. Ellis (2016) also raised this issue, highlighting the difference between disability and impairment.

In 2017, the UN agency International Telecommunication Union (ITU) released a report addressing access to telecommunication/ICT services by persons with disabilities and with specific needs that stated the following:

Besides the more commonly used “medical model of disability”, which considers disability “a physical, mental, or psychological condition that limits a person’s activities”, there is a more recent “social model of disability,” which has emerged and is considered a more effective or empowering conceptual framework for promoting the full inclusion of persons with disabilities in society. Within this social model, a disability results when a person (a) has difficulties reading and writing; (b) attempts to communicate, yet does not understand or speak the national or local language, and (c) has never before operated a phone or computer attempts to use one – with no success. In all cases, disability has occurred, because the person was not able to interact with his or her environment. (ITU 2017: 2)

Contextualised within the realm of research in MA; this implies that simply knowing whether or not the person has a hearing or a visual impairment is of little to no use. The ITU is calling for a new approach that analyses different aspects of each individual that might have an influence on what researchers are testing. This has already been found relevant in previous studies (Romero-Fresco 2015). Romero-Fresco (2015) pointed out that reading subtitles was related to a person’s educational background rather than to their hearing impairment. This is the point from which we depart. How to approach the question of demography among persons with disabilities when the objective of the study is not to restore their sensory impairment.

2. Approaches followed by previous researchers on audio description (AD)

User profiling is often carried out through questionnaires which gather demographic information. How to formulate questions is very often related to the model of disability adopted (Berghs et al. 2016). The following 14 publications, which focus on user-centred research in AD, have been analysed: Fernández-Torné and Matamala 2015; Szarkowska 2011; Szarkowska and Jankowska 2012; Walczak 2010; Romero-Fresco and Fryer 2013; Fresno et al. 2014; Fryer and Freeman 2012; Fryer and Freeman 2014; Szarkowska and Wasylczyk 2014; Udo and Fels 2009; Walczak and Fryer 2017; Walczak and Fryer 2018; Walczak and Rubaj 2014; Chmiel and Mazur 2012a. Three experimental PhD dissertations were also included in the analysis (Fryer 2013; Cabeza-Cáceres 2013; and Walczak 2017 (framed within the EU-funded project HBB4ALL), as well as other research results from major/extensive/wide-scale projects such as DTV4ALL,[1] ADLAB,[2] the Pear Tree Project (Chmiel and Mazur 2012b), OpenArt (Szarkowska et al. 2016), and AD-Verba (Chmiel and Mazur 2012).

The studies in question show different approaches to the profiling of users with disabilities as part of the demographic questionnaire prior to any test. There are two questions common to all: gender and age. When asking about gender, there is always a choice between “male”/”female” but the option of not answering the question or selecting another option is never offered. In relation to age, it is often asked by offering intervals; although in some cases it can also be an open question where a figure has to be entered.

Most questionnaires also query level of education. This is presented in various forms: items can be very detailed (Fernández-Torné and Matamala 2015), with a choice of three options (primary education, secondary education, and higher education) (Szarkowska 2011) or contain a moderately detailed list (primary, vocational, secondary, college/university student, university degree) (ADLAB project).

As for the occupation of the participants, it is not generally asked for but with the exception of one study (Fernández-Torné and Matamala 2015).

With regards to the language participants generally use, the majority of questionnaires do not refer to it. The exceptions are the questionnaires in DTV4ALL and the Pear Tree project.

Technology and AD exposure of participants were asked in most questionnaires. The objective of such questions was to corroborate whether the participants were familiar with a given technology and service, how well they knew it, and how frequently they used it. Information about participant habits regarding consumption of audiovisual content was also a point in common for all questionnaires, by means of closed or multiple-choice questions.

Regarding how disability is profiled, researchers take two approaches: self-reporting (Szarkowska ahd Jankowska 2012, Walczak and Fryer 2017) or responding to a question regarding physical condition (Fernández-Torné and Matamala 2015; Fresno and Soler-Vilageliu 2014). How the condition is classified also has three different approaches:

  1. Using WHO binary classification: blind and low sighted (Fernández-Torné and Matamala 2015; Fresno and Soler-Vilageliu 2014, Szarkowska and Jankowska 2012).
  2. Adopting RNIB classification (Szarkowska 2011, TV3 in the DTV4ALL project, and the AD-Verba Project):[3] “Which of these best describes your sight with glasses or contact lenses if you normally use them but without any low vision aid? Imagine you are in a room with good lighting and answer yes, no or uncertain to each part, please. Can you see well enough to: Tell by the light where the windows are?/ See the shapes of the furniture in the room?/ Recognise a friend across a road?/ Recognise a friend across a room?/ Recognise a friend if he or she is at arm’s length?/ Recognize a friend if you get close to his or her face?/ Read a newspaper headline?/ Read a large print book?/ Read ordinary newspaper print? (Possible answers: ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘uncertain’)”.
  3. Beyond WHO and RNIB, Walczak and Fryer (2017) included:
    • self-reported sight loss (mild, considerable, complete) and visual acuity specification;
    • age when registered as visually impaired;
    • and the medical name of the visual condition.

Also, all researchers requested information regarding the origin of the condition. In most cases the question of whether the sight loss is congenital or acquired was included, sometimes by giving two options (congenital/acquired), and other times (less often) by giving more options, such as intervals (e.g. from birth/for between 1 and 10 years, etc.).

After analysing the most recent experimental research with end users in the field of AD, it can be said that all demographic questions follow the medical approach when profiling. Although other sociological oriented questions are also present, still the ultimate matching of disability and technology proficiency is performed by an inductive inference by the researcher.

3. The Capabilities Approach

Amartya Sen, Nobel laureate economist, developed the Capability Approach, which has been used as a framework to analyse different concepts in welfare economics (Mitra 2006). It was later complemented by philosopher Martha Nussbaum (Terzi 2005). This approach can be useful in other disciplines, such as Disability Studies (Mitra 2006). The Capabilities Approach revolves around two main concepts:

  1. “capabilities”, which are seen as a person’s “practical opportunities”, such as having the chance to eat something if you feel hungry, and
  2. “functionings”, viewed as “actual achievements”, such as actually eating. In Sen’s words:
Functionings represent parts of the state of a person–in particular the various things that he or she manages to do or be in leading a life. The capability of a person reflects the alternative combinations of functionings the person can achieve, and from which he or she can choose one collection. (Sen 1993: 31)

Sen (1993) claims the interaction between these concepts can have an impact on peoples lives. This author illustrates his point through an example, contrasting the two terms: two women have the same functioning (not being well nourished) but very different capabilities. One has the capability, this is, the opportunity to be well nourished but decides to starve for her religious beliefs, whereas the other cannot afford to buy any food. It can, therefore, be seen that a person’s capabilities and functionings are influenced by external factors (in that particular example, religious beliefs), which can be grouped into three categories: commodities, personal characteristics and structural factors (see figure 1 for a simplified version of how the Capabilities Approach works).

Figure 1. A simplified version of Sen’s Capabilities Approach (Mitra 2006: 240)

Sen (1993) emphasized the plurality of purposes for which the capability approach can have relevance. Mitra (2006) suggests applying the Capabilities Approach to Disability Studies to define “disability” on a conceptual level:

Under Sen’s approach, capability does not constitute the presence of a physical or a mental ability; rather, it is understood as a practical opportunity. Functioning is the actual achievement of the individual, what he or she actually achieves through being or doing. Here, disability can be understood as a deprivation in terms of capabilities or functionings that results from the interaction of an individual’s (a) personal characteristics (e.g., age, impairment) and (b) basket of available goods (assets, income) and (c) environment (social, economic, political, cultural). (Mitra 2009: 236-237)

Mitra (2006) understands that disability may occur when there is a health impairment, but also other factors that result in a deprivation of capabilities or functionings. If a person is deprived of practical opportunities because of an impairment, Mitra believes we are talking about what she calls “potential disability”, whereas if the person’s functionings are restricted by the impairment we are talking about “actual disability”. The difference between these two types of disability can be seen through an example. If an 18-year-old visually impaired person wants to attend college but lacks the opportunity, they can be seen as a “potential” disabled person in comparison with someone who has a similar background. In this case it can be seen that health impairment reduces a person’s practical opportunities, and this can lead to disability. A person is actually disabled if they cannot do something they value doing or being, which, in this example, would be going to college.

The Capability Approach contributes to a new and useful insight on disability by differentiating between the two levels of the problem: the capability level and the functioning level. It proves to be a different approach because, for instance, unlike the Social and Medical Models, it provides a comprehensive account of the variety of factors that might lead to deprivation. In contrast to the Medical Model, the impairment is not always the cause of disability, and, unlike the Social Model, the environment is not always the reason for disability (Mitra 2006). The ICF, although initially thought of as an integration of the strengths of the two main models, it fails to achieve its objective and could benefit from becoming open-ended. It should also recognise that not all dimensions of life may be specified and classified, and thus the classification does not, and cannot be expected to offer an exhaustive account of the lived experience of health deprivations (Mitra 2018). It can therefore be concluded that this new disability approach conforms to what the ITU has recently required and can be applied to studies dealing with disability, such as those working on MA.

4. Applying the Capabilities Approach

The Capability Approach developed by Sen is a useful framework for defining disability and understanding its consequences (Mitra 2006). Its usefulness in defining disability and formulating disability policies was considered by Mitra (2006) but to date no applications regarding the methodological approach have been followed in MA studies. This is what this section will deal with.

The way to implement this model in any discipline is by drafting a list of capabilities and functionings that are relevant to the object of study:

The full range of the disability experience can then be covered, by shifting the focus away from the restricted view of identifying types of impairment. The fact that each individual is asked about the level of difficulty he/she experiences in functioning in the various dimensions of well-being makes it easier to assess the level of disability in a comprehensive manner. [...]However, specific information is required to assess and measure disability within this paradigm. Data are related to individuals’ potentialities, the possibilities that they can “be” what they wish to be, their aspirations and what they value. It also entails gathering information about vulnerability, which expresses the risk of suffering a reduction of the capability set, measured by the probability of falling to a lower state of well-being. Finally, it requires information about the opportunities offered by the environment. (Dubois and Trani 2009: 198).

Sen’s theoretical Capability Approach proposal is open. It does not offer an application model since it does not make a complete list of capabilities functionings, personal characteristics, commodities and environmental factors (Mitra 2006). Sen does not propose a prescriptive method to rank capability sets (Mitra 2006; Terzi 2005). This voluntary incompleteness makes the capability approach difficult to implement operationally, but in turn allows for adaptation to every scenario. For example, in the field of Media Accessibility, it should be adapted to the tested technology. The capabilities and functionings may vary according to relevant personal factors, resources, and structural factors. It will also vary depending on the object of study. Therefore, the demographics of the study should be adapted to the study characteristics.

In the field of MA, researchers could implement the following steps:

  1. Think of an access service that could prevent one or more groups of persons from being potentially or actually disabled whilst accessing audiovisual content. Measuring disability is perhaps an impossible task, but for research purposes, where the focus is not on how to restore medical conditions, selecting relevant capabilities or functionings to form an “evaluative space” is needed (Mitra 2006). What needs to be done is drafting a set of functionings (or capabilities) that our access service can provide.
  2. Carefully analyse the group or groups of persons that could benefit the most from this service. This should be achieved by not only taking into account their sensorial impairments, but also the personal, structural and environmental factors. For example, a person with sight loss may not be able to access a TV series because the menu EPG (Electronic Programme Guide) is not accessible and they cannot activate the AD function. The same situation can occur for someone with reduced motor skills such as dexterity, or a person with learning disabilities who finds it challenging to interact with the TV remote control. The final result is that neither the person with sight loss, learning disability nor dexterity can enjoy a TV programme.
  3. Carry out, for example, some focus groups in which all the target groups are represented to confirm which particular service could amplify their capability set and, therefore, avoid disability from occurring or from being a possibility. These occasions should also be used to elicit more information regarding what features the service requires in order to offer a better and more enhanced experience. Listing relevant functionings and capabilities should be a user-centered activity. However, members of groups may be so deprived in specific dimensions that they lack self-critical distance. A good example is the addition of subtitles in some opera theatres (Oncins 2015). While sighted people enjoy subtitles, people with sight loss may have an audio description but not audio subtitles. Blind and partially sighted audience members may not be aware of the existence of subtitles and subsequently do not request the service.
  4. Develop the service according to what the target groups have requested.
  5. Test the service to ensure that what has been developed complies with what users require so that they are no longer disabled in that particular field or occasion. Obviously, the users taking part in the tests should come from all the various target groups that were considered initially.

It is precisely in this last stage that questionnaires should reflect the variety of users taking part in the tests and, therefore, the need to mainstream accessibility. This can only be done by expanding the section that contains the demographic questions. Were this to be done, the plethora of factors leading to disability could be better observed. As we have seen, MA research tends to include questions regarding physical impairments but does not always consider other factors that could cause or are already causing a person to be disabled. This is precisely what needs to be solved but, again, we cannot provide a one-fits-all solution because the questions depend on the object of study, i.e., on the particularities of the technology or service tested.

Questions asked in focus groups or questionnaires should not mix health issues with impairments, functionings and capabilities because they would reduce the empirical relations between the different concepts of the Capabilities Approach. The question “are you limited to the number of movies you can watch due to a visual impairment?” would be an example of the type of question that should be avoided. Also, in MA studies, there is no reason beyond statistic to ask for gender-related information, unless a capability falls under a cultural or religious category. Regarding age, most studies request age as with gender, in order to have a statistically comparable representative group. In some cases, requesting age was associated to the origin of the condition, for the researcher to assume some impact on the object of study. According to Sen’s model, requesting age will have a direct implication on questions such as: “do you consume AD?”.

The EU-funded EasyTV project ([url=https://easytvproject.eu/]https://easytvproject.eu/[/url]) aims at easing the access of audiovisual content and the media to the functionally diverse and to the growing ageing population of Europe. This will be achieved by developing new access services, such as customised subtitles, subtitles for colour-blind users and a crowdsourcing platform with which videos in sign language can be uploaded and shared. These access services are expected to grant an equal and better access to audio-visual content in terms of both choice and quality. The project was started off by discussing with users precisely what capabilities they would like to have when consuming audiovisual content. For the initial focus groups, “super end users” were recruited. Not all of them suffered from a physical impairment. In addition to being regular users, they had some knowledge on the technologies that would be tested. This knowledge was deemed crucial since they were requested to advance their expectations to match the innovation. It would have made no sense to consult end users with no prior knowledge or experience of functional diversity or technological background because at that stage what we required was not their acceptance of the final service, but issues related to technology development. This allowed us to apply Sen’s theory to a concrete case. During the focus groups carried out at that stage, the following list of questions were drafted:

  1. How is your current experience using TV?
    “It is not easy to access the TV”.
    “It is very difficult to use the remote control”.
  1. Which modalities do you use to interact with the TV?
    “Using the remote control is very difficult without audio feedback”.

The response to the difficulty to access TV elicited possible technologies and the following opinions.

  1. For image magnification two important issues emerged:
    - “It would be useful to magnify a specific portion of the screen (for example objects that need to be recognized) or overlaying text that is not clear, so I can read it better”.
    - “It is important to stop playing the image to let me magnify the screen or a portion of it”.
  1. For audio narratives the following features are considered crucial for blind and low vision persons:
    -“It is useful to have this service available both automatically (without user interaction) and manually (using the remote control or speech commands) to manage the volume of available audio tracks”.
    - “For example, when listening to opera I am only interested in the music, so I should be able to lower the volume of the audio description”.
    - “During live programs, it is very useful to know what is happening and what the TV is showing during silent time. When I am with my family they tell me what is going on, but when alone, nothing can be done”.
  1. Regarding the speech interface to control TV functionalities, blind people consider voice control and audio feedback to be very important when using the remote control. It is also very important to export content (audio and video) into a mobile device.

The above are all practical opportunities (capabilities) that end users would like to have and should be taken into account by developers. The beneficiary of these solutions is not isolated to the collective of persons with disabilities, since these solutions will be of great help also to the ageing population, people with reading issues, and by default to all. This universal approach has already been accepted with subtitles, which are no longer for the deaf and hard of hearing community, but also for the 80 per cent of people who watch media content in public spaces with the volume turned off.[4]

Testing in Easy TV has profiled the user requirements of people with sensorial disabilities: deaf and hard of hearing and visually impaired. Yet, results from tests do not correspond to sensorial disabilities. An example is the use of Smart TV functionalities and access to set up controls. Expectations and needs defined by user interaction with Smart TV are in fact related to age or behaviour, rather than disability. This real example extracted from test results in the EasyTV project show the need to adopt the Capability Approach. If it were to be implemented, in future stages, for each capability detected, a list of demographic factors surrounding it should be drafted. Another good example suggested while testing object-based audio (OBA) was to develop audio description on 360º video. It was found that OBA will benefit audio description since layers of information are added regarding sound directionality (Orero, Ray and Hughes forthcoming). Since OBA can be mixed by the audience, it turned out that people with hearing loss enjoyed OBA as mixing the dialogue track with the sound track allowed for a better dialogue intelligibility, producing a clean audio effect. This goes to show that a technology developed for one group was also beneficial for another group, something that would have never been tested if users were selected on the basis of their disability. 

5. Conclusions

MA research has been using the medical model to profile end users for their experimental research. This is probably due to research being framed within the UN CRPD, where accessibility is considered a tool towards achieving a human right (Greco 2016). The UN convention CRPD motto “nothing about us without us” has also conditioned participants for accessibility tests. After a decade following this research approach, results point towards the need to consider a wider audience for testing. Ellis (2016) has already clarified the difference between impairment and disability. Research data gathered from visually impaired persons apply to society in general. By applying the Capability Approach, research will not consider disability/health conditions as individual attributes. Focusing on impairments resources, structural and personal factors should yield data closer to the research objective than to a medical solution of health restoration. Failure to use an interactional model may generate an unnecessary focus on prevention/rehabilitation through the Medical Model or social oppression through the Social Model (Mitra 2018). The Capability Approach can be used by MA researchers and technology developers, since they need to find out what capabilities and functionings users would like to have. They also need to verify whether the technology they develop provides opportunities the target groups that are currently missing. This approach is also interesting for them as they can start recruiting users with a more varied profile and not just people with physical impairments. MA academic researchers are also within the stakeholders, since they are often the ones in charge of testing access services within projects or PhD thesis’ and need to be aware of the fact that sometimes the results yielded are due to the informants’ personal or environmental factors rather than them being partially sighted.

The Capability Approach will also work towards solving a negative feature in most existing research: the low number of participants. Profiling beyond medical prognosis opens participation to a wider audience and a higher potential participation. This Capability Model will also do away with the user representativeness required for statistical validity. For example, the number of blind people in a country will no longer have to be taken into consideration to determine the number of users needed in the tests. Mainstreaming accessibility will have an impact not only in research but also in its application to industrial sectors working within investment frameworks. MA services are valid to society and especially to persons with disabilities. This reduced sector should be the gatekeeper for quality, since in some cases access marks the threshold to deprivation.


This paper was funded by the EasyTV project (GA761999), RAD (PGC2018-096566-B-100), and ImAc (GA 761974). Both researchers are members of the research group TransMedia Catalonia (2017SGR113).


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Ellis, Gerry (2016) "Impairment and Disability: Challenging Concepts of “Normality”, in Researching Audio Description, Anna Matamala and Pilar Orero (eds.), London, Palgrave Macmillan: 35-45.

Fernández-Torné, Anna, and Anna Matamala (2015) “Text-to-speech versus human voiced audio description: a reception study in films dubbed into Catalan”, The Journal of Specialised Translation, 24: 61-88.

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Fresno, Nazaret, Judit Castellà, and Olga Soler-Vilageliu (2014) “Less is more. Effects of the amount of information and its presentation in the recall and reception of audio described characters”, International Journal of Sciences: Basic and Applied Research, 14(2): 169-96.

Fryer, Louise (2013) Putting it into words: the impact of visual impairment on perception, experience and presence, PhD diss., University of London, UK.

Fryer, Louise, and Jonathan Freeman (2012) “Cinematic language and the description of film: keeping AD users in the frame”, Perspectives. Studies in Translatology, 21(3): 412-26.

Fryer, Louise, and Jonathan Freeman (2014) “Can you feel what I’m saying? The impact of verbal information on emotion elicitation and presence in people with a visual impairment”, in Challenging presence: Proceedings of the 15th international conference on presence, edited by A. Felnhofer and O.D. Kothgassner, 9-107. Wien: facultas.wuv.

Greco, Gian Maria. 2016. “On Accessibility as a Human Right, with an Application to Media Accessibility”, in Researching Audio Description, Anna Matamala and Pilar Orero (eds.), London, Palgrave Macmillan: 11-33.

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[1] See [url=http://www.psp-dtv4all.org/]http://www.psp-dtv4all.org/[/url] [retrieved 08/04/2018]

[2] See [url=http://www.adlabproject.eu/Docs/WP3%20Report%20on%20Testing]http://www.adlabproject.eu/Docs/WP3%20Report%20on%20Testing[/url] [retrieved 08/04/2018]

[3]See [url=http://www.rnib.org.uk/professionals/knowledge-and-research-hub/research-reports]http://www.rnib.org.uk/professionals/knowledge-and-research-hub/research-reports[/url] [retrieved 08/04/2018]

[4] See [url=https://digiday.com/media/silent-world-facebook-video/]https://digiday.com/media/silent-world-facebook-video/[/url] [retrieved 12/04/2018]

About the author(s)

Irene Tor-Carroggio is a Ph.D student in Translation and Intercultural Studies at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) and is also a member of the research group TransMedia Catalonia (2017SGR113). She holds a B.A. in Translation and Interpretation from the UAB (2013) and also an M.A. in International Business from Shanghai University of Finance and Economics (2017). She is part of the EU-funded project EasyTV, http://easytvproject.eu.

Dr. Pilar Orero, (http://gent.uab.cat/pilarorero), PhD (UMIST, UK), teaches at Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (Spain). Member of TransMedia Catalonia research group (2017SGR113). Recent publications: Anna Maszerowska, Anna Matamala and Pilar Orero (eds) (2014) Audio Description. New perspectives illustrated. Amsterdam. John Benjamins. Anna Matamala and Pilar Orero (eds) (2016) Researching Audio Description. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Leader of numerous research projects funded by the Spanish and Catalan Gov. Participates in the UN ITU agency IRG AVA http://www.itu.int/en/irg/ava/Pages/default.aspx. Member of the working group ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 35. Member of the Spanish UNE working group on accessibility. Led the EU project HBB4ALL http://pagines.uab.cat/hbb4all/. Leads the EU projects ACT http://pagines.uab.cat/act/ and UMAQ (Understanding Quality Media Accessibility) http://pagines.uab.cat/umaq/. She is the UAB leader at the 2 new H2020 projects EasyTV (interaction to accessible TV) http://easytvproject.eu and ImAc (Immersive Accessibility) http://www.imac-project.eu 2017-2021. She is an active external evaluator for many worldwide national agencies: South Africa, Australia, Lithuania, Belgium, Poland, Italy, US, and UK. Co-founder of the Media Accessibility Platform MAP http://www.mapaccess.org.

Email: [please login or register to view author's email address]

©inTRAlinea & Irene Tor-Carroggio & Pilar Orero (2019).
"User profiling in audio description reception studies: questionnaires for all", inTRAlinea Vol. 21.

This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/index.php/archive/article/2410

La letteratura italiana attraverso i modelli di ricezione nella cultura slovacca prima e dopo il 1989

By Ivan Susa (University of Bologna, Italy)

Abstract & Keywords


The article considers the translation and reception of Italian literature in Slovak before and after the year 1989. The purpose is to introduce a new perspective on the evolution of Italian literature in Slovak, starting from the ideologically determined translations before 1989  to those after 1989 which were no longer influenced by ideology or an authoritarian state, but by editorial policies and market demand. The author draws attention to the influence of the ideological aspect on translations before 1989, such as the lack of translations of certain texts, themes or authors, or the use of censorship or partial censorship. The article also aims to emphasise how these and other phenomena contributed to a loss of linearity in the reception of world literature in the Slovak cultural context.


L’articolo riflette sulla ricezione della letteratura italiana nella lingua slovacca prima e dopo l’anno 1989. L’obiettivo è di presentare un nuovo punto di vista sull’evoluzione della letteratura italiana in slovacco, dalle traduzioni precedenti all’anno 1989 (stereotipizzazione ideologicamente determinata) a quelle successive, caratterizzato dalla creazione di un nuovo modello di traduzione, non più influenzato da un’ideologia o da uno stato autoritario, ma dalle politiche editoriali e dalle esigenze di mercato. L’autore pone l’attenzione sull’influenza che ebbe l’aspetto ideologico sulle traduzioni prima dell’89, come ad esempio la mancata traduzione di certi testi con determinati argomenti e autori, o l’applicazione della censura e della semicensura. L’articolo vuole evidenziare come questi ed altri fenomeni di pressione ideologica da parte di uno stato autoritario abbiano gradualmente portato a una perdita di linearità nella ricezione di alcune letterature del mondo nel contesto culturale slovacco.

Keywords: ricezione letteraria, letteratura italiana, contesto culturale slovacco, modelli di ricezione, literary reception, models of reception, Italian literature, Slovak cultural context

©inTRAlinea & Ivan Susa (2021).
"La letteratura italiana attraverso i modelli di ricezione nella cultura slovacca prima e dopo il 1989", inTRAlinea Vol. 23.

This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/index.php/archive/article/2566


Nella seconda metà degli anni Settanta (1978), gli esponenti della Scuola di Nitra František Miko e Anton Popovič, all’interno della loro opera Tvorba a recepcia [Creazione e ricezione], elaborarono un approccio teorico della ricezione nel contesto della traduttologia slovacca, come una delle fasi nella comunicazione letteraria. Dionýz Ďurišin, nelle sue numerose opere teoriche, tra cui riportiamo Teória literárnej komparatistiky  [Teoria della comparatistica letteraria, 1975] e Čo je svetová literatúra? [Che cosa è la letteratura mondiale?, 1992] concepiva la ricezione delle letterature straniere all’interno di un contesto interletterario e interculuturale, allo scopo di porre l’attenzione sui meccanismi di comunicazione e sui i rapporti reciproci tra le cosiddette “comunità interletterarie”, “centrismi interletterari” e “l’unità finale e maggiore“ (quindi la letteratura mondiale). Ďurišin era fortemente influenzato dai suoi studi degli esponenti russi (sovietici) della letteratura comparata, anche se nel periodo successivo all’89 cominciò a collaborare con i comparatisti italiani, soprattutto con Armando Gnisci, analizzando il fenomeno della ricezione dal punto di vista ermeneutico[1]. Un’altro esponente di questa scuola, František Koli (1985), si ispirava invece alla concezione di Lambert, analizzando il rapporto creazione-tradizione-import.[2]

Ján Vilikovský, nella sua opera Preklad ako tvorba [Traduzione come creazione, 1984] considerava la ricezione come parte integrante del processo della traduzione all’interno del contesto culturale di uno stato, equiparandola alla ricezione di una cultura straniera. Nel periodo postrivoluzionario e democratico Libuša Vajdová (1993) sottolineava i concetti di “tradizione della ricezione“ e “diversità“. Riguardo a quest’ultima, ne descrisse vari gradi e caratteristiche, mentre riguardo al concetto di tradizione della ricezione, lo interpretò come un sistema dinamico, legato all’ambiente della cultura di partenza come a quello della cultura d’arrivo, creando «un’immagine che la cultura d’arrivo percepisce sulla cultura di partenza» (Vajdová: 1999). [3]

1. La ricezione della letteratura italiana nella cultura slovacca

La ricezione della letteratura italiana all’interno del contesto culturale slovacco era stata fino ad oggi sistematizzata e analizzata solamente in modo parziale, mentre prima dell’89 era quasi inesistente. Nella maggioranza dei testi scientifici pubblicati prima dell’anno 1989 gli autori descrivevano la letteratura italiana solo dal punto di vista storico (la storia della letteratura italiana), senza analizzare l’aspetto della ricezione e soprattutto senza preoccuparsi di descrivere i contatti evidenti tra le due culture e letterature. Mancavano quindi le descrizioni e le analisi delle possibili ispirazioni reciproche tra gli autori slovacchi e italiani, delle analogie e delle diferenze sul piano tematico e formale. Questo è  il caso di Miroslava Mattušová (Italian Literature in Czechoslovacchia 1945-1964), Ján Molnár e Emília Holanová (La Letteratura Italiana in Slovacchia 1945-1976) e dell’italianista ceco Ivan Seidl La letteratura italiana del Novecento.

Nell’anno 1994 uscì la monografia di Pavol Koprda dal titolo La letteratura italiana nella cultura slovacca 1890-1980, che colmò alcune lacune ideologiche, nonostante la sua pubblicazione fosse arrivata con grande distacco rispetto ai cambiamenti dell’89. Questa monografia però non prendeva in considerazione la letteratura e la ricezione degli anni Ottanta e Novanta, che invece presentavano un grande significato dal punto di vista dei cambiamenti culturali e politici, come anche nei rapporti interletterari slovacco-italiani. In questo tipo di lavoro continuò la italianista slovacca Dagmar Sabolová, che nei suoi studi dal titolo Recepcia talianskej literatúry na Slovensku v 80. a 90. rokoch 20. storočia [La ricezione della letteratura italiana in Slovacchia negli anni Ottanta e Novanta del Novecento] e Čo nám chýba z talianskej literatúry v slovenskom preklade [Che cosa è assente dalla letteratura italiana nelle traduzioni in slovacco] individuò alcune tendenze nella ricezione dalla letteratura italiana in slovacco, confrontando alcuni periodi significativi, come gli anni prima e dopo il 1945, compreso il periodo contemporaneo. La monografia più attuale, scritta da Ivan Šuša, Talianska literatúra v slovenskom prekladovo-recepčnom kontexte po roku 1989 [La letteratura italiana nel contesto della traduzione e ricezione slovacca dopo l’anno 1989], uscita in due edizioni (la prima edizione nel 2017 e la seconda nel 2018), cerca di colmare alcune delle lacune dei lavori precedenti e di sistematizzare alcuni concetti traduttologici, soprattutto stabilizzando e spiegando il rapporto tra le due culture attraverso la traduzione (ispirandosi alla teoria di Dionýz Ďurišin, inclusi gli studi e la collaborazione con i comparatisti italiani Armando Gnisci e Franca Sinopoli), František Miko e Anton Popovič, descrivendo e analizzando le tappe della ricezione della letteratura italiana nel contesto culturale slovacco (prima e dopo l’anno 1989, inclusi gli anni Ottanta e Novanta del secolo scorso). Altre pubblicazioni scientifiche riguardano le analisi di determinati argomenti (p. es. Dagmar Sabolová, che si occupa dei classici della letteratura italiana, ponendo l’accento sull’aspetto della ricezione, Fabiano Gritti, che si occupa delle linee evolutive della letteratura italiana dal neorealismo alla neoavantgarda fino alla linea lombarda, Dušan Kováč Petrovský, che analizza le opere degli autori cattolici italiani e slovacchi, Ivan Šuša, che si focalizza sulla ricerca riguardante la memorialistica italiana in comparazione con quella slovacca, e altri).

2. L’anno 1989 come rottura ideologica e culturale. I modelli di ricezione

Nell’ambito della ricezione della letteratura italiana nella cultura d’arrivo, possiamo evidenziare alcuni modelli di ricezione nel contesto slovacco: il modello di ricezione politicamente schierata, il modello lineare e il modello pluralista.

Figura 1: Modelli di ricezione

Il periodo precedente all’89 è caratterizzato dallo scontro tra il metodo ufficiale nella cultura di arrivo – il metodo del cosiddetto realismo socialista (René Bílik a questo proposito usa il termine “dottrina canonica“) –  ed il libero metodo estetico e culturale nella cultura di partenza (non appartenente alle decisioni politiche), sia a livello  tematico che formale. Il regime che prese il potere in Cecoslovacchia nell’anno 1948[4] (Partito Comunista cecoslovacco), manifestò la volontà di occuparsi della cultura e della letteratura slovacca, comprese le traduzioni delle opere straniere. Possiamo considerare come modello di ricezione politicamente schierato quello applicato dal regime comunista cecoslovacco negli anni tra il 1948 e il 1989, con la pausa democratica negli anni Sessanta, denominati dagli storici anche come “anni d’oro“, in cui il partito comunista era sotto la guida di Alexander Dubček.

La questione della libertà di stampa era considerata come un problema politico e culturale già subito dopo la formazione del nuovo governo comunista (1948), dapprima attraverso il controllo dei quotidiani da parte dello stato (alcuni vennero proprio cancellati), passando poi al divieto di distribuzione e di vendita di stampa straniera. Anche se la Costituzione della Repubblica Cecoslovacca del 9 maggio 1948 dichiarava ancora la libertà di stampa come una delle libertà fondamentali per l'esistenza della libertà di parola e d’opinione, nel 1953 il regime totalitario aveva provveduto alla creazione dell’organo Amministrazione superiore del controllo di stampa con la figura del censore, che rese ufficialmente la censura una forma di protezione della cultura nazionale. Il censore aveva l’autoritá di decidere se un libro potesse essere pubblicato senza modifiche, se sarebbero state necessarie delle correzioni del contenuto o, in caso di conflitto ideologico, se dovesse esserne vietata la stampa. La censura venne gradualmente applicata anche in tutti gli altri settori della cultura e dei mezzi di comunicazione come la televisione, la radio, il teatro, come anche nei depliant delle mostre, nelle recensioni degli eventi culturali, ecc. Come scrive la storica slovacca Roguľová, «il partito aveva il diritto di occuparsi della stampa, che doveva servire ai bisogni del popolo e  sorvegliava se nei testi non venivano ridotti i meriti del Partito Comunista» (2017: 158).

Nel periodo del cosiddetto “socialismo dal volto umano“ del politico e riformatore slovacco Alexander Dubček registriamo invece un avvicinamento culturale ai paesi occidentali. Il tentativo di “democratizzare“ la politica attraverso una riforma del partito comunista aveva portato cambiamenti positivi nella politica culturale e nell’editoria – ad es. riscontriamo un numero elevato di traduzioni dalle letterature dei paesi al di fuori del blocco sovietico, la liberalizzazione del mercato editoriale o le più vaste possibilità di informazione per i lettori sulla letteratura occidentale, inclusi i brani dei testi in traduzione da diverse lingue straniere all’interno della rivista Revue svetovej literatúry [Revue della letteratura mondiale], soprattutto per quanto riguardava gli autori contemporanei.

Dopo l’intervento militare e politico da parte dei paesi del Patto di Varsavia nel 1968 il governo cecoslovacco tornò alle sue politiche repressive di ideologizzazione della cultura, soprattutto durante gli anni Settanta (nella storiografia questo periodo viene chiamato anche “normalizzazione“, che dal punto di vista della terminologia totalitaria cecoslovacca significava il ritorno alla normalità, prima della rivoluzione del 1968). Il 24 giugno 1971 il governo varò un emandamento sullo sviluppo, la gestione e la regolamentazione della politica editoriale, che definiva anche l’obbligo da parte delle case editrici di rispettare gli obiettivi politici e culturali stabiliti dal regime. Il critico letterario slovacco Karol Rosenbaum, nel suo Boj proti revizionizmu v literárnej vede a kritike [Lotta contro il revisionismo nella scienza e critica letteraria], a disposizione dagli archivi, parlava della necessità di reciproco avvicinamento delle letterature socialiste e soprattutto del bisogno di creare la cosiddetta “letteratura mondiale socialista“, sulla base dell’ideologia comune, oscurando quindi l’aspetto estetico. In pratica si trattava del ritorno della censura e del controllo della stampa da parte dello Stato.

 La censura in Cecoslovacchia nel periodo totalitario (1948-1989) si presentava in diverse forme: come selezione ideologicamente motivata di determinati autori, libri o argomenti, come cambiamenti all‘interno del testo o eliminazione di parti di testo per mano dei censori o come autocensura (i traduttori stessi modificavano frasi o concetti in fase di traduzione). Katarína Bednárová (2015) menziona anche cosidetta “censura repressiva”, che consisteva nell’eliminazione per motivi ideologici di certi libri dalle librerie da parte del regime. Un considerevole fattore di influenza del lettore era anche la prefazione o postfazione scritta dal traduttore o dall’editore, con la quale veniva proposto un tipo di comprensione ideologicamente adatto di un determinato testo – in forma di commento o analisi. [5]

Nel libro di Ján Vilikovský Preklad včera a dnes [La traduzione ieri e oggi] si definisce il bisogno di «cercare una via d’uscita positiva nella risoluzione dei rapporti tra la traduzione e la letteratura nazionale attraverso quegli strumenti e metodi creati dal nucleo della nostra scienza letteraria, metodologia marxista» (1985:6) Attraverso una precisa selezione di determinati autori e di opere, spesso all’interno della stessa corrente letteraria, la politica culturale ufficiale voleva creare un quadro della letteratura italiana non corrispondente alla realtà. Si trattava quindi di una ricezione ideologicamente motivata, ergo politicamente schierata.

Riguardo all´influenza dell´ideologia politica dominante sulla ricezione di determinati autori e delle loro opere, possiamo osservare le seguenti caratteristiche:

  • analogie con la letteratura nazionale alla base del metodo ufficiale;
  • situazione di conflitto tra l’ideologia dominante e un tipo di produzione libera;
  • minimalizzazione delle forme sperimentali (mancato pluralismo formale);
  • asincronia temporale tra la cultura di partenza e la cultura di arrivo dovuta all´intervento dell’ideologia dominante;
  • stereotipizzazione della letteratura italiana (autori, opere, correnti). 

In questo modello possiamo inserire ad esempio anche le traduzioni della letteratura dei grandi classici italiani (Dante Alighieri, Francesco Petrarca, Giovanni Boccaccio), accettata come facente parte di un canone artistico e come rappresentante significativo della letteratura mondiale (dando importanza artistica alla letteratura italiana alla base dell’idea di Goethe sulla Weltliteratur)[6]. Tuttavia, anche in tali casi, si cercava di evitare alcune tematiche, come quella biblica (nonostante nel caso di Dante fosse praticamente impossibile), gli umori del pessimismo opposti alla falsa concezione ottimistica o l’inaccettabile origine aristocratica di alcuni autori (Leopardi). La maggior parte delle opere del poeta di Recanati è stata tradotta solo dopo l’89, soprattutto grazie alla traduttrice e docente universitaria Dagmar Sabolová e al traduttore Gustav Hupka. Le traduzioni delle opere classiche[7], oltre alla funzione di divulgare il patrimonio artistico e culturale, assunsero anche un ruolo sostitutivo, oscurando la produzione letteraria contemporanea di quegli autori considerati ideologicamente non adatti. Per non essere coinvolti nel processo di ideologizzazione nella cultura di arrivo, molti traduttori cercarono di offrire ai lettori i testi dei classici italiani più importanti, evitando così conflitti politico-ideologici. La qualità delle traduzioni dalle opere classiche italiane era di livello molto alto, sia dal punto di vista lingustico che culturale. Le traduzioni della Divina Commedia, ma anche delle poesie di Petrarca sono finora considerate tra le più valide dal punto di vista della storia della traduzione slovacca, dal punto di vista teorico (ergo traduttologico), come anche dell’arrichimento culturale. La Divina Commedia era stata tradotta da Jozef Felix e Viliam Turčány (Inferno e Purgatorio li tradussero insieme, mentre il Paradiso fu tradotto da Turčány dopo la morte di Felix). Questo capolavoro della letteratura italiana uscì in una nuova edizione con l’analisi scientifica da parte delle italianiste Adonella Ficarra a Caterina Lucarini solo nel 2019[8]. Per quanto riguarda Petrarca, ne registriamo la traduzione di una parte del Canzoniere (Vojtech Mihálik, Ľudmila Peterajová), come i Sonetti per Laura (e dopo l’89 come ristampa) ed anche le traduzioni delle opere di Giovanni Boccaccio da parte di Blahoslav Hečko (Príbehy z Dekameronu e Žiaľ pani Plamienky). Anche nel caso del Decameron, la nuova edizione uscì dopo il 1989.

3. L’ideologia come background per la formazione della stereotipizzazione della letteratura italiana nella ricezione slovacca

Per un lungo periodo prima dell’89 è stato dominante nella ricezione slovacca il neorealismo, perfino dopo la sua crisi all’interno della letteratura italiana. Per la politica culturale di allora (sotto stretto controllo del regime socialista) il neorealismo era considerato ideologicamente adatto, soprattutto per le analogie programmatiche con i contenuti del realismo socialista ceco-slovacco. Delle opere dei neorealisti venivano infatti scelte prevalentemente quelle in cui era presente l’aspetto filosofico materialistico, adattato alla condizione socio-politica ceco-slovacca, quindi un neorealismo deformato nella cultura di arrivo. Alcune opere dal forte messaggio sociale o politico, come ad esempio Il Quartiere di Vasco Pratolini, venivano stampate anche in più edizioni (ad es. ancora nel 1981). Nel modello della ricezione politicamente schierata possiamo inserire anche le opere geograficamente e culturalmente ambientate nel sud dell’Italia (la letteratura regionale) con la rappresentazione dei suoi problemi sociali, le classi povere, la disoccupazione, il mondo conservatore della vita quotidiana, il potere della Chiesa e soprattutto della mafia, il tutto descritto attraverso stereotipi. Perfino negli anni Ottanta del ventesimo secolo osserviamo come nella cultura di arrivo (non solo slovacca, ma fino all’anno 1993 ancora ceco-slovacca) fosse ancora utilizzato il modello di ricezione sopra citato. Solo a partire dalla metà del Novecento il canone della letteratura rurale e sociale territorialmente e culturalmente basato sul Meridione comincia a perdere popolarità e registriamo un’evoluzione dell’interesse verso la letteratura e la cultura del nord e centro Italia, l’ambiente cittadino e industriale.

In quest’ultimo caso è però necessario sottolineare come proprio la letteratura industriale fosse appositamente utilizzata dal regime socialista per presentare negativamente l’industrializzazione dei paesi capitalisti e le pratiche di sfruttamento dei lavoratori (selezione di opere adatte allo scopo – ad esempio Ottiero Ottieri – Donnarumma all’assalto, oppure mancata traduzione). Anche nella letteratura slovacca esisteva una letteratura di tipo industriale, in questo caso palesemente al servizio della propaganda politica (esaltazione delle costruzioni di grandi opere del socialismo con relativa acclamazione  popolare, espressa per mezzo della pubblicazione di numerosi romanzi a tema)[9].

Non è facile ricostruire la mappa della letteratura italiana o le abitudini dei lettori slovacchi, influenzati per più di quarant’anni dalla propaganda ideologica[10] nella cultura d’arrivo. Con tali premesse si è quindi creato nel corso degli anni uno stereotipo intorno alla letteratura italiana, sulla base della visione “riveduta e corretta” da parte del regime socialista. Spesso veniva sottolineata l’importanza dell’adesione di certi scrittori o poeti al Partito Socialista o al Partito Comunista Italiano, come in Vasco Pratolini, Cesare Pavese ed Elio Vittorini, oppure si cercava di creare un quadro generale su determinati autori alla base di aspetti accetabili per l’ideologia socialista, ignorando altre opere o altri concetti. A questo proposito portiamo l’esempio di Pier Paolo Pasolini, che secondo Seidl «appartiene al neorealismo per i suoi romanzi Ragazzi di vita, Una vita violenta, per la raccolta di liriche Le ceneri di Gramsci che rimangono il meglio della sua produzione» (1985: 72), e del quale non venne accennata nella cultura d’arrivo la sua importanza culturale ed intellettuale, i dibattiti letterari, la sua vita privata (che hanno invece influenzato le sue opere e opinioni), ed il fatto che rappresentasse un mito per quella generazione. Il lettore slovacco potè quindi scoprire altri aspetti del personaggio Pasolini solo nel 2010, quando uscì la traduzione del libro Atti impuri. Amado mio (traduzione di Diana Farmošová) o nel famoso libro di Emanuele Trevi Qualcosa di scritto, uscito in Slovacchia nel 2015[11].

All’interno del modello lineare, che funzionava contemporaneamente al modello di ricezione politicamente schierato, non riscontriamo una determinazione ideologica. Alcuni autori (ad esempio Dino Buzzati), e soprattutto certi generi come i romanzi polizieschi, gialli, d’avventura, la letteratura a tematica femminile, la letteratura per bambini e ragazzi hanno continuato ad arricchire la cultura d’arrivo praticamente senza alcuna interruzione – l’anno 1989 in questi casi non ha rappresentato alcun cambiamento rilevante. Per quanto riguarda il modello lineare, constatiamo comunque tracce del potere dominante nell’ambito della scelta degli autori da tradurre. Possiamo quindi parlare di linearità nella traduzione (non potendo ancora usare l’espressione “libertà” di traduzione), cercando sempre di contestualizzare con precisione le opere e gli autori all’interno dell’evoluzione della storia della traduzione come disciplina. Grazie alla maggiore apertura politica e culturale dei regimi di glasnost e perestrojka e ai cambiamenti nel contesto geopolitico europeo, cominciava a delinearsi un nuovo modello di ricezione parzialmente pluralista, anche se solo dopo l’anno 1989 possiamo parlare di modello pluralista, quindi con diverse tipologie di poetiche autoriali e diversi tipi di posizioni valoriali d’autore e approci all’arte – si è giunti (secondo Hučková 2011: 128) ad:

  • una selezione naturale (selezione degli autori e delle opere);
  • una consolidazione dell’ambiente letterario;
  •  un profilo generazionale e d un reciproco rispetto generazionale;
  •  una definizione di generi e tematiche

4. Il superamento della stereotipizzazione della letteratura italiana attraverso i cambiamenti nella politica editoriale dopo il 1989

L’anno 1989 come anno di cambiamenti politici, sociali e culturali in Slovacchia e negli altri paesi dell’Europa centro-orientale, ha fortemente influenzato la politica editoriale, soprattutto dal punto di vista delle scelte delle opere da tradurre nella cultura ricevente. Nel contesto delle opere pubblicate, anche dopo l’89, la letteratura italiana restava sempre un passo indietro rispetto all’egemone produzione in lingua inglese. Tuttavia, negli ultimi dieci anni stiamo registrando un crescente interesse degli editori verso la pubblicazione di opere di autori italiani, soprattutto contemporanei, come anche di autori più famosi nel contesto della cultura di partenza. Attualmente gli autori più tradotti della letteratura italiana dall’anno 1989 fino ad oggi sono Umberto Eco e Alessandro Baricco, gli autori dei numerosi bestseller e le esponenti della cosiddetta letteratura femminile (Sveva Casati Modigliani, Maria Venturi, ecc). Grazie alle traduzioni, anche i libri di autori famosi, come Paolo Giordano, Roberto Saviano, Donato Carrisi, Fausto Brizzi, Michela Murgia, Valerio Evangelisti, Emanuele Trevi e soprattutto Elena Ferrante (che consideriamo un fenomeno importante nella diffusione della cultura e letteratura italiana nel mondo, inclusa la Slovacchia) hanno avuto la possibilità di essere conosciuti dal pubblico slovacco. La media annuale dei libri tradotti e pubblicati  dall’italiano in slovacco è di circa dieci. Per esempio negli anni Novanta, precisamente nel 1994 e nel 1998, evidenziamo un vuoto di traduzioni della produzione letteraria italiana in lingua slovacca: secondo la nostra ricerca nel 1994 sono stati tradotti solo Donna d'onore di Sveva Casati Modigliani e Io speriamo che me la cavo, di Marcello D’Orta, mentre nel 1998 Agostino, di Alberto Moravia e L’isola del giorno prima, di Umberto Eco).

Il traduttore dalla lingua italiana in slovacco František Hruška definisce gli autori che riescono ad entrare nel mercato slovacco come “autori eletti” (2009: 84). Il problema del mercato editoriale slovacco è quello di essere considerato (dal punto di vista delle case editrici) troppo piccolo e quindi non abbastanza attraente. In più, il numero dei traduttori dall’italiano allo slovacco è abbastanza limitato, trattandosi di solito di esponenti del mondo accademico – italianisti, critici letterari, scrittori o diplomatici (Stanislav Vallo, František Hruška, Miroslava Vallová, Terézia Gašparíková, Dagmar Sabolová, Ivana Dobrakovová ecc.), ma anche professionalmente forte e capace di premere sulle case editrici per quanto riguarda la scelta degli autori e delle opere per una possibile traduzione.

Dal punto di vista della ricezione nella cultura di arrivo possiamo osservare significativi cambiamenti strutturali nella politica editoriale (commercializzazione del mercato, l’importanza della pubblicazione dei bestseller), il conseguente inserimento di autori, opere e tematiche nella cultura di arrivo prima evitati per motivi ideologici, il tentativo di sincronizzazione delle opere (autori contemporanei italiani usciti in Italia tradotti subito o con un accettabile distacco di tempo in lingua slovacca), soprattutto in base alle scelte delle case editrici. Rosanna Pelosi nel suo contributo alla conferenza scientifica internazionale sulla traduzione Preklad a tlmočenie a Banská Bystrica in Slovacchia nel 2006 Quale futuro per le traduzioni dall´ italiano? Riflessioni socio-culturali ha provato a delineare i criteri delle scelte degli autori per la traduzione dall’italiano in slovacco dopo 1989:

  • posizione dell’autore nella cultura di partenza;
  • collocazione dell’autore nella cultura di arrivo;
  • influenza del traduttore;
  • ruolo dell’editore;
  • contributi e incentivi alla traduzione e diffusione del libro all’estero.

Un grande ruolo gioca sul mercato soprattutto Centro d’informazione letterario (la sua ex direttrice Miroslava Vallová è anche nota traduttrice dall’italiano in slovacco), Istituto Italiano di Cultura a Bratislava, L’Ambasciata italiana in Slovacchia e L’Ambasciata slovacca a Roma.

5. Polarità dei modelli di ricezione

Lo schema che proponiamo mostra la polarità dei modelli di ricezione prima e dopo l’89 – il segno “meno” esprime la mancanza delle traduzioni per motivi ideologici, politici e metodologici all’interno del modello di ricezione politicamente schierata, mentre il segno “più” esprime l’inserimento di tali opere nella ricezione pluralista (il segno “meno” nella ricezione pluralista rappresenta il caso del mancato inserimento di certe opere per determinati motivi, come ad es. l’eccessivo distacco temporale). La doppia polarità negativa  (- -) rappresenta la letteratura industriale, come anche la neoavanguardia e le tendenze sperimentali (dal punto di vista del contenuto ed anche dal punto di vista formale e metodologico). Le altre due polarità (- +) rappresentano gli autori della memorialistica italiana o la produzione cattolica.

Figura 2: Polarità dei modelli di ricezione

Riguardo agli autori più significativi del Novecento italiano, la maggioranza delle loro opere era stata tradotta prima dell’89, ma solo dopo questa data potevano essere prese in considerazione anche altre opere degli stessi autori, che erano precedentemente inadatte secondo il regime socialista[12]. Come esempi eclatanti di quanto affermato osserviamo anche il libro di Giorgio Bassani Occhiali d’oro (soprattutto per l’argomento che riguardava la questione ebraica ed anche per il collegamento olocausto-omosessualità tramite il personaggio di Athos Fadigati), alcune opere di Alberto Moravia, ecc.

In conseguenza del fatto che testi riguardanti la tematica della Shoah non potessero essere tradotti e divulgati[13], anche gli autori ebrei slovacchi furono costretti a scrivere le loro opere all’estero in lingua straniera come emigrati, mentre in slovacco sarebbero state diffuse solo successivamente in forma di traduzione[14]. In questo modo entrarono nel contesto della ricezione slovacca le memorie di Levi Gil (Fero Goldner) e di sua moglie Chana Gil  (Viera Polačková) con l’opera Osudy jednej rodiny [Il destino di una famiglia]. Il libro uscì in ebraico in Israele. Stessa sorte anche per le memorie di Kathryn Winter dal titolo Katarína, pubblicate nel 1998 negli Stati Uniti. Destino analogo ebbe anche il libro autobiografico dell’ebrea slovacca Iboja Wandall-Holm Zbohom storočie [Addio secolo], uscito per la prima volta in danese. In questo contesto possiamo menzionare anche il libro di Max Stern Známka môjho života [Il francobollo della mia vita], uscito prima in inglese in Australia ed in slovacco come traduzione (le opere di Kathryn Winter e Max Stern sono state tradotte in slovacco dalla traduttrice Ľubica Chorváthová, altre opere sono state tradotte da loro stessi come autori-traduttori). Le memorie uscite all’estero e più tardi tradotte in slovacco hanno trasmesso e presentato la civiltà e la cultura slovacca in un altro sistema culturale, in questo caso israeliano, americano, australiano e danese.

Per quanto riguarda la memorialistica italiana e soprattutto le opere di Primo Levi, erano state ignorate durante tutto il periodo del socialismo.  Le prime traduzioni le troviamo solo dopo il 2000 (!) Nel contesto letterario slovacco sono state introdotte le traduzioni delle seguenti opere maggiori: Se questo è un uomo [Je to človek?, 2001], La tregua [Prímerie, 2002] e I sommersi e i salvati [Potopení a zachránení, 2003]. Le prime due sono state tradotte da Terézia Gašparíková e la terza da František Hruška. Entrambi sono rinomati traduttori di testi letterari italiani in lingua slovacca e sono membri della Società Slovacca dei traduttori di letteratura artistica. Le altre opere di Levi all’interno delle quali viene affrontato l’argomento Shoah restano purtroppo sconosciute al pubblico slovacco.

La mancata traduzione delle opere memorialistiche dall’italiano in slovacco ha rimproverito anche i rapporti e le interferenze storiche e letterarie. Alcune memorie di autori e autrici ebrei italiani in qualche modo interferiscono reciprocamente. In molte delle loro opere appare un fatto, una data o un protagonista, che riguarda l’ambiente slovacco.  Si tratta soprattutto di contatti personali tra gli ebrei, nati dalla coesistenza spesso forzata (come nel caso del ghetto o del lager) in uno stesso ambiente (soprattutto i rapporti internato-internato, internato-capo). Ad esempio l’autrice italiana ebrea Giuliana Tedeschi nelle sue memorie C’e un punto della terra riporta che «i primi convogli dalla Slovacchia comprendevano anche donne» (XII), ed informa che «tutte le italiane erano ora disperse a piccoli gruppi nei diversi blocchi del Lager B, sperdute nel numero infinitamente maggiore delle polacche, delle slovacche e delle greche» o il dialogo tra due ragazze, una slovacca e una jugoslava sulla loro fiducia nella prossima fine della guerra (Tedeschi 1989:45). L’autrice italiana Liana Millu ne Il fumo di Birkenau descrive la figura negativa di una assistente-collaboratrice slovacca nel contesto della rivalità femminile (la prigioniera e amica dell’autrice Lily è condannata a morte, perché l’assistente slovacca del dottore responsabile delle selezioni la segna nel suo taccuino su pressione della kapo, che vedeva in lei una rivale in bellezza e in amore). L’internata per motivi politici Lidia Beccaria Rolfi nel suo libro Le donne di Ravensbruck parla delle donne cecoslovacche (anche se nel periodo della Shoah la Cecoslovacchia non esisteva più). Purtroppo queste opere non sono state tradotte in slovacco e di conseguenza il lettore slovacco resta impoverito sotto questo aspetto (storico e culturale)[15].

La memorialistica italiana presenta una vasta produzione letteraria, riguardante non solo l’argomento della persecuzione ebraica, ma anche importanti testimonianze di elementi antifascisti, tra cui partigiani, socialisti, comunisti, sacerdoti, omosessuali ecc. Molte di queste opere-memorie potrebbero risultare interessanti per il lettore slovacco in un’eventuale traduzione. La minoranza ebraica e quelle categorie sociali considerate “diverse” a livello etnico, culturale, religioso o sessuale restano ancora al giorno d’oggi da “scoprire”, affinchè si possa giungere ad una conoscenza più approfondita delle diversità, comprenderne la sostanza e di conseguenza rispettarle come parte integrante della società.

Per quanto riguarda i contatti concreti (definiti anche come “contatti evidenti“ secondo la teoria della comparatistica slovacca di Ďurišin) tra la memorialistica slovacca ed italiana sulla tematica della Shoah, solo nel 1996 all’interno dell’opera di Juraj Špitzer Svitá, až keď je celkom tma  [Albeggia, solo quando è totalmente buio] troviamo una citazione da I sommersi e i salvati di Levi riguardo al ricordo dell’amico Jean Améry, anch’egli come Levi sopravvissuto ad Auschwitz. Da questo è evidente che Špitzer aveva letto l’ultima famosa opera di Primo Levi, probabilmente nella traduzione dall’italiano al ceco (proprio dell’anno 1996). É importante sottolineare che le traduzioni in lingua slovacca delle opere principali di Levi, compresa I sommersi e i salvati, sono state divulgate solo dopo la morte di Špitzer. Ponendo a confronto i due autori e le loro opere Svitá, až keď je celkom tma e I sommersi e i salvati, possiamo notare consistenti analogie sia dal punto di vista del genere (saggio) che del contenuto.[16] Per questo motivo supponiamo che il libro di Primo Levi abbia ispirato Juraj Špitzer, volendo evitare di utilizzare il termine “influenza“ che la teoria della comparatistica slovacca sotto la guida di Ďurišin preferisce sostituire con “ispirazione“. A questo proposito è interessante notare l’importanza del rapporto traduzione-ispirazione all’interno del quadro delle letterature nazionali che, in quanto principali ricettrici secondo lo schema – scelta dell’opera – ricezione – reazione – si trovano ad essere “ispirate” dalla traduzione proprio come reazione alla ricezione della traduzione stessa.

Nel contesto specifico della letteratura nazionale slovacca, alla traduzione di determinate opere è seguita la pubblicazione di nuove opere ad esse ispirate, ma dalle caratteristiche particolari ed originali. Come possiamo dunque notare, il contatto significativo tra le due letterature è rappresentato dalla traduzione, principale conduttore nel processo interletterario.

Inoltre è opportuno aggiungere che i contatti interletterari tra la Slovacchia e la Repubblica Ceca hanno giocato un ruolo fondamentale nella diffusione dell’interesse per la traduzione e l’eventuale lettura di queste opere, proprio per il fatto che i codici linguistici di questi due paesi, oggi realtà statali indipendenti, sono reciprocamente comprensibili per i loro cittadini (ciò significa che gli slovacchi sono in grado di leggere e comprendere testi in lingua ceca e viceversa). Nel caso della traduzione delle testimonianze di Levi, suscitò grande interesse nei lettori slovacchi proprio l’ultimo saggio I sommersi e i salvati nell’edizione ceca 1993 (la traduzione slovacca sarebbe uscita solo dieci anni più tardi)[17].

Altre opere che prima erano in contrasto con i metodi utilizzati per la politica culturale (neoavanguardia, neosperimentalismo o anche la già citata letteratura industriale in Italia) non sono state tradotte neanche dopo l’89 a causa della perdita di interesse e di significato, non essendo più di attualità e non trovando spazio nel contesto della cultura di arrivo.

Le opere degli autori cattolici, come anche le raffigurazioni di Dio nelle opere d’arte, erano spesso marginalizzate. Dato che il regime socialista aveva cancellato gli editori cattolici slovacca, in particolare Spolok svätého Vojtecha, non era più possibile pubblicare libri di stampo religioso in forma di traduzione di opere straniere. Il problema ideologico consisteva nella forte presenza letteraria e sociale di alcuni sacerdoti – immigrati slovacchi in Italia o in Vaticano – rappresentanti della cosiddetta “moderna cattolica“ e considerati come opposizione politica e culturale (Gorazd Zvonický, Eugen Vesnin, Jozef Vavrovič, Štefan Náhalka, Michal Lacko e altri)[18]. Dopo l’89, con la liberalizzazione del mercato, le case editrici cattoliche (già esistenti o nuove) ripresero la loro attività con un piano editoriale prettamente religioso e riguardante spesso temi controversi. Di conseguenza possiamo affermare che questo tipo di letteratura si sia automarginalizzato, formando così una rete letteraria parallela a quella di massa. Come eccezione possiamo considerare alcuni libri che per il loro forte messaggio morale e il successo all’estero si sono inserite nel mercato di massa, come ad es. il libro di Gianna Beretta e Pietro Molla (ed. Elio Guerriero) Le lettere, tradotto in slovacco da Alžbeta Šúplatová come Listy o i libri per i bambini, basati sulle storie della Bibbia. In generale possiamo definire la letteratura di stampo cattolico come letteratura di minoranza con traduzioni dall’italiano, oltre alle eccezioni sopracitate, piuttosto rare a livello di mercato (mancano ad es. le statistiche delle pubblicazioni e le recensioni nelle riviste letterarie specializzate). Si tratta quindi di pubblicazioni destinate ad un certo tipo di pubblico con il supporto finanziario della Chiesa (anche per questo motivo nel nostro schema registriamo la polarità “meno“ prima del 1989 e “più“ dopo il 1989)[19].     

Sfortunatamente dopo l’89 la poesia italiana contemporanea è rimasta quasi sconosciuta. Proprio nell’anno 1989 uscì una raccolta di poesie Dialogo con tempo [Rozhovor s časom] di vari poeti degli anni Settanta ed Ottanta, inclusi quelli della linea lombarda, i poeti del Sud (Cosimo Fornaro, Dante Maffa), ma anche le poesie di Vittorio Sereni, Mario Luzi, Giorgio Caproni, ecc.[20] La selezione dei testi, ed in particolare le caratteristiche degli autori e delle opere alla fine dell’antologia mostrava come la libertà dei critici nelle analisi fosse ancora limitata – la raccolta è stata pubblicata nell’89, mentre la traduzione e la preparazione dei materiali erano precedenti a questa data, quindi non possiamo ancora considerare questa pubblicazione come propriamente pluralista.

Dopo questa raccolta sono uscite alcune traduzioni, soprattutto alla base di scelte personali dei traduttori, come ad es. i testi di Giovanni Dotoli Appunti di neve, di Tiziana Colusso Il sanscrito del corpo e Poesie di Enzo Ricchi, ma questi autori – anche se la loro qualità letteraria è senza dubbio altissima, non possiamo considerare come i più significativi poeti italiani contemporanei.       

Gli italianisti, i traduttologi e gli esperti di scienza letteraria avrebbero quindi il compito di colmare tali lacune della storia letteraria italiana nella cultura di arrivo. Certamente, non sarà facile completare il percorso evolutivo della letteratura italiana in traduzione slovacca, proprio perchè alcune opere non sono più attraenti per il mercato.

6. Verso i nuovi obbiettivi

Il tentativo di stabilire un elenco di opere non tradotte della produzione letteraria italiana da parte di alcuni traduttologi, come ad esempio la sopracitata Sabolová, ancora negli anni Novanta del secolo scorso, non ha riscontrato la dovuta considerazione in ambito commerciale, il quale continua ad operare secondo le leggi del mercato. Il semplice post-inserimento di certe opere subito dopo i cambiamenti politici e culturali dell’89 non può essere considerato come una soluzione efficace nel colmare le lacune nella storia della traduzione, non trattandosi di un processo chiuso, ma in continua evoluzione. Serve invece una ricerca continua, sistematica e soprattutto obiettiva (anche rispettando i principi del mercato) di inserimento nella cultura di arrivo di almeno quelle opere o autori che possiamo definire pilastri della letteratura italiana, contestualizzandoli in modo adeguato nell’ambito delle traduzioni già presenti nella cultura di ricezione.

Il tentativo di eliminare la stereotipizzazione della letteratura italiana unicamente colmando le lacune della traduzione con l’inserimento di alcune opere e autori, può apparire, dal punto di vista della ricezione, un fatto positivo. Tuttavia riscontriamo alcuni fattori in tale processo, che costituiscono degli elementi di disturbo:   

  • possibile sopravvalutazione di certi autori – ad es. nel periodo tra il 2000 e il 2009, nei quali dominava Italo Calvino rispetto ad altri autori nelle traduzioni slovacche (in un solo anno, il 2002, sono uscite le traduzioni di ben tre dei suoi libri: Il Barone rampante, Il cavaliere inesistente e Sotto il sole giaguaro);
  • frammentazione dell’evoluzione della ricezione – pars pro toto – una o due opere, rappresentanti una certa corrente o stile sono spesso tradotte solo per le riviste letterarie e quindi non sono sufficienti per la comprensione del contesto e dei diversi fenomeni della letteratura italiana;
  • soggettività e mancanza di una vera concezione del processo di traduzione nell’ambito della scelta delle opere e degli autori da tradurre (spesso alla base delle decisioni o suggerimenti del traduttore) – per esempio caso Sabolová già sopra citato – l’ autrice parla «delle opere e degli autori che bisognerebbe inserire nella ricezione slovacca dalla letteratura italiana» (Sabolová, 1998, 150);
  • scontro tra la politica editoriale e il bisogno dell’inserimento di alcune opere per l’arricchimento della cultura d’arrivo (scontro tra l’approccio economico e culturale).

In ambito scientifico assumono un ruolo fondamentale anche le riviste letterarie, le antologie dei testi ed anche le critiche e le recensioni nei quotidiani. Innanzittutto i quotidiani che danno spazio alla letteratura straniera, inclusa quella italiana, possono contribuire a creare o cambiare certi stereotipi per mezzo della descrizione e recensione di determinate opere e sincronizzare (dal punto di vista temporale) le tematiche, forme o generi con la cultura di arrivo[21].

Le opere da tradurre per rendere efficace la sincronizzazione con la situazione attuale nella letteratura italiana e l’eliminazione delle divergenze temporali, formali e tematiche tra la cultura di partenza e quella di arrivo costituiscono gli elementi positivi, che contribuiscono a migliorare il processo di ricezione della letteratura italiana nel suo complesso e in maniera più coerente.


Questo articolo è il risultato del progetto scientifico VEGA 1/0214/20  I rapporti slovacco-italiani dopo il 1989 nel contesto del superamento della tradizione e della nascita dei nuovi modelli di ricezione.  


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[1] Cfr. gli studi di Armando Gnisci o Gnisci-Ďurišin (2000), p.es. Il Mediterraneo. Una rete interletteraria.

[2] Cfr. Brenkusová, Ľubica (2009) “Niekoľko poznámok k mysleniu o recepcii“ in: Preklad a tlmočenie 8. Preklad a tlmočenie v interdisciplinárnej reflexii. Mária Hardošová e Zdenko Dobrík (eds), Banská Bystrica, Fakulta humanitných vied, Univerzita Mateja Bela: 23-7.

[3] Cfr. gli studi di Libuša Vajdová sulla Polysystem Theory (Itamar Even-Zohar e Gideon Toury in relazione a Mikuláš Bakoš e Dionýz Ďurišin, 2007), su Pierre Bourdieu (2007) o gli studi di Braňo Hochel (1990) sugli aspetti sociologici nella ricezione (Anthony Pym, Pierre Bourdieu, Zuzana Jettmárová, Miriam Schlesingerová).

[4] Gli anni tra il 1945 e il 1948 nel contesto storico cecoslovacco non possono essere giudicati come non democratici. In questo periodo nel governo cecoslovacco erano presenti non solo gli esponenti del Partito Comunista, ma anche del Partito Democratico. Inoltre la cultura non era ancora stata influenzata in maniera massiccia dall’ideologia e dagli interventi repressivi sull’ambiente culturale generale. Si registrano cambiamenti significativi a livello istituzionale e legislativo a partire dal 1948.

[5] Sui termini “censura“ ed “autocensura“ nella letteratura contemporanea cfr. Pucherová, Dorota (2018).

[6] Sulla concezione della letteratura mondiale, cfr. i lavori scientifici di Dionýz Ďurišin, soprattutto Čo je svetová literatúra? che collaborava con il comparatista italiano Armando Gnisci. Ďurišin e Gnisci hanno trovato un punto comune nella categorizzazione delle letterature, l’aspetto interletterario e interculturale, ma soprattutto nella precisione terminologica. A questo proposito ricordiamo il libro della scienziata letteraria e traduttologa Anna Valcerová Svetová literatúra [Letteratura mondiale], che analizza le differenze strutturali e terminologiche tra la concezione della letteratura mondiale di Dionýz Ďurišin e di Harold Bloom. Valcerová alla base delle sue analisi giunse alla conclusione che si tratta di due concezioni assolutamente diverse e opposte. Bloom parla della formazione del canone universale/occidentale che secondo Bertazzoli «si basa sulla presunta supremazia di autori e opere che sono assurti ad auctoritates indiscusse nie giudizi, in quanto interpreti di valori universali» (2006: 111) Bertazzoli riporta anche la idea di Bernardelli e Cesarani sul canone letterario che costituisce le basi di una cultura condivisa e fornisce i modelli da seguire o imitare.

[7] Cfr. il libro di Umberto Eco Dire quasi la stessa cosa al paragrafo 7.1., in cui fa riferimento agli studi di Steiner, sottolineando i passaggi tra due lingue e soprattutto tra due culture e mostrando la comprensibilità o meno di alcuni testi per il lettore contemporaneo che non conosca il lessico dell’epoca, nè il background culturale degli autori (2013:162).

[8] La pubblicazione è stata nominata dai critici letterari slovacchi come Il libro dell’anno 2019.

[9] Cfr. Šuša, Ivan e Prando, Patrizia (2018) “Slovenská a talianska industriálna literatúra – medzi ideológiou a literatúrou“, Slavica Litteraria, no. 21/ 2: 71-82.

[10] Cfr. Laš, Matej (2019) e Bachledová, Marianna (2018). Entrambi gli autori analizzano l’aspetto ideologico nel contesto della ricezione slovacca di testi letterari concreti, ad es. Bachledová si basa sulle prefazioni o postfazioni che spesso accompagnavano il testo principale delle opere (tradotte dalle lingue straniere in slovacco) e che spesso erano influenzate dall’aspetto ideologico come l’intervento dell’editore.

[11] La traduzione del libro di Trevi da parte di František Hruška come Niečo napísané è stata nominata al Premio Ján Hollý per la miglior traduzione dalla lingua straniera in slovacco.   

[12] Per approfondire cfr. anche Šuša, Ivan (2011) Komparatistické a prekladové aspekty v slovensko-talianskych medziliterárnych vzťahoch, Banská Bystrica, Fakulta humanitných vied, Univerzita Mateja Bela.

[13] Cfr. anche Rundle Christopher (2019) Il vizio dell’esterofilia. Editoria e traduzioni nell’Italia fascista, Roma, Carroci e Prando, Patrizia (2011) “Riflessioni sull‘uso del pensiero letterario nella legittimazione intelettuale e culturale di teorie e pratiche discriminatorie: il caso italiano nella Difesa della razza“ in Lingue e letterature romanze : stato attuale e prospettive, Massimo Arcangeli (ed), Roma, Aracnè Editrice: 233-51.

[14] La comunità ebraica era vista dal regime totalitario come sinonimo di capitalismo e proprietà, mentre le autorità statali volevano divulgare nel paese una filosofia ben diversa, che prevedeva la statalizzazione dei beni e della produzione propria – il regime predicava la politica dell’ugualianza per tutti. Gli ebrei invece erano considerati diversi non solo all’interno dello Stato, ma anche nel contesto internazionale (soprattutto a causa della cooperazione geopolitica dello Stato di Israele con gli Stati Uniti, che rappresentavano il lato opposto del blocco dei paesi satelliti dell’Unione Sovietica. Gli ebrei come minoranza religiosa (inclusi anche altri esponenti di altre religioni e minoranze) non facevano più parte delle tabelle ufficiali e la Cecoslovacchia era vista solo come uno stato composto da esclusivamente da due popoli. Secondo Ivan Kamenec, la ricerca sull’argomento dal punto di vista storico, sociologico o letterario «aveva continuato in manieta semilegale « (2005: 13). Come aggiunge Viliam Marčok, la tematica ebraica, anche a livello di storia della letteratura slovacca e straniera, incluse le traduzioni, era diventata «non richiesta e marginalizzata fino all’obligo di tacere« (1998: 28).

[15] Cfr. Šuša, Ivan e Prando, Patrizia (2008) “Le traduzioni di Primo Levi nel contesto interletterario slovacco-italiano“ in La traduzione come strumento di interazione culturale e linguistica, Luca Busetto (ed), Milano, Qu. A. S. A. R.: 295-14.

[16] Per approfondire cfr. Šuša, Ivan e Prando, Patrizia (2008) “Le traduzioni di Primo Levi nel contesto interletterario slovacco-italiano“ in La traduzione come strumento di interazione culturale e linguistica, Luca Busetto (ed), Milano, Qu. A. S. A. R.: 295-14.

[17] Possiamo constatare che la memorialistica italiana sulla Shoah abbia raggiunto un certo successo da parte dei lettori slovacchi. A questo proposito osserviamo anche la crescita parallela delle pubblicazioni degli autori slovacchi sopravvissuti ai campi di sterminio, formando quindi un quadro abbastanza completo in tale ambito (ad esempio Leo Kohút, Juraj Špitzer, Hilda Hrabovecká e altri).

[18] Cfr. anche Cabadaj, Peter (2002). Slovenský literárny exil, Martin, Matica slovenská.

[19] Sui rapporti tra la letteratura slovacca e italiana con un accento particolare sulla letteratura religiosa, cfr. la monografia di Dušan Kováč-Petrovský (2014) Ponti interculturali slovacco-italiani: due fonti slovacche, Milano, Vita e Pensiero.

[20] L’italianista slovacco di Nitra Fabiano Gritti nella sua nuova monografia La poesia antilirica (2019) presenta ai lettori slovacchi le poesie di Edoardo Sanguinetti con particolare attenzione sulla poetica di Laborintus, si occupa anche delle opere e della poetica di Adriano Spatola nel contesto del surrealismo ed anche della neoavanguaradia e del neosperimentalismo in Italia.

[21] Anche Jeremy Munday e Meg Brown pongono l’accento sul ruolo e l’importanza delle recensioni, dato che «rappresentano un insieme di reazioni all’autore e al testo e formano una parte della sotto-area critica della traduzione presente nella mappa di Holmes» (2012: 210). Munday nel suo case study evidenzia le domande di ricerca, tra le quali ne emergono due fondamentali, riguardanti l´importante ruolo del traduttore nelle recensioni: quanto puó essere visibile il traduttore nelle recensioni e come viene giudicato da parte dei recensori? In nostri diversi studi sulla ricezione della letteratura italiana nella cultura slovacca, in particolare nella monografia dal titolo Talianska literatúra v slovenskom prekladovo-recepčnom kontexte po roku 1989 ci siamo occupati di analizzare decine di recensioni, dalle quali risulta che solo raramente venivano espressi giudizi sui testi attraverso determinati principi, a parte le recensioni presenti nelle riviste slovacche Revue svetovej literatúry, Romboid, Slovenské pohľady, Knižná revue, Pravda, Sme. Queste riviste o giornali hanno sempre prestato attenzione anche all’aspetto traduttologico, inclusa la presentazione del traduttore, del suo profilo scientifico-letterario e del suo eventuale contributo all´interno dei rapporti interletterari ed interculturali slovacco-italiani. Ďurišin considera le recensioni e le critiche come una parte fondamentale della “contattologia” [kontaktológia], che crea un rapporto (“il contatto”) tra due sistemi letterari e culturali. (1992: 75).

About the author(s)

Ivan Susa teaches Slovak Language and Culture in Department of Interpreting and Translation of University of Bologna. He is Associated Professor at Comenius University in Bratislava (Slovacchia) in Translation Studies. He holds a PhD. in Philology and Comparative Literature in Masaryk University of Brno (Czech Republic). His reaserch area includes Literary Translation, Comparative Literature and especially Slovak and Italian Interliterary Relations. Among his main publications belong Italian Literature in Slovak Translations and Reception after year 1989 (Banská Bystrica: 2018), Areal Intersections in Slovak and Italian Memoir Literature (Hradec Králové: 2015), Holocaust in Italian and Slovak Memoir Literature (Hradec Králové: 2011). He is a chief editor of magazine New Philologic Revue, member of scientific board of magazine Romanistica Comeniana, member of International Comparative Literature Association (ICLA) and Czech and Slovak Comparative Literature Association.

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©inTRAlinea & Ivan Susa (2021).
"La letteratura italiana attraverso i modelli di ricezione nella cultura slovacca prima e dopo il 1989", inTRAlinea Vol. 23.

This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/index.php/archive/article/2566

La direction d’une formation en traduction comme acte politique

By Nicolas Froeliger (Université de Paris, France)

Abstract & Keywords


If translation, in some cases, amounts to a political act, then the training of translators has to be one also. But how can such topic be tackled in a scientific manner? The difficulty, here, lies in the ethical (personal and professional) nature of the question, and at this stage, the best one can do is to suggest pathways for research. In a world where points of view are highly dependent on the position one occupies, the author of this paper assumes the stance of a former pragmatic translator turned head of a translator program. He first outlines the major changes that have taken place in the profession over the past decades, and the various possible reactions (if any) to those changes, before reflecting on the value systems involved in those reactions. Finally, the author attempts to justify the choice, made by a number of translation programs in Europe and beyond, of professionalization. And in order to overcome the contradictions with the involved points of view, including between a necessary professionalization and the generous idea of translation as a common public good, he suggests a concentric approach, where professional ethics is surrounded by, and subject to, personal ethics.


Si la traduction, dans certains cas, est un acte politique, alors comment la formation des traductrices et traducteurs pourrait-elle ne pas l’être ? Et accessoirement, comment traiter avec les outils de la scientificité cette question, qui est de nature déontologique et éthique, et comporte donc une part importante de subjectivité ? Cet article entend esquisser des réponses à ces deux questions. Il est l’œuvre (subjective, donc) d’un ancien traducteur, devenu responsable de formation en France, ce qui constitue l’un des multiples points d’entrée dans ce sujet. Il s’agit, pour tenter de faire le tour de cette question, d’actualiser l’image de la profession de traducteur, en revenant sur les bouleversements qu’elle a connus depuis quelques décennies, avant de dessiner les positionnements envisageables face à ces évolutions, pour ensuite remonter aux systèmes de valeurs qui justifient ces positionnements, et enfin de justifier le choix, opéré par de nombreux masters en traduction en Europe et ailleurs, de la professionnalisation. Choix qui, néanmoins, ne résout pas à lui seul la question du rôle nouveau qui doit être dévolu à la traduction dans la société tout entière. Au-delà et au-dessus de la préoccupation déontologique, il faut donc mettre en œuvre une réflexion de nature éthique.

Keywords: translator training, political commitment, professionalisation, ethics, formation, ethics in translation, professionnalisation, déontologie, éthique

©inTRAlinea & Nicolas Froeliger (2021).
"La direction d’une formation en traduction comme acte politique", inTRAlinea Vol. 23.

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Les bouleversements que connaît depuis quelques années la traduction, à la fois comme profession et comme fonction sociale, posent de façon aigüe la question du rôle des formations qui y préparent.[1] À ce titre, beaucoup des interrogations que l’on observe en général dans le champ politique peuvent également être appliquées au positionnement de ces formations et de leurs responsables : à quoi servons-nous (sous-entendu, quel est le rôle d’un diplôme dans une profession qui s’en était fort bien passé auparavant) ? Qui servons-nous (la science, le marché, les entreprises, la profession, la société tout entière...) ? Dans quel univers (progrès de la traduction automatique, migrations, développement des linguae francae, éclatement de la profession en une multitude de métiers, rapprochement des fonctions traduction et interprétation...) ? Avec quels alliés (les associations, les pouvoirs publics, les entreprises) ? ; contre quels adversaires (les associations, les pouvoirs publics, les entreprises...) ? Avec quelles régulations ? L’ensemble de ces questions se posent à l’intérieur de chaque pays, mais aussi à l’échelle européenne, et dans une certaine mesure mondiale. Ainsi, la Chine s’est dotée de 253 nouveaux masters de traduction entre 2009 et 2019, ce qui aura forcément une incidence à terme... Avec des réponses et à partir de principes ou de cadres juridiques qui peuvent être sans commune mesure. Et bien sûr, la recherche n’est pas épargnée par une telle problématique : quel positionnement par rapport à la formation professionnelle ; la traductologie, discipline appliquée s’il en est, peut-elle mériter le nom de science ? ; est-ce se salir les mains que de se consacrer à de tels domaines (et donc, y-a-t-il une recherche noble et une recherche plébéienne ?), etc. Après que de nombreux travaux ont montré que la neutralité était un concept douteux en traduction, j’entends témoigner qu’il en va de même pour la neutralité des formateurs et des formations dans ce domaine – ce qui pose un délicat problème épistémologique. J'entends donc faire ressortir le caractère politique que revêt, à mon sens, la direction d’une formation en traduction en commençant par actualiser l’image que l’on peut se faire de cette profession, avant de m'interroger sur les positionnements constatés face à ces évolutions, puis sur les systèmes de valeurs sous-jacents, pour justifier enfin le choix, opéré par de nombreux masters en traduction en Europe et ailleurs, de la professionnalisation.

1. Des points d’entrée dans l’observation de la traduction

Avant de développer ces différents aspects, je me sens néanmoins retenu par une forme de gêne. En effet, je n'ai pas la totale certitude que les idées en question soient véritablement scientifiques. Je compte en outre traiter d'un sujet qui peut être tenu en suspicion (ou pire) par certains. Je serais plus à l'aise, pour en parler, dans un cadre associatif, dans des forums qui réunissent d'autres responsables de formation, ou avec des représentants de l’univers professionnel – ce qui est au demeurant une pratique courante chez les responsables de formation. Si je le suis moins dans cette publication, c'est qu’en guise de bases théoriques sur lesquelles fonder mon propos, je suis plutôt armé d’une conviction, forgée par l’expérience[2]. Donc subjective. Plus qu'une question scientifique, donc, je vois là un problème éthique et déontologique. D’où le choix, dans le présent article, de la première personne du singulier. Au demeurant, c'est peut-être précisément cela que l'on peut qualifier d'acte politique. Ce que ne contesterait pas non plus, j’espère, Mona Baker (2001 : 11-12), qui écrit que toute recherche peut légitimement être considérée comme une forme d’action politique. J’y reviendrai.

C’est qu’il y a différents points d’entrée pour parler de traduction : on peut y accéder par le prisme de la littérature, de la culture, de l’art, de l’économie, de la technique (au sens de technique de traduction, mais aussi de traduction technique). Mais aussi par celui du social et de la vie professionnelle, ce qui n’est pas la même chose, et peut même être délicat à articuler. Autant de positionnements, autant d’habitus, pour emprunter un terme familier aux sociologues. Peut-être, dans ces conditions, n'est-il pas inutile d’en dire un peu plus sur ce qui informe – et peut-être déforme – mon point de vue. Ce point de vue est celui d'un ancien traducteur professionnel (17 ans passés à la tête d'une petite société de traducteurs) devenu enseignant-chercheur en traduction, impliqué dans le monde des formations en France et en Europe (AFFUMT : Association française des formations universitaires aux métiers de la traduction ; EMT : master européen en traduction...) et coresponsable, en France, d'un master professionnel organisé, c'est important, selon le régime de l'alternance. En vertu de ce système, qui existe aussi, avec des variantes, au Canada et en Allemagne, les étudiants de master 2 sont rémunérés par l'entreprise qui les emploie, et qui juridiquement les délègue à l'université 21 semaines par an. Vingt-six autres semaines, soit une sur deux entre septembre et juin, plus la totalité des mois de juillet et d'août, sont passés au sein de l'entreprise (le master 1 est classiquement organisé en deux semestres de 12 semaines chacun). Ajoutons cinq semaines de congés payés et nous avons douze mois bien remplis. Diriger une telle formation fournit ainsi un bon point d'observation à la fois pour les évolutions du marché de la traduction et pour les différends que peut susciter le débat sur la relation entre université et monde du travail. Et comme il n'est pas de pensée libre qui ne s'interroge sur ses propres présupposés, c'est un lieu idéal pour se demander au service de qui, fondamentalement, j'exerce cette fonction. Cela fait donc partie des questions que je me pose à moi-même. Néanmoins, il va de soi que mon cas personnel a très peu d'importance, et c'est la raison pour laquelle je compte bien élargir le débat, en suggérant une position que je crois valable – ou en tout cas défendable – au-delà des particularités individuelles ou nationales. Disons que j'y vois l'occasion de proposer des éléments de doctrine et de discussion, sans certitude absolue sur le bien-fondé de mes positions : c’est une invitation au dialogue.

2. De l’obsolescence de nos représentations

Commençons par une image d’archive, hélas de trop mauvaise qualité pour être reproduite ici : une photographie du comité directeur de la Société française des traducteurs (SFT), la principale association française dans ce domaine (et d’ailleurs, à l’époque, la seule) dans les années 1950. Qu’y voit-on ? Des hommes, en costume, et qui fument. La seule femme (en chapeau) se trouve devant une machine à écrire : c’est une secrétaire. Voilà comment on s’est longtemps représenté la profession : masculine, solitaire, libérale. Une profession à laquelle on accédait par les hasards de l'existence, que l’on considérait comme un art ou un artisanat, avec des modes de fonctionnement séculaires, voire millénaires (en témoignent deux titres fameux : Sous l’invocation de Saint Jérôme, de Larbaud [1946], De Cicéron à Benjamin, de Ballard [1992]), fonctionnant à la confiance (rareté des contrats écrits) et alignée sur les principes de la traduction littéraire. Un univers peuplé, selon l’expression de Daniel Moskowitz (lui-même pendant trente ans directeur de la section traduction de l’ESIT/École supérieure d’interprètes et de traducteurs, à Paris, cité par Ladmiral, 1972 : 6-7), d’« esthètes » (les traducteurs littéraires) et de « mercenaires » (ceux que l’on n’appelait pas encore traducteurs pragmatiques). Et qui d’ailleurs n’attendaient pas grand-chose de l’institution universitaire, considérant globalement qu'apprendre la traduction dans un établissement supérieur, ou s'intéresser à une quelconque théorie de la traduction, était dans le meilleur des cas inutile, dans le pire, nuisible. Beaucoup a déjà été dit, à différentes époques, sur ce point (« Tout se passe comme si vivaient côte à côte une théorie toujours alléguée, mais à laquelle les théoriciens ne croient pas vraiment eux-mêmes, et une pratique à peu près sans influence contre cette théorie. » Mounin, 1955 : 7, ou « Il s'agit de tenter d'en finir, au moins sur le plan des principes, avec quelques idées reçues concernant la traduction. Particulièrement celle qui oppose la théorie à la pratique, les théoriciens et les praticiens. Et qui vient des praticiens. » Meschonnic, 1999 : 20), il est donc inutile de s’y appesantir.

Aujourd’hui, cette image sent le sépia et le sapin : elle n’a plus de pertinence, sauf peut-être dans certains esprits. Il faut l’actualiser. En effet, si l’on prend le cas français,

  • plus de 80 pour cent des traducteurs professionnels sont des traductrices ;
  • la majorité d'entre elles et d’entre eux, surtout chez les plus jeunes, possèdent un diplôme en traduction (60,44 pour cent en 2015, contre 52,07 pour cent en 2008, selon le sondage SFT sur les pratiques réalisé en 2015, question 7) ;
  • ils sont pour la plupart rompus à la pratique de la traduction assistée par ordinateur (TAO), de la traduction automatique et d’autres outils informatiques : à 78,42 pour cent, selon le sondage SFT 2015 (question 15), contre déjà presque 65 pour cent en 2008 ;
  • ils ont désormais pour pratique courante de travailler à partir de devis, voire d’appels d’offres, et sur la base de bons de commande ;
  • la traduction littéraire, ou plus largement la traduction d'édition, représente, selon les estimations les plus généreuses, entre 3 et 10 pour cent du poids économique du secteur, le reste de la profession se répartissant en une grande variété de métiers, qui évoluent rapidement et entre lesquels on constate une grande porosité : traducteurs, certes, mais aussi réviseurs, chefs de projet, terminologues, localisateurs, postéditeurs, rédacteurs/communicateurs techniques, transcréateurs, ingénieurs linguistes (voir par exemple Cronin, 2013). Ce qui n’est pas sans poser des problèmes d’ergonomie (voir par exemple Ehrensberger-Dow et Massey, 2019)... ;
  • à l’ère des mégadonnées (big data, en franglais), l’accès aux corpus y tient un rôle de plus en plus important, ne serait-ce que pour nourrir les mémoires de traduction et extraire les éléments terminologiques et phraséologiques (voir par exemple Loock, 2016, ou Gledhill et Kübler, 2015). De ce fait, on assiste à une redéfinition du service prêté, dans le sens d’une prise en charge de la communication multilingue des organisations, à des fins internes ou externes ;
  • ce monde s'est doté, diversement selon les pays, d'instances de régulation qui dialoguent et se concertent : le master européen en traduction (EMT), en place depuis 2009, et qui regroupe depuis 2019 81 membres, le projet PAMCIT (Pan African Master’s Consortium in Interpreting and Translation) en Afrique... ;
  • le paradigme dominant, porté par différentes théories, qui s'accordent au moins sur ce point, est celui de la communication.

Pour peu que l’on reste sous l’emprise du modèle d’il y a quelques décennies, on pourrait donc se sentir comme Saint Jérôme, qui écrivait après la défaite d’Andrinople contre les Goths, en l’an 378 de notre ère : « à présent les Barbares sévissent à travers notre pays, et tout n’est plus qu’incertitude. » (Von Campenhausen 1969 : 176) Ces évolutions posent accessoirement des problèmes de délimitation (où s'arrêtent les métiers de la traduction ?) et de définition (comment continuer de caractériser la traduction comme hyperonyme de ce vaste ensemble, et le faut-il même ?). Parmi les multiples définitions proposées pour le mot traduction, c’est peut-être finalement celle de Daniel Gouadec qui semble ici la plus pertinente : « toute forme de traitement d’un déséquilibre entre langues et cultures » (Gouadec 2005 : 16). Dès lors que l'on se voit confier la responsabilité d'un diplôme, il faut pourtant se positionner. Ce qui nous conduit à observer, schématiquement, trois approches :

  • on peut d’abord considérer que ces évolutions n'ont aucun rapport avec la fonction de l'université, et donc les ignorer, au nom d’une nécessaire séparation entre les deux univers. Cela revient à continuer d'enseigner la traduction à partir de la représentation séculaire que l'on se fait de cette fonction, sans se préoccuper des conditions pratiques d’exercice ;
  • on peut aussi transposer cette distinction entre ce qui est noble et ce qui ne l'est pas à l'intérieur des formations, qui seront alors alignées soit sur la traduction des « grands textes », pour se situer dans la filiation de Berman, soit sur les salariés des grandes organisations internationales – et en particulier les interprètes de conférence. Les premiers sont en effet porteurs d'un prestige symbolique (la haute littérature) hérité de la traduction des textes sacrés ; les seconds, d'une réussite financière enviable, que l'on trouve également sur le segment « haut de gamme » du marché (voir par exemple Mesa 2018) ;
  • on peut enfin estimer que ces changements survenus dans le monde professionnel sont déterminants pour la fonction qui est la nôtre, c'est-à-dire que nous n'avons pas à émettre de jugement à leur sujet, mais simplement à les considérer comme des faits auxquels il s'agit de s'adapter.

3. Des systèmes de valeurs à l’œuvre dans nos représentations

Chacune de ces approches est bien sûr justifiée à l’intérieur de son système de valeurs propre. La première voit l'université comme un lieu situé hors du monde et capable, à ce titre, d'analyser les mécanismes et les évolutions de ce monde, jusqu'à faire pièce aux tendances, aux effets de mode, aux idéologies du moment. Un point d’ancrage et de résistance, en somme. Cette posture s’inscrit dans une longue tradition : dès le Moyen Âge, c'est-à-dire dès les premières universités, celles-ci, au même titre que les églises, étaient des lieux où la puissance publique n'avait pas le droit de pénétrer de son propre chef (voir par exemple Caisse des dépôts et consignation et Conférence des présidents d’université, 2010, paragraphe 3.2.2)[3]. On en trouve une actualisation, en France, dans les deux principaux slogans entendus lors des mouvements d’opposition aux réformes survenues ces dix dernières années : « L’université n’est pas à vendre », « Le savoir n’est pas une marchandise ». La priorité sera ici à la formation de citoyens aptes à poser un regard critique. La traduction en tant qu’idéal platonicien et outil pour la conduite d’une pensée libre y trouve son compte ; la citoyenneté aussi. Les traducteurs... peut-être.

La deuxième approche, à partir des années 50, inverse les données du problème : elle conduit à repenser non seulement la formation, mais aussi la recherche à partir du monde professionnel, et plus précisément des composantes de ce monde qui apparaissent les plus légitimes et les plus visibles. En espérant, dans le meilleur des cas, un effet d'entraînement. C’est une démarche militante, qui vise la conquête d’une légitimité. Ce qui a supposé, en recherche, de rompre, parfois violemment, avec la linguistique ou la littérature comparée, et a engendré une traductologie souvent plus prescriptive que descriptive, avec un désir affiché de faire école. Dans la sphère francophone, cela a donné la théorie interprétative de la traduction (TIT) ; dans les pays de langue allemande, le courant fonctionnaliste. Cette fois-ci, c’est bien de traducteurs – et, en France, surtout d’interprètes – qu’il est question, plus que de traduction en général. Mais d’abord d’une certaine catégorie de traducteurs. Ce qui revient dans une large mesure à envisager et à structurer le monde de la traduction comme un système de castes.

La troisième approche est celle des formations professionnelles, ou plus exactement professionnalisantes plus récentes, c’est-à-dire créées pour beaucoup au début des années 1990. Celles-ci entendent former des individus à l'exercice rémunéré, si possible bien rémunéré, de leur profession, mais en s’adressant à l’ensemble de celle-ci. Cette fois, le jugement a priori sur ce qui est noble et sur ce qui est plébéien a disparu. Ce qui suppose, évidemment, de tenir compte de ce marché qui n'a pas, dans nos murs, que des amis.

Chacune de ces instances, et c’est normal, aspire à être celle qui va définir la norme pour l'ensemble du secteur. Si la question était de savoir s’il existe une neutralité axiologique des formateurs à travers leurs actes et leurs positionnements, la réponse serait donc clairement non – qu’on en soit conscient ou pas. C’est la différence entre l’idéologie et les postures assumées.

Au final, et au risque de schématiser, le problème serait celui du degré d'acceptation dont l'institution universitaire se sent capable par rapport au monde extérieur – et réciproquement. Je serais ainsi tenté de dire que la première option, celle de l’université comme lieu hors du monde, est de nature philosophique, au sens où elle entend se régler sur une forme de sagesse, au sens fort du terme. Avec en miroir celle des professionnels du passé pour lesquels la meilleure relation avec l’université était précisément une absence de relation, et qui pourrait être qualifiée de corporatiste (voir supra les citations de Mounin et Meschonnic). La deuxième approche procédera, selon les points de vue, d'une vision hiérarchisée de la profession, ou d'une posture d’avant-garde – au risque de se couper des évolutions majoritaires du monde professionnel. La dernière, celle que, modestement, je prône, aspire à avoir une action sur le réel à partir des données mêmes de ce réel. Ces deux dernières postures sont à proprement parler politiques, même si leurs positionnements respectifs sont différents.

4. Pourquoi la professionnalisation ?

Le problème, ici, est que, selon les options choisies, tel ou tel acteur du secteur apparaîtra tantôt comme un allié tantôt comme un adversaire, voire comme un épouvantail… Ces acteurs étant donc les professionnels, les agences de traduction, les utilisateurs de services de traduction ou les institutions, considérés les uns et les autres individuellement ou à travers leurs représentants, notamment associatifs. Sans oublier ces instances abstraites, mais à l'influence bien réelle que Cornelius Castoriadis (1975) appelait des « significations imaginaires sociales » : la science, la langue, la diversité, la citoyenneté, l'émancipation...

Mon opinion personnelle est que, formateur, je suis avant tout au service d'étudiants qu'il s'agit d'armer le mieux possible pour la confrontation avec des employeurs (pour les futurs salariés) et des donneurs d'ordre (pour les indépendants). Ce qui nécessite de les former en fonction des évolutions de ce marché ; et que les priver de ces moyens aboutirait à les placer en position d'infériorité dans ce rapport de force. Voire à les condamner au chômage ou à l’exploitation, faute de compétences suffisamment valorisables (voir à ce sujet le référentiel de compétences du réseau EMT, 2017). Cela suppose de considérer notamment les entreprises comme des interlocuteurs et comme des partenaires. D'où le choix, dans le cas du master professionnel que je codirige[4], de l'alternance. Choix qui a fait l'objet, à ses débuts (la formation en question existe depuis 1990), de vives polémiques : pour beaucoup, cela équivalait à donner les clés de l'université aux entreprises, alors qu’un siècle plus tôt, tout avait été fait (en France, en tout cas) pour leur retirer cette prérogative… Je crois que c’est exactement le contraire, et qu’il faut aller au contact, sans être naïf. Certes, certains acteurs économiques seront toujours tentés de peser sur ce qui se passe à l'intérieur de nos murs. Dans ce cas, les responsables de formation doivent se sentir suffisamment solides sur leurs bases universitaires pour les remettre — poliment — à leur place. Dialoguer, oui ; mais entre égaux. Ce qu'il s'agit de faire, finalement, c’est de négocier des interdépendances entre formations, professionnels, entreprises et pouvoirs publics, en faisant en sorte que chacun reste souverain dans le domaine qui est le sien, sans l'emporter sur les autres, mais en étant entendu. Ce qui pourrait être une définition opératoire d’un espace démocratique.

La question, finalement, est de savoir si nous sommes satisfaits du monde qui nous entoure. Et qui nous entoure en deux cercles concentriques. Il y a tout d'abord la situation des traducteurs aujourd'hui, en plein bouleversement, nous l'avons vu, avec à la fois des querelles de légitimité et des remises en cause profondes. Personnellement, et je sors ici une nouvelle fois d’une posture de recherche, je ne m'en contente pas et j'estime qu'il est de mon devoir de contribuer à l'améliorer. Mais cette préoccupation, que je qualifierai de déontologique, pourrait après tout être taxée de corporatiste si on n’allait pas au-delà. Car il y a un autre cercle, plus large : celui de la fonction que l'on peut assigner, non plus aux traducteurs mais à la traduction et à ses métiers, dans la société tout entière. Là aussi, la tâche est loin d'être achevée, et l’union de la pratique et de la recherche y a toute sa part. Mais cette fois, la dimension est éthique. Et c'est à partir de cette dimension éthique, qui procède d'une réflexion sur la traduction dans le monde en général, qu’il faut à mon sens œuvrer au développement et à la reconnaissance de la profession de traducteur, avec la maîtrise de toutes les compétences requises pour former des interlocuteurs aptes à défendre leur position. Dans cette logique, ensuite, il faut composer, c'est-à-dire trouver des alliés et des compromis pour avancer, ce qui est là encore l'essence même de la pratique politique. En somme, l'éthique enveloppe le déontologique, qui va à son tour conditionner les positionnements concrets et la négociation des interdépendances. C'est dans la conscience de tels enjeux que l'on peut, je pense, considérer la direction d'une formation comme un acte politique. En revanche la question des choix, à leur tour politiques, que mes étudiants peuvent être amenés à faire de leur côté, n'est pas et n’a pas à être de mon ressort : j’enseigne la traduction, pas la morale. S’il y a une neutralité axiologique à avoir dans ce vaste univers, c'est bien ici qu'elle se trouvera.

C’est en tout cas grâce à une telle vision concentrique que l’on peut éviter d’opposer deux tendances qui structurent les évolutions présentes du secteur. Car miser, comme je le propose, sur la formation de professionnels compétents sur la totalité du spectre de la traduction soulève une dernière question : qui sont les perdants potentiels d'une telle configuration ? Car ce point aussi est politique… Contre qui, contre quelles pratiques la professionnalisation risque-t-elle, en bien ou en mal, de jouer ? Contre l'amateurisme. Contre l'idée – encore répandue et à laquelle les outils gratuits disponibles en ligne donnent depuis peu une nouvelle jeunesse (voir par exemple Froeliger et Laplace, sous la direction de, 2012) – que tout le monde peut produire des traductions de qualité, c’est-à-dire directement utilisables par leurs destinataires. Contre l'idée, chère à la science-fiction et aux chauffeurs de taxi du vaste monde, que traduire serait facile, serait à la portée de tous (voir par exemple Kuzweil, 2011). C’est un leurre, certes, mais derrière ce leurre, il y a l’idée que la traduction peut devenir un bien commun de l'humanité. Or, cette idée, telle qu’on la trouve développée par exemple dans le cadre d’un projet tel que TraduXio, sous l’égide de Philippe Lacour[5], est généreuse et diablement séduisante. Il faut la défendre, et là aussi, trouver une articulation avec la nécessité d'une traduction vraiment professionnelle, c’est-à-dire de résister à la tentation de les opposer. Cette articulation, je pense, pourrait dépendre, là encore, de la reconnaissance de la place – centrale et visible, au lieu d'être centrale et occultée – qui devrait être celle de la fonction traduction dans la société. Et cette place pourrait être celle de ce que l’on appelle un « tiers de confiance », dans les échanges interlinguistiques et interculturels, c’est-à-dire d’un acteur qui garantisse la validité et la sincérité des opérations. Une dimension éthique qui enveloppe une dimension déontologique, décidément. Il faut donc ménager une voie entre des injonctions et des impératifs contradictoires, ce qui, une dernière fois, renvoie à une dimension politique.

5. En guise de codicille

Le lecteur ou la lectrice, même modérément attentifs, l’auront compris, l’article qu’ils viennent de lire est baigné par une hésitation sur le caractère scientifique des propos tenus. Cette hésitation ne m’est pas seulement personnelle : elle est révélatrice du statut même de la recherche en traduction. Le phénomène – massif, relativement récent et mondial – de professionnalisation, et bien sûr la réorganisation profonde de la profession de traducteur sous l’effet des nouvelles technologies ne peuvent que se répercuter sur l’organisation de la recherche dans ce domaine. Les évolutions que nous avons mentionnées font ainsi apparaître un besoin massif de prise de recul par rapport à ces évolutions, pour en discerner les enjeux, et, modestement mais résolument, peser sur ces tendances. Mais une prise de recul qui serve à mieux embrasser, pas à se couper des phénomènes. C’est dire la nécessité d’une recherche qui soit, là encore, non pas déconnectée du réel, mais au contraire en prise (et parfois aux prises) avec celui-ci : une recherche résolument appliquée.

A cet égard, il n’est pas anodin que se développe, depuis quelques années et à la suite des travaux d’Even-Zohar (1990) et Toury (1995) une véritable sociologie de la traduction (voir par exemple, et avec des points d’application assez différents, Wolf et Fukari 2007, ou Chesterman 2017). Il y a ici beaucoup à faire, ne serait-ce que pour envisager dans des termes plus scientifiques les postures des différents acteurs de ce système. A ce titre, on pourrait notamment s’aider, d’une part, des travaux de Boltanski et Thévenot (1991) sur le concept de « cités » et de « grandeurs », à savoir ce qui construit la légitimité de tel ou tel individu en tant que membre d’un groupe professionnel, et détermine de ce fait son positionnement par rapport à ses voisins et interlocuteurs, à l’intérieur d’une même profession, ou dans ses rapports avec les autres professions et, d’autre part, de ceux de Nathalie Heinisch (2017) sur le concept d’axiologie, c’est-à-dire sur une « sociologie des valeurs ». Il y a là un riche et utile programme de recherche, ainsi qu’une mine d’outils à mettre en œuvre en les appliquant aux relations concrètes entre les acteurs du secteur de la traduction – et non plus, comme c’est souvent le cas, en les restreignant à la sphère du littéraire (Gouanvic 2007) ou de l’édition (Sapiro 2009). On peut estimer (et c’est mon cas) qu’un tel programme sort du cadre défini pour le présent article et la présente publication, et c’est pourquoi je ne le cite ici qu’en guise de codicille. Dans le même temps, lorsqu’il aura été mené à bien, s’il l’est un jour, c’est peut-être par ce biais que l’on pourra surmonter l’obstacle épistémologique posé par le caractère subjectif des réponses que l’on peut actuellement apporter à l’interrogation – nécessaire – sur le caractère politique que revêt la direction d’une formation en traduction.

Références bibliographiques

Baker, Mona (2001) “The Pragmatics of Cross-Cultural Contact and Some False Dichotomies in Translation Studies”, in Maeve Olohan (sous la direction de) CTIS Occasional Papers, UMIST, Manchester, Centre for Translation & Intercultural Studies : 7-20.

Ballard, Michel (1992) De Cicéron à Benjamin – Traducteurs, traductions, réflexions, Presses universitaires de Lille/du Septentrion.

Berman, Antoine (1984) L’Épreuve de l’étranger – Culture et traduction dans l’Allemagne romantique, Paris, Gallimard.

Boltanski, Luc, et Laurent Thévenot (1991) De la justification – Les économies de la grandeur, Paris, Gallimard.

Caisse des dépôts et consignation et Conférence des présidents d’université (2010) Le Transfert du patrimoine universitaire, Paris, Presses universitaires de France.

Castoriadis, Cornélius (1975) L’Institution imaginaire de la société, Paris, Seuil, collection « Esprit ».

Chesterman, Andrew (2009) « The Name and Nature of Translator Studies », Hermes : tidsskrift for sprogforskning 42 : 13-22.

Cronin, Michael (2013) Translating in the Digital Age, New York, Routledge.

Ehrensberger-Dow, Maureen et Gary Massey (2019) « Le traducteur et la machine : mieux travailler ensemble », Des Mots aux actes, n°8 : Traduction et technologie, regards croisés sur de nouvelles pratiques : 47-62.

EMT (master européen en traduction/European master’s in translation) (2017). Référentiel de compétences. URL: : https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/emt_competence_fwk_2017_fr_web.pdf (consultée le 24 février 2021)

Even-Zohar, Itamar (1990) Polysystem Studies, Poetics Today 1(1). URL: : https://www.tau.ac.il/~itamarez/works/books/Even-Zohar_1990--Polysystempour cent20studies.pdf (consultée le 17 mars 2020).

Froeliger, Nicolas et Colette Laplace, sous la direction de (2012) Désir de traduire et légitimité du traducteur, Forum, Séoul et Paris, volume 10, n°1.

Gledhill, Christopher et Natalie Kübler (2015) “How Trainee Translators Analyse Lexico-Grammatical Patterns”, Journal of Social Sciences 11(3): 162.

Gouadec, Daniel (2005) « Terminologie, traduction et rédaction spécialisées » Langages 157 : 14-24. URL: http://www.persee.fr/web/revues/home/prescript/article/lgge_0458-726x_2005_num_39_157_971, (consultée le 19 avril 2019).

Gouanvic, Jean-Marc (2007) Pratique sociale de la traduction – Le roman réaliste américain dans le champ littéraire français (1920-1960), Arras, Artois Presses Université, collection « Traductologie ».

Heinich, Nathalie (2017) Des valeurs. Une approche sociologique, Paris, Gallimard, collection Bibliothèque des Sciences humaines.

Kruzweil, Ray (2011) « Ray Kurzweil on Translation Technology”, interview with Nataly Kelly. The Huffington Post, 13/06/2011. URL: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/ray-kurzweil-on-translati_b_875745?guccounter=1%3E. (consultée le 24 février 2021).

Ladmiral, Jean-René (1972) « Introduction », Langages 7(28) : 3-7. URL : www.persee.fr/doc/lgge_0458-726x_1972_num_7_28_2094, (consultée e 15 avril 2019).

Larbaud, Valéry (1964) Sous l’invocation de Saint Jérôme, Paris, Gallimard.

Loock, Rudy (2016), La Traductologie de corpus, Lille, Presses universitaires du Septentrion.

Mesa, Anne-Marie (2018) « Décrocher des contrats et conserver le client : mode d’emploi », in Circuit, Le Magazine d’information des langagiers 137. URL: https://www.circuitmagazine.org/chroniques-137/a-l-ordre-du-jour-137 (consultée le 17 mars 2020).  

Meschonnic, Henri (1999), Poétique du traduire, Lagrasse, Verdier.

Mounin, Georges (1955) Les Belles infidèles, Paris, Les Cahiers du Sud.

Sapiro, Gisèle (2009) Translatio – Le marché de la traduction en France à l'heure de la mondialisation, Paris, Éditions du CNRS, collection « Culture et société ».

Société française des traducteurs/SFT (2015) Enquête 2015 sur les pratiques professionnelles des métiers de la traduction — Résultats préliminaires, URL: https://www.sft.fr/clients/sft/telechargements/file_front/45866_2015_RESULTATS_PRELIMINAIRES.pdf.pdf (consultée le 17 avril 2019).

Toury, Gideon (1995) Descriptive Translation Studies and Beyond, Amsterdam et Philadelphie, John Benjamins.

Von Campenhausen, Hans (1969) Les Pères latins, traduit de l’allemand par C. A. Moreau, Paris, Éditions de l’Orante.

Wolf, Michaela et Alexandra Fukari, sous la direction de (2007) Constructing a Sociology of Translation, Amsterdam et Philadelphie, John Benjamins.


[1] Le présent article s’inspire notamment d’une discussion avec mes collègues liégeoises Valérie Bada et Céline Letawe : qu’elles en soient ici remerciées.

[2] Et il n’est pas certain que Berman (« C’est à partir de sa nature même d’expérience que devrait se faire la réflexion sur la traduction », 1984 : 300) me soit ici d’un grand secours, car sa définition du mot « expérience » est plus philosophique que pratique et car, lorsqu’il parle de la dimension éthique de la traduction, c’est avant tout, on peut le penser, pour nous faire la morale, c’est-à-dire pour préciser comment, selon lui, il faut traduire.

[3] Il en reste des traces, dans les esprits, mais aussi tout à fait concrètement, lorsque certains militants entendent transformer, cela a été le cas en France, par exemple, à l'université de Toulouse le Mirail, en 2018, les locaux de l'université en « zone à défendre » (ZAD), au même titre que le site qui fut longtemps promis à la construction de l'aéroport de Notre-Dame des Landes. Mais ce cas est évidemment extrême, et il ne faut pas juger, sauf peut-être en traductologie, les phénomènes par leurs manifestations extrêmes.

[4] Il s’agit du master ILTS (Industrie de la langue et traduction spécialisée), à l’Université Paris Diderot/Université de Paris : [url=https://www.eila.univ-paris-diderot.fr/formations-pro/masterpro/ilts/index]https://www.eila.univ-paris-diderot.fr/formations-pro/masterpro/ilts/index[/url].

[5] Voir https://github.com/Hypertopic/TraduXio/wiki (consultée le 17 mars 2020).

About the author(s)

After his graduation at the ESIT translator school (Paris) in 1987, Nicolas Froeliger worked for 17 years as a translator and head of the Parisian Architexte translator company. He started teaching technical translation at Université Paris Diderot in 1992, where he went on to become a professor in translation studies in 2014. He has been head, and then co-head of the ILTS (Language industries and specialized translation: [webpage](http://formations-pro.eila.univ-paris-diderot.fr/)) master’s degree, at Université Paris Diderot (now Université de Paris) since 2006. After a Ph-D in American literature (on Thomas Pynchon’s novels, 1995), he directed his research toward the concrete modalities of pragmatic translation, which led him to write about sixty papers plus a book, *Les Noces de l'analogique et du numérique – De la traduction pragmatique* (Belles lettres, 2013). In 2007, he also founded the *Field Grown Translation Studies* (Traductologie de plein champ) conferences, whose aim is to bring together professional translators, trainers, researchers and students, on translation-releated topics of common interest (the four last installments have been organized jointly with colleagues at ISTI/Brussels, and FTI/University of Geneva). He is also co-director of the Center for Translation Studies (CET, at Institut des humanités de Paris), vice-president (and former president) of AFFUMT (the French association for university training in translation). In 2019, he was elected as member of the EMT (European Master’s in Translation) board.

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©inTRAlinea & Nicolas Froeliger (2021).
"La direction d’une formation en traduction comme acte politique", inTRAlinea Vol. 23.

This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/index.php/archive/article/2564

The Role of Translation in the Reception of Foucault in Post-revolutionary Iran

By Azam Ghamkhah & Ali Khazaeefar (Ferdowsi University of Mashhad, Iran)


This study focuses on how the ideas of Michel Foucault were received and interpreted in the post-revolutionary Iran during two significant political periods stretching from 1979 to 2005, covering two eight-year administrations, the Reconstruction administration and the Reformist administration, presumed to very different publication policies and degrees of openness towards Western thought in general and Foucault’s ideas in particular. Foucault’s support of the Islamic Revolution is a long- debated topic among Iranian intellectuals as well as French journalists who were so critical of Foucault after his visit to Iran in September 1979. Significant as Foucault’s positive remarks concerning the Islamic revolution are, the study also investigates whether Foucault’s ideas were received by his left-wing translators independently of his supportive stance on the Islamic Revolution. The findings of this study indicate that the policies of the two administrations toward translations of Foucault’s ideas were essentially the same but that in the Reformist period there was a boom in the diffusion of Foucault’s discourse through translations. Moreover, we have established that Foucault’s idea of ‘power relations’ was the most frequent theme discussed in translations and journal articles written on Foucault in these two periods.

Keywords: translator studies, history of translation, Michel Foucault, Iran, post-revolutionary Iran

©inTRAlinea & Azam Ghamkhah & Ali Khazaeefar (2021).
"The Role of Translation in the Reception of Foucault in Post-revolutionary Iran", inTRAlinea Vol. 23.

This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/index.php/archive/article/2563

1. Introduction

This research falls within the scope of Chesterman’s Translator Studies as a subfield of Translation Studies (Chesterman 2009), and which deal with three branches including cultural, cognitive and sociological studies. In the cultural branch which is the focus of the current research, values, ethics, ideologies, history, traditions and the role and influences of translators through history as agents of cultural evolution have been examined. The cognitive branch which deals with mental processes, decision-making, the impact of emotions, attitudes to norms, personality, and also the sociological branch which deals with translators’/interpreters’ observable behavior are not what we seek to depict in this article. The main focus of this study is to paint a clear picture of the role of translators who were intellectuals at the time of the reception of Foucault in Post-revolutionary Iran ’from a Translator studies perspective, particularly the cultural branch.

This study aims to investigate the early reception of Foucault by focusing on two important political periods in Iran’s history: The Reconstruction Period (1989-1997) [1], and the Reformist Period (1997-2005).[2] These two periods are significant because they seemed to follow two quite different policies on publishing, in line with their political agendas.

In order to achieve above aim, we first discuss the idea of Foucault and the Islamic Revolution of Iran, then we investigate Foucault’s reception in each period in a separate section.  Michel Foucault visited Iran in the early days of the Revolution and expressed a sympathetic view on the Islamic Revolution, much to the chagrin of the left-wing intellectuals, who were the only possible candidates to introduce him to the Iranian readership.[3] We will therefore consider whether Foucault’s stance on the Islamic Revolution, though modified later, had any impact on his translators as well as on his reception in Iran.  

2. Foucault and the Islamic Revolution of Iran

The first significant mention of Foucault in Iran was made in 1969, when Mohammad Ghazi, a prominent translator, translated into Persian an interview with Foucault conducted by Jean-Pierre Elkabbach in 1968. The next mention of Foucault is found in 1978, the same year that Foucault visited Iran and the Islamic Revolution took place. However, there was no translation of Foucault’s works until 1995. This raises the question of whether the translators had been unwilling to introduce Foucault’s ideas because of his stance on the Islamic Revolution.

The support that the Iranian people received from French intellectuals in their fight against the Shah dated back to 1975, when French intellectual circles, led by Jean Paul Sartre, started backing Iranian protesters. In the same year, some intellectuals expressed concern in a newspaper article on the unbearable pressure exerted on Iranian intellectuals including Ali Shariati[4] and Gholam Hossein Sa’edi[5], who had been convicted in the Shah’s courts. [6] As the tension between Iranians and the Shah grew in 1978, French intellectuals established an association called The French Association of Friendship and Solidarity with the Peoples of Iran (l’Association française d’amitié et de solidarité avec le peuples d’Iran), which later joined another association called ‘The French Association of Democratic Jurists’ to back Iranian Protestors in 1978 (Khoramshad 2000). Furthermore, Jean-Paul Sartre founded the Committee to Defend Iranian Political Prisoners (Le Comité de défense des prisonniers politiques iraniens) in order to assist Iranians in a more organized way. This committee’s first action was to publish an announcement on March 11, 1978 signed by some famous figures, including Vladimir Jankélévitch, Claude Mauriac, Laurent Schwartz and Simone de Beauvoir to back 150 prisoners who were on hunger strike. Moreover, after the mass killings on ‘Black Friday’,[7] French intellectual society sparked a furious backlash in France against the Shah regarding his repression of Iranian protestors.[8] The French associations that raised their voice on the subject included International Federation of Human Rights (Fédération internationale des droits de l’Homme) and Organization of French Community Assistance (Secours populaire français). The events that took place in Iran in 1979 thus became of great concern to French Intellectuals such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Raymond Claude Ferdinand Aron,Maurice Duverger, and in particular, Michel Foucault, as he closely followed the regime’s violence toward Iranian protesters. (Ibid 2000)

In September 1978, Foucault visited Iran for the first time and expressed his thoughts on the Islamic Revolution in both interviews and articles. The first interview with Foucault in Iran was conducted in English by Baqir Parham, translator of Foucault’s article The Discourse on Language (L’ordre du discours ), on September 23, 1978 in Tehran. In this interview, Foucault elaborated on the concept of ‘the intellectual’, stressing that ‘there is no intellectual who is not at the same time, and in some way, involved with politics’ (Foucault 1979 cited in Afary et al. 2005). Referring to the case of Iran, Foucault said:

no Westerner, no Western intellectual with some integrity, can be indifferent to what she or he hears about Iran, a nation that has reached a number of social, political, and so forth, dead ends (Foucault, 1979 translated by Afary et al. 2005:75)

In reply to Bagher Parham’s question on his ideas on religion, Foucault expressed disagreement with Marx’s idea that ‘Religion is the opium of the people’, stating that this might be true about Christianity, but not about Islam, especially Shia Islam. Foucault also argued that ‘the role of Shi’ism in political awakening, in maintaining political consciousness, in inciting and fomenting political awareness, is historically undeniable’. He also maintained that ‘despite changes that occurred in the nature of religion due to the proximity between Shi’ism and state power in that period, religion has nevertheless played an oppositional role’ (1979: 186).

In an article entitled ‘What do the Iranians Dream about?’ (A quoi revent les Iraniens) (Foucault 1978a), originally published in French in 1978 and translated into Persian in 1998 by Hossein Masoomi Hamedani, Foucault perceived those who marched in the streets of Tehran as ‘subjects of history who had risen to make history the subject of their revolutionary acts’ (1978 a: 18). He associated the revolution with spirituality and said, ‘This movement has just thrown half a million men into the streets of Tehran, up against machine guns and tanks’ (Foucault 1978a: 19). Foucault reported that when he asked protesters in Iran what they wanted, they replied ‘an Islamic Government’ but when he asked for their explanation of the Islamic Government, their answers were very vague. Foucault continued: ‘I don’t want to name ‘an Islamic Government’ as a utopia but it impressed me as ‘a political will’. While he expressed his hesitation about this ‘political will’, he said ‘at the moment, we are rallying to Ayatollah Khomeini, but once the dictatorship (of the Shah) is abolished, all this mist may dissipate’ (Foucault 1978a: 41).

In 1979, Foucault wrote another article on the Islamic Revolution entitled ‘L’esprit d’un monde sans esprit’. The article was translated into English by Janet Afary and Kevin B. Anderson in the same year with the title ‘Spirit in a Spiritless World’ (Foucault and Kritzman 1988). This article, has been reprinted in Iran 13 times up to now. Init, Foucault pointed out that although Iranian people had different and even contradictory religious beliefs, they were united and wanted the Shah to leave the country. He said: ‘Nobody has ever seen the collective will, and personally I thought that the collective will was like God, like the soul, something one would never encounter. We met, in Tehran and throughout Iran, the collective will of a people’ (Foucault & Kritzman 1988: 215). Foucault noted that one thing that made the Islamic Revolution different from other revolutions was that the economic problems of Iran were not so harsh as to bring millions of people into the streets against tanks and guns (Afshin Jahandideh & Niko Sarkhosh 2000). He asserted that in some countries people preferred to die in front of tanks instead of starving to death, but in the case of Iran, it was a ‘collective will’ that led to the Islamic Revolution.

Foucault’s first visit to Iran on September 16, 1978 coincided with an earthquake in Tabas, a city in Northeast region of Iran. In reaction, Foucault wrote an article entitled ‘The Army, when the Earth Trembles’ (Taccuino persiano: L’esercito, quando la terra trema) in which he posed the question: ‘Who wants to construct Tabas again?’ and he referred to Ayatollah Khomeini’s order to people: ‘Help your brothers in Tabas but not through the Pahlavi regime’ (Foucault 1978b: 10). Foucault reported that he had talked to some generals who opposed the Shah claiming that ‘the day after Black Friday some soldiers committed suicide’(Foucault 1978b: 15). In this article, Foucault tried to portray the uniqueness of Iran’s revolutionary atmosphere at the time of the Shah’s fall. An important fact is that Foucault’s only source of information at the time of his visit to Iran was Islamist intellectuals and those who supported Ayatollah Khomeini (Ahmadi 2019 personal interview).

Foucault’s appreciation of the Islamic Revolution continued when in 1978 he interviewed Ayatollah Mohammad Kazem Shariatmadari, an important Shi’te religious exponent of the Islamic Revolution. As we read in the article ‘Tehran: religion against the Shah’ (Teheran la foi contre le shah), Ayatollah Shariatmadari introduced the concept of ‘the Islamic Government’ to Foucault, which remained unclear to him. What made Foucault interested in the Islamic Revolution was the concept of ‘spirituality’. After the revolution took place, there were certain events that earned Foucault’s disapproval from the very beginning, not least among them the severe repression of the heads of the Pahlavi regime by the new government. It was believed that Foucault did not publish on Iranian matters in the French press where his comments elicited fiery responses from French readers who did not support the Islamic Revolution (Scullion 1995). Therefore, he published his articles in the Italian newspaper, Corriere Della Sera, between 28 September 1978 and 13 February 1979, under the running head Michel Foucault: Persian Notebook (Taccuino Persian).

Foucault condemned issuing harsh sentences for heads of the Shah’s regime and argued that this event did not devalue the Iranian movement which led to the revolution in 1979. Furthermore, he wrote an open letter to Mehdi Bazargan, the then Prime Minister, expressing his objection to post-revolutionary events in Iran. He wrote

Many Iranians are irritated that they are now the object of vociferous lectures. They have shown that they know how to go about asserting their rights. …You are called upon to make sure that this people never have to regret the unyielding force with which it has liberated itself (Foucault 2000:439-443)

Foucault also wrote an article entitled ‘Is it useless to revolt?’ (Inutile de se soulever?), translated into Persian by Mostafa Darvishi in 2014.  In this article, he emphasized the need to separate the Iranian movement from its initial results of the Islamic Revolution.

The first book to introduce Foucault’s ideas was Babak Ahmadi’s Text Structure and Textural Interpretation (Sakhtar va Ta’vil-e Matn), published in 1992. Only one chapter of the book was devoted to Foucault, briefly introducing certain concepts such as archeology of knowledge, genealogy and madness. The first translation of a complete book by Foucault was This is not a pipe (In yek chapaq nist) translated by Mani Haghighi and published in 1995. If this translation is taken as the earliest introduction of Foucault in Iran, then there is a two-decade time gap between Foucault’s first visit to Iran (September 1978), when he first became known to Iranian intellectuals, and the publication of his first complete book (1995). The question that arises here is how this gap can be accounted for. One possible reason is that the intellectual translators were not happy with Foucault’s praise of the Islamic Revolution, so they erected a conspiracy of silence against him. This theory is justified on the grounds that dissident intellectuals were the only ones who might have introduced Foucault’s work, as attested by Babak Ahmadi: ‘Translators and interpreters, including the intellectuals, whether secular, liberal, or even left-wing, were all dissidents. I do not know anyone who might have introduced Foucault due to his early attachment to the Religious Revolution.’ (Personal communication, September 21, 2019). Also, while Iranian intellectuals attempted to promote the narrative that Foucault ceased to support the Islamic Revolution after the harsh verdicts against the heads of the Shah’s regime, we have found no evidence that Foucault repudiated his early views on the Islamic revolution, even though the revolution distanced itself from its early ‘sprituality’. 

In this regard, two points should be considered. First, Foucault’s articles discussed above were translated into Persian two decades after they were first published in French. Second, as recorded in the National Library and Archives of Iran, the publications on the topic of Foucault and Islamic Revolution in the periodicals in two periods under investigation constitute only Fourteen percent of the all publications on/by Foucault, including translations and original writings (cf. Figure 4).  The key translators of Foucault expressed in personal communications that they did not take Foucault’s ‘mistaken opinions about the Islamic Revolution’ very seriously and that the delay could be explained by other factors including the 8-year war between Iran and Iraq. There is this idea that Foucault’s translators started translating Foucault’s philosophical beliefs regardless of his stance towards the Islamic Revolution. In this regard, Ahamadi stated,

Foucault’s remarks on Iran were not detailed or analytic and precise. It was obvious that Foucault did not have a comprehensive knowledge of Iran, and of its contemporary history and political factions and culture. His comments were journalistic remarks to the Iranian intellectuals of that time. We consider Foucault as a thoughtful philosopher and did not take his comments on the Revolution so seriously (Ahmadi 2019)

As we shall see, the left-wing intellectuals were particularly interested in Foucault’s ideas of power relations. It seems reasonable to conclude, therefore, that while Foucault’s supportive comments on the Islamic Revolution were disapproved of among Iranian intellectuals, the two-decade delay in translating his works cannot be explained by this disapproval. 

3. Foucault’s Reception in the Reconstruction Period (1989-1997) 

According to Pym (2017), paying attention to the social roles played by translators in mediating between cultures can move translation studies towards the wider questions of Intercultural Studies. This approach to Translation Studies is what Pym calls ‘humanizing’ Translation History. In this section, we display the social role played by Babak Ahmadi, Foucault’s most famous translator in Iran.

We now turn to the main question of this study; that is, the reception of Foucault in two different political climates, the Reconstruction Period and the Reformist Period. First, we provide a political background for each period, then we discuss translations and original writings by which Foucault’s ideas were introduced in Iran.

Following the victory of the Islamic Revolution in 1979, there was a restless social and political climate which led to the formation of a multitude of political parties and organizations. The supreme leader of the revolution appointed the Supreme Council of the Revolution and the Interim Government led by Mehdi Bazargan. The role of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, was to coordinate these two bodies. Notwithstanding his attempts to make the bodies work together, the constant struggles between them led to the resignation of Mehdi Bazargan along with his cabinet on 4 November 1979, following the seizure of the American Embassy and hostage-taking (Parsa Bonab 2007). In 1980, the Iran-Iraq war started, lasting until 1988. In this period, because of the sanctions and the socio-political challenges facing the country, there was a decline in all kinds of publication. The following figure displays the main themes dominating the Reconstruction Period (Parvaneh 2015).

Figure 1: The main themes dominating President Hashemi Rafsanjani’s administration (Parvaneh, 2015)

As the Reconstruction Period was considered as the post-war era, President Hashemi Rafsanjani put economic development at the top of his agenda; he also tried to avoid political conflict and tension as much as possible. His approach in domestic policies involved a lack of media coverage of different issues, preserving silence on national, administrative and even family issues, a lack of explicitness and the non-mention of names, and most importantly a balanced cabinet composition and almost equal share of both left and right parties. (Safiri, 1999: 160-165). These strategies created the closed political atmosphere of this period. A kind of political authoritarianism which led to the creation of political stabilization instead of political development (Eftekhari, 2001: 63)

Although none of Foucault’s articles on the Islamic Revolution, were translated into Persian in this period, a few seminal works were written and translated on Foucault by Babak Ahmadi and Mani Haghighi, who introduced Foucault’s ideas in Iran for the first time (see Table 1).






Persian Title

Title in English

Babak Ahmadi





Sakhtar va Ta’vil-e Matn

Text Structure and Textural Interpretation

Babak Ahmadi





Modernite va Andishe-e Enteqadi

Modernity and Critical Thought

Babak Ahmadi





Michel Foucault

Michel Foucault

Michel Foucault

Mani Haghighi




in yek chapaq nist

This is not a pipe 


Table 1: List of works written and translated on Foucault during 1989-1997

Babak Ahmadi is an Iranian writer, translator, and left-wing intellectual, as well as a dissident of the Islamic Republic who published an announcement - with Khashyar Deilami, a translator and editor of philosophical works - supporting the Reformist Movement in the 2010 election (Iranian Green Movement).[9] As is mentioned in the introduction, Ahmadi’s goal in his book Text Structure and Textual Interpretation, is to analyse three main literary theories: Structuralism, Deconstruction and Hermenutics. In order to clarify these three domains of thought, Ahmadi presents examples from primary sources and provides firsthand evidence from the related authors. It is important to note that Archeology of Knowledge was translated into Persian in 2013 by Afshin Jahandideh and Niko Sarkhosh, but here in Ahmadi’s book (1992) its main concepts were already explained and clarified.

It seems that the interest Ahmadi showed in Foucault was basically political, for each of Foucault’s books provided Ahmadi with an opportunity to critique systems of power, a trend that continued into the successive Reformist Period. This is confrmed by the fact that throughout the 1990s, Babak Ahmadi taught some courses at the Society for Wisdom and Philosophy in Tehran and his classes were attended by many intellectuals who were keen to know about Foucault and his ideas on power relations. Among the regular participants were Afshin Jahandideh, Niko Sarkhosh and Shapoor Etemad[10], who later became key figures in the translation and reception of Foucault’s ideas during the Reformist Period. According to Jahandideh and Sarkhosh,

[i]t was not a typical Philosophy course: it was an opportunity to speak, listen and think but in a quite different way; the circle inspired us with questions as well as doubts and confusions. Unlike other educational institutes, the Society for Wisdom and Philosophy didn’t ask for a tuition fee. There was no categorization of theories. One could pose a question and help find an asnswer to the question. It was like an open door into a foggy horizon. (Sarkhosh and Jahandideh 2018)

Jame Bozorg (2018) maintains that the social and cultual situation of Iran during the Reconstruction Period, the limitation of literary resources and Ahmadi’s mastery of several languages helped him become ‘the intellectual hero’ of a generation of Iranian intellectuals. Ahmadi’s influence, through his books and philosophy courses, reached its peak in this period when intellectuals did not have access to new theories of Human Sciences. It is worthwhile to note that, although Ahmadi only gives talks two or three times a year these days, his works and translations are still very present in the Iranian intellectual scene. Thus, Foucault’s ideas were first introduced in Iran through original critical writings in Persian rather than through translations. Babak Ahmadi introduced Foucault’s main works because, he said, ‘we wanted to establish a discourse on Foucault’s ideas’ (Ahmadi 2019). [11] According to Babak Ahmadi (1992), Foucault in all his works of philosophy considered himself an eye with a critical view on power relations. This instrumental and political motivation for introducing Foucault was motivated by the fact that, as Roger Deacon puts it, each of Foucault’s works is a ‘case study of how power relations have conditioned, invested and fabricated specific human experiences such as madness, sickness, punishment and sexuality’ (Deacon 2002 : 90). As table 2 displays, 17 works including periodicals and original writings in Persian have been studied and we tagged all 17 works based on their main theme.  Nearly 60 percent of works discussed power relations and only 5.9 percent of them dealt with Islamic Revolution.


Title of Topics

Number of Occurrence



Power Relations




Introducing Foucault




Islamic Revolution








Arbitrariness of signs








Death of Author




Review of Foucault’s Translations






Table 2: The main themes of Foucault’s discourse in Iran during the Reconstruction Period

Having established that 60 pecent of the books and journal articles investigated the concept of power relations in Foucault’s ideas, we had a closer look at these works. Figure 2 deals specifically with the concept of power relations in the Reconstruction Period.

Figure 2: The pattern of power relations in the Reconstruction Period

During the Reconstruction Period, when different ways of criticizing were blocked by the government, Foucault’s idea of power relations was welcomed and considered as a tool in the hands of intellectuals of the time, such as Babak Ahmadi, with which to challenge the status quo. Foucault (1981) emphasized the “necessity of radical criticism” in an interview with Didier Eribon after the election of François Mitterrand as President of France in 1981. Ezatullah Fooladvand translated the interview, entitled “Is thinking really important?”, in 1994. It should be noted this interview “”was also published under another title, “Is thinking important”, during the Reformist Period in 2003 in the newspaper named “Solidarity”.  This shows the attractiveness of the idea of “necessity of radical criticism” among intellectuals; thanks to the translators of Foucault’s thought, his ideas provided a platform for criticism in the closed political atmosphere of Iran in the Reconstruction Period.

4. Foucault’s Reception in the Reformist Period (1997-2005)

The Reformist Period (1997-2005) started when Mohammad Khatami was elected president of Iran. From an ideological point of view, this period was radically different from both the previous and the following periods in that President Khatami, having won almost 70% of the vote, advocated freedom of expression, civil society, tolerance, constructive diplomatic relations with other states, free market and foreign investment. Furthermore, President Khatami who had displayed genuine interest in cultural openness advanced “Dialogue among Civilizations” as an international political theory, somehow an antithesis to Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations,[12] and which was ultimately adopted by United Nations on 4 November 1998. What was culturally significant in this period was an intellectual vitality and artistic freedom as well as a relaxation of censorship on books and movies. This gave rise to an intellectual climate that was unprecedented in Iran, resulting in a veritable translation boom. This was the period in which original critical writings and articles on Foucault appeared in different periodcals, both left- and right-wing. The following picture displays the main themes dominating the Reformist Period.

Figure 3: The main themes dominating President Khatami’s administration (Soltani, 2005)

As can be seen in Figure 3, civil society, law, freedom of speech, and political development have been among the most important concepts of Reformist’s discourse. Khatami was elected President with the slogan of reform, religious democracy and improvement in international relations. After obtaining executive power, President Khatami tried to create a logical symmetry and balance by using the three principles of the constitution, namely freedom, independence and Islam, in order to achieve democracy and call for de-escalation and dialogue with other nations of the world.



Date of Publication

Persian Title

English Title of the ST

Original Title

Morteza Kalantarian




Barasi Parvande yek ghatl

I, Pierre Riviere, Having Slaughtered my Mother, my Sister and my Brother 

Moi, Pierre Rivière, ayant égorgé ma mère, ma soeur et mon frère 

Niko Sarkhosh & Afshin Jahandideh




Moraghebat va tanbih:Tavalod Zendan

Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison

Surveiller et punir:

Naissance de la prison

Bagher Parham

University of Tehran



Nazm Goftar

The Discourse on Language

L’ordre du discours 

Afshin Jahandideh



Niche, Freud, Marx

Nietzsche, Freud, Marx

Nietzsche, Freud, Marx 

Niko Sarkhosh & Afshin Jahandideh




Erade Be Danestan

The Will to Knowledge

La Volonté de savoir 


Yahya Emami

Naghsh-o Negar



Peidayesh Klinik

The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception

Naissance de la clinique – une archéologie du regard médical 

Table 3: Foucault’s works translated in the Reformist Period

To show more specifically the topics which were discussed by the intellectuals writing on Foucault, we will refer to some reviews written on Foucault in this period.

The themes such as power and resistance were quite interesting for Foucault’s translators in Iran. Niko Sarkhosh said, there are always people who resist, and there are always people who do not accept things imposed on them; Foucault is a weapon of war to resist and to think differently’ (Jahandideh and Sarkhosh 2019).  Sarkhosh also said:

The reasons why we chose to translate Foucault twenty years ago were twofold: the first reason was pure chance; we were so lucky to have found Foucault. The second reason was that we had a problem, not with old paradigms, but with modern paradigms that were meant to help us analyze the present situation and to find solutions. And who better than Foucault to help us think alternatively, for he had tried his best to reduce the pressure of the paradigms that governed academia. His thought presented a way out of a thought cul de sac, a pair of glasses that enabled us to think and to live alternatively (Sarkhosh 2011:10-11).

The ideas of power and resistence were discussed and reviewed in the Reformist Period by several writers. In an article entitled ‘Power and security in the age of Postmodernism’ (Ghodrat va Amniat Dar Asr-e Postmodernist) written by Mohammad Reza Tajik, a reformist and political activist, drawing on Foucault’s ideas, discussed power and security and their relationship with ‘modernity’ and ‘civilization’ and argued that since the beginning of the 16th century there has been a metanarrative that substituted ‘Human’ for ‘God’ (Tajik 1998). In another article entitled ‘Power from Foucault’s point of view’ (Ghodrat Dar Negahe Michel Foucault) [13] refering to Foucault’s work Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, the author, Reza Rahimi argued that for Foucault modern punishment was not an act of supression but a means of organizing and shaping people’s future actions. In other words, it had a social function (Rahimi 2003).

In addition to power, the resistance which it provokes was explained and discussed in different articles. According to Foucault, resistance is integral to power. The existence of power relationships depends on a multiplicity of points of resistance which are present everywhere in the power network. They are the odd term in relations of power; they are inscribed in the latter as an irreducible opposite (Foucault, 1978c cited in Nietzsche et al., 1968: 95–96) According to Babak Ahmadi (1992), Foucault in all his works of philosophy considered himself as an eye with a critical view on power relations. A critique of “power relations” thus seems to have attracted Foucault’s Persian translators who live in an authoritarin society and for whom translation is a safer and more powerful channel of protest.

Another article on Foucault’s ideas, entitled ‘Az Jonon Ta Jensiat’ (From Insanity to Sexuality), was written by Payam Yazdanjoo. Having represented Foucault as a French philosopher who dealt with the archeology and geneology of philosophical concepts, Yazdanjoo gave a brief description of translations of Foucault’s works in Persian. Moreover, he argued that knowledge, power and sexuality were the main themes that Foucault addressed in his works and tried to analyze them with his archeological and geneological methods.

Shirin Askari in her article ‘Roshanfekran dar barabar-e haghighat’ (Intellectuals Facing Reality), reviewed Foucault’s ideas, particularly his ideas on the role of intellectuals. In this article, Askari describes the two types of intellectuals Foucault theorized: the ‘universal’ and ‘specific’. The traditional role of universal intellectuals was to reveal reality for those who were unable to recognize it themselves and also to act as an informed conscience of people in society. Foucault argued that common people without any need of being an intellectual could be conscious of different hegemonic forms in social, economic and cultural framework of their daily life. As he did research on prisoners, he came to believe that political movements led by protestors with the help of universal intellectuals are usually supressed by power. As a result, Foucault argued that specific intellectuals, both right- and left-wing, should replace universal intellectuals. (Askari 1998)

Another article, ‘Andishe Varzan-e Hermenutic’ (Thinkers of Hermenutics), was written by Moharam Aghazadeh in 1999 and published in a left-wing Journal named Aftab Emrooz. In it Aghazadeh refers to Foucault’s work of 1994, The Order of Things, An Archaeology of the Human Sciences as a methedology of social sciences and introduces Foucault as a historian and Poststructuralist philosopher. With this article, Aghazadeh introduced Foucault’s works over a decade before they were translated in 2010 and 2013. He quotes Foucault as he emphasizes how ‘power encourages resistence’ and says:

Where there is power, there is resistance, and yet, or rather consequently, this resistance is never in a position of exteriority in relation to power (Foucault, 1978c translated by Robert Hurley in 1978: 95-96).

Foucault’s idea of power relations was received as an ideological tool in Iran to criticize the power structures in Iranian society. Contrary to what might have been expected, despite the changes in the political climate during the two periods under examination, the two administrations appear to have adopted similar policies with respect to Foucault’s ideas as there was no ban on publication of Foucault and almost all of his works have been translated since the Reconstruction Period to the present. However, the Reformist Period was quite different with regard to the number of translations, original writings and also translations of Foucault’s articles on the Islamic Revolution. Almost all Foucault’s articles on the Islamic Revolution written in 1978 were translated in the Reformist Period (1997-2005), twenty years after their original publication in French.


Title of theme

Number of occurance



Power Relations




Islamic Revolution




















Death of Author




New historiography




Criticism of Foucault




Discontinuity of History
















Discourse Analysis




Self-referential language









Analytical philosophy








Security studies




Introducing Foucault












Review of Foucault’s Translation




The role of Translation






Table 4: The main themes of Foucault’s discourse in Iran during the Reformist Period

During the Reformist Period there was a lively debate on Foucault in newspapers and periodicals. As in the Reconstruction Period, we tagged all the works written or translated in the Reformist Period. As shown in Table 4, 53 percent of the articles written on Foucault generally dealt with the notion of power relations. Only 14.6 percent of these articles discussed Foucault’s ideas on the Islamic Revolution. Figure 4 maps the topics related to Foucault that were discussed in translations and also original writings during the Reconstruction and the Reformist Period.

Figure 4: Distribution of Topics in both periods under investigation

Figure 5: The pattern of power relations during the Reformist Period

Figure 5 depicts sub categories of power relations in different works whether translations or original writings. In other words, we categorized the works discussing power relations according to their main topic of discussion such as sexuality, criticizing modern society, criticizing Humanities, etc.. Foucault’s translators and intellectuals came up with the idea of power relations to make their own critical remarks that they could not previously make due to the closed political atmosphere. During the Reformist Period, which is considered to be the heyday of Foucault’s thought in Iran, they took this opportunity to present their critical ideas and reveal the power relations in the society.


Chesterman proposes Translator Studies as an approach that deals with translators rather than texts. To him, ‘in Translator Studies, texts are secondary, the translators themselves are primary; this priority leads to quite different kinds of research questions’ (2009: 15). Furthermore, emphasizing the role of translators, Chesterman proposes an agent model  which focuses explicitly on the agents involved in translation, for instance on their activities or attitudes, their interaction with their social and technical environment, or their history and influence. This study was an attempt to depict the significant role played by translators in the reception of Foucault’s ideas in Iran.

According to Alavi Tabar (2019), in Iran most philosophical books are translated either by university professors, who turn to translation with the aim of being promoted, or by unemployed university graduates who, by choosing an important author to translate, seek to make a name for themselves or earn a living. The results are translations with many deletions and wrong or vague sentences. The situation is worsened in the absence of copyright and conscientious publishers. Alavi Tabar refers to another unfortunate trend wherein some university professors consider it below their dignity to translate—compared to original writing, translation is of less academic value— rather, they publish philosophy books in their own names, taking their material from the faulty published translations. (Alavi Tabar, 2019)

Thus, Aghil Fooladi (2020) states, some Western philosophy books have been lucky as they were translated by good translators, and some have been unlucky, being rendered into useless translations in less capable hands. Fooladi, a professor of philosophy at University of Tehran, mentions some of the lucky ones, which include Aristotle, Kant and Nietzsche, but he equates good with exact. Specifically, Fooladi mentions Adib Soltani, a non-academic translator whose style of translation of philosophical texts has been controversial. A genius with several different university degrees, and well-versed in several languages, Adib Soltani translates with such scholarly precision that some consider his translations as masterpieces while others reject them as ‘faithful but incomprehensible’ (Fooladi, 2020).

Foucault has been lucky in Iran since his books have been translated by very capable translators. In fact, some of his most important books have been translated by a team of two translators, Afshin Jahandideh and Niko Sarkhosh, for whom these translation constitute a lifetime of devotion to Foucault (for a list of their translations of Foucault, see the Appendix). This devotion seems to be essential for translating such a prolific and difficult philosopher as Foucault, the translations of all his works requires a lifetime of commitment and thinking.

One of their translations, History of Madness (Tarikh-e Jonoon) , Foucault’s first major book translated into Persian, won the Award for the Book of the Islamic Republic of the Iran in 2002. They have also translated two important books about Foucault: Foucault by Gilles Deleuze (1986) and Domination and Power by Peter Miller(1987), a book which investigates the nature of power in Western societies by comparing the writings of the principal exponents of Critical Theory, Max Horkheimer, Herbert Marcuse and Jürgen Habermas, with those of Michel Foucault. The two translators translate from the original French because they believe that the English translations of Foucault are “disastrous” (Sarkhosh 2011). Their translations have also been approved by Babak Ahmadi, who believes their translations are not so extremely literal as those by Adib Soltani, but are rather mildly and appropriately literal (Ahmadi 2019 personal interview).

With regard to those works by Foucault which have not been translated in Iran yet, the authors found that three volumes of History of Sexuality (Histoire de la sexualité) have not been translated due to cultural and religious issues in an Islamic country like Iran. The first volume of The Will to Knowledge (La Volonté de savoir) was translated by Niko Sarkhosh and Afshin Jahandideh in 2004 and they started to translate the second volume, The Use of Pleasure (L’Usage des plaisirs) , but came to the conclusion that their translation would not be published and abandoned the project.

Another important aspect of Foucault’s reception in Iran is that while one would naturally expect Foucault to be translated or intrepreted within academia, he was actually introduced mainly by intellectual circles outside the university.  According to Jahandideh, Iranian academia does not take an interest in Foucault’s works because “generally, the aim of universities is to train knowledgeable professors not critical thinkers”. And as far as Foucault is concerned, the general trend is to pack and classify his thought into reductionist categories such as structuralism, post-structuralism, post-modern, etc, thus making his thought barren (Jahandideh 2019).This trend is also confirmed by Sarkhosh, who, citing the book Geneology is gray by Adel Mashayekhi (2016), illustrated the fate of  Foucault in the Iranian academia. She claims that the writer of this book introduced Foucault’s ideas in the light of phenomenology and as a post-Kantian philosophy; as a result, the reader needs to know a number of other theories to underestand Foucault’s ideas. (Jahandideh and Sarkhosh 2019 personal interview)

As far as the main question of the study is concerned, we found that, while on the one hand a similar policy was adopted with respect to Foucault’s work by the two administrations we have discussed; There on the other there was a boom in the publication of literature on Foucault in the Reformist Period as there was a greater vitality in the cultural atmosphere of Iran at that time. Furthermore, the theme of Foucault’s work that most interested Iranian intellectuals and translators was his concpet of power relations which was regarded as a tool with which to challege as well as criticize the existing situation in Iran.


We would like to express our gratitude to Prof. Christopher Rundle of the University of Bologna who provided insight and expertise that greatly assisted this research.

Appendix 1




Persian Title

Title in English

Afshin Jahandideh & Niko Sarkhosh



Iran: Rouh-e yek Jahan-e Bedon-e Rouh

Iran: The Spirit of Spiritless World

Afshin Jahandideh & Niko Sarkhosh



Moraghebat va tanbih:Tavalod Zendan

Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison


Afshin Jahandideh & Niko Sarkhosh



Nietzsche, Freud, Marx


Nietzsche, Freud, Marx


Afshin Jahandideh & Niko Sarkhosh



Sooje, Estila va Ghodrat

Subject, Domination and Power in Max Horkheimer, Herbert Marcuse, Jürgen Habermas and Michel Foucault’s Point of view


Afshin Jahandide & Niko Sarkhosh



Erade Be Danestan

The Will to Knowledge

Niko Sarkhosh






Afshin Jahandideh & Niko Sarkhosh



Dirine Shenashi Danesh

Archaeology of Knowledge


Afshin Jahandideh & Niko Sarkhosh



khastgah hermenutic Khod

The Hermeneutics of the Subject 


Afshin Jahadideh & Niko Sarkhosh



Naghd Chist va Parvaresh-e Khod

What is Criticism and Nurturing Self


List of works translated by Afshin Jahandideh and Niko Sarkhosh


Ahmadi, Babak (1992) Text Structure and Textual Interpretation. Tehran. Markaz.

Afary, Janet, Kevin Anderson (2005) Foucault and the Iranian Revolution: Gender and the Seductions of Islamism, Chicago, University of Chicago Press.

Alavi tabar, Hedayat (2019) “A Criticism on Translation of Aristotle’s Ideas.” Motarjem 27, no 67: 101–18.

Askari, Shirin (1998) “Roshanfekran Dar Barabar-e Haghighat (Intellectuals against Reality).” Iranian, 26 August.

Eftekhari, Asghar (2001) An introduction to the red lines in political competition. Tehran, Farhang Gofteman.

Chesterman, Anthony (2009) “The name and nature of translator studies”, HERMES-Journal of Language and Communication in Business, no. 42:13-22.

Deacon, Roger (2002) “History of Human Sciences” Sage 15 ,no 1: 89–117.

Foucault, Michel (1978 a) “A Quoi Revent Les Iraniens?”(What Do the Iranians Dream About?).” Le Nouvel Observateur, no 726: 16-22.  trans. Hossein Masoomi Hamedani.Tehran, Hermes

Foucault, Michel (1978 b) “Taccuino Persiano: L’esercito, Quando La Terra Trema’(Persian Diary: The Army, when the Earth Trembles).” Corriere Della Sera, 28 September. trans. Hossein Masoomi Hamedani.Tehran, Hermes

Foucault, Michel (1978 c) The History of Sexuality. trans. Hurley, Robert. New York, Pantheon Books

Foucault, Michel (1979) Dialogue between Michel Foucault and Baqir Parham. Nameh-yi Kanun-i Nevisandegan, no 1: 9-17.

Foucault, Michel (1981) “An interview of Didier Eribon with Foucault: Is thinking really important?”, Liberation Newspaper, 30-31 May.

Foucault, Michel (2000) Ethics: essential works of Foucault 1954-1984. London, Penguin.

Foucault, Michel, and Lawrence D. Kritzman (1988) Politics, Philosophy, Culture: Interviews and Other Writings, 1977-1984. New York, Routledge.

Fooladi, Aghil (2020) A Critique of Hegel’s Translation and the Phenomenology of the Soul.Motarjem.no 69:11-120.

Jahandideh, Afshin (2019) “Academic Systems Have Reduced Foucault to a Post structuralist Philosopher”, IBNA, 23 June

Jahandideh, Afshin, and Sarkhosh, Niko (2019) An Interview with Afshin Jahandide and Niko Sarkhosh.

Jahandideh, Afshin, and Sarkhosh, Niko (2000) Iran: Spirit in a spiritless world. Tehran, Ney

Jame Bozorg, Behzad (2018).”Burnt Generation Superhero” (Abar Ghahramane Nasle Sokhte). Fargange Emroz. 13 January

Khoramshad, Mohammad Bagher (2000) “French Intellectual and Islamic Revolution of Iran.” Pajoohesh-e Hoghogh va Siasat, no. 1: 315–24.

Mashayekhi, Adel (2016) Geneology Is Gray (Tabarshenasi Khakesteri Ast), Tehran, Nahid.

Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm, Walter Arnold Kaufmann, aahmadond R. J. Hollingdale (1968) The Will to Power. New York, Vintage Books.

Parsa Bonab, Younes. (2007). A One Hundred year history of the Iranian political parties and organizations, Washington, Ravandi.

Parvaneh, Mahmood (2015) “Critique of the discourse of the Reconstruction Period based on the political discourse of Imam Khomeini” Velayat Institute,no.1:87-120.

Pym, Anthony (2017) “Humanizing Translation History” HERMES - Journal of Language and Communication in Business, no 42: 23-48.

Rahimi, Reza (2003) “Ghodrat Dar Negah-e Michel Foucault (Power in Michel Foucault’s Point of View).” Hambastegi, 15 September.

Safiri, Masood (1999) Truths and interests; Interview with Hashemi Rafsanjani. Tehran, Ney.

Sarkhosh, Niko (2011) “An Interview with Foucault’s translators”, Etemad, 10 Augest

Sarkhosh, Niko, and Jahandideh, Afshin (2018) “Babak Ahmadi; Taei Az Hafeze.”,  Farhang Emroz, no. 20:53.

Scullion, Rosemarie (1995) “Michel Foucault the Orientalist: On Revolutionary Iran and the ‘Spirit of Islam.’” The Johns Hopkins University Press 12, no. 2: 16–40.

Soltani, Ali (2005) Power, Discourse and Language. Tehran, Ney.

Tajik, Mohammad Reza (1998) “Ghodrat va Amniat Dar Asr Pasamodernism (Power and Security in the Age of Postmodrrnism).” Hamshahri, 11 May.


[1] This period is called the Reconstruction Period as Rafsanjani, then president of IRI, and his so-called Reconstruction Administration’s attempts boiled down to reconstructing and restoring economic infrastructure in Post-war Iran

[2] In the Reformist Period (1997-2005), President Mohammad Khatami‘s plans were to change the Iranian political system to include more freedom and democracy.

[3] The leftist intellectuals in Iran are those who seek equality in distribution of wealth and power among people.

[4] Ali Shariati was one of the most influential Iranian intellectuals of the 20th century.

[5] Gholam Hossein Sa’edi was a prolific Iranian writer.

[6] Le Monde, 20 Mars 1975.

[7] ‘Black Friday’ , 8 September 1978, is so called in Iran as there were mass shootings in Jaleh square in Tehran, many protesters were killed in the incident because they were unaware that the regime had declared curfew a day earlier. The soldiers ordered the protesters to disperse, but the order was ignored and the army opened fire on them.

[8] Le Monde, 10-11 September 1978

[9] Iranian Green Movement is also known as Mowj-e Sabz, a political movement that arose after the 2009 Iranian presidential election, in which protesters demanded the removal of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from office.

[10] Shapoor Etemad was translator and researcher in Research Institute of Wisdom and Philosophy in Iran

[11] It is important to note that Babak Ahmadi translated Foucault’s works from French and also, that he met Foucault in person and attended his lectures at the Collège de France in 1978.

[12] Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations was proposed in 1992. It argued that in the future there would not be war between countries, but between cultures.

[13] Ghodrat dar Negah-e Michel Foucault

About the author(s)

Azam Ghamkhah holds a PhD in Translation Studies from the Ferdowsi University of Mashhad, Iran. Her thesis was on the reception of Michel Foucault in Iran. In 2020, she spent six months as a Visiting Scholar at the University of Bologna, Italy. Her main area of research is the historiography of Translation.

Ali Khazaee Farid recently retired as professor of Translation Studies at the Ferdowsi University of Mashhad. He was the founding editor of the quarterly Motarjem (The Translator) published since 1993. His major interests are the practice and theory of literary translation.

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©inTRAlinea & Azam Ghamkhah & Ali Khazaeefar (2021).
"The Role of Translation in the Reception of Foucault in Post-revolutionary Iran", inTRAlinea Vol. 23.

This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/index.php/archive/article/2563

Bridging the gap between the sworn translation classroom and freelance professional practice

A situated project-based approach

By Gemma Andújar Moreno (Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Spain)


This paper presents a sworn translation project designed to enhance the development of professional skills associated with a prototypical freelance sworn translation job. However, unlike traditional translation classroom activities, which tend to centre around the translation itself, the focus here is on the ancillary but essential administrative tasks related to professional translation such as analysing a job’s viability, setting fees at market rates, drawing up quotations and invoices and, above all, communicating effectively with clients. Designed from a situated learning perspective, the project takes the form of a teaching-learning sequence in which pairs of students adopt the roles of client and translator and then exchange written communications in the form of queries, quotations and invoices connected to the sworn translation of an academic administrative document. To guide the students in their acquisition of the professional skills they need for these tasks, a broad vision of assessment is applied, which goes beyond its mere certifying function and promotes its formative component through self-assessment, peer-assessment, and teacher-assessment. Integrating labour market-oriented projects focused on skills relating to the implementation of translation in a professional context in the specialized translation classroom, as we have done here, is a valuable tool to facilitate the student’s transition from the translation classroom community to the professional community of translators.

Keywords: translation pedagogy, project-based learning, situated learning, sworn translation

©inTRAlinea & Gemma Andújar Moreno (2021).
"Bridging the gap between the sworn translation classroom and freelance professional practice A situated project-based approach", inTRAlinea Vol. 23.

This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/index.php/archive/article/2548

1. Introduction

‘Sworn translation and interpreting’ is the term used in Spain[1] to refer to official certified translation, written or oral, of documents of any genre and subject, carried out by professionals duly certified by the Spanish Government’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation (MAEUEC). Sworn translation has traditionally been regarded, at least in Spain, as a field of specialised translation characterised by a lack of systematisation, in terms of both methodology and the translation techniques applied. This situation has been favoured over time by the fact that the pertinent regulatory authority, the MAEUEC, has not published specific guidelines regarding the process or product of sworn translation, beyond some general considerations on the requirements that confer legal validity to a translated document. The opacity of the professional practices of sworn translators and the relative isolation of these professionals (Monzó 2002 and 2003; Way 2005a and 2005b) are other factors to be considered. However, sworn translation constitutes an attractive career option for undergraduate Translation and Interpreting students in Spain and enjoys greater social recognition than other translation modalities, since sworn translators act as public officers authorised to attest official documents (Mayoral 2003; Vigier 2010). Moreover, it is a profession with a long history and tradition (Peñarroja 2004) which is still fully valid today due to its ongoing importance in everyday life, as natural and legal persons often need to translate documents written in Spanish for them to have legal effects in other countries or foreign documents that must be recognized as legally valid in Spain.

This fully justifies the integration of sworn translation into Translation and Interpreting undergraduate university programmes, either as part of general legal translation subjects or in specific subjects devoted to the development of sworn translators’ professional skills. The aim of this paper is to show a possible way of integrating sworn translation into the legal translation classroom from a situated learning approach based on the simulation of professional roles (Kiraly 2000, 2005; Risku, 2002, 2016). It is thus a training proposal in accordance with Project-Based Learning methodology (Blumenfeld et al. 1991; González-Davies 2004; Markham 2003; Kiraly 2012; Li, Zhang and He 2015), which focuses on the administrative tasks associated with a prototypical sworn translation job.

2. Sworn translators in the Spanish professional translation market

Access to the sworn translation profession is regulated by specific Spanish legislation: Royal Decree 724/2020 (Real Decreto 724/2020) sets out the profession’s legal framework, whereas Ministerial Order AEC/2125/2014 (Orden AEC/2125/2014) regulates the structure of the certification examination that translators must pass to access the profession.[2] Nevertheless, sworn translators usually work on a freelance basis, without formal employment links with the MAEUEC. This institution delegates to them the production and certification of translations into Spanish of documents in other languages that both natural and legal persons need to submit to the relevant administrations to assert their legal or administrative effects. Sworn translations are used either to prove the facts alleged in a legal or administrative process, for the recognition of legal or administrative situations originating in the country of the foreign language, to apply for equivalence or validation of merits acquired abroad or for any other circumstance (Mayoral 2000).

The provisions of Royal Decree 724/2020 are focused on the form of the sworn translator’s seal and the data that must be included in it, as well as the certification formula attesting to the accuracy and fidelity of the translation. This legal text also requires the sworn translator to affix his or her seal to all pages of the translation and sign the last one. However, it does not set out rules regarding the translation’s format and layout nor does it offer any methodological guidelines to help professionals, especially those who are taking their first steps in this field. So it does little to codify the criteria applied in sworn translations, with the result that they are sometimes inconsistent from one document to the next.

Translation and Interpreting graduates who pass the certification examination and begin working as sworn translators access a restricted market delimited by official recognition from the competent authority (Gouadec 2007: 137-138). As they are ultimately liable for the validity of the sworn translation that bears their signature and seal, they will deal with sworn translation jobs on an individual basis. Thus, as freelance professionals, they can receive jobs directly from private clients, translation agencies, companies or institutions. That said, the professional profile required to meet the needs of today’s market is far from the traditional image of the translator as a lone wolf, since today’s translation market “can be described as global, decentralised, specialised, dynamic, virtual and demanding” (Olvera-Lobo and Gutiérrez-Artacho 2017: 200, our translation).

In such a context, while the sworn translator must possess excellent translating skills, he or she must also be able to carry out multiple ancillary tasks such as analysing the translation job’s viability within the set deadline, setting fees at market rates, drawing up a preliminary quotation, invoicing for the work carried out, knowing how to handle the tools needed to carry out these processes and, especially, being able to manage the client’s expectations regarding sworn translation and communicate with the client in professional terms. Skill at these tasks can make all the difference in a demanding business context (Andújar and Cunillera 2017: 188-193). This suggests that any programme of training in Translation and Interpreting should provide opportunities for student exposure to and mastery of these skills in the classroom before they enter the working world.

3. General teaching approach

Project-Based Learning (PBL), conceived as a comprehensive perspective focused on teaching by engaging students in investigation (Blumenfeld et al. 1991: 371),[3] is no longer an innovative methodology in the field of translation pedagogy, but has established itself as one of the privileged methodological options within the framework of situated learning (Risku 2002; González-Davies and Enríquez-Raído 2016) to cover the need to integrate professional education in the educational setting (González Davies 2004).[4]

According to PBL methodology, students carry out a project in a logical sequence of tasks which are either stipulated by the teacher or designed jointly by teacher and students. The project must fulfil two basic requirements: there must be a complex question or problem that drives and organizes the activities carried out in the different tasks of the project and the completion of the different activities must culminate in a final product that addresses the driving question or problem (Blumenfeld et al. 1991: 371). The principles underlying this approach privilege the co-construction of knowledge from authentic experiences in a dynamic context of action (Risku 2016: 15).

In translation pedagogy, as Li, Zhang and He (2015: 5-6) point out, there are at least two types of projects, differing somewhat in their orientation, that lend themselves to this sort of methodology. In translation-oriented projects, on the one hand, students work collaboratively on real or simulated translation jobs. During this process, they activate and develop their translation competence while becoming familiar with the work rhythms and dynamics of the real professional world (see examples in González-Davies 2004, Kiraly 2005 or Rey and Cunillera 2013, among others). In research-oriented projects, on the other hand, the aim is not so much to directly develop the students’ translation competence, but rather to enable them to investigate translation-related issues and thus to gain in-depth knowledge of translation in a broader sense. In such projects, students develop metacognitive translation skills that indirectly contribute to improving their translation competence (see examples in Li, Zhang and He 2015 or Risku 2016, among others).

Although the project we present falls into the translation-oriented category, as it involves a sworn translation job, the pedagogical focus lies not so much on the final product of the translation process (the sworn translation itself), but on the complementary skills and routines that revolve around that textual product, as we have noted above. All these professional skills could be included in the broader category of translator competence as defined by Kiraly (2000: 13). This author was the first to distinguish between translation competence and translator competence, a general dichotomy later adopted by other researchers within the framework of socio-constructivist pedagogical approaches (Biel 2011; González-Davies and Enríquez-Raído 2016; Risku 2002, 2016).

The aim of this paper is not to delimit the concept of translation competence, as it has already been analysed by different authors in Translation Studies (e.g. EMT Expert's group 2017, Hurtado 2017, Kelly 2005, Pacte 2001, Prieto 2011, Pym 2003, among many others). In general, translation competence, whether defined in terms of a multi-component model (as in Pacte 2001, Hurtado 2017 or Prieto 2011) or according to simpler parameters (as in Pym 2003), refers to a translator’s “ability to translate to the required quality standard”, whereas translator competence “covers the skills required to function as a professional in the market” (Biel 2011: 164). This translator competence as defined by Kiraly (2000) is therefore directly related to the professional sub-competence of the multi-competence models, as it encompasses all the skills necessary for professional management, such as interaction with clients and other professionals, knowledge of the legal framework for professional practice and fiscal obligations or knowledge of translation market conditions (Kelly, 2002: 15; Prieto, 2011: 12). Following these authors, we will retain in this paper the distinction between translation competence and translator competence for the sake of simplicity.

One fruitful way to enhance such translator competence is to simulate professional practices in teaching environments. The premise is that training must be labour-market-oriented and prepare students for real-life working conditions. According to this approach, the learning outcomes which are expected once the project we present here is finished should be not only relevant to the sworn translation market needs but also transversal, because they can be applied to other translation modalities in which the translator will work as a freelancer. In this way, the final aim of this project is to bridge the gap between legal translation classroom tasks and real-life practice, because “the essential lies not only in teaching students a subject but also in gradually integrating them into a professional community of translators” (Gonzalez Davies 2003: 10, our translation). In the next sections, we will describe the different tasks of the project we have designed with this aim.

4. Project design

4.1. Target student profile

Our sworn translation project involves direct English-Spanish translation and was initially designed for students in the final year of the Degree in Translation and Interpreting taught at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona, Spain.[5] Specifically, the project was intended to form part of “Legal and Economic Translation 2” (5 ECTS), an optional subject in a formative itinerary devoted to legal and economic translation. This formative itinerary is made up by two general and language-neutral subjects (“Translation of Specialized Legal and Economic Texts” and “Legal and Economic Texts and their Terminology”), as well as two electives dealing with legal translation from English to Spanish (“Legal and Economic Translation 1” and “Legal and Economic Translation 2”) and from French or German to Spanish (“Legal and Economic Translation 3”). At this stage of their training, students have already consolidated their general translation competence in two additional languages, as they are in the degree’s final year, and are also familiar with general aspects of the profession.

4.2. Material selection and participant roles

According to the situated learning orientation, the working materials in the PBL methodology must be authentic and prototypical: they must be representative of real professional practice and thus likely to be commissioned for an actual sworn translation, in line with current market demands (Biel 2011: 167; Kiraly 2005: 1102; Risku 2016: 16). These two characteristics, authenticity and prototypicality, favour the student’s socialization as translators belonging to a community of practice and set out a favourable context for them to learn to activate heuristically, by analogy, translating strategies acquired as students that they will need to solve translation problems in future jobs (Kiraly 2012: 87).

For this translation project, we chose academic administrative documents. Translations of this sort of document—such as academic transcripts or certificates—are often required in the real world due to the growing number of international students who wish to continue their academic training in Spain, with the result that authentic examples are readily available. Moreover, the students participating in this project are likely to be familiar with them from their own academic background.

Unlike translation projects designed for the teaching-learning of the different roles typically assumed in a translation agency, which are more focused on collaborative group work (see, for example, Olvera-Lobo et al. 2007; Rey and Cunillera 2013; Olvera-Lobo and Gutiérrez-Artacho 2017), the project we propose involves a high degree of individual work on the part of the student, in accordance with the working method of sworn translators. By being individually liable, with their signature and seal, for the accuracy and official validity of the sworn translation, the work which sworn translators carry out as professionals will be mainly individual. Thus, as Salmi and Kinnunen (2015) point out:

Students must demonstrate that they are able to take the responsibility alone and prove that they are accountable for their own work, since they will be liable for their translations if they later receive the authorisation. Seen from the legal perspective, authorised translators are responsible for their work as individuals (Salmi and Kinnunen 2015: 237).

This implies that although in sworn translation projects real praxis (as argued, for example, by Kiraly 2005: 1103) is not possible, a simulated teaching environment can be generated where the student can internalize the sorts of work routines and translator-client interactions that actually take place in the sworn translation profession. Thus, role-playing in our project is done in pairs, with one student taking on the role of a sworn translator and other acting as a client.

In the project’s different tasks, the central axis is the student’s activity and the development of his or her autonomy as a learner, conceived as “the ability to take on the management of his own learning” (Holec 1979: 31-32). This implies that students must take responsibility for their own learning by making decisions about the multiple aspects involved in the project: selecting materials, determining their sequence of goals, monitoring their progress through the process and evaluating the results.

4.3. Training sequence

Before the sworn translation project is initiated in the classroom, students must have acquired general knowledge of sworn translation in Spain and the basic methodological principles involved in exercising the discipline. This preliminary work must address issues such as the aspects covered by legal regulations (Real Decreto 724/2020), the structure and contents of the official certification examinations (Orden AEC/2125/2014) and the methodology of sworn translation (Andújar and Cunillera 2017; Cayron 2017; Lobato and Granados 2018).

As far as sworn translation methodology is concerned, students should be familiar with the more general paratextual aspects of sworn translations, such as the translation’s physical modality, the certification formula, the date and the translator’s seal and signature, and the fact that a photocopy of the original endorsed by the translator’s seal and date on all pages must be affixed to the sworn translation upon completion. Students should also be aware of the most frequent translation problems arising in the sorts of texts most often requested by the market and the different translation techniques that are likely to be most useful for solving them.

4.3.1. Competences, learning outcomes and assessment

The general definition of translator competence as we will apply it (see §4 above) can be divided into two sub-competences (see figure 1 below): firstly, a service provision sub-competence, which encompasses skills relating to the implementation of translation in a professional context, from project management to quality assurance; and secondly, a personal and interpersonal sub-competence, which covers generic skills that enhance adaptability and employability and come into play in specific contexts such as client negotiation. However, mastery of both sub-competences is essential when dealing with clients in professional contexts.[6]

Figure 1: Translator competence breakdown

In addition to explaining to the students the competences that will be worked on in the project, they should also know how their work will be assessed at each task, because knowing the evaluation criteria is essential to improve the learning process. A total of four documents will be assessed: preliminary e-mail communications between the client and the sworn translator (25 per cent of the final grade), the translator’s quotation (30 per cent of the final grade), the sworn translation (15 per cent of the final grade), and the translator’s invoice (30 per cent of the final grade). As the focus of the project is on the professional dimension of sworn translation, a higher weighting in the assessment has been given to documents related to translator competence, but these percentages can be weighted according to the dimensions of the project to be highlighted.

The current trend in translation pedagogy, as in many other academic disciplines, is to try to develop forms of assessment that go beyond assessment’s certifying function and promote its formative component. From this perspective, in addition to this summative assessment, we have included formative assessment to monitor the student's learning process with a view to self-regulation (Hortigüela, Pérez-Pueyo et al. 2019). This form of assessment is exercised mainly through the feedback generated by both the teacher and the students in peer-assessment tasks. Peer-assessment activities are of particular value in this regard, because they increase students’ involvement in their own learning and consolidate their ability to apply quality criteria to the documents generated in the translation process. Moreover, they help students develop a sense of objectivity that they can apply later to their own work (Cañada 2019: 115-116).[7] We have chosen an analytical and holistic type of peer assessment, where the student-evaluator must use rubrics to rate different aspects of their peer’s project and also make a general commentary that highlights strengths and weaknesses and issues that were not addressed but should be (see appendices). The project also includes face-to-face group feedback sessions at each stage. In such sessions, it is not only the teacher who provides guidance, but each student can improve what is being worked on through constructive comments on both his or her own work and that of others (Pietrzak 2014). Furthermore, the inclusion of self-assessment in the form of an initial and a final questionnaire provides opportunities for students to reflect on what and how they are learning, as well as for the teacher to reflect on the project’s design and implementation.


The teacher presents the project in the classroom and explains its final learning objective: to acquire, create and apply the professional knowledge necessary to competently execute a sworn translation before the given deadline (Kiraly 2005: 1107). The teacher shows students a corpus of administrative academic documents and makes it available for students. In our case, from the set of administrative genres in the academic field, we have chosen to work with academic transcripts, enrolment certificates and degree certificates in English together with their sworn translations into Spanish (see a sample in Appendix 1).

Students begin the project by negotiating and distributing among themselves the two simulated roles they will play, client or sworn translator.[8] To construct for themselves a fictitious background, the ‘clients’ review the various administrative contexts in which a sworn translation may be necessary and then choose an appropriate text from the sample documents provided by the teacher.

Preliminary questionnaire

Before the project tasks proper begin, students complete a questionnaire regarding their prior knowledge and expectations (see Appendix 2). This questionnaire of open-ended questions is designed to provide the teacher with information about the students’ background, the type and level of knowledge they have about the project area and their expectations for it. It also encourages the student to reflect on what they know and their expectations about the learning process (Orozco-Jutorán 2006; Hurtado 2015).

Task 1: client query

The first task in the project consists of an initial written exchange between the ‘client’ and ‘translator’. The client queries the translator about preparing a sworn translation by emailing him or her a credible job order in which the conditions necessary for the translator to analyse the viability of the project must be clearly detailed, including the type of text to be translated, the language of the original text and language of the translation, the purpose of the translation, the target administrative institution and administrative process in which the text will be used, the time frame and how the sworn translation must be delivered. The translator then asks the client for any clarifications that seem necessary. All exchanges between client and translator take place in a Moodle forum, simulating a professional context and respecting the discourse conventions of e-mail communication. This step of the project is assessed by the teacher and a third student chosen at random from among those acting as clients (see Appendix 3). The competences and learning outcomes, output to be assessed and method of assessment is summarised in Table 1 below.

Client query (task 1)

1) Competences and learning outcomes:

Translator competence

• Service provision

-Knowing how to negotiate with the client regarding deadlines, invoicing, working conditions, translation specifications, etc.

-Knowing how to clarify the requirements, objectives and purposes of the translation requested and offer the appropriate services to meet those requirements

• Personal and interpersonal

-Knowing how to plan one’s time and workload

-Knowing how to comply with instructions, deadlines, commitments, etc.

-Knowing how to interact professionally with clients by e-mail

2) Assessed textual production: communications between client and translator in a Moodle forum.

3) Assessment: peer-assessment (30%) and teacher assessment (70%). The client query counts for 25% of the final grade.

Table 1: Summary (task 1)

In this first task, it can be very useful to organize a face-to-face group feedback session where the students, once they have assessed the productions of their peers, reflect on the degree of learning achieved and on their ability to solve the problems that have arisen in this first contact with the client. Possible topics for discussion can be the importance of having all the relevant information about the translation requested (administrative context of use, target administration, deadline), the form of delivery of the translation (on paper or in electronic format with officially authorised digital signature), or the availability of the sworn translator to fulfil the job within the deadline.

Task 2: translator’s quotation

With the information received from the client in task 1, the sworn translator prepares a quotation. Firstly, the translator determines the range of fees that would actually be charged in the sworn translation community for the languages involved and the conditions stipulated. Once the fee has been decided, the sworn translator calculates the final price for the job and prepares the preliminary quotation in a professional manner. When the quotation is ready, the sworn translator e-mails it through the forum to the client, who may request clarifications if necessary. This task is also peer-assessed, but in this case it is the student taking the role of client that does the assessing (see Appendix 4). Desired outcomes and assessment for this task are summarised in Table 2 below.

Translator’s quotation (task 2)

1) Competences and learning outcomes:

Translator competence

• Service provision

-Knowing how to specify and budget the services offered and their added value

• Personal and interpersonal

-Knowing how to comply with instructions, deadlines, commitments, etc.

-Knowing how to interact professionally with clients by e-mail

2) Assessed textual production: sworn translation quotation sent to client

3) Assessment: peer-assessment (30%) and teacher assessment (70%). The quotation counts for 30% of the final grade.

Table 2: Summary (task 2)

As sworn translators work on a freelance basis, remuneration is one of the issues that most concerns students in their last year of training. It is therefore recommended that each student prepares a dossier with the sources of documentation on fees that he or she has found while working on the project and makes it available to the rest of the group for an optional monographic session on this issue. This is also a good moment to encourage students to start compiling a detailed table of general translation fees for direct clients as well as for intermediaries, both national and international. It should include the services offered and the fees depending on factors such as language pair involved, urgency, degree of specialisation of the original, format and particular features of the translation job to be carried out.

Task 3: sworn translation

Once the client has accepted the quotation, the sworn translator executes the translation in accordance with the terms previously agreed. The main aspects of this task are summarised in table 3 below.

Sworn translation (task 3)

1) Competences and learning outcomes:

Translation competence

• Sworn translation

- Knowing how to analyse a source document, identify potential textual and cognitive difficulties and assess the strategies and resources needed for appropriate reformulation in line with communicative needs.

-Knowing how to translate a domain-specific text (academic administrative documents) from English into Spanish, producing a ‘fit-for-purpose’ target text.

-Knowing how to apply the conventions established by legal regulations in a sworn translation so that the target text is officially valid.

• Personal and interpersonal

-Knowing how to comply with instructions, deadlines, commitments, etc.

2) Assessed textual production: sworn translation

3) Assessment: teacher assessment (100%). The sworn translation counts for 15% of the final grade.

Table 3: Summary (task 3)

This task is assessed by the teacher, using a rubric which covers aspects such as appropriateness in terms of compliance with the pertinent sworn translation conventions, the intended readership and function of the translation, the transfer of source text meaning and the quality of expression in the target language.[9]


Achievement indicators






-Sworn translation conventions

-Target reader

-Function of sworn translation in target culture


The sworn translation does not conform to any of the job’s requirements and is completely inappropriate for the target culture.

The sworn translation does not conform to some of the job’s requirements and shows serious problems that could limit its utility in the target culture.

The sworn translation is largely in line with the job’s requirements. It has some minor defects, but they would not prevent it from serving its function in the target culture.

The sworn translation conforms fully with the job’s requirements and will function perfectly in the target culture.


-Accuracy and clarity of information




Too many meaning errors and lack of semantic accuracy. Many unnecessary additions and significant omissions. The target text is incomprehensible and confusing.

Some meaning errors and lack of semantic accuracy. Repeated additions and omissions.

Comprehension of the target text will be notably affected in some specific excerpts.


Occasional meaning errors. Occasional minor additions and omissions. However, comprehension of the target text will not be seriously affected.

No meaning errors, no additions or omissions that impact negatively on comprehension of the target text. Clear and precise translation from the point of view of the information conveyed.



 -Use of spelling and grammar

-Lexicon (accuracy and richness)

-Morphosyntax (good use of time and verbal modes, prepositions, etc.)

-Cohesion (good use of discourse markers and reference elements)

-Coherence (organization and clarity in the presentation of ideas)

Expression is unnatural in the target language.

Too many reformulation errors (spelling, lexical, morphosyntactic). Lack of coherence and cohesion.


Expression is somewhat unnatural in the target language. Some important reformulation errors (spelling, lexical, morphosyntactic). Some important errors of coherence and cohesion.


The expression is natural in the target language. Occasional reformulation errors (spelling, lexical, morphosyntactic). Few errors of coherence and cohesion.


The expression is perfectly natural in the target language. Good discursive linking.

Coherent and cohesive text.



Table 4: Assessment rubric (task 3)

Task 4: translator’s invoice

When the sworn translation is finished, the translator then draws up an invoice for the work and sends this and all other documents to the client in the agreed form. The client responds with any comments he or she may have and pays the invoice. For this task, assessment is limited to the correct preparation of the invoice and is carried out by the teacher and a third student again randomly chosen from among the ‘clients’ (see Appendix 5). Table 5 below summarises the desired outcomes and assessment for this task.

Translator’s invoice (task 4)

1) Competences and learning outcomes:

Sworn translator competence

• Service provision

-Knowing how to specify and budget the services offered and their added value

-Knowing how to bill the client and apply tax appropriately

• Personal and interpersonal

-Knowing how to comply with instructions, deadlines, commitments, etc.

-Knowing how to interact professionally with clients

2) Assessed textual production: sworn translation invoice sent to client

3) Assessment: peer-assessment (30%) and teacher assessment (70%). The invoice counts for 35% of the final grade.

Table 5: Summary (task 4)

In order to prepare a proper invoice, the students acting as translators will need to find out information about tax compliance in sworn translation jobs, since this is an issue that students are often unaware of. To this end, it may be useful for students to explore the professional associations that exist in their countries and the resources such associations offer to novice translators in the form of model documents for professional use such as quotations or invoices. Again, students can be urged compile a dossier containing such materials, which can be shared with classmates in an optional monographic session on the subject.

Task 5: authentic sworn translation assessment (optional)

Once the four transactions  between clients and translators are completed (query, quotation, translation and invoice), the teacher can randomly select one of the sworn translations made by the students and anonymously compare this textual production with an authentic sworn translation which is now made available to the students.[10] One of the didactic possibilities to foster students’ reflection at this point is for the class as a whole to try to apply the assessment rubric to first the student translation and then the professional translation (see Table 5, supra). In this interactive evaluation process, the randomly selected student translation is taken as the starting point, but the students may offer other translation solutions from their own work, with the guidance of the teacher, who acts as a facilitator. This type of group feedback encourages dialogue between the teacher and the students, and among the students themselves. As comparing their textual production with that of a professional helps students become aware of their strengths and weaknesses, it is thus an empowering tool to gain confidence in their performance as sworn translators (Kiraly 2000).

Final self-assessment questionnaire

Once the full project has been completed, the initial questionnaire is taken up again in the form of a final self-assessment questionnaire in which students reflect on their own learning and self-evaluate the skills they have acquired (see Appendix 6). The aim is to help students compare their knowledge before and after the teaching-learning sequence to highlight the changes that have taken place and the progress they have made. In addition, the questionnaire shows the teacher how students perceive their learning and indicates whether adjustments need to be made in the project design due to teaching failures.

5. Conclusions

We have presented a proposal to integrate a sworn translation project into the legal translation classroom from a situated learning perspective. According to this teaching method, the project is framed in a real-world professional context, with authentic materials, and allows students to work on fundamental skills for professional success that are either not dealt with at all in general translation subjects or are dealt with in a decontextualised way. Table 6 below summarises the tasks and forms of assessment involved and the respective actions taken by teacher and students:




Project tasks

What does the ‘client’ do?

What does the ‘sworn translator’ do?

What does the teacher do?


Preliminary work


All students review the general principles of sworn translation in Spain (legal texts, content and structure of certification examination and translation methodology applied)

Organizes workshop sessions as required

Not assessed


Students divide into pairs and choose ‘client’ or ‘sworn translator’ roles. Client selects a document for translation.

Finds and selects sample authentic sworn translations and makes them available to students. Explains project and assessment method.

Not assessed

Preliminary questionnaire

All students complete questionnaire about previous knowledge and expectations related to the project.

Collects and analyses student questionnaires.

Not assessed

Task 1:

client query

Requests a sworn translation by e-mail including all necessary details.

Negotiates the conditions and analyses the job’s viability.

Moderates a group feedback session. Provides guidance on problem-solving.

Peer assessment and teacher assessment

Task 2: translator’s quotation

Assesses the translator’s quotation and requests clarifications if necessary.

With the job’s details, prepares a quotation for the sworn translation and sends it to the client.

Moderates a group feedback session. Provides guidance on problem-solving.

Peer assessment and teacher assessment

Task 3:

sworn translation

No intervention

Translates the text according to the sworn translation commission.

No intervention

Teacher assessment

Task 4:

sworn translation invoice

Assesses the sworn translation’s invoice, requests clarifications if necessary and pays the invoice.

Once the sworn translation has been completed, it issues an invoice and sends it to the client.

Moderates a group feedback session. Provides guidance on problem-solving.

Peer assessment and teacher assessment

Task 5:

Sworn translation (optional)

All students compare a student translation with a professionally written sworn translation of the same text to identify and describe strengths and weaknesses and discuss alternative solutions.

Moderates a group feedback session. Provides guidance on problem-solving.

Not assessed

Final task: self-assessment questionnaire

All students complete self-assessment questionnaire

Collects and analyses student questionnaires. Makes changes to the project design if necessary.

Not assessed

Table 6: Summary of project tasks, student and teacher actions and forms of assessment

It is hoped that this project design focused on the professional practice of sworn translation will constitute a contribution to bridging the gap between the academic world and professional practice. The project’s implementation requires working on diversified tasks that allow the development of translator competence. In this context, the student must learn to assess the feasibility of accepting a translation job, budget it, carry out the translation, prepare an invoice, organize all these tasks efficiently and know how to interact with a client in an effective and professional manner. This teaching and learning sequence involves an active in-depth process of inquiry over time, in which students generate questions about professional issues, find and use documentary resources, ask further questions and develop their own answers. This project methodology allows the student to face a sworn translation situation that closely approximates professional practice but whose focus—unlike in traditional translation simulation exercises—does not fall primarily on the translated text but instead cultivate professional skills that may seem ancillary but are just as critical for success in this profession.


Appendix 1: Sample source text in English (top) and authentic sworn translation into Spanish (bottom


Appendix 2: initial self-assessment questionnaire[11]


Name and surname:                                           Subject:                                 Academic year:


1. You are about to start a translation project entitled “The professional dimension of sworn translation”. What does this title suggest to you?


2. On a scale of 1 (poor) to 10 (outstanding), what is your level of interest in this project? Briefly justify your answer.


3. In the project you will work with academic administrative texts. Are you familiar with these types of texts? If so, give an example of one such text.


4. Could you describe an administrative situation in an academic context where a sworn translation of the document you have cited is required?


5. Three items will be assessed in the project: preliminary contacts between the sworn translator and the client (30% of the project final grade), the quotation (35% of the project final grade) and the invoice for sworn the translation (35% of the project final grade). What do you think are the main problems you will face when communicating with the client?


6. Do you know how to prepare a quotation for a sworn translation? Do you know the information that must be included? Do you know where to find this information?


7. Do you know how to prepare the invoice for a sworn translation? Do you know the information that must be included? Do you know where to find this information?


8. On a scale of 1 (poor) to 10 (outstanding), how important do you think the professional behaviour of the sworn translator will be in this project (in terms of, for example, punctuality, respectful treatment, fulfilment of the job’s conditions, etc.)? Briefly justify your answer.


9. What do you think you will have learned once the project is completed?


10. On a scale of 1 (poor) to 10 (outstanding), please rate the usefulness you think this project will have in your training as a translator. Briefly justify your answer.


Appendix 3: Student peer-assessment form for evaluating translator’s preliminary interactions with the client (task 1)

Sworn translator: ________________________________

Client: _______________________________

Evaluator: _______________________________


• Read carefully the exchange of e-mails that has taken place between the client and the sworn translator. On a scale of 1 (poor) to 5 (outstanding), please rate the following aspects of the sworn translator's performance when contacting and negotiating with the client:


Peer assessment [30%]

Teacher assessment












1. Overall impression [20%]

  • The forum content reflects all interactions between translator and client.
  • An image of professionalism is successfully conveyed.











2. Discursive aspects [20%]

  • Discursive conventions of e-mail communication are respected (subject, initial greeting, farewell, etc.).
  • The length of the messages is appropriate, without superfluous information.
  • The level of formality is that required by this type of written interaction.











3. Content related to the client query [50%]

  • The exchange of e-mails includes all relevant information to evaluate the viability of the sworn translation job:
  • source text
  • target text reader
  • administrative process where the translation is to be used
  • deadline and form of delivery
  • payment of fees
  • other aspects
  • The translator asks the client for information about features or conditions of the job that are not clear (if any).
  • The translator negotiates conditions of the job (if applicable).












4. Written expression [10%]

  • Messages are politely written.
  • No spelling mistakes.
  • No grammar mistakes.
  • Written expression is clear.












Score (out of 10)




General commentary on the sworn translator’s performance in his or her preliminary interactions with the client (strengths, weaknesses, issues not covered, etc.). Justify your assessment (minimum 200 words).


Appendix 4: Student peer-assessment form for evaluating translator’s quotation (task 2)


Sworn translator: ________________________________

Client (evaluator): _______________________________


• On a scale of 1 (poor) to 5 (outstanding), please rate the following aspects of the sworn translator’s quotation:


Peer assessment


Teacher assessment [70%]











1. Overall impression [20%]

  • An image of professionalism is successfully conveyed.












2. Formal aspects [20%]

  • The layout is appropriate
  • information easy to identify
  • content properly ordered
  • attractive graphic design












3. Content related to the quotation [50%]

  • The quotation includes all the client’s contact details (name and surname, fiscal address, telephone number, e-mail address, etc.)
  • The quotation includes all the sworn translator’s contact details (name and surname, fiscal address telephone number, e-mail address , etc.).
  • The quotation includes all relevant information to budget the job:
  • identifier code, request date
  • detailed description of the sworn translation job (languages involved, number and types of documents, date and terms of delivery, terms of payment, etc.)
  • urgency/non-urgency
  • The quotation includes all applicable taxes, if any (VAT, personal income tax, etc.)
  • The quotation’s date of issue and period of validity are indicated.
  • The quotation includes the approval and signatures of both the client and the sworn translator.












4. Written expression [10%]

  • The level of formality is that required by this type of document.
  • No spelling mistakes.
  • No grammar mistakes.
  • Written expression is clear.












Score (out of 10)





General commentary on the sworn translator’s quotation (strengths, weaknesses, issues not covered, etc.). Justify your assessment (minimum 200 words):


Appendix 5: Student peer-assessment form for evaluating translator’s invoice (task 4)


Sworn translator: ________________________________

 Student (evaluator): _______________________________


• On a scale of 1 (poor) to 10 (outstanding), please rate the following aspects of the sworn translator's invoice:


Peer assessment


Teacher assessment












1. Overall impression [20%]

  • An image of professionalism is successfully conveyed.












2. Formal aspects [20%]

  • The layout is appropriate
  • information easy to identify
  • content properly ordered
  • attractive graphic design












3. Content related to the sworn translation invoice [50%]

  • The invoice contains all the client’s tax details.
  • The invoice contains all the sworn translator’s tax details.
  • The following items are indicated:
  • invoice number
  • date
  • payment period (e.g., 30 days)
  • job description, volume, fee, total amount
  • applicable taxes
  • subtotal and final price
  • Payment method and current account number for bank transfer (if applicable)












4. Written expression [10%]

  • No spelling mistakes.
  • No grammar mistakes.
  • Written expression is clear.












Score (out of 10)




General commentary on the sworn translator’s invoice (strengths, weaknesses, issues not covered, etc.). Justify your assessment (minimum 200 words):

Appendix 6: Self-assessment final questionnaire

Name and surname:                                 Subject:                                 Academic year:


1. You have just finished a translation project entitled “The professional dimension of sworn translation”. Did the project meet your initial expectations?


2. Now that you have completed the project, please rate your level of interest in it on a scale of 1 (poor) to 10 (outstanding). Briefly justify your answer.


3. In the project you worked with academic administrative texts. Briefly describe the main textual characteristics of these documents.


4. Describe the communication situation where the sworn translation you made has been used.


5. Three items were assessed in the project: preliminary contacts between the translator and client (30%), the quotation (35%) and the invoice for the sworn translation. What were the main problems you encountered in communicating with the client? How did you solve them?


6. What were the main problems you encountered in preparing the quotation and how did you solve them?


7. What were the main problems you encountered in preparing the invoice and how did you solve them?


8. On a scale of 1 (poor) to 10 (outstanding), how important do you think the issue of the translator’s professional behaviour was in this project (with regard to, for example, punctuality, respectful treatment, fulfilment of the job’s conditions, etc.)? Briefly justify your answer.


9. Now that the project is over, what do you think you have learned?


10. On a scale of 1 (poor) to 10 (outstanding), please rate the usefulness you think this project has had in your training as a translator. Briefly justify your answer.


Additional comments on the project (strengths, weaknesses, areas that need improvement, etc.)


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[1] It is the term most commonly used in Spain to refer to official, certified and written translation, the professional field where the project we are presenting is situated. See Mayoral (2003) for a summary of the different names used around the world to refer to written official translation; Pym et al. (2012) for a review of the status of the translation profession in EU countries and Hlavac (2013) for a cross-national review of translator certification procedures in 21 countries. It should be noted, however, that the regulations governing the status of sworn translators in Spain have undergone several changes since these reviews were published. At present, certification can only be acquired on the basis of an examination organised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation (see Ministerial Order AEC/2125/2014 and Royal Decree 724/2020).

[2] The certification examination has two parts with different eliminatory tests. In the first part, there is a multiple-choice test in Spanish on terminology and grammar. The second part includes three tests: a translation into Spanish without dictionaries of a non-specialised text, an inverse translation without dictionaries of the same type of text and, finally, a translation into Spanish with dictionaries of a legal or economic text (see [url=http://www.exteriores.gob.es/Portal/es/ServiciosAlCiudadano/Paginas/Traductoresas.aspx]http://www.exteriores.gob.es/Portal/es/ServiciosAlCiudadano/Paginas/Traductoresas.aspx[/url], accessed 26 March 2021, for more information). 

[3] See Blumenfeld et al. (1991), Markham (2003) or Thomas (2000) for an overview of research on this field.

[4] Among the initiatives which aim to integrate the professional dimension of translation in higher education, translation education networks whose aim is to “increase graduate employability by offering students practical, market-oriented experience during their studies” should be highlighted. A good example would be the International Network of Simulated Translation Bureaus (INSTB), a partnership of several European universities with include simulated translation bureaus run by students in their translation training programmes (see [url=https://www.instb.eu/]https://www.instb.eu/[/url], accessed 25 March 2021). It is also worth mentioning the European Master’s in Translation, a network of MA programmes in translation whose main goal is to “improve the quality of translator training in order to enhance the labour market integration of young language professionals” (see https://ec.europa.eu/info/resources-partners/european-masters-translation-emt_en, accessed 25 March 2021).

[5] Although the project was designed for this specific student population, it can be adapted to students at other skill levels.

[6] The breakdown of competences and learning outcomes in the different tasks of the project is partly inspired by the European Master’s in Translation Competence Framework 2017 (URL: [url=https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/emt_competence_fwk_2017_en_web.pdf]https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/emt_competence_fwk_2017_en_web.pdf[/url], accessed 20 May 2020). The learning outcomes presented here have been adapted to the students’ instructional level.

[7] The relative weight given to teacher and peer assessment in the task grades will depend on the teacher’s confidence in the students’ judgement. The teacher may choose to gradually increase the weight of the student’s assessment as the course proceeds, on the grounds that students’ evaluative criteria will become progressively more refined.

[8] Note that if additional projects are carried out during the course, these roles should be reversed.

[9] This proposal is an adaptation of the rubric for assessing translations by Rocío de Miguel and Susana Álvarez (2005), which is available at http://uvadoc.uva.es/handle/10324/16925 (accessed 3 July 2020), and a similar rubric in Hurtado (2015).

[10] If the teacher cannot get authentic translations produced by sworn translators, he or she can use the examples of authentic texts and their sworn translations provided by Cayron (2017), Lobato and Granados (2019) or Way (2005b), among other studies.

[11] All materials in appendices 2 to 6 were originally written in Spanish and translated into English by the author for the article.

About the author(s)

Gemma Andújar Moreno is a researcher and Serra Hunter Fellow in translation at the Department of Translation and Language Sciences at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra
(Barcelona). Currently, her research centres on translation pedagogy and legal and sworn translation. She is a member of the research groups GEDIT (2017 SGR-566,
Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, Spain).

Email: [please login or register to view author's email address]

©inTRAlinea & Gemma Andújar Moreno (2021).
"Bridging the gap between the sworn translation classroom and freelance professional practice A situated project-based approach", inTRAlinea Vol. 23.

This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/index.php/archive/article/2548

Morisia: A Neural Machine Translation System to Translate between Kreol Morisien and English

By Sameerchand Pudaruth(1), Aneerav Sukhoo(2), Somveer Kishnah(1), Sheeba Armoogum(1), Vandanah Gooria(3), Nirmal Kumar Betchoo(4), Fadil Chady(1), Ashminee Ramoogra(1), Hiteishee Hanoomanjee(1) and Zafar Khodabocus(1) ([1] University of Mauritius; [2] Amity Institute of Higher Education, Mauritius; [3] Open University of Mauritius; [4] Université des Mascareignes, Mauritius)


The 2011 population census reveals that out of 1.2 million inhabitants, the Kreol Morisien language is spoken by at least 84 per cent of the population of the Republic of Mauritius. As a matter of fact, Kreol Morisien has been formalised into a dictionary in 2011. Such advancement has allowed the language to be introduced as a full-fledged subject in schools in 2012. In line with the above developments, we have been engaged in setting an online system dedicated for the automatic translation from Kreol Morisien into English and from English into Kreol Morisien. World-renowned online translation services such as Google Translate and Bing Translator do not currently cater for Kreol Morisien as it is very challenging to build neural models for under-resource languages. A deep learning approach based on the Transformer model was used to undertake machine translation. A dataset of 24,810 sentence pairs was fed into the system to build the translation models. The trained models were consequently tested with 1000 new and unseen sentences. The translations were evaluated using the standard BLEU score, that measures the overlap between the automated translation and the human translation. A score of 30.30 was obtained for the translation from Kreol Morisien into English and a score of 26.34 was obtained for the translation from English into Kreol Morisien. This innovative translation system is available as an online service at translatekreol.mu and also as an app on Google PlayStore. The app has been named as Morisia. This interdisciplinary research is the first automatic online translation system for Kreol Morisien. This user-friendly system will be very useful to any citizen of the Republic of Mauritius, as well as to foreign students, tourists and any other prospective individuals willing to learn the Kreol Morisien language.

Keywords: deep learning, Transformer model, Kreol Morisien, Mauritian Creole, attention, Machine Translation

©inTRAlinea & Sameerchand Pudaruth(1), Aneerav Sukhoo(2), Somveer Kishnah(1), Sheeba Armoogum(1), Vandanah Gooria(3), Nirmal Kumar Betchoo(4), Fadil Chady(1), Ashminee Ramoogra(1), Hiteishee Hanoomanjee(1) and Zafar Khodabocus(1) (2021).
"Morisia: A Neural Machine Translation System to Translate between Kreol Morisien and English", inTRAlinea Vol. 23.

This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/index.php/archive/article/2531

1. Introduction

Kreol Morisien or Mauritian Creole is spoken by at least 84 per cent of the Mauritian population (Statistics Mauritius, 2011). Kreol Morisien has gained much acceptance and popularity as a formal language in the last decade. While English and French predominate in terms of formal written languages, Kreol Morisien is widely used for oral communication. Early contributions from some Mauritian authors to establish a Kreol Morisien literature through the publication of books, articles, plays and songs has inevitably paved the way to standardise its written form. The Government of Mauritius decided to introduce the language in primary schools in 2012. In 2017, for the first time in Mauritian history, 4000 students sat for an examination in their maternal language in the Primary School Achievement Certificate (PSAC). In January 2018, Kreol Morisien was offered as an examinable subject to Grade 7 students in secondary schools.

Official statistics confirm that Grade 6 students are performing better in Kreol Morisien in PSAC (Primary School Achievement Certificate) compared to all the Oriental languages (MES 2020). Out of 2975 students who were examined for PSAC in 2019, 2346 passed their exams in Kreol Morisien. This represents a pass rate of 78.86 per cent which is the highest among oriental languages such as Hindi, Tamil, Urdu, Marathi, Telegu, Mandarin and Arabic. Grade 9 students would have been sitting for the Kreol Morisien national exams for the first time in November 2020. However, this examination has now been reported to March-April 2021 due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Slowly but surely, the Kreol Morisien language is gaining its rightful place in the Mauritian society. The broadcast of news in Kreol Morisien (Zournal an Kreol) and a TV channel (Senn Kreol) dedicated for programmes in Kreol Morisien by the MBC (Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation) have been important milestones in elevating the status of the language. Kreol Morisien will also be introduced in the National Assembly once the relevant staff and elected members are trained and the appropriate software for processing Kreol Morisien are available. With such momentum, it is hoped that that an O-Level paper in Kreol Morisien will be available from Cambridge Assessment International Education by 2022.

There are significant reasons why the Kreol Morisien could be useful for Mauritians as well as foreigners. According to Statistics Mauritius (2019), more than 1.3 million tourists visited the island in 2019 and the vision of the government is to bring 100,000 foreign students to Mauritius in the years to come. Equipped with basic reading and writing competences in Kreol Morisien, visitors, tourists and international students will feel more comfortable in this foreign environment. A sizable percentage of Mauritians are not fully conversant in English and hence cannot clearly grasp English texts on signposts, roads, posters, billboards, buildings, online services or articles in English-based newspapers. The language barrier is a handicap for our visitors with limited proficiency in Kreol Morisien and for Mauritians with limited English proficiency. Popular translation services such as Google Translate, Microsoft Bing Translator and DeepL Translator do not cater for Kreol Morisien. The aim of this paper is to develop an automated system to perform translation from English into Kreol Morisien and vice-versa using deep neural networks. To achieve this aim, a web portal translator supported by a mobile app has been developed.

The paper is structured as follows. Section 2 provides a brief on the historical and current developments of the Kreol Morisien language. Section 3 describes the different machine translation approaches. Section 4 explains the methodology that has been adopted in this work. The implementation and evaluation of the system are described in Section 5. The conclusive part of this research and lessons learned are presented in Section 6.

2. Kreol Morisien

It is important to understand the context of Kreol Morisien) as a language of communication in Mauritius. Kreol was developed locally by the slaves from the French language spoken by colonists. In such a difficult time of history, communication was in French and slaves learnt to decipher the language in their own terms. The Kreol dialect gained importance in the local context when it became a mode of communication among the different communities from India, China, Africa and Europe who settled in Mauritius.

From a global perspective, many spoken or local languages are often not recognised as official national languages although they are widely used in society. In the Mauritian context, this spoken language was formerly known as ‘Kreol patois’, which relegated it to a secondary and less formal status. There is a perception that Kreol Morisien is an inferior and informal language, although it is the mother tongue of the overwhelming majority of the population. Kreol Morisien is the main language spoken at home by 84 per cent of Mauritians (a rise of 14 per cent since the 2000 census), while only 3.6 per cent speak French and 5.3 per cent speak English (Statistics Mauritius 2011).

Recognition of Kreol Morisien in Mauritius has been a long and challenging battle for defenders of the language. Dev Virahsawmy (2020), a writer, poet and politician, favoured the use of Kreol Morisien as a national language. Virahsawmy (2020) wrote several texts and poems in Kreol Morisien. He also translated the Shakespearian drama ‘Macbeth’ from English to Kreol Morisien. Commendable efforts were also undertaken by Lalit (2020), for formal communications to be made in Kreol Morisien. In 1984, Ledikasyon pu Travayer (1984) published the first Mauritian Creole to English translation book. In 1987, another dictionary on Mauritian Creole was authored by Philipp Baker and Vinesh Hookoomsingh (1987).

Grafi-larmoni was developed to ensure the standardisation of Kreol Morisien. Grafi-larmoni was an attempt to develop a single and common form of writing the Kreol Morisien. Vinesh Hookoomsingh (2004) related Grafi-larmoni to a harmonised orthography allowing language and orthography to evolve in a flexible and dynamic way. A new dictionary on standard Kreol Morisien was authored by Arnaud Carpooran in 2009, with new versions added on over the years to incorporate new words and new meanings of existing words (Carpooran 2019).

The standard grammar of Kreol Morisien was published in 2011 (Police-Michel, Carpooran and Florigny 2011). The structure of sentences in Kreol Morisien is quite similar to English, however there are notable differences as well. For example, in Kreol Morisien, the adjective most often appears after the object: ‘The red car’ is translated to ‘Loto rouz-la’. Rouge for ‘red’ is moved after the object (Loto). ‘The’ is moved at the end (la). Words have no plural forms in Kreol Morisien unlike in English where the character ‘s’ is often added at the end of words to indicate their plural form. An example is: ‘There are many animals here’ is translated to ‘Ena boukou zanimo isi’. The word ‘boukou’ is used to indicate that there are many animals. When translating from English into Kreol Morisien, it is often necessary to drop extra verbs. An example is: ‘She is good at drawing’ is translated to ‘Li bon dan desine’. ‘She’ is translated to ‘Li’ and ‘good at drawing’ to ‘bon dan desine’. The verb ‘is’ is dropped.

The strategy behind developing machine translation for Kreol Morisien is a commendable effort to foster the development and recognition of a language that binds the Mauritian community emotionally and socially. Kreol Morisien also has a patriotic dimension as it creates a sense of national identity. Machine Translation (MT) has also inherited popularity in the field of education. Although many students are using MT as an aid to language learning, very little is known about its use as a pedagogical tool in formal education (Odacioglu and Kokturk 2015). MT helps to decrease lexico-grammatical errors and improve student performance (Lee 2020). MT positively affects student writing strategies and help them think of writing as a process (Lee 2020). Most of the students in Mauritius use their mother-tongue language, French and English languages in school. Therefore, this work would be of great help for students to harness their linguistic and communication skills.

3. Machine Translation

According to Adam Lopez (2008), machine translation is the translation of text or speech from a source language to a target language. Machine translation techniques have witnessed a rapid evolution paving the way to high-quality translation (Maucec and Donaj 2019). Various techniques have been developed like rule-based, statistical and deep learning. Free online translation tools such as Google Translate, Bing Translator and DeepL Translator have become major assets for those who require text to be translated from one language to many other languages. Language is expected to be no longer a barrier to communication, with so many mobile applications (mobile apps) available from Google Play. Mobile apps can even translate from speech to speech, showing how efficient translation systems have evolved. Progress is continuously being made with speech-to-speech translation and online website translation.  Nevertheless, many challenges such as lexical and syntactic ambiguities still remain (Moussallem, Wauera and Ngomo 2018). Dealing with word ordering issues is also challenging for all types of machine translation systems. Pronoun resolution is especially difficult when translating from Kreol Morisien into English, as Kreol Morisien can be considered as a genderless language.

3.1 Rule-based Approach

The simplest type of rule-based machine translation system works by the replacement of one word in the source language by an equivalent word in the target language. This requires the development of a huge bilingual dictionary which contains the mappings for each word. A word can also be mapped to several words as well in the target language. There is a set of rules that must be followed before the replacement is carried out. Simple re-ordering of words is allowed in rule-based systems, such as the placement of adjectives after nouns when translation from Kreol Morisien to English. Although simple in approach, rule-based systems suffer from a number of problems. It is very difficult to translate long sentences as re-organising the words become almost impossible. Moreover, words are often translated without regard to the context in which they are used. However, rule-based machine translation system has the strength of the incorporation of explicit linguistic knowledge and they can be useful in situations where only very (???) words or very short sentences have to be translated (Kirkedal 2012). This method is useful when there is no significant parallel corpus to be used, and therefore statistical and neural machine translation are not possible. Sameerchand Pudaruth, Lallesh Sookun and Arvind Kumar Ruchpaul (2013) developed the first rule-based translation system for Kreol Morisien.

3.2 Interlingua Approach

Since there are so many languages in the world, it would not be practical to convert each language to another directly. Many languages are also under-resourced and it would be very difficult to create datasets for them. The interlingual approach allows the use of one specific language as the pivot or central language (Supnithi, Sornlertlamvanich and Thatsanee 2002). Since English is the most widely spoken and understood language in the world, it is often used as a pivot language. For example, there is no automatic translator to translate from Kreol Morisien into Hindi. However, it is possible to firstly convert Kreol Morisien into English and then convert the resulting English text into Hindi. This is the basis of the interlingual approach where the translation is done in two phases (Lampert 2004). It is also possible to represent the source into a language-independent representation and then use it to translate to other languages, but such systems have not become popular (Alansary 2014).

3.3 Statistical Machine Translation (SMT)

In contrast to rule-based translation systems, statistical-based translation systems do not require grammatical and syntactic knowledge of the languages that are involved. Instead, a large amount of parallel texts is required in order for the mappings to be extracted automatically (Schwenk, Fouet and Senellart 2008). Naïve replacement of one word by another in isolation do not produce valid translations. Such systems usually require a dictionary to store the fixed mappings. The mappings are obtained through simple frequency statistics. On the other hand, statistical machine translation of a text from a source language to the target language is based on probabilities. The essence of this method is the alignment and mapping of n-grams in the parallel texts. An n-gram is a continuous sequence of words from a text segment. Bigrams are sequences of two words while trigrams are sequences of three words. Trigrams have shown to produce more accurate translations than unigrams or bigrams (Schwenk, Fouet and Senellart 2008). An example of word alignment from a sentence in English to Kreol Morisien as shown in Figure 1.

Fig. 1. Word alignment between English and Kreol Morisien

The above alignment is quite simple as there is no alteration in the order of words in the target language. This reduces the complexity of the translation process. Daniel Marcu and William Wong (2002) proposed that lexical correspondences can be formed both at the word and phrase levels. They estimated the probability that one phrase in the source language is the translation equivalent of the phrase in the target language. They also calculated the probabilities that a certain phrase must occur at a certain position in a sentence. Philipp Koehn, Franz Josef Och and Daniel Marcu (2003) further showed that phrase-based translations give better results than systems based on word-alignments only. Their experiments were conducted on several pairs of European languages. Moses is an open-source statistical machine translation software and it has enabled many researchers and natural language translation practitioners to put forward statistical machine translation systems with high-quality text translations (Koehn et al. 2007). An initial attempt towards SMT between English and Mauritian Creole was made by Aneerav Sukhoo, Pushpak Bhattacharyya and Mahen Soobron (2014).

3.4 Neural Machine Translation

The latest technique, which is showing even better results, is making use of neural networks. Improvement in hardware, like high RAM capacity, hard disk capacity and high processor speed have been the reasons behind this breakthrough. In addition, the use of Graphical Processing Units (GPUs) have improved the machine learning process. The creation of models for translation requires large volumes of parallel sentences and the use of Central Processing Units (CPUs) were found to be slow. With GPUs, neural networks and deep learning have become a promising area for machine translation. Deep learning architectures that join many multilayer perceptrons together to form hidden layers has become popular for the translation of texts. In general, the deeper the neural network, the more sophisticated patterns the network can learn (Alom et al. 2019).  The first layer is called the input layer while the last layer is known as the output layer. The network requires huge amounts of data. For neural machine translation, a very large amount of parallel sentences is required. The network is then able to learn increasingly complex features at each additional layer and finally it delivers the translated text in the target language. Deep learning architectures have replaced SMT-based systems for machine translation as the results obtained from them are much better and more robust (Forcada 2017).

Our core translation system is fully-based on the Tensor2Tensor (T2T) library and the Transformer model (Vaswani et al. 2017; Vaswani et al. 2018). The T2T library contains a number of datasets for different language pairs such as English-German, English-French and English-Vietnamese. There are also pre-built models for six language pairs. All translations in T2T are performed using the Transformer model which uses stacked self-attention layers (Vaswani et al. 2017). Attention is currently one of the most important ideas in machine translation. It is mainly used for sequence-to-sequence models in which there are an encoder and a decoder. The encoder is an LSTM (Long Short-Term Memory) unit which is a type of recurrent neural network (RNN). It converts the input sentence into several vectors. The decoder uses these vectors to make predictions. The attention mechanism allows encoders and decoders to handle longer sentences as only specific vectors are considered at one time. A sample translation system which is based on the Tensor2Tensor library and the Transformater model is available on Google Colab via Github (2020).

4. Methodology

Kreol Morisien is a relatively new language compared to languages such as English, French, German and Spanish. The formalization of the Kreol Morisien language started only one decade ago. This culminated in the production of the Lortograf Kreol Morisien (Orthography of Kreol Morisien) and Gramer Kreol Morisien (Grammar of Kreol Morisien) in 2011 by the Minister of Education & Human Resources and the Akademi Kreol Morisien. Literature in standard Kreol Morisien is still very scarce given that it was only recently formalised and also because the number of people who have formally studied this language is only in the thousands.

Thus, two full-time staff were recruited to create the dataset for this project and they were trained to do so by several members of the research team. The dataset consists of parallel sentences in English and Kreol Morisien. All the original sentences were in English as it is difficult to get good sentences in standard Kreol Morisien. Over a period of 1 year, together they have manually translated 25,810 sentences from English to Kreol Morisien. They also reviewed the work of each other. The sentences were also reviewed by other members of the research team and by several educators who teach Kreol Morisien in primary and secondary schools.

Out of these 25,810 sentences, the first 23,810 sentence pairs were used for training (building the English to Kreol Morisien translation model). The next 1,000 sentence pairs were used for validating the English to Kreol Morisien translation model. These 23,810 sentence pairs were then swapped to perform the training to build the Kreol Morisien to English model. The  1,000 sentence pairs used above were again used for validating the Kreol Morisien to English translation model. The last set of  1,000 sentence pairs were then used to test the trained models. This last set of 1000 sentence pairs was created in the same manner as described earlier. However, they were never used in the training phase. It was kept separate, so that a second level of unbiased testing could be performed. The BLEU (BiLingual Evaluation Understudy) score was used as a metric to evaluate the quality of the translated texts (Papineni et al. 2002). The BLEU score is a value which can range from 0 to 100. The higher the score, the better the result is likely to be. The models (English to Kreol Morisien and Kreol Morisien to English) were then served via a webserver and an Android app. Two different workshops were held with educators of the Kreol language in order to obtain their feedback and for pilot testing. The first one was conducted in the island of Mauritius at the beginning of the project in November 2018 in order to gather requirements from primary and secondary school teachers. This meeting was attended by more than 100 Kreol Morisien educators. One of the main aims of this meeting was to draw up a list of textual Kreol Morisien resources that could be used in this work. Since there are very few works currently in this language, creating a dataset of parallel sentences was a huge problem. The educators directed us to relevant resources which were based on standard Kreol Morisien. Many educators also expressed their willingness to support us in this work either through creating the dataset or providing constant feedback on our work, especially regarding translation quality. The second one was held in February 2019 in the island of Rodrigues, again to gather further requirements from primary school teachers and other relevant stakeholders. The aims were similar to the first one. However, in this second workshop, we found out that the Kreol that is being used in Rodrigues island is slightly different from the one used in the island of Mauritius. Both Rodrigues and Mauritius are islands that form part of the Republic of Mauritius. Two months before the end of the project, in October 2019, the completed website and app were shared with all the educators for pilot testing. The views and comments received were taken into consideration to further refine our work. An awareness programme about the website and the app was also conducted in Rodrigues in November 2019.



Kreol Morisien

Number of sentences



Total number of words



Number of unique words



Length of the shortest sentence



Length of the longest sentence



Average number of words in a sentence



Table 1. Comparison of the English and Kreol Morisien datasets used in training and validation

Table 1 shows a comparison of the English and Kreol Morisien datasets used in training and validation. We can see that the average number of words in an English sentence is slightly higher than in a Kreol Morisien sentence. This means that Kreol Morisienis slightly more compact than English, i.e., we are able to say slightly more things in Kreol Morisien than in English language when using the same number of words. The second edition of the Diksioner Morisien contains 17,000 unique words (Carpooran 2011). Thus, we have not yet been able to consider all Kreol Morisien words in our system as there are only 13,456 unique words in the dataset. 2,400 new words have also been added in the third edition of the Diksioner Morisien (Carpooran 2019). Moreover, the English language contains more than 100,000 words but only 13,644 are available in our system. Dataset creation is an on-going process and we intend to double our dataset in future works.

All our experiments were performed on a desktop computer with an Intel Core i7-6700 @3.40GHz processor running the Microsoft Windows 10 Pro 64-bit operating system with a RAM (Random Access Memory) memory of 16GB, an SSD (Solid State Device) of 120 GB and a hard drive of 1 TB. The software was implemented using the Python programming language on the Anaconda platform. The training for the machine translation was performed using the Tensor2Tensor library and the Transformer model (Vaswani et al. 2017; Vaswani et al. 2018). This library is built on top of TensorFlow which was developed by Google.

5. Implementation and Evaluation of Results

As part of this translation work, a website has been implemented to perform the translation of text from Kreol Morisien into English and vice-versa, as shown in Figure 2. The portal is accessible via the translatekreol.mu domain. The default choice (highlighted in green) is from Kreol Morisien (source language) to English (target language). There are four options under the source language which are: Translate, Clear all texts, Check Spelling and Send suggestion.

Fig. 2. Main interface of the online translation system

The Translate button translates text from Kreol Morisien into English if the source is set to Kreol. The message ‘Tradiksion pe fer, enn ti moman ankor’ appears while the text is being translated. This basically tells the user that the translation is being done and to please wait for some time to see the results. Both single words and sentences can be translated. It takes about 10 seconds on average to process a query. The processing time is quite high because we are using a shared server. On a dedicated webserver, the processing time would be reduced. When the translation is completed, the result appears in the textbox on the right. From there, the Copy Translation button can be used to copy the translated text to another location, for example to Google Translate, if the user wishes to translate the English text into some other language. The Clear all texts button simply clears all the texts present in both textboxes. It is not a compulsory function to use as the text can also be edited directly from any of the textboxes.

Fig. 3. Autocorrect feature

As shown in Figure 3, an autocorrect feature for Kreol Morisien text is also available in the system. As soon as a user starts entering text in Kreol Morisien, a spell-check operation is automatically started in the background to check whether the word is a valid one. If the words are valid ones, no message appears. However, as soon as it detects words that are not found in the dictionary, a suggestion is made as shown in Figure 3. For example, in this case, the user has entered the text ‘Mo lotoo pa pe rooule’. The words ‘lotoo’ and ‘rooulee’ are not valid Kreol Morisien words. Thus, the message ‘Ou pe rod dir’ appears at the bottom screen together with a proposed corrected version of the input text. ‘Ou pe rod dir’ literally means ‘Are you trying to say’. The input text can be replaced automatically with the suggested text (in blue) by simply clicking on it.

Fig. 4. Spelling checker

Clicking the Check spelling button highlights the wrongly written words in yellow as shown in Figure 4. To obtain valid suggestions for these words, the user must right-click on them. For example, for the incorrect word ‘rooulee’, the system has provided seven suggestions. If the correct word is found in this list, it can be selected through a click. The incorrect word in the sentence will then be replaced by the correct one. Although the spelling-checker is very reliable, it is possible that none of the proposed words is the correct one. If a user is not satisfied with the translated text, it is possible to use the Send suggestion feature to edit the text and send it to the research team. A confirmation message is shown on the screen when the suggestion is properly submitted. This is a form of feedback which will help us understand the weak points of the system for subsequent improvements.

Fig. 5. Kreol Morisien to English translation  |  Fig. 6. English to Kreol Morisien  translation

An Android mobile app has also been implemented in this research work. The app can also perform the translation of Kreol Morisien to English and vice-versa. The translation model is the same as the one in the online platform. However, the app has been intentionally kept very simple so that it is very easy to use but also because of the limited screen space that is available in smartphones. Only the Translate button is available in the app as shown in Figure 5 and Figure 6. The default choice for the translation is from Mauritian Creole into English. To perform English to Mauritian Creole translation, the user must simply toggle the switch to the right.

Fig. 7. BLEU score for English to Kreol Morisien translation during training

Fig. 8. BLEU score for Kreol Morisien to English translation during training

The quality of the translation was evaluated using the BLEU metric. As mentioned earlier, a test set of 1000 unseen sentences were used to evaluate the two models. A BLEU score of 26.34 was obtained for the English to Kreol Morisien translation model while a score of 30.30 was obtained for the Kreol Morisien to English model. The training was performed for 100,000 steps for both models and the BLEU score was noted for every 10,000 steps. The highest BLEU score recorded during training for English to Kreol Morisien was 22.71 as shown in Figure 7. The highest BLEU score recorded during training for Kreol Morisien to English was 26.88 as shown in Figure 8. There is a difference of 3.63 units between the BLEU score of the English to Kreol Morisien model and a difference of 3.42 units between the BLEU score of the Kreol Morisien to English model in the validation and evaluation sets as the internal BLEU scores used for validating the model are not calculated in exactly the same way (Github 2020). During the training phase, a simpler version of the BLEU score is used so that it can be calculated fast while in the evaluation phase, the standard BLEU formula is applied. Sample translations from both models are available in the Appendix.

6. Conclusions

With each passing year, Kreol Morisien is gaining more and more momentum. After its introduction in 2012 in primary schools, it was introduced in secondary schools in 2018 and the Mauritian government is now planning to allow the use of Kreol Morisien in the National Assembly once the necessary infrastructures are set up. Thus, the number of formal users of Kreol Morisien is consistently growing. Since Kreol Morisien in its written form is a very recent phenomenon, most Mauritians do not know how to write it properly. The need for an anytime-anywhere platform to learn this language is being deeply felt. Thus, in this research, we have implemented an online platform (translatekreol.mu) for the translation from Kreol Morisien into English and vice-versa. The system can translate single words as well as sentences. An Android app, under the name of Morisia, is also available on Google Play Store. The quality of the translation is similar in both directions as measured using the BLEU score. Thus, to our knowledge, translatekreol.mu is the first online platform which translates sentences from Kreol Morisien into English and from English into Kreol Morisien. The same can be said for the Morisia app. In the future, we intend to double the dataset from 25,810 parallel sentences to 50,000 to train the system.

7. Acknowledgements

This paper is based on work supported by the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) under award number INT-2018-10. However, any opinion, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of TEC. We are also indebted to the numerous educators of the Kreol Morisien language who have contributed to the dataset.


Sample Translations

a. Kreol Morisien to English

Source Text in Kreol Morisien

Translated Text in English

So move lasante inn anpes li vwayaze.

His bad health has prevented him from the travel.

Komie sa?

How much is this?

Tom pou de retour avan de-zer trant.

Tom will be in return before two thirty.

Tom inn kokin plin larzan depi ar Mary.

Tom has fooled money from Mary.

Tom pa le pran ankor travay.

Tom doesn't want to take any more work.

Mo bien kontan sa zip la.

I like this skirt.

To panse mo bizin dir Tom?

Do you think I must say Tom?

Ziz la inn anil desizion final la. 

The judge has cancel the final decision.

Mo papa pa pou les mwa sorti avek Bill.

My father won't let me go out with Bill.

To bizin evit fer bann erer koumsa.

You must avoid making such a mistake.


b. English to Kreol Morisien

Source Text in English Morisien

Translated Text in Kreol

He studied hard in order to pass the test.

Li finn etidie dirman pou pas so test.

He was as gentle a man as ever lived.

Li ti kouma enn misie ki zame viv.

Tom ran into the house.

Tom finn sove dan lakaz.

She made the same mistake again.

Li finn fer mem erer.

I understand it's going to get hot again.

Mo konpran sa pou gagn so.

I listened to the music of birds.

Mo ti ekout lamizik so bann zwazo.

She'll be up around by this afternoon.

Nou bizin fer pre pou sa lapremidi-la.

It is a wise father that knows his own child.

Se enn bon papa ki so prop zanfan.

She had to stand in the train.

Li finn bizin deboute dan trin.

Let's stop playing tennis.

Anou aret zwe tenis.


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Vaswani, Ashish, Samy Bengio, Eugene Brevdo, Francois Chollet, Aidan N. Gomez, Stephan Gouws, Llion Jones, Lukasz Kaiser, Nal Kalchbrenner, Niki Parmar, Ryan Sepassi, Noam Shazeer and Jakob Uszkoreit (2018) “Tensor2Tensor for Neural Machine Translation”, arXiv:1803.07416 [cs.LG].

Virahsawmy, Dev (2020) URL: [url=https://boukiebanane.com/]https://boukiebanane.com/[/url] (accessed 26 July 2020).

About the author(s)

Sameerchand Pudaruth is a Senior Lecturer and Head of ICT Department at the University of Mauritius. He holds a PhD in Artificial Intelligence from the University of Mauritius. He is a senior member of IEEE, founding member of the IEEE Mauritius Subsection and the current Vice-Chair of the IEEE Mauritius Section. He is also a member of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM). His research interests are Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Data Science, Machine Translation, Computer Vision, Robotics, Blockchain and Information Technology Law. He has written more than 50+ papers for national & international journals and conferences. He has also written a book entitled, 'Python in One Week'.

Somveer Kishnah is a lecturer in the Department of Software and Information Systems (SIS), Faculty of Information, Communication and Digital Technologies at the University of Mauritius. He joined the University of Mauritius in September 2010 and has a Bachelor’s degree in Information Systems and a Master’s degree in Computer Science and Engineering. His research currently revolves around the people factor in both the development and usage of software and combines Artificial Intelligence and Emotional Intelligence in view of promoting better user experiences. In the context of a future smart Mauritius, his study is focussing on intelligent systems equipped with emotions that can help in bridging the communication gap between the hearing impaired and hearing population.

Aneerav Sukhoo is the Deputy Director of the Central Information Systems Division of the Ministry of Information Technology, Communication and Innovation. He has held responsibilities as Systems Analyst, Project Manager, Technical Manager, Deputy Director and Director of institutions spearheading the computerisation programme in Government for the last 30 years. He holds a PhD in Computer Science from UNISA and conducted postdoctoral research at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay. He was Professor and Dean of IT at the Amity Institute of Higher Education on a full time basis in 2019 & 2020. He has also provided lectures at various universities and supervised several doctoral students.

Sheeba Armoogum is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Mauritius and past Head of ICT Department of ICT. She has a BSc in Physics, Mathematics and Electronics at the Bangalore University, India and a MSc in Computer Applications at the Madurai Kamaraj University, India. She has more than 14 years of experience in teaching & learning at the tertiary level with more than 20 publications. Her fields of research are networking & security, Cyber Forensics, AI & Machine Learning. Sheeba has a strong industrial background. Before joining UoM, she worked in an American company in Bangalore as team leader and project manager. She was part of several international conferences including the IEEE AFRICON 2013, IEEE EmergiTech 2016 and IEEE NextComp 2019.

Vandanah Gooria is a programme manager and lecturer in Marketing, Management and Special Needs Management at the Open University of Mauritius. She has 13 years of experience in administration and has over 7 years of professional and academic experience encompassing market research and surveys, development and authoring of course materials. She has written one book chapter and published many research papers. She has a specific interest in serving vulnerable groups and she has been involved in social activities for more than 4 years. Her areas of interest are mainly special education needs, marketing, management, open distance learning and Open Educational Resources (OER).

Nirmal Kumar Betchoo is a tenured faculty and former Dean at the Université des Mascareignes. He holds a DBA (Switzerland), an MBA (Scotland) as well as being a Graduate of the professional examinations of the Chartered Institute of Marketing and the Institute of Administrative Management (UK). He is the author of 13 books published nationally and internationally. He has published over 60 peer-reviewed articles in international refereed journals. He is an editor for the Journal of Mass Communications (USA) and the European Scientific Journal (ESJ). As a scholar, he reviews papers for many international journals and conferences. Dr Betchoo writes extensively for the local press where he has published lead papers out of some 150 articles he has been publishing since 2012.

Fadil Chady has earned a bachelor’s degree in Applied Computing from the University of Mauritius. He has worked as Research Assistant for the project entitled, “Automatic Identification of Medicinal Plants in Mauritius via a Mobile Application using Computer Vision and Artificial Intelligence Techniques”, at the University of Mauritius in 2018 and 2019. The project was funded by the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC). He has acquired skills in the following fields: computer vision, machine learning, artificial intelligence, deep learning, web programming, server administration on Linux, web services, managing cloud services and natural language processing. He is currently working as a Systems Engineer in the ICT industry.

Ashminee Devi Ramoogra studied Computer Science at the University of Mauritius. She has worked as Trainee Research Assistant for the project entitled, “Creole to English and English to Creole Machine Translation using Natural Language Processing Techniques and Deep Learning Neural Networks”, at the University of Mauritius from 2018 to 2020. The project was funded by the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC). She has excellent knowledge of web technologies, MySQL and programming languages such as C++ and Java. As part of the project, she was also required to create a dataset of English sentences and their equivalent in Kreol Morisien. Thus, she has also acquired an in-depth knowledge of Kreol Morisien.

Hiteishee Hanoomanjee studied Computer Science at the University of Mauritius. She has worked as Trainee Research Assistant for the project entitled, “Creole to English and English to Creole Machine Translation using Natural Language Processing Techniques and Deep Learning Neural Networks”, at the University of Mauritius from 2018 to 2020. The project was funded by the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC). She has excellent knowledge of web technologies, MySQL and programming languages such as C++ and Java. As part of the project, she was also required to create a dataset of English sentences and their equivalent in Kreol Morisien. Thus, she has also acquired an in-depth knowledge of Kreol Morisien.

Mohammad Zafar Khodabocus has earned a bachelor’s degree in Software Engineering from the University of Mauritius. He has worked as Research Assistant for the project entitled, “Creole to English and English to Creole Machine Translation using Natural Language Processing Techniques and Deep Learning Neural Networks”, at the University of Mauritius from 2018 to 2020. The project was funded by the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC). He has acquired skills in the following fields: Internet of Things (IoT), Machine Learning (ML), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Deep Learning (DL), Machine Translation (MT), Internet Technologies and Game development. He is currently working as a Software Engineer in the ICT industry.

Email: [please login or register to view author's email address]

©inTRAlinea & Sameerchand Pudaruth(1), Aneerav Sukhoo(2), Somveer Kishnah(1), Sheeba Armoogum(1), Vandanah Gooria(3), Nirmal Kumar Betchoo(4), Fadil Chady(1), Ashminee Ramoogra(1), Hiteishee Hanoomanjee(1) and Zafar Khodabocus(1) (2021).
"Morisia: A Neural Machine Translation System to Translate between Kreol Morisien and English", inTRAlinea Vol. 23.

This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/index.php/archive/article/2531

The best interest of the child in interpreter-mediated interviews

Researching children’s point of view

By Amalia Amato & Gabriele Mack (University of Bologna, Italy)


Children’s rights enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) can be substantiated only if children can understand them and can communicate their point of view effectively. Whenever children do not speak the same language of the country where they live, and no action is taken to guarantee their right to communicate in their mother tongue, their rights are at risk. Yet, interpreting is still generally considered as a service activity for adults also in research and interpreter education, and the perception of interpreting by children and adolescents is understudied so far. This paper contributes to filling this gap by giving voice to a group of 18 Italian children and adolescents aged between 6 and 17 who communicated via an interpreter for the first time and expressed their preferences and concerns. The aim was to collect information about their perception of some aspects of an interpreter-mediated interview, in particular how they felt during the interview, what was their perception of role and rapport building and their preferred seating arrangements. We hope with this study to inspire further research in this area and also, possibly, specialised training for interpreters who work with children.

Keywords: interpreting for children, children's rights, language rights, children's view, interview

©inTRAlinea & Amalia Amato & Gabriele Mack (2021).
"The best interest of the child in interpreter-mediated interviews Researching children’s point of view", inTRAlinea Vol. 23.

This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/index.php/archive/article/2539

1. Children’s language rights in the EU and in Italy

Giving a definition of the terms ‘fragility’ and ‘vulnerability’ is difficult, as convincingly argued by Virág (2015: 77ff). Any person, regardless of age, can be frail for a variety of reasons and in many ways, and vulnerability is often a temporary condition induced by transient circumstances. Boys and girls under 18 are considered vulnerable per se by national and international legal provisions which recognise their need for special care, especially (but not only) if they are on the move and/or separated from their families.

The fundamental legal provisions concerning children are enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) (1989), with 196 State Parties as of October 2015,[1] and 181 ratifications in 2019.[2] A number of articles define children’s language and communication rights, namely articles 12 and 13. Article 12 guarantees freedom of expression in matters affecting the child and gives due weight to the child’s views, and it establishes the obligation to hear the child in any judicial and administrative proceedings affecting her/him. Article 13 grants every child the right to “express his or her views, obtain information, and make ideas or information known, regardless of frontiers”. Though it may sound obvious, all these rights can be substantiated only if children can understand them and can communicate their point of view effectively. But linguistic rights are not explicitly granted by international law, although there are initiatives like the Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights signed in 1996 in Barcelona (UNESCO 1996a and 1996b).

In Italy, the child’s right to be heard when involved in legal proceedings was introduced by decree law no. 154 in 2013, which added article 336-bis to the Civil Code. For unaccompanied children, a major step forward was Act no. 47 of 7 April 2017 (‘Provisions on protective measures for unaccompanied foreign minors’) stating that no later than 30 days after having been reported to a public authority, unaccompanied children have the right to be heard by qualified staff who collect their story and all the necessary information to grant them protection, with the help of a cultural mediator if necessary.

1.2 Public service interpreting in Italy

In Italy, the shortage of qualified and trained interpreters in the languages of recent migratory flows in legal and other crucial settings - such as health care, education and psychiatry - raises concerns also in terms of children’s rights. So far there is no register or accreditation system for public service interpreters, and according to a comparative research in six European countries, their professional status in Italy is very low and their work is poorly paid, which inevitably affects the quality of their interpreting services negatively (Casadei and Franceschetti 2009: 18). Qualified conference or liaison interpreters only rarely accept assignments in public service settings where interpreting is generally performed by linguistic and/or cultural mediators. The first official definition of mediator dates back to 1997, and in the following years local authorities issued multiple and varied job descriptions.[3] Later on, regional and local authorities defined a common job description similar to that of a caseworker who also provides language assistance and interpreting, but it is still ambiguous and comprises so many tasks and roles that it seems impossible they can be all performed by the same person (see Conferenza Regioni e Province Autonome 2009: 8-9). Moreover, so far there are no common standards for training and qualifications of cultural mediators (Amato and Garwood 2011). The lack of standards and accreditation of mediators is even more worrying if we consider that in Italy among users of language services there are particularly vulnerable groups like migrant (and often unaccompanied) children.

In legal contexts (see ImPLI 2012; Falbo 2013) interpreting is mainly carried out by a) in-house police interpreters who work as full time staff for the Ministry of Interior; b) former migrants who may or may not be trained as cultural and language mediators and cover languages of lesser diffusion as well as vehicular languages but have no training in interpreting techniques such as consecutive with notes or whispering; and c) bilinguals acting as ad hoc interpreters without any training or experience neither in legal matters nor in interpreting. Also in health care, interpreting is rarely provided by trained interpreters, and schools have very small budgets to ensure communication with newly arrived foreign pupils.

2. Research on interpreting for children and adolescents: a literature review

The lack of explicit language rights for children and adolescents is reflected also in the limited number of interpreting studies in this area. This sharply contrasts with the abundant research on interpreting activities performed by children known as language brokering, which raises completely different problems and will not be dealt with in this paper. The following sections give a brief overview of the most salient empirical studies on interpreting for children and present facts and findings that will be referred to when discussing the results of our study. We shall first discuss the few publications about interpreting for very young children (section 2.1), then interpreting for migrant children and for minors in legal settings (section 2.2), and finally interpreting in paediatric and mental health care settings (section 2.3).

2.1 Interpreting for very young children

A Norwegian research project in public service interpreting for children conducted by researchers from Oslo University College includes a study on very young children’s behaviour in interpreter-mediated conversation (Hitching and Nilsen 2010) to which Nilsen (2013) added some more interviews. Analyses of video-recorded interactions led the authors to conclude that also very young children aged 3 or 4 are able to understand the peculiarity of interpreter-mediated communication and adapt to it, provided they understand and accept the basic rules of turn-taking in consecutive interpreting. Kanstad (2015) confirmed this finding in a study involving a 3-year-old boy who was assisted by an interpreter during his first weeks in a Norwegian kindergarten. Basically the same observation was made by Solem (2014) with chuchotage (whispering) and simultaneous interpreting for 5 children aged between 3 and 7 years. Kanstad's research was part of a multidisciplinary project aimed at both raising awareness and expertise about communication with children via an interpreter and showing how children's rights stated in the UN CRC can be granted (Kanstad and Gran 2016: 21).[4] In this study the need for and the right to interpreting for children were discussed from the perspective of three groups: hearing impaired children with sign language as their first language,[5] Sami speaking children and newly arrived migrant children. Interpreting was recognised as an important tool to safeguard these children's rights of expression and participation, and prevent marginalization (Kanstad and Gran 2016: 99). The authors conclude that in increasingly intercultural societies communication via an interpreter should be part of the training of kindergarten teachers, and foreign children should have the right to an interpreter, especially in their early days at kindergarten (ibid.: 95).

2.2 Interpreting for migrant children and in legal settings

The Oslo University College project mentioned above also involved the Norwegian school administration and the Directorates of Immigration and of Integration and Diversity, taking into account the viewpoints of users, recruiters, and staff working with interpreters as well as interpreters themselves about interacting with minors in public service encounters. One of their conclusions was that interpreting between adults and children does not differ significantly from interpreting between adults. However, while interpreters do not need a different toolbox to interpret for children, this must be extra-large (Hitching and Nilsen 2010: 37). Moreover, interpreters’ personal qualities and flexibility seem particularly relevant since some individuals are better at interacting with children than others (Nilsen 2015). Besides strongly recommending to resort only to trained and experienced interpreters, the Norwegian researchers also suggested that in the public sector interpreter-mediated communication should become a component of professional training in intercultural communication for all staff working with children.

Another research project about interpreting in childcare institutions and care centres for unaccompanied asylum seeking minors, which was carried out on behalf of the Norwegian Directorate of Children, Youth and Family, collected quantitative and qualitative data in different ways including also interviews with employees, managers, professionals and young migrants, but unfortunately the young respondents' answers were not discussed separately (Berg et al. 2018). The use of untrained bilinguals and breach of confidentiality proved to heavily undermine users’ trust in interpreting. Telephone interpreting seems rather common in Norway, mainly for logistic and cost reasons (Berg et al. 2018: ix), but very little is known about the preferences of young people in this respect. Only Øien, who interviewed 30 asylum seekers aged 15-18, incidentally mentions that some minors seem to prefer the greater distance and impersonality of telephone interpreting when they have to discuss sensitive issues (Øien 2010: 31).

A series of studies based on conversation analysis was carried out in Sweden on a corpus of 26 interviews with Russian children, with the aim “to explore how the participation of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children is interactively constructed in interpreter-mediated asylum hearings” (Keselman 2009: 34-35). The analyses show “how interpreters can challenge asylum-seeking children’s participant statuses” (Keselman, Cederborg and Linell 2010: 83) and how the development of trust/mistrust can be traced in the interviews (Linell and Keselman 2010). Another conclusion was that “interpreters are powerful participants who can profoundly influence the fact-finding aspects of asylum investigations” (Keselman et al. 2010: 333), and that unprofessional interpreting increases power asymmetry. For this reason,

both caseworkers and interpreters need special training in the characteristics of desirable interview techniques. They also need to ensure that their collaboration is based on a joint understanding of how messages should be translated and of the ways in which meaning can be changed when the form and structure of utterances are changed. (Keselman et al. 2008: 113)

Probably the most investigated area of interpreting for minors is the legal one, but once again, although mentioned in a great deal of studies, the specific needs of children rarely become a major focus (e.g. Berg and Tronstad 2015; Kjelaas and Eide 2015; Kjelaas 2016). The voices of children directly involved in interpreter-mediated encounters have been listened to in even less cases, but not about their experience with interpreting as such (e.g. Kanstad and Gran 2016; Berg et al. 2018).[6] In their discussion about interviewing practice, Böser and La Rooy (2018) highlight the need to modify protocols like NICHD if encounters are interpreter-mediated.

2.3 Interpreting in paediatric and mental health care settings

Paediatric care is another setting where interpreting for children occurs frequently. Also the children's right to health is enshrined in the CRC, but again it can be granted only through language and communication, while in many countries physicians and therapists complain about scarce resources even for the most urgent needs (Landesärztekammer BW 2015; Mannhart and Freisleder 2017). Loosely defined qualification standards for interpreters and the ensuing variability in the quality of their services is frequently mentioned in this context, together with budget constraints.

With the exception of some studies on unaccompanied minors, the bulk of research in interpreting for children in medical settings deals with interactions between adults and neither distinguishes between interpreting for adults and for children nor enquires about the latter's perceptions and preferences. Some publications reflect personal experience (e.g. Phoenix Children’s Hospital 2008), while others stem from the analysis of recordings of interpreter-mediated encounters (Wadensjö 1998, 180-186 and 192-195; Leanza and Rocque 2015; Amato and Mangoni 2020) or are part of more extensive projects, like the Swedish survey on communication over language barriers in paediatric cancer care involving doctors, nurses and interpreters (see Granhagen Jungner et al. 2019).

An area of particular interest that was investigated rather early is interpreting in child mental health (Raval 1996; Loshak 2003; Leanza et al. 2015) and psychiatric care for traumatised children after humanitarian emergencies. Accounts in literature are partly based on professional experience (Rousseau, Measham and Moro 2011; Pfister and Kötter 2016) and partly on research. For children with preliminary diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the direct aftermath of mass disasters, interpreter-assisted psychotherapy using various forms of narrative proved to be extremely efficient (Catani et al. 2009), and the same was found for traumatised refugee children (Ruf et al. 2010). Interpreting for children who are victims of sexual abuse puts additional strain on all participants, and research suggests to offer interpreters extensive preliminary briefing and access to supervision (Fontes 2008: 161-162; Fontes and Tishelman 2016; Powell et al. 2017). For psychotherapeutic settings, Costa (2018) voices concerns about language choice, since using one’s mother tongue rather than an acquired language or a lingua franca has deep emotional implications.

Also in the health care context, researchers insist that

interpreters who work with children and families need additional training in order to be able to address the child in an age-appropriate way and accurately convey information about the language and nonverbal communication skills of the child. Mental health professionals also need specific training in how to work with interpreters. (Leanza et al. 2014: 94)

Studies also confirm previous

results on diversity of interpreters' roles, the crucial places of trust and time, need for recognition of interpreters' and the complexity of practitioners' work. (...) The key challenge seems to be the collaborative building of an integrative framework. (...) Interpreters need to acculturate, like immigrants to the society, to the clinical milieu in order to offer professional services. (...) Interpreters' integration within clinical teams is a metaphor for integration within society: differences and métissages may exist within a framework (laws) respected by all. (Leanza et al. 2015: 371-372)

Generally speaking, children tend to learn a new language rather quickly and often act as interpreters themselves for their family or peers, as the vast literature on child language brokering confirms, but the very first 'official' contacts with an alien society and a still unknown language are absolutely crucial. Talking about his first weeks in a reception centre near Turin, a 13 year old Moroccan boy said: “I didn't understand Italian, there is a mediator but she comes only every now and then. One day I wanted to jump out of the window, which was very high, but I was afraid. That was a prison, not a reception centre. There are windows with bars...” (Rozzi 2013: 63). Kanstad and Gran rightly voice the need for

reflections on a more basic level about what view we really have of a child as a person and as an own individual and subject. (...) There may be a danger that the children who share our language are seen as subjects and individuals while those who are more distant due to language and communication difficulties are at risk of being seen as objects. (Kanstad and Gran 2016: 93)

3. Our study on children's and adolescents' perception of interpreting: design and methodology

As the overview on literature in section 2 shows, a number of aspects concerning interpreting for children have been addressed by research so far, but the perception and preferences of children and adolescents who need the assistance of interpreters have been largely neglected. For this reason we undertook a study aimed at collecting first-hand information from children and adolescents about their feelings and preferences during the first interpreter-mediated interview in their life. The study is part of the Co-Minor-In/Quest project series[7] launched in 2012, to our knowledge the first transnational project about interpreting for children in legal settings. It first collected quantitative data via an on-line questionnaire aimed at professionals who work with children. The respondents were 848 from 16 countries (see Balogh and Salaets 2015: 183ff for the results). The follow-up project, Co-Minor-In/Quest II, collected qualitative data about interpreter-mediated interviews involving children via a focus group with professionals and semi-structured interviews with minors in order to design appropriate tools for joint training and awareness-raising among professionals which incorporated also children’s feelings and opinions about interpreting.

In this paper we report about 18 Italian children and adolescent's perception of roles and rapport building during an interpreter-mediated interview as well as some of their preferences, namely seating arrangement and age and gender of the interpreter. In the next paragraph we will describe the study design and highlight some limitations.

3.1 Study design

One part of Co-Minor-In/Quest II research project involved conducting semi-structured interviews (SSI) with children of three different age groups (6-9; 10-13; 14-17) after their first direct experience of an interpreter-mediated conversation.

Before providing a detailed description of the SSI and discussing the results, it is important to point out the child-centred approach of our study design. Instead of observing children as objects and then writing about them, in this work we consider children the main players and source of information and knowledge, to factor in when adults work with them. In other words, our approach was that of research with and for children rather than on children (Fargas-Malet et al. 2010; O'Reilly, Ronzoni and Dogra 2013; Clark et al. 2013).

3.1.1 Preliminary work

Before starting to organise the interviews, we obtained the approval of the research project from Bologna University Bioethical Committee and attended a webinar by Terre des Hommes about how to interview children with full respect of their rights and preferences.[8] The SSI script was prepared by the team of project partners which included six interpreting researchers, a representative of Terre des Hommes, an expert of child rights, a child lawyer, a lawyer, a criminologist and a development psychologist. The questions addressed reflect the main issues identified during the previous Co-Minor research project. The SSI script was drafted in English with the wording tailored to the different age groups mainly by the criminologist and the psychologist and then translated into Italian. It included 29 questions grouped into 7 thematic chapters covering 1) personal feelings; 2) understanding of roles and relations between the persons involved; 3) skills of the people involved; 4) space and time arrangements; 5) the technical implementation of the interview; 6) trust and rapport and 7) general feedback. Most questions were open, and during the SSI only in a few occasions small adjustments or additions were made to respond to the children’s moves, though with hindsight, it could also have been advisable to stick less to the SSI script with the younger children up to the age of 8 (see Einarsdottir 2007). Two questions were added during the interviews with the teenagers prompted by one of their answers (see section 3.3.2).

Children and teenagers were enrolled through the local education authority in Forlì applying the following inclusion criteria: Italian mother tongue, no prior experience with interpreters, and no knowledge of German - the language chosen for the interpreter-mediated interview because it is rarely taught in schools in Italy and it is the mother tongue of one of the researchers. Children with a migration background were excluded considering the probability of previous experience with interpreting and in order to avoid possible reactivation of negative recollections connected with migration. For logistic reasons only one pilot interview was conducted with a 6-year-old child (the age group we expected to be potentially the most difficult to handle). We realise that a couple of questions are not completely open, namely the ones asking children to mention what they liked or disliked about the interviewer and the interpreter. Although the wording was meant to help younger children understand these questions, with hindsight the result is a couple of questions that can be perceived as leading.

3.2 The interviews

The interviews were conducted in late winter 2017 and involved 18 participants (10 girls and 8 boys) during four afternoons. Eight children were aged 6-9, four 10-13 and six were teenagers aged 14-17. After watching a short video used as a prompt, each participant took part in two different conversations: during the first one (the interpreter-mediated interview) they talked about the video to an unknown foreigner with the help of an interpreter; during the second conversation (the SSI) they talked with one of the researchers about their experience of communication through an interpreter. The first conversation had no script and unfolded spontaneously according to the participants' answers and reactions since the person acting as interviewer (who actually had not seen the video) had the goal to obtain information about the events featured in the video but no other instructions, while the second conversation, in Italian, was based on the SSI script.

A room in our university building was used for the interviews while parents who accompanied children waited in another room, and a third one was used as a waiting room for the interviewer and the interpreter only, when they were idle. Recordings were made with a camcorder and two audio recorders.

In the interpreted interviews different seating arrangements were used for different age groups[9] (see section 3.3.3):

  • 6-9 years of age: three chairs in a circle, no table (as there was no furniture with suitable sizes available);
  • 10-13 and 14-17 years of age: five chairs at a rectangular table, with the child/teenager invited to choose where to sit and where to place the interviewer and the interpreter.

The role of interviewer was played in turn by a high school language teacher, a university professor and a junior lecturer, all German nationals, who had been briefed about the project and how to conduct an interview in a child-friendly way. All interviews were interpreted by the same young male Italian interpreter with German as a B language who had about four years of experience as a free-lance conference and public service interpreter. He had been instructed to use both consecutive with and without notes and chuchotage during the interviews. As suggested by the psychologist and the child rights expert in the research team, the children were put in the position of a witness, but the interviews took place in a neutral environment and were conducted in a very informal style.

Upon arrival, all children and adolescents were given the same preliminary information about the interview and namely: a) that they were going to watch a video; b) that a person who had not seen it would talk to them to get as much information as possible about what happened in the video; c) that since that person did not speak Italian, there would be an interpreter who would help them communicate; d) that they could simply say what they remembered about the video and there were no right or wrong answers; and e) that they could put an end to the conversation at any time.

After each child had watched on his/her own a 2’30” long video featuring a pickpocketing scene without any violence and with no talk,[10] the interpreter and interviewer came into the room and were introduced by their name and role. During the interpreter-mediated interviews, the researchers were sitting at the back of the room but did not participate or interact in any way. After the interpreted interview and a short pause, the children were asked if they agreed to have another conversation with one of the researchers (the SSI) about the interpreted interview that had just taken place. Again they were reassured that there were no right or wrong answers and that they could decide not to answer at all. The second researcher took notes and operated the recorders. Table 1 illustrates the 18 interviewees’ age and gender and the length of the SSI.

Table 1: Participants’ data and length of the 18 interviews

All SSI were fully transcribed, quotations were translated from Italian for the purpose of this paper. Thematic content analysis was performed coding the answers according to a first set of categories which was cross-checked and adjusted in a second round of analysis.

3.3 Main findings and discussion of semi-structured interviews

In this section we will discuss children’s views on four topics: personal feelings, role of the interpreter and rapport among participants, and choice of seating arrangement. We are neither trying to generalise these findings, nor claiming that they are specific to children only, since there is no adult control group with whom the same study was conducted to compare results. We simply listened to the voice of children and collected their opinions and feelings about their first experience of an interpreter-mediated interaction.

3.3.1 Feelings about the interpreter-mediated interactions

The first question asked to children and teenagers was «How did you feel?» during the interpreter-mediated conversation they had just had. About half of them, especially younger children, admitted they felt nervous before the conversation because of the unknown situation and/or because they could not communicate directly with the interviewer, and indeed, they were faced with a new experience involving persons they had never met before and communication through an interpreter. This feeling is related to trust and rapport which will be discussed in section 3.3.2.

To the following question - «What did you like in particular during the conversation?» - two of the younger children said they liked being asked questions about the video, one said he liked being carefully listened to by two adults, and one liked listening to an unknown language. These answers suggest that the initial feeling of anxiety and unease faded away as the interaction unfolded and was over at the end of it. Most of the older children liked the idea of being able to talk to a person they did not know in a foreign language.

The next two questions concerned positive feelings. To the first one - «What did you like most of the interviewer?» - most younger children could not answer, but one said “I understood the interviewer sometimes: when she pronounced my name and said ‘OK’”. This confirms, from the perception and viewpoint of a child, the importance of social support during interviews as highlighted in a study which examined the level of support interviewers provided to children:

Support was identified when interviewers personally addressed the child by his/her name (e.g., ‘now Daniel tell me everything that happened from the beginning to the end’ or ‘Tell me more about this person, Sharon’) and when neutral reinforcements, unrelated to the content of the child’s response, were included. (Hershkowitz 2011: 113)

Three children between 10 and 13 pointed out that they appreciated the interviewer showing interest for them: “She was curious”; “She watched my gestures and looked at me while I was speaking”; “She looked really interested”, again a form or non-verbal reinforcement. All teenagers focused on emotional and non-verbal aspects concerning the interviewer: attitude, spontaneity, naturalness, keeping eye contact, patience, willingness to listen were mentioned as the most positive aspects. This confirms, if need be, the well-known importance of non-verbal and kinetic aspects in communication (Poyatos 1987), and strongly suggests that interviewers should take them into careful consideration also when working with children who speak another language.

The second question was: «What did you like most of the interpreter?». Some of the younger children underlined that the interpreter was there to help them, and one of them said: “I liked best that he said what I said”. The older children and teenagers mainly appreciated the skills of the interpreter and rated him as very proficient. One of them said: “He tried not to translate literally but to communicate, to make his talk sound Italian and not a translation”. Since all teenagers came from a humanities high school, this observation could reflect his personal experience with translations from Latin and ancient Greek in class. In general, being asked questions made children connect this experience to school; in particular younger children made several references to their teachers and schoolmates during the SSI.

Negative feelings were investigated with the question: «Was there something you disliked in the interview?». The only aspect, mentioned by almost all interviewees, was overlapping talk produced by the interpreter when whispering. The reason for this dislike was mainly that it was perceived as overlapping talk and interrupting, and interrupting a person is culturally related to rudeness in Italy. Some also found it confusing since it prevents from listening everything that is being said, and two children aged 10 to 13 doubted that the interpreter could hear what they were saying since he was translating while they were speaking. These perceptions are in line with the literature on child interviews in legal settings which states that children should not be interrupted in order not to interfere with memory and with the flow of their narrative. This is an aspect which deserves further investigation. Three of the younger children could not answer the question because they said they did not notice that there had been a change of interpreting mode, but the video recordings clearly show them reacting to chuchotage by raising their tone of voice and/or by springing up from their chair in an attempt to draw the interviewer’s and interpreter’s attention to what they were saying.

3.3.2 Perception of roles and rapport building

The following section of the SSI concerned the role of the interpreter and the rapport between participants. To understand whom interviewees identified as their main conversation partner, they were asked whom they had told the story of the video to. Half of the children up to 13 identified the interpreter as their primary communication partner, and half identified the interviewer. All teenagers said they told the story to the interpreter but two of them specified that the interviewer put the questions and therefore what they said was addressed to the interviewer. Several comments made by children and teenagers show that this choice is also associated with eye contact. One child said: “I looked mainly at the interviewer; the interpreter looked at me and at the interviewer”.

The question «Who listened most carefully to you?» received different answers in all age groups, with interesting explanations. One young child said the interpreter listened with more attention because “He was the one who understood me”. One older child thought the interpreter listened more carefully because “He had to listen and translate”, and one teenager said the interpreter listened more carefully since he had to translate, while two others thought the interviewer listened more carefully because she showed attention, gave non-verbal feedback and tried to follow what was being said even if she did not understand Italian. Again, support and reinforcement by gestures or other non-verbal cues such as nodding and eye contact did not go unnoticed and were mentioned as significant by the older respondents.

Two additional questions asked only to teenagers concerned the interpreter’s gender and age. They came up in the interview with the first teenager, who stated that the relatively small age difference with the interpreter had made him feel more at ease, because he felt he would not be judged negatively if he made a “language mistake”. Another interviewee said he perceived a younger interpreter as less intimidating while two boys said that, generally speaking, they would prefer an older interpreter because s/he would be more reliable and reassuring. The interpreter’s gender, instead, was not considered significant by any of the teenagers.

3.3.3 Seating arrangements

When preparing the SSI, the group of researchers thought that investigating about the seating arrangement would be relevant with regard to access to non-verbal communication (see section 3.3.1). The above mentioned comments on this aspect seem to confirm that indeed the possibility to see all participants is perceived as important also by children. For the younger ones, three chairs had been arranged in a small triangle with no table (Fig. 2). When asked where the interpreter was sitting during the interview and where they would like him to sit next time, all children remembered the seating arrangement and said they had liked it and would not change it because it allowed them to watch both the interpreter and the interviewer.

Figure 2: Seating arrangement for children aged 6-9 and 10-13.

The groups aged 10 to 17 were offered to choose where to sit and where to place the interviewer and the interpreter at a rectangular table with five chairs, and during the SSI they were asked to explain the reasons for their choice. The four children aged 10 to 13 chose to sit in front of the interviewer at one of the long sides of the table and placed the interpreter at the short side (Fig. 2). Two of them specified that they asked the interpreter to sit in that place because: “It is not nice to say it, but the interpreter is a go-between”; “The interpreter is a sort of conduit”; the other two stressed they wanted eye contact with the interviewer and therefore had placed her in front of them, and one of them added that she chose that seating arrangement because she wanted to be sure she could hear the interpreter clearly. It could also be that the usual positions of teacher and pupils in a classroom influenced this choice.

The six teenagers instead made five different choices (Fig. 3) and gave different reasons. Arrangement (a) was chosen by one boy and one girl who decided to sit at the short side of the table and asked the interviewer and the interpreter to sit one in front of the other at the long sides of the table. One of them explained that with this arrangement she could turn her head towards the interviewer or the interpreter when she was talking or listening to one or the other; the second teenager said he wanted to have direct eye contact with both conversation partners. Another boy chose to sit at the short side of the table with the interviewer and the interpreter one in front of the other at the long sides of the table, but the interpreter further away (arrangement b). He explained that for him the primary communication axis was with the interviewer, for whom he showed a strong liking from the very beginning. Arrangement (c) was chosen by another boy who sat at the long side of the table opposite to the interviewer and with the interpreter at his side. He explained that this way he could have eye contact with the interviewer while talking to “his” interpreter. Arrangements (d) and (e) were chosen by two girls who sat at the long side of the table opposite the interviewer, but one of them placed the interpreter at the short side of the table and the other one beside the interviewer, again in order to have direct eye contact with the interviewer.

Figure 3: Seating arrangements chosen by teenagers (14-17).

Most teenagers said they would keep the same arrangement they had chosen if they had a chance to choose again. Trying to find a common denominator in the choices of the teenager group would be an unsuccessful exercise. The information they gave us is that they have individual preferences for seating arrangements and are able to motivate them and that offering them a choice can make them feel more at ease and possibly more empowered during an interview. This is particularly important when compared to a police psychologist’s opinion we collected during a focus group, who insisted that the interpreter should be sitting behind the child or teenager because the interviewer should be the sole conversation partner during the interview. Also Wiener and Rivera (2004) claim that in psychotherapeutic sessions, whenever possible, the interpreter should sit to the side and a little behind the patient in order not to interfere in the patient-provider relationship. The children and teenagers in our study wanted to establish eye contact with both the interviewer and the interpreter. Being briefed and placed in a friendly environment, children and teenagers who took part in this research project showed to be well aware of communication axes and components - both verbal and non-verbal - and of who was their main conversation partner (section 3.3.2), and they attached great attention and importance to non-verbal cues. Their choice and reasons for seating arrangements confirm that seeing both the interpreter and the interviewer made them feel at ease and ‘in control’ of the interaction. This idea is also supported by their negative perception of whispering: they generally expressed a dislike for it because they felt that not everything that was said could be heard (section 3.3.1).

4. The perspective of children and adolescents - caveats and conclusions

The aim of this study was to investigate children feelings and impressions after their first experience of communication through an interpreter during an interview. Obviously no general conclusions can be drawn from a small sample like this, nor do we know if our findings apply specifically to children since there was no adult control group. Some aspects, however, converge with what has been reported by other researchers. Results with our age group 6-9 confirmed for example that young children are able to communicate successfully via an interpreter (see Kanstad 2015, Nilsen 2013, Solem 2014). Hitching’s and Nilsen’s (2010) conclusion that interpreters’ personal qualities and flexibility are particularly relevant was indirectly confirmed by the large number of comments, made by all age groups, on the interpreter's collaborative attitude and ability to inspire trust. As far as their preferred interpreting mode was concerned, our respondents showed a dislike for whispering as observed also by Solem (2014).

Experiencing a new way of communication raised mixed emotions as the interaction unfolded, from (initial) nervousness to (final) satisfaction about the unprecedented opportunity of speaking to a foreigner.

During the interpreted interview, almost all respondents noticed and reacted to verbal and non-verbal signs of attention and interest by the interviewer and rated them positively together with her careful listening without interruptions. Non-verbal communication and kinetic aspects were fully captured also by younger children, which suggests that either letting the child choose the seating arrangement or carefully planning it is probably the best way to allow the child to have eye contact with all participants.

Before drawing conclusions one point should be stressed once again: although children were placed in the shoes of witnesses, the interviews did not take place in a legal setting nor in a police station, and there were neither a psychologist nor a social worker present, but the interviews were conducted in an institutional context, with unknown adults, in an unfamiliar environment, and the timeframe was rather limited - all aspects that must be taken into account (Spyrou 2011). It is not possible to say if in a different setting our participants would have reacted differently, nor is it possible to say to what extent they tried to please the researchers with their answers or to give a positive image of themselves by avoiding expressions of negative feelings which could be associated to rudeness or impoliteness. Nonetheless this research provides some useful hints to the preferences of our participants which can be summarised as follows:

  • being informed (i.e. know what to expect from the interview(er) and who does what and why);
  • feeling at ease and not being put under pressure;
  • being listened to carefully;
  • not being interrupted;
  • having eye contact with both interviewer and interpreter;
  • being allowed to choose the seating arrangement.

Although this list may not be exhaustive and is open to additions, it reflects what the children and teenagers in our study showed to appreciate and hopefully gives some hints about what children want and feel when having to communicate through an interpreter. We hope with this study to inspire further research in this area and also, possibly, specialised training for interpreters who work or intend to work with children, in particular (but not only) in legal settings in the best interest of the child, because children can only enjoy their rights if they can understand them and can give their point of view.


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* Paragraphs 1 to 3.1.1 by G. Mack and paragraphs from 3.2 to 3.3.3 by A. Amato. Paragraph 4 is a piece of joint work.

[4] All translations from Norwegian are ours.

[5] For reason of space this paper will not touch upon the vast literature on educational interpreting for deaf children. For a general overview, see Winston (2015), Seiberlich (2013).

[6] For a more comprehensive bibliographic overview on previous research in this area, see Van Schoor 2013, complemented by a National Children’s Advocacy Center bibliography (2016), Amato and Mack 2017, and Balogh and Salaets 2015 which is the main output of the CO-Minor project described in section 3.

[8] see Terre des Hommes' Child Safeguarding Policy, URL: https://www.terredeshommes.org/child-safeguarding-policy/.

[9] The age groups reflect the Italian school system articulated in 5 years of primary school, 3 years of junior high school and 5 years of senior high school (in our case in Humanities)

[10] The video was produced during a previous EU funded research project “ImPLI” by Charles University in Prague, Faculty of Philosophy and Art, Institute of Translation Studies. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yo9yUeEhH7Y&list=PLx15JSWFqoqCm5ycG6CKzxAQHE-YfrgIj&index=2&t=0s (last accessed on 14.10.2021) 

[11] Unless otherwise stated, all links were last accessed on 20.02.2020.

About the author(s)

Amalia A. M. Amato is senior lecturer at the Department of Interpreting and Translation (DIT) of Bologna University, at Forlì Campus, where she teaches interpreting from English into Italian. Her main research interests include interpreter education and training, assessment of interpreting as a process and a product, dialogue interpreting in medical and legal settings, media interpreting, telephone interpreting and interpreting for children and adolescents.

Gabriele Mack is senior lecturer of German language and translation at the Department of Interpreting and Translation of Bologna University at Forlì, where she teaches interpreting between German and Italian. She has been working as a free-lance conference interpreter and translator for many years. Her main research interests focus on interpreter training, analysis of interpreting processes and outcomes as well as conference, media and public service interpreting.

Email: [please login or register to view author's email address]

©inTRAlinea & Amalia Amato & Gabriele Mack (2021).
"The best interest of the child in interpreter-mediated interviews Researching children’s point of view", inTRAlinea Vol. 23.

This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/index.php/archive/article/2539

Ideology in Translation-Mediated Framing of Direct Quotations in the News:

A Case Study of Trump’s Remarks at the Press Conference on the North Korea Summit

By Yonsuk Song (Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, Korea)


A direct quotation is commonly expected to be an exact replication of a statement by its source, but studies have shown otherwise. When it is translated from another language, there is even greater room for manipulation or distortion of the original message. This paper explores how news organizations apply translation-mediated framing to direct quotations in order to suit their ideological positions. It focuses on identifying and exploring strategies employed by two sets of ideologically opposed newspapers in South Korea. Through an analysis of translated direct quotations taken from US President Donald Trump’s remarks at a press conference following a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the study identified three types of ideological strategies: framing through topic selection, lexical framing, and narrative framing. It also found that they were used in congruity with the institutional ideology of the newspapers, which resulted in subtle departures in meaning and connotation from the original message.

Keywords: direct quotation, translation-mediated framing, ideology, news translation, Korea, news discourse

©inTRAlinea & Yonsuk Song (2021).
"Ideology in Translation-Mediated Framing of Direct Quotations in the News: A Case Study of Trump’s Remarks at the Press Conference on the North Korea Summit", inTRAlinea Vol. 23.

This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/index.php/archive/article/2537

1. Introduction

It is widely recognized that framing is a common journalistic practice. Numerous studies have demonstrated that journalists routinely make certain aspects of a perceived reality more salient in such a way that influences how it is interpreted by the recipients of the news (Entman 1993; Gamson and Modigliani 1987; Scheufele 1999). Direct quotation is not excepted: as Davier and Conway (2019: 17) point out, journalists use quotes as a means to ‘execute their preliminary idea of what the emerging story should and could look like.’ When the words being quoted originate in a foreign language, the process entails a further dimension: the direct quotation is no longer ‘direct’ and instead becomes translation-mediated newswriting with increased room for manipulation and distortion by translating journalists, who are subject to an institutional ideology (Koskinen 2000; Pan 2014; Song 2017).

Framing in news translation has been widely studied (Liu 2017/2019; Luo 2015; Qin and Zhang 2018; Valdeón 2014; van Doorslaer 2010; Wu 2017), but framing of translated direct quotations has received less attention despite its potential for political consequences (Baker 2006/2007; Haapanen and Perrin 2019; Schäffner and Bassnett 2010; Zanettin 2016). The aim of this study is to examine how translated direct quotations can be framed in accordance with the ideology of news organizations in a South Korean context. The South Korean press have often been criticized for distorted translation of international news: BBC Seoul correspondent Laura Bicker went so far as to ask publicly on Twitter in 2018 that her articles be translated fairly. In fact, in a 2019 Reuters Institute’s international survey, South Korea ranked among the lowest in terms of trust in news, recording 22 per cent. The problem grows more complex when issues related to North Korea are reported, a highly sensitive and ideologically charged topic that has long been a source of conflict and division within South Korea. This study focuses on how institutional ideology combined with translation-mediated framing of direct quotations can modify and even distort an original message regarding North Korea. It applies a case study on remarks by US President Trump at a press conference following the first-ever US-North Korea summit in 2018 as translated by two major conservative newspapers (Chosun Ilbo and Dong-A Ilbo) and two major progressive newspapers (Hankyoreh and Kyunghyang Shinmun) in South Korea. Each pair holds a distinct stance towards North Korea: the conservative outlets tend to see it as an enemy and threat to national security, whereas the progressive newspapers tend to see it as a ‘brother’ that needs South Korea’s acceptance and assistance (Choi 2018; Han and Jang 2012; Medeiros et al. 2008). Conservative news outlets tend to focus on criticizing the North Korean regime, calling for sanctions against them and a stronger alliance with the US. In contrast, progressive outlets are more inclined to highlight the suffering of the North Korean people, stressing the need to seek resolution through international cooperation and inter-Korean dialogue rather than depending on the US for the nation’s security (Kwon 2017; Lee and Son 2011; Ha and Lee 2012). As there has been little examination of this particular subject, this study will be exploratory, paying special attention to translation-mediated framing as an ideological strategy. It sets out by reviewing the characteristics of direct quotation and framing in news translation, and then examines how translated quotations and the strategic use of reporting verbs can impart subtly different messages depending on the ideological position of a news institution. This will be followed by a discussion of the implications for translation studies.

2. Translation of Direct Quotation and Framing

2.1 Direct Quotation and News Translation

Direct quotations are used primarily for three purposes: (1) to offer ‘a particularly incontrovertible fact’; (2) to distance the reporter from something said by the source; and (3) to add ‘the flavor of the newsmaker’s own words’ (Bell 1991: 207-208). Regardless of which purpose is served, readers expect something that appears within quotation marks to be a verbatim quote from the source. In fact, research has shown that they regard a direct quote to be closer to the truth than a paraphrased one and are more likely to trust and adopt the quoted position (Gibson and Zillmann 1998, van Dijk 1988). For this reason, journalists often apply quotation as a strategy to convince readers of the veracity of their viewpoint (Caldas-Coulthard 1994; Chen 2009; Vuorinen 1999). But even if the quote is a word-for-word replication of something said by the source, it is difficult for it to retain the same meaning since it is a product of recontextualization. When a stretch of discourse is extracted from a press conference and embedded into a political news report, it is recontextualized to suit the needs and expectations of its target audience (Haapanen and Perrin 2017; Kang 2007). Its interpretations may also be diverse since it is ‘inevitably framed by the reporting clause that the reporter chooses to employ’ (Richardson 2007: 102). For example, there is no small difference between ‘say’ and ‘point out’ as a reporting clause, given that the latter lends the quotation ‘an aura of fact’ (Cappon 1999: 60-61), allowing its application to suit predetermined purposes.

When a quotation is in a foreign language that average readers cannot understand or easily access, there is greater room for journalists to intervene in ways that promote their institutional agendas; the newswriting process involving translation itself can be an ideological one (Bielsa 2007; Haapanen and Perrin 2017; Kang 2012; Vuorinen 1999). Despite the potential risks of undue appropriation of a quotation (Davier 2014), the journalists involved do not recognize their work as translation, nor do they receive appropriate training (Bielsa and Bassnett 2009). They perceive translation to be an invisible component of news production and try to ‘free’ themselves from it on the assumption that translation implies a dependence on the original (Davier 2014: 63). In other words, news translation and by extension the translation of direct quotations, is governed by a ‘domestication norm’ in Venuti’s terms (2008); since the translated news is to be consumed by a target audience likely to choose newspapers that fit their own political inclinations (Newton and Brynin 2001), it is tailored to meet the needs and expectations of this audience. In that sense, news translation can also be seen as a process of localization (Orengo 2005; Pym 2004). However, given the role and nature of ideology at news organizations (Shoemaker and Reese 1996), the domestication norm may potentially be subject to abuse, posing ethical implications (Bielsa 2016). In a similar vein, Scammell (2018) challenges the domesticating norm by proposing a foreignized approach specifically to the translation of direct quotations as an ethical alternative.

2.2 Framing and Ideology in News Translation

It has been well established that events and facts in news discourse can be constructed to be viewed within a particular frame: some aspects can be made more salient and others less prominent (Gamson 1989; Goffman 1974; Entman 1993). The power of framing lies in its ability to influence people’s interpretation and understanding of a wide array of social and political issues by reconstructing perceptions (Gamson and Modgliani 1987/1989; Han and Federico 2018; Iyengar 1991; Kuypers 2006). Due to its cognitive aspects, framing is often discussed alongside the closely related notions of gatekeeping and agenda-setting. The media can control the flow of information through gatekeeping, channeling the public’s attention to certain topics (Fujii 1988; Shoemaker 1991; Shoemaker and Reese 1996). In other words, selection or exclusion of certain topics or issues can create a framing effect on the macro level. Once certain topics are selected and translated, the fact that they have been selected and translated can in itself lead readers to believe that they are important: it can frame an issue as an important agenda item. Both frame building and agenda building are macroscopic mechanisms, but framing can also operate on the micro, textual level (Scheufele and Tewksbury 2007), often leading to shifts in content and meaning in the original. This may explain why so many terms have been proposed with little consensus regarding which would be the most appropriate for describing the tendency of news translators to make changes to and deviate from an original. From transediting (Stetting 1989) to localization (Pym 2004) and transframing (Liu 2017/2019), different terms have been applied to refer to this same phenomenon, but as long as framing is indispensable in news production, such deviations will be inescapable in news translation.

In any discussion of framing, the key concept is selection because the decision of which elements of a given source text to select for inclusion in or exclusion from a translation is made at the institutional level and mainly based on the ideology of the news organization (Kang 2007; Koskinen 2008; Mossop 1988/1990). As numerous studies have demonstrated, institutional ideology can lead to varying degrees of changes to the translations in terms of the tone and meaning of the original text (Chen 2009; Kang 2007; Kuo and Nakamura 2005; Qin and Zhang 2018; Song 2017). In this regard, framing and ideology are closely linked and intertwined, and highly relevant and indispensable in news translation research.

3. Methods

Since the aim of this study is to explore how newspapers utilize translation strategies to create news texts in line with their ideological positions, news reports from two major conservative online newspapers widely recognized to be anti-North Korean (Chosun Ilbo and Dong-A Ilbo) and two major progressive online newspapers broadly considered to be more accommodating to North Korea (Hankyoreh and Kyunghyang Shinmun) from South Korea were collected through news.naver.com, the country’s largest news search engine. As the press conference after the unprecedented US-North Korean summit drew keen attention with the most extensive media coverage, the study focused on what was said during the press conference and how the newspapers quoted Trump. ‘Trump,’ ‘press conference,’ and ‘North Korea’ were applied as search terms and the search period was set for the week from 12 June 2018, the day of the press conference, to 19 June 2018. It was found that news reports directly quoting Trump’s statements at the press conference were no longer produced after 14 June, which appears natural given the nature of news reporting: the news was already three days old by this time and had declined in its news value. Among the initial search results of 148 news reports, those with headlines explicitly carrying direct quotations were selected since the headline, as a summary of the text (van Dijk 1998), signals that the report focuses on Trump’s precise statements and thereby draws attention from readers who wish to know what he actually said. The data was collected manually by reading through all news articles searched, which confirmed that news reports without direct quotations in their headlines were not focused on Trump’s remarks, with no direct quotations in the body of the news story. Through this process, a total of 42 news reports -- 30 from the conservative papers and 12 from the progressive papers -- were collected for qualitative analysis.

The source text (ST) comprises a full transcript of the pertinent press conference and a full transcript of Trump’s remarks at the signing of the joint statement in Singapore on 12 June 2018. The transcripts were downloaded from the White House website and Time.com and checked against a video-recording of the conference. Unnecessary signs or words, such as ‘Q:’ (indicating a reporter’s question), ‘Reporter’s Questions:’ and ‘The President:’, were deleted, which left an ST of 12,052 words. The Q&A sets in the ST were manually categorized by topic in order to facilitate analysis. Editorials addressing Trump’s press conference were also collected from each newspaper’s website as a reference source informing about each one’s ideological stance towards the topics discussed in the press conference.

Due to the exploratory nature of this study, the analysis focused on identifying the ideological strategies employed in translating direct quotations. Indirect quotations were not included in the analysis. Each quotation was identified and compared against the ST, with any differences between them marked and coded in an Excel spreadsheet. Given the key role of headlines in news discourse (van Dijk 1988; Zhang 2013), headlines were analyzed separately from the leads and bodies of the texts. The differences between the STs and TTs were then analyzed to identify the ideological strategies used in the translations.

4. Findings and Discussion

The analysis identified a total of 393 translated direct quotations, 291 from the conservative papers and 102 from the progressive papers. For the sake of the discussion, I have categorized the ideological strategies identified in the analysis into three types of translation-mediated framing: (1) framing through topic selection, (2) lexical framing, and (3) narrative framing. Framing through topic selection refers to the strategy in which a newspaper selects certain topics to be translated for headlines, creating an agenda-setting effect. Lexical framing includes the use of lexical items expressing attitude, modality, and presupposition, which reveal underlying ideology. Narrative framing includes the reordering, restructuring, and omission of the ST elements in the translations, as well as the addition of non-ST elements, resulting in subtle differences in logical relations or connotations in the translated direct quotations. Framing through topic selection operates on the macro level, setting the tone for the interpretation of the news event, while lexical and narrative framing is applied on the micro level to distort and manipulate the messages imparted by the translated quotations. Of 393 translated direct quotations, 70 (17.8 per cent) were found to include lexical framing and narrative framing, although the line between them may be blurred in some instances. The proportion (17.8 per cent) in itself may seem small, but given the readers’ belief in the authenticity of the quotes and the sensitive nature of the subject, the potential effects and consequences of a small number of distortions can be difficult to fathom.

4.1 Framing through Topic Selection

During a press conference that lasted for over an hour, Trump was asked a total of 51 questions, which can be categorized into six topics (Table 1). Both the conservative newspapers (Chosun and Dong-A) and the progressive papers (Hankyoreh and Kyunghyang) covered most of the topics, but they differed in the selection of them for their headlines. As Table 1 and Figure 1 show, while the conservative papers gave equal weight in their coverage to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula as they did to security assurances for North Korea, the progressive papers placed relatively greater importance on security assurances for the North. This reflects the stance towards North Korea of each paper’s readership: the conservatives regard the North as an enemy, making denuclearization a top priority, while the progressives tend to see the North as a ‘brother’ and be more accommodating to it. Such differences also led them to diverge on the issue of human rights in North Korea, a major concern brought up repeatedly during the press conference. While the conservative papers overlooked the human rights issue altogether, the progressive papers ignored sideline issues that the conservative newspapers covered, instead noting human rights. This pattern of topic selection suggests that the papers from both camps used topical framing to attempt to guide their readership on how to assess the significance of the topics involved, which in turn may set the tone for the readers’ interpretation of the translated direct quotations.

Topics covered in the press conference

Number of headlines



denuclearization (CVID[1] and sanctions)



security assurances for North Korea

(suspension of South Korea-US joint military exercises, withdrawal of US troops from South Korea, peace treaty)



human rights in North Korea



plans for follow-up meetings



Trump’s evaluation of Kim Jong Un



(trade issues with Canada, relationships with G7 leaders, and a promotional video Trump shared with Kim)






Table 1: List of Topics and Number of Headlines per Each Topic


Fig. 1: Topics Covered in the Headlines (%)

4.2 Lexical Framing

The analysis found subtle differences between the conservative and progressive newspapers in their lexical choices for the translation of direct speech and/or reporting clauses, reflecting their ideological stances towards North Korea, as the following examples illustrate:

Example 1

ST: ‘We will be stopping the war games, which will save us a tremendous amount of money, unless and until we see the future negotiation is not going along like it should.  But we’ll be saving a tremendous amount of money. Plus, I think it’s very provocative.’

Conservative: 트럼프 ‘한미훈련 중단할 것… 돈 너무 많이 든다’ 발언 파장 (동아일보, 2018.6.13)
Back translation: Trump says, ‘[We] will stop the S. Korea-US military exercise… It costs too much money,’ sparking controversy. (Dong-A, 13 June 2018)

Progressive: 트럼프 ‘워게임 돈 많이 들고 도발적… 한-미 연합훈련 중단’ (한겨레, 2018.6.12)
Back translation: Trump says, ‘War games cost a lot of money and are provocative… [We] will stop the S. Korea-US joint exercise.’ (Hankyoreh, 12 June 2018))

Example 2

ST: ‘South Korea contributes, but not 100 percent.’

Conservative: ‘한국도 부담하지만 일부분이다’ (동아일보, 2018.6.12)
Back translation: ‘South Korea also contributes, but only part of [the expenses]’ (Dong-A, 12 June 2018)

Progressive:  ø

In Example 1, the lexical choices in the headlines reveal each side’s stance on the suspension of the annual joint South Korea-US military exercises. In the conservative version, the addition of ‘controversy’ guides readers on how to interpret Trump’s statement, whereas in the progressive headline, the quotation itself is conveyed in a neutral manner without employing any framing device. However, the inclusion of the word ‘provocative’ in the progressive headline, which is absent from the conservative version and includes negative connotations, could be considered to induce a framing effect and eliminate the need to add additional framing devices. In Example 2, the connotation of the direct quotation is that there is in fact no problem with the annual South Korea-US joint military exercises, a sensitive issue that divides the country, on the grounds that South Korea pays only a part of the expenses; there is a presupposition that the exercises should be maintained. The progressive rendition did not mention the question of expenses and only focused on the fact that Trump wants to halt the exercises.

Example 3

ST2: ‘South Korea, which obviously is right next door, and Japan, which essentially is next door, they’re going to be helping them [North Korea]. And I think they’re going to be doing a very generous job and a terrific job. So they will be helping them.’

Conservative: 트럼프 대통령은 ‘북한 바로 옆에 있는 한국과 일본이 도와줄 거고 마땅히 도와야 한다’고 못박았다. (동아일보, 2018.6.13)
Back translation: President Trump nailed it down by saying, ‘South Korea and Japan, which are right next door to North Korea, will and should help.’ (Dong-A, 13 June 2018)

Progressive:  ø

In Example 3, the addition of ‘should,’ a modality marker of obligation absent in the ST, reveals the conservative stance toward this issue. In addition, ‘nailed it down’ in the reporting clause implies that the matter leaves no room for discussion, which is more of a reflection of the paper’s view than a description of Trump’s attitude at the time. In contrast, the progressive papers ignored this issue altogether in their reporting, as in Example 1.

Example 4

ST1: ‘Because there was no time. I’m here one day. We are together for many hours intensively, but the process is now going to take place.’

ST2: ‘And it wasn’t a big point today because, really, this had been taken care of, more than any other thing. Because it was all about this. This has been taken care of before we got here.’

Conservative: 트럼프 ‘CVID 넣기엔 시간이 부족했다… 회담 핵심 아니었다’ 횡설수설 (조선일보, 2018.6.12)
Back translation: Trump rambles incoherently, ‘Not enough time to put in CVID… was not the focus of the summit’ (Chosun, 12 June 2018)

Progressive: ‘CVID’ 박고 싶었던 트럼프 ‘시간이 없었다’ (경향신문, 2018.6.12)
Back translation: Trump who wanted to have CVID nailed down: ‘There was no time’ (Kyunghyang, 12 June 2018)

Example 4 compares the headlines addressing the same issue. By using such evaluative words as ‘ramble’ and ‘incoherently,’ the conservative paper presents Trump as incompetent and untrustworthy, criticizing him for the failure to include CVID in the joint statement. In contrast, the progressive paper specifically mentions Trump’s hope of ensuring that CVID be included and ascribes this omission to time constraints, thereby implicitly mitigating any blame on Trump or his negotiating partner Kim.

Example 5

ST: ‘Well, at a certain time, I will. I said that will be a day that I look very much forward to, at the appropriate time.’

Conservative: 트럼프 대통령은 또 이날 기자회견에서 ‘적절한 시기에 평양을 방문 있다’고도 했다. (조선일보, 2018.6.13)
Back translation: President Trump also said at the press conference, ‘I can visit Pyongyang at an appropriate time’. (Chosun, 13 June 2018)

Progressive: 트럼프 대통령은 기자회견에서 ‘조만간 평양에 갈 것이다. 굉장히 기대하고 있다’고 말했다. (경향신문, 2018.6.12)
Back translation: President Trump stated at the press conference, ‘I will go to Pyongyang soon. I look very much forward to it’. (Kyunghyang, 12 June 2018)

In Example 5, the conservatives’ skepticism is revealed in the modality choice of ‘can’ over ‘will’ and in the omission of ‘look very much forward to,’ while the progressives’ stance is disclosed in the replacement of ‘at a certain time’ and ‘at the appropriate time’ with ‘soon.’

4.3 Narrative Framing

During the press conference, a number of overlapping or similar questions were asked, which required the papers to organize the overall topics to suit their headline needs. When a headline carries more than a single topic, readers attempt to make sense of it by creating logical connections between the topics presented. The process of creating connections can be impacted by the selection (or omission) of topics and selective appropriation, as in the following examples:

Example 6

ST1: ‘But I know for a — I just feel very strongly — my instinct, my ability, or talent — they want to make a deal. And making a deal is a great thing for the world.’

ST2: ‘And we did discuss it [human rights] today pretty strongly.’

Conservative: ø

Progressive: ‘김정은의 진정성 곧바로 알아차려’ 북한 인권 문제도 강하게 논의했다 (경향신문, 2018.6.12)
Back translation: ‘I immediately noticed Kim Jong Un’s sincerity’; [they] discussed the North Korean human rights issue strongly. (Kyunghyang, 12 June 2018)

From Example 6, readers could assume that Trump said Kim was ‘sincere,’ but he never used this word at the conference. Instead, he related his conviction that North Korea wanted to make a deal, as in ST1. There is a considerable difference between ‘want,’ which relates to desire, and ‘sincerity,’ which is a moral quality. In fact, the word was used only once by a reporter in her follow-up question (ST3):

ST3: Q (Reporter). ‘What was it about that first interaction with Chairman Kim this morning that made you decide not to walk away after you said that you would know within the first minute if he was sincere or not?’

A (Trump). ‘Yeah. I’ve said that about relationships. I’ve said that about people. You know in the first second. Now, I was generous. I said five seconds. But you know in the first second, in some cases. Sometimes that doesn’t work out. But sometimes it does. From the beginning, we got along. But there’s been a lot of groundwork. This wasn’t like we went and we started talking about — as you know, right?’

As ST3 shows, Trump did not specifically state that he believed Kim was sincere; he was speaking about relationships in general. The only evaluative comment he offered about Kim was that they ‘got along’ from the beginning. The appropriation of ‘sincere’ from the reporter’s remarks as if it were a direct quote from Trump creates in readers the impression that Kim was indeed sincere and that Trump was a sharp and perceptive person, not someone who ‘rambles incoherently,’ as expressed in Example 4. Also, the juxtaposition with the mention that the human rights issue was strongly discussed may lead readers to unconsciously draw connections between Kim’s sincerity and the discussion of human rights, which, in fact, were topics brought up separately during the press conference. This narrative framing through selective appropriation (Baker 2006) shows how information can be manipulatively presented in a way that promotes a certain ideological agenda.

Example 7

ST1: Q (reporter): ‘Kim Jong Un, as you know, has killed family members, has starved his own people, is responsible for the death of Otto Warmbier. Why are you so comfortable calling him “very talented”?

A (Trump): ‘Well, he is very talented. Anybody that takes over a situation like he did, at 26 years of age, and is able to run it, and run it tough — I don’t say he was nice or I don’t say anything about it — he ran it. Very few people, at that age — you can take one out of ten thousand, probably, couldn’t [sic] do it.’

ST2: Q (Reporter): ‘Mr. President, what surprised you the most about Kim Jong Un?’

A (Trump): ‘A great personality and very smart. Good combination.’

Conservative: NBC 기자 ‘웜비어 등 사람 죽인 김정은이 재능 있다고?’, 트럼프 ‘어려운 환경서 자라 훌륭한 인격에 매우 똑똑’ (조선일보, 2018.6.13)
Back translation: NBC reporter: ‘Kim Jong Un, who killed Warmbier and other people, is talented?’, Trump: ‘[He] has great character and is very smart because he grew up in a difficult environment’ (Chosun, 13 June 2018)

Progressive: 트럼프 ‘북 인권도 논의’ ‘김정은 정말 재능 있다’ 칭찬 쏟아내 (한겨레, 2018.6.12)
Back translation: Trump said, ‘Human rights were also discussed’, lavishly praising, ‘Kim Jong Un is really talented’ (Hankyoreh, 12 June 2018)

In Example 7, readers’ potential cognitive dissonance regarding Kim is resolved through ‘causal emplotment’ (Baker 2006). After the summit, Trump told reporters that Kim has a great personality and is very smart, which conflicts with popular conceptions of dictators. For all the diplomatic talk and detente, describing the leader of a long-standing enemy state in terms such as ‘great personality,’ ‘smart,’ and ‘very talented’ is intolerable to resolutely anti-communist conservatives in South Korea. The conservative paper attempts to resolve this by creating a causal relation between Kim’s difficult situation in the past and his purported personal strengths: it frames the headline as if Kim became ‘a very smart’ man with ‘a great personality’ after struggling through difficulty, a universally valued virtue. The conservative paper also mitigates this dissonance by including an NBC reporter’s rhetorical question that implies criticism. This compares with the progressive paper, which quoted Trump, not the reporter, providing only the positive remarks about Kim. Framing using the phrase ‘lavishly praised’ also contrasts with the question included by the conservative paper.

4.4 Comparison with Editorials

As discussed in 4.3, although both sides paid keen attention to the summit, they displayed clear differences in their stance toward the issues discussed at the press conference: the conservative papers were more critical, while the progressive papers were more accepting. Given that qualitative analysis is often criticized for its subjectivity, headlines from editorials released during the same period as the pertinent news reports were also compared in order to triangulate the findings, as in the following examples 8 through 11.

Example 8

Conservative: 어이없고 황당한 · 회담, 이대로 가면 北 핵보유국 된다 (조선일보, 2018.6.13)
Back translation: Absurd and preposterous US-N. Korea Summit -- if this continues, the North will become a nuclear power (Chosun, 13 June 2018)

Progressive: 과도한 · 정상회담 비판론을 경계한다 (경향신문, 2018.6.13)
Back translation: We are wary of excessive criticism on N. Korea-US Summit (Kyunghyang, 13 June 2018)

Example 9

Conservative: 한반도의 거대한 전환, 큰 걸음 떼고 숙제 남겼다 (동아일보, 2018.6.13)
Back translation: The Korean Peninsula in a huge transition -- it took a major step but a bigger challenge remains (Dong-A, 13 June 2018)

Progressive: 김정은과 트럼프, 평화의 행진을 시작하다 (경향신문, 2018.6.12)
Back translation: Kim Jong Un and Trump start a march of peace (Kyunghyang, 12 June 2018)

Example 10

Conservative: 트럼프 ‘협상 중 韓美훈련 중단’… 연합방위체계 차질 없나 (동아일보, 2018.6.13)
Back translation: Trump: ‘S. Korea-US military exercise will be suspended during negotiations’ …Will it not undermine the joint defense system? (Dong-A, 13 June 2018)

Progressive: ‘비핵화 진전’ 위한 한-미 연합훈련 중단, 바람직하다 (한겨레, 2018.6.13)
Back translation: Suspension of S. Korea-US joint military exercises for ‘progress in denuclearization’ is desirable (Hankyoreh, 13 June 2018)

Example 11

Conservative: 트럼프의 對北 안전보장이 우리 안보를 흔들어서야 (동아일보, 2018.6.14)
Back translation: We should not allow Trump’s security assurances to N. Korea to undermine our security (Dong-A, 14 June 2018)

Progressive: 군사훈련 중단은 비핵화 촉진 위한 결단이다 (경향신문, 2018.6.14)
Back translation: Suspension of military exercises is a determination to facilitate denuclearization (Kyunghyang, 14 June 2018)

In Example 8, besides the different ordering of ‘US’ and ‘North Korea’ when naming the summit, the conservative paper chose highly evaluative adjectives which express its negative stance towards the summit, while the progressive paper defends against such criticism. The lexical choices in Examples 9 through 11 also demonstrate how the newspapers maintain distinct perspectives on the summit and the issues surrounding denuclearization. A further reflection of the ideological differences between the papers is their reporting on Trump’s expression of gratitude to South Korean President Moon in his opening statement. None of the 30 conservative news reports featured direct quotations from Trump mentioning the progressive South Korean president, while two of the 12 progressive papers reported on it in detail, quoting Trump’s expressions of appreciation and praise for both Moon and Kim.

5. Concluding Remarks

Negotiations with North Korea inevitably involve major players in international politics and diplomacy, making communication across different languages and cultures a critical factor for success. In this regard, translation can be another key, if veiled, player in any dealings regarding the communist country. As the findings of this study demonstrate, however, translation in the media can potentially be reduced to a mere means to reaching a media outlet’s own ends. After all, what journalists believe they do is to produce a news story in which the translated ST simply provides material to support their perspective. However, if what readers expect to be a faithful rendition of statements by a key figure regarding important matters of national interest is in fact a product of subtle manipulation or even deliberate distortion, as many studies have also shown, it poses a potentially serious issue with ethical and political implications. In countries in volatile geopolitical situations like South Korea, where the Cold War has yet to end, it could contribute to dividing the nation, shaping an election, or straining relations with the other nations involved. The distortion may be excused as simply an unintended result of neglect, but even if this were the case, it still merits attention because it indicates how journalists treat translation. Since they are in the business of reporting facts, they should be aware that it is their social responsibility to produce translations as accurate and faithful to the original as possible.

Since the advent of functionalism and descriptive translation studies, equivalence in its traditional sense appears to have become a somewhat old-fashioned concept. However, as this study shows, achieving ST-oriented equivalence may still be a key requirement and priority at least in news translation, particularly in the translation of direct quotations regarding issues with considerable potential political and ethical ramifications. Readers regard direct quotations to be closer to the truth than paraphrased quotes, which implies that faithfulness should take precedence as the expected norm.

As this study examined only direct quotations translated by a handful of newspapers, it has limitations in terms of its applicability. Its findings cannot be generalized to all newspapers in South Korea or to all the issues they may cover. Further studies are necessary to confirm the general tendencies of newspapers in their translation and framing of ideologically divisive issues. It is hoped, however, that this study will bring renewed attention to translation ethics and the social responsibility of translating journalists.


This work was supported by Hankuk University of Foreign Studies.


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[1] Complete, Verifiable, Irreversible Denuclearization

[2] The number of headlines doesn’t match the number of reports surveyed because some headlines address more than one topic.

About the author(s)

Yonsuk Song is an Associate Professor at the Graduate School of Interpretation and Translation (GSIT) at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (HUFS) in Korea. She received her Ph.D. from the same university in 2013. Before joining the faculty at HUFS, she worked both as an in-house news interpreter and translator, and as a freelance translator. Her
research interests include institutional translation and translator training.

Email: [please login or register to view author's email address]

©inTRAlinea & Yonsuk Song (2021).
"Ideology in Translation-Mediated Framing of Direct Quotations in the News: A Case Study of Trump’s Remarks at the Press Conference on the North Korea Summit", inTRAlinea Vol. 23.

This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/index.php/archive/article/2537

When Hic et Nunc is the Only Right Thing: Discussing Ethics in Translation in Light of a Personal Case

By Emilia Di Martino & Monica Pavani (Università Suor Orsola Benincasa, Italy & Independent)


This paper steps into a well established area of research to sketch a model of meta-reflection that prospective translators may use to both document the key stages of the translation process and justify and support their choices, all the while reflecting on the ethics of translation. Such a model may also be of help for novice translation critics who are learning to identify, comment and assess translators’ decisions.

Keywords: ethics in translation, meta-reflection model, novice translators, prostive translators, class resources

©inTRAlinea & Emilia Di Martino & Monica Pavani (2021).
"When Hic et Nunc is the Only Right Thing: Discussing Ethics in Translation in Light of a Personal Case", inTRAlinea Vol. 23.

This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/index.php/archive/article/2530

0. Foreword

It is not the aim of this paper to convince the reader of the need to embrace an ethnographic approach when dealing with the issue of ethics in translation; nor is its aim to offer new insights into the ethnographic practice of translation research. Its novelty is rather in the authors’ attempt to sketch a model of meta-reflection which may be fruitfully used in translation and translation criticism classes while also offering the occasion for making general considerations on the ethics of translation. While there is ample precedent of reflective accounts of translation practice (see, e.g. Bassnett, Bush 2006; Pertenghella, Loffredo 2006); of such process-oriented methodology as Think-aloud Protocols (see, among others, Bernardini 2001 and Li 2011), which ─ though currently mostly focused on the linguistic aspects of translation ─ could also be used to analyse and reflect on ethical issues; and of ethnographic approaches in translation studies focusing on the specific issue of ethics (see, e.g. Pym 2001 and 2012), there has been as yet no attempt, to the authors’ knowledge, to demonstrate which particular features might actually make an approach to translation ethics ethnographic and consequently be fruitfully applied to translation and translation criticism learning and teaching. This is exactly the authors’ aim in this paper: to step into a well established area of research in order to offer a framework for reflection that prospective translators may use to both document the key stages of the translation process and justify and support their choices. Such a model may also be of help for novice translation critics who are learning to identify, comment and assess translators’ decisions.

1. Introduction

With this aim in mind, the paper will address the issues of ethics in translation in the light of a personal case, which provides practical evidence of the possible uses of a model of meta-reflection in educational contexts. The authors will both relate their experience of dealing with the same text, Alan Bennett’s The Uncommon Reader (hereafter abbreviated to TUR) (2007) but from a different standpoint: Monica Pavani is the Italian translator of Bennett’s book; Emilia Di Martino has focused on Pavani’s work as a translation critic (Di Martino 2013, 2012, 2011a and 2010). The translation critic will also show how a deeper understanding of the reasoning behind the choices made by the translator for terms she had identified as problematic changed her previous assessment of the translation work.

Despite only starting their exchange of ideas after their individual work on the book had been done, the translator and the translation critic have managed to keep their conversation going, also meeting up in Copenhagen in November 2011 for a conference on ‘Authorial and Editorial Voices in Translation’ and subsequently collaborating on a co-authored paper (Di Martino, Pavani 2012). 

In reporting here how her ideas have evolved as her exchanges with the translator progressed, the translation critic will also reflect on the more general issue of ‘ethics’ in the light of such an evolution. In particular, she will illustrate how, despite still thinking Pavani’s translation of TUR offers a different characterization of the protagonist (in particular, due to the choices made in relation to the use of allocutives) and slightly normalizes the most subversive area of Bennett’s writing (probably in an attempt to make a prototext which may have otherwise sounded too crammed with gay references more ‘palatable’ for the Italian reader) (Di Martino 2012, 2011a and 2010), she views the Italian text (a new, independent text in terms of translation as creative writing, Petrilli 1999/2000; Bassnett, Bush 2006, Loffredo, Pertenghella 2006) positively in terms of the ethical principles identified by Simon (1996) and Berman (1995), as well as of Nord’s Loyalität (1991). Pavani’s convincing narration of her translation path (already presented in part in Di Martino, Pavani 2012) and a more in-depth consideration of the ‘real’ contexts of translation (Di Martino 2011b, Künzli 2007, Mossop 2001) are good evidence that ethics in translation is a complex issue indeed, dependent as it is on other (often hidden) variables. As such, it cannot be easily pinpointed, nor measured in the same way in different cases. The educational value of discussing competing points of view and evolving perspectives on the same text  for both prospective translators and novice translation critics is apparent.

Due to the nature of this paper, which was conceived as the report of the authors’ personal experiences, the first-person narrative will be used instead of the third-person point of view that is more common in scientific research and the two authors’ narrative accounts will be placed side by side in a dialogic manner. This is also in line with recent developments in Translation Studies, which seem to favour Narrative Theories over discourse in view of its focus on the person (Baker 2006a, 2006b). In addition to  presenting translation criticism (and not just translation) as a dynamic, evolving process rather than a static form of judgement, the introduction of a time dimension into the meaning-making of the translation process effectively emphasises how texts are interpreted differently within different narrative frames. Moreover, the recourse to narrative/dialogic accounts lends itself to good use in the translation/translation criticism class: narratives are powerful teaching tools which promote the learner’s making sense of the world through a specific mode of thought. The narrative mode of thought works towards verisimilitude, through engaging with the narrator’s subjective experience and transforming one’s understanding of the issue at hand (Bruner 1990). More practically, the two authors’ dialogue presented in the next two sections may be offered to the class as teaching material to be used in a collective activity of reflection and debate carried out through oral production in a medium-sized class; in large classes, students may be asked to work in groups with a spokesperson from each group later reporting the main points of discussion to the class and one student being in charge of pulling the threads together and drawing conclusions. Eventually, the translator’ choices could be more precisely commented upon and assessed making reference to the translation ethics framework which is also presented in the next sections, using similar groupwork patterns. This would hopefully enable prospective translators to become familiar with a tool they may find useful to employ to both document the key stages of the translation process and justify and support their choices in real job situations. It would probably also benefit novice translation critics in identifying, discussing and assessing translators’ decisions.
To avoid confusing the reader with the continuous swapping between voices, the author of every single paragraph will be named at the start of each.

2. Why use a model for meta-reflection on Translation Ethics

2.1. Introducing the model

Emilia: Set against the background of process-oriented translation studies, which focus on the psychological aspects of translation in order to try to understand and reflect on what happens in the translator's mind (see, among others, Danks, Shreve, Fountain and McBeath 1997; Shreve and Diamond 1997) this paper presents and discusses a case study analysis, with a view to both producing an educational tool of meta-reflection to use in translation and translation criticism classes and making general reflections on the ethics of translation. It feeds on the consideration that it may be hard (if indeed possible) to identify fixed norms, rules and laws in a reality caught up in as dramatic a flux as today’s and which is consequently in a ‘structural’, ‘constitutional’ need of translators (Bauman 1987), while at the same time recognizing that the necessity of such norms, rules and laws is a fact, crucial as it is as a starting point for the decisions of individual translators who constantly re-invent those very norms, rules and laws even when they apparently just seem to re-affirm them (Derrida 1997). It goes without saying that personal responsibility is equally crucial; however, in a (textual) reality where all meaning-making is contextual (ibidem), norms, rules and laws (which, as already hinted at, can only offer themselves as limited guidelines) can only be drawn from observation of individual cases and of singular decisions; they are essentially based on hic et nunc, the here and now. Therefore, also in line with the general orientation of recent research on translation, which seems to see ethics as ‘a broadly contextual question, dependent on practice in specific cultural locations and situational determinants’ (Pym in Pym 2001: 137; see also Baker 1992/2011, ch. 8 and Pym’s more recent call for a ‘regional (i.e. non universal)’ ethics based on the ‘idea that whatever the translator does […], it is always grounded in a situation’, 2012: 4), I will here attempt to offer the prospective reader (a translation and/or translation critic trainee) a model for meta-reflection, i.e. a process framework and representational format that both neophyte translators and novice translation critics may use to account for the key stages of the translation process in a structured way. It is meant to work as a learning tool for the analysis of individual translators’ ethical choices, conceived of as answering the question: what did a specific translator think was the right choice to make when addressing a specific issue in a specific translation?[1]

Taking the form of empirical research into the translation choices of individual translators in specific translation instances[2], such a tool would be a precious class resource to complement Think-aloud Protocols (TaPs) and a useful teaching/learning and assessing technique of its own. In a still interesting and relevant 2001 paper, Bernardini questions the experimental validity of TaPs as a research methodology, stressing ‘the idiosyncratic nature of the translation process, which cannot be reduced to a series of predictable and formalisable problem-solving steps’ (Bernardini 2001, 255) and while the Italy-based scholar does not intend to criticize this approach but just to encourage a more systematic and sounder use of it, this methodology is undoubtedly ‘labour-intensive’ and ‘time-consuming’ (256) not only in the research stage, but probably even more so in the teaching stage of the translation process. In a 2011 contribution Li sums up the most widespread uses of TaPs in educational environments:

[...] we may compare the differences between professional translators and student translators in the translating process and sum up rules or patterns of general applicability for translation teaching. We may also compare the learning and translating habits as exhibited by successful translation learners and less successful ones and apply the findings to the classroom to make translation teaching more purposeful. What is more, we can also resort to thinking aloud to locate and analyze students’ mistakes and to prevent similar blunders in similar situations in the future. We can also analyze the TAPs of students at different learning stages from multiple perspectives, such as the translation unit, translation strategy, the acceptability of translation in the target culture, etc., and compile a translation learning portfolio for each student (Wakabayashi, 2003). The list may go on and on. (112)

As is evident, these uses are of great research and educational value but cannot be thought of as regularly employable in large classes and with a restricted timetable, while a model for metareflection such as the one I am about to sketch may have the merit of easily stimulating class discussion on individual translators’ beliefs and values, and on translation actions taken (i.e. decisions made) on the basis of what was deemed to be right and wrong in specific translation situations. Moreover, it may also be fruitfully utilized as an assessment instrument aimed to promote the student’s personal growth.

Like TaPs, one such model has the good quality of not following ‘the theoretically deductive tradition in translator training, which frequently puts theory learning ahead of translation practice. In contrast, it applies an empirically inductive method, which summarizes the observable characteristics of [...] translation performance [...] before they are theorized into principles with wider applicability’ (Li quoting House, 112). Finally, in order to make clear in what terms it may effectively complement the didactic use of TaPs, it is important to clarify that the main concern of this meta-reflection model is not which choices specific translators should have made in the identified case, nor what choices they have actually made, but the possible (or, if accessible, the actual ─ as stated by the translator) ‘moral reasoning’ behind translation decisions. Building up on the consideration that, despite often being used interchangeably, the adjectives ‘ethical’ and ‘moral’ do convey a slightly different nuance as to the source providing the rules and/or principles referred to, by ‘moral reasoning’ I mean the translator’s practical reasoning directed towards deciding what to do and their description of the process which has led to determine what was right or wrong in a specific translation case based on their own individual principles[3]. Alternatively, an ‘ethical resoning’ would suggest a recourse to rules provided by an external source, which have not necessarily been interiorised (or are not personally shared) by the translator. While, of course, it would be impossible to state, without the translator's own disclosure, which rules in a translation are applied as responding to the translator's personal beliefs and which are respected only to conform to external constraints, it seems fair to assume that a translator will only accept to work within constraints they are sufficiently comfortable with.

The meta-reflection tool is here presented side by side with what may be loosely looked at as retrospection, i.e. analysis of a specific translation process through the participant’s own report (Monica’s account of her translation of Alan Bennett’s TUR). Being based on the participant’s recall after a considerable lapse of time, the data may be more distorted than in TaPs. However, because the overall aim of the model for meta-reflection I am sketching is educational rather than research-focused, what really counts is its possible use as an object to think with rather than as an instrument for ‘truth detection’. The examples I have chosen to discuss my point of view pertain to different textual/extratextual levels in order to offer prospective translators and novice translation critics as wide a range of samples as possible: indeed, some have to do with such aspects as style and humour whereas others refer to choices which touch on a completely different level of ethical/moral values, where social issues (and the possibly very diverse way such social issues are perceived in different cultures) are at stake.

2.2. Evaluating translation ethics: the components of moral translation behaviour

Emilia: Translation quality assessment is a crucial issue in Translation Studies, both for literary (reader- and market-related) and educational (teacher- and student-related) reasons: as House contends, ‘[t]ranslation quality assessment can [...] be said to be at the heart of any theory of translation.’ This explains the ‘soaring interest in translation quality assessment in the translation profession and the translation industry.’ (House 2015: 1) Whether or not we assume a descriptive approach to be more suitable than a prescriptive one, judging a translation work is something we automatically do when faced with one, and something which has an enormous educational value: it implies in-depth reflection on tacit knowledge (Polanyi 1967) and professional know-how, i.e. on the translator's knowing-in-action, ‘[…] the kind of knowing in which competent practitioners engage’ (Schön 1983: VIII). Learning to judge a translation can help prepare to face the complexities of the translator's profession, thus providing smoother entrance into professional practice proper. As a consequence, ‘validating judgements about the worth of a translation’ (House 2015: 1-2) is crucial and requires the identification of clear-cut assessment criteria.

In order to identify assessment criteria which help build up a tool validating judgements on the worth of translation, i.e. measuring the latter's translation ethics, it is crucial to provide a definition of translation behaviour. Indeed, because the ‘morality’ of translation choices is what is essentially at stake here, such choices would more fruitfully be declined, for validation/assessment purposes, in terms of translation behaviour, which can be looked at as the manifestation of the ‘moral reasoning’ introduced just above. Applying the four-component framework of ‘general’ moral behaviour (Rest 1994) to the translation domain, it is possible to identify four components of moral translation behaviour:

- Moral sensitivity: the ability to recognise an ethical dilemma.

Such recognition requires being aware of how our behaviour impacts others, identifying possible courses of action, and determining the consequences of each potential strategy. Moral sensitivity is key to transformational ethics. We can’t solve a moral dilemma unless we know that one is present (Johnson 2006: 60).

Translators should possess moral sensitivity as a constitutive quality i.e. they should be able to engage in moral reasoning. Possessing moral sensitivity could be declined, for the sake of clarity, into the ability to assess a translation problem, visualize and evaluate multiple possible options and generate creative solutions or, quoting Pym, ‘to conceptualize relational issues, to foresee possible contradictions, to find and propose satisfying solutions, to facilitate debate and decision’ (2012: 69). The necessary previous step to that being the capacity of addressing the question Why translate? (as posed in Pym 2012). Baker’s use of narrative theory as a spur to self-reflexivity (2006, 2008) may be a possible response to this need as it helps identify the interplay of competing narratives which frame every (translation) event.

- Moral judgment: the ability to make judgements about what is right or wrong i.e. about what ‘ought’ to be done in specific translation situations.

- Moral motivation: the translator’s commitment to be consistent with the choices made (see, for example, Baker 2006a) once they have decided what is the best course of action, and to accept responsibility for the outcome. Otherwise, following Pym’s arguments against Baker’s generalised commitment to non-translation when faced with culturally offensive narratives, their ability to constantly re-build up dialogue and mediate: ‘The prime assumptions of a narrative ontology and radical cultural difference not only exclude the position of active intermediaries, they lock the parties into perpetual prolongation of conflict’ (2012: 60; see also Pym’s points on the issue of responsibility and on a specific historical example in 2012: 68-9, 76-81 and the reflections that follow, respectively).

- Moral character: it could perhaps be defined as persistence in the translation action, in spite of any possible temptations to take an easier way out.

2.3. Approaching translation ethics from a local angle

Emilia: In what follows I am going to describe and discuss Monica’s moral translation behaviour in La sovrana lettrice not out of any prescriptive urge to evaluate and criticize somebody else’s translation work, but just to provide practical evidence of the possible uses of a model of meta-reflection in educational contexts. I will do so first introducing my views on Monica’s approach to the problematic areas I have identified in the text (Bennett’s use of allocutives to characterize the Queen’s idiolect; purported gay speak; the interdiscursive relation with Woolf’s The Common Reader) and then reflecting on Monica’s comments to my points. Her comments are in fact her personal explanation of the reasons which are at the basis of her choices, i.e. the arguments she uses to support her translation choices and to evaluate her work. The focus will mostly be on the translation of ‘style’, intended in a context of literary sociolinguistics (Blake 1992) as variation within a specific character’s language use, i.e. as intra-character variation according to addressee, but also on language choice as an index of community-belonging and on interdiscursivity meant as those implicit conversations that texts often entertain with other texts we all know very well.

2.4. Story of the translation

Monica: I had been translating – mainly from English but also from French into Italian – for many years when in 2007 Adelphi proposed that I translate TUR. I immediately accepted the very challenging task as I had previously translated another book for Adelphi and therefore I was already familiar with their revision procedure. As well as being very attracted by the idea of translating one of Bennett’s latest works, I was also terribly frightened. I think that the translator’s awe not only of the text, but also of the author and of the public, is an important element for this discussion, as the translation scholar is not necessarily aware of it. The translator’s loneliness is just the first part of the process of translating, as the following stages – especially at Adelphi – consist of rewriting and revising, first after the main editor’s corrections, and later on the basis of the observations of experts or special readers instructed to do this special task. The Paris Review has recently labelled Adelphi as ‘the most important Italian publishing house’[4], surely in consideration of its almost exclusive attention for prestigious books of literature and philosophy. Therefore, a translator working for them always knows that the book they are translating will be read by a sophisticated audience, particularly sensitive to style and to nuances of tone and meaning.

The translator’s awe does, however, have its positive sides – first of all it encourages the translator’s humility, which I personally consider a positive quality, as it spurs the translator to take into consideration a multitude of different points of view on the text.

The uncommon reader in the story is Queen Elizabeth II, who suddenly becomes obsessed with reading (and later writing) after a chance meeting with the librarian of a mobile library parked just outside the Buckingham Palace kitchens and a gay kitchen help who seems to be the only other borrower of the mobile library’s books. The story follows the consequences of this obsession in an elegant language, which is also rich in audacious jokes. My first impression was that it would be very difficult to render in Italian the very formal and ironical language with which Bennett very wittingly has given life to the Queen. The circumlocutions in Bennett’s English sound very amusing but if I had tried to do the same in Italian everything would have become terribly tedious. In fact, as John Rutherford has underlined in his essay “Translating fun: Don Quixote,” one of the difficulties about translating fun is that

although it is in one sense universal, being a part of nature in that all human societies laugh and smile, in another sense it is not universal, being a part of nurture in that its immediate causes depend on value systems which are specific to individual cultures (Rutherford 2006: 73).

The first revision the Adelphi staff carried out on my first version was intended to make the text and especially the dialogue sound more natural and I agreed with that, as Bennett – who is also and mainly a playwright – is particularly attentive to spoken language in his books. His characters exist first of all as speaking figures, and much of the fun depends on the clash of registers that Bennett exploits. When the time came for the last revision, I was invited by Adelphi to ‘forget about the original version’ and think only about the Italian one so as to make all the jokes (most of which are based on puns and double meanings) as funny as possible in the target language. I think that the very peculiar effect of Bennett’s text is that it amuses while making one reflect and become conscious of the very many social and inner constraints hindering the Queen’s spontaneity. I therefore did my best to make my version sound respectful of this effect.

According to Rutherford, translators of books which are meant to be funny ‘would have to persuade readers that laughing and smiling are compatible with seriousness, that profound themes can be treated as effectively in comedy and in humour as in tragedy’ (Rutherford 2006: 73). Of course this is true for writers too but it must be said that in translation it is often very difficult to keep the balance between these two effects, so dependent are they on social and cultural implications. Bennett’s text is nearly everywhere based on this emotional contrast, which is never openly exhibited but works throughout the text as a powerful undercurrent. This is why I thought that not only should all the research I had done to translate TUR in a manner which be respectful of the original effect remain invisible, but, as far as fun is concerned, my translation could only be successful if the reader were not aware of the scholarship that was needed to achieve it.

3. Discussing the ethics of La sovrana lettrice

3.1. Language variation in translation: the Queen’s different identity in the Bennett/Pavani text

3.1.1. The translation critic’s point

Emilia: As outlined above, the first constitutive area of complexity I identified in the journey of TUR across languages/cultures was Bennett’s use of allocutives to characterize the Queen’s idiolect, i.e. it concerns the translation of ‘style’, intended as variation within a specific character’s language use. Looked upon in this way, style can be said to represent the central component in the construction of each character’s social identity and specific language choices thus become indexes of different levels of closeness/inclusion and distance/exclusion and community-belonging. Translation of such choices across languages irremediably results in building up different identities and social relationships in target texts, thus often making the same book tell different stories across different cultures.

In previous papers about the Bennett/Pavani text (Di Martino 2012, 2011a and 2010), I have focused on the verbal ‘actions’ in which Bennett’s Queen is made to engage, addressing the semantics of pronoun address, in particular, and showing how the Queen positions herself in relation to others by using specific linguistic forms that convey social information but also relate to power and solidarity dimensions (different language choices characterise relationships with different categories of people and hint at different levels of symmetry/asymmetry). In addition to that (and more importantly), looking at the Queen’s use of allocutives as indexes of subtle levels of closeness/inclusiveness and/or distance/exclusiveness, I have drawn attention to how the social information and the meaning of power issues that style implies completely change when TUR (actually any literary text) journeys across languages/cultures. In particular, Monica’s translation seems to remove from the text the linguistic signs of a Queen who gets progressively closer to common people with a passion for reading than to members of her usual entourage, while foregrounding Her Majesty’s wish to make her point clear and have her way. Though present in the source text, this wish is not re-enforced linguistically, thus producing in TUR the image of a Queen who is faithful to the British ideal of self-control and understatement, as well as perfectly aware of her minor political role.

3.1.2. The translator’s point

Monica: One of the most delicate issues in the translation was certainly the Queen’s language, pronoun usage in particular. Bennett’s Queen makes use of (1) the ‘royal we,’ or majestic plural; (2) the ‘royal one,’ and (3) the first person ‘I.’ Together with the staff at Adelphi – the main editor and a consistent number of proof-readers who each put forward suggestions – I tried out a good many versions alternating between ‘noi’ (first person plural in Italian) and ‘io’ (first person singular). Somehow the ‘io’ choice always seemed artificial and inadequate. The Queen sounded neither as majestic nor as childish as she sounds in English. I felt that I had to make a different choice and considered that my overall impression of Bennett’s Queen was a very positive one. In fact, although she is ridiculed, it is also evident that the author’s aim is to describe her gradual transformation into a true human being through reading. In the final part of the book in fact she gives a speech which turns out to be surprising both for her audience within the book and for the audience outside the book. Indeed, it is the Queen’s attitude and the language she uses which are completely different from the rest of the book: she is much more self-confident and not at all afraid of telling the truth about her duties as a ruler of her country. I later found confirmation of my interpretation when I listened to Bennett’s radio recording of TUR, and I noticed the completely different tone of voice he uses in the final speech compared to the very high-pitched falsetto in the first part.

My choice was to consistently use the first person plural ‘noi’ in the first part, where the Queen sounded much more depersonalized – and to start using the first person singular ‘io’ more often towards the end of the book so as to culminate in the final speech, where the Queen has finally become a true human being.

To bolster my decision, I watched Stephen Frears’ The Queen – a film about the British monarchy which came out in cinemas around the world in 2006, the year the book was published – in the dubbed version just to see how the Queen was made to speak in Italian, and I noticed that the ‘noi’ was prevalent. I also found that the Queen in the movie was very different from Bennett’s and therefore there was no need to make her speak exactly in the same way.

My choice was immediately approved by Adelphi. My decision in this case probably stems from my personal approach to translation. I feel that my translation in its entirety should be endowed with a voice (in this case a multitude of voices) which can be recognizable and coherent with the content (and context) of that precise book. In his recent book Is That a Fish in Your Ear?, David Bellos observes that the translation of humour requires a different approach from the translation of style: ‘The first is typically done by concentrated effort; the second is better done by taking a slight distance from the text and allowing its underlying patterns to emerge by their own force in the process of rewriting in a second tongue’ (Bellos 2011: 301). I believe that my final decision to translate the Queen’s use of pronouns as a progression towards the first person, which does not exactly mirror the original, emerged from my umpteenth reading of TUR from a ‘slight distance’, allowing me to better penetrate the innermost aspects of the Queen, who is a much more complex character than she seems at first glance.

3.1.3. Evolutions in the translation critic’s ideas

Emilia: All of this section, which is the core, descriptive and evidence-providing section of this paper, is going to build around a tripartite structure:

1) The translation critic’s point

2) The translator’s point

3) Evolutions in the translation critic’s ideas.

This is intended to practically illustrate what I mean by empirical investigation in the area of translation ethics: it is essentially field-based research aimed at generating ethnographical understanding, i.e. at providing a detailed, in-depth, ‘thick’ (Geertz 1973) description of translators’ decisional practice which is not a substitute of but complementary to TaPs in contexts in which the latter may prove impractical: teaching/learning/assessing translation and translation criticism in large classes with a limited timetable, where whole class discussion and/or assessment of translation tasks can provide precious, time-effective, enjoyable and anxiety-free didactic activities. The translation critic’s point paragraph presents my hypotheses and original assessment of Monica’s translation decisions, whereas the Evolutions in the translation critic’s ideas paragraph illustrates how my original assessment of those decisions has changed after I collected primary data which provided me with in-depth understanding of the decisional process.

I am not going to address specifically the first problematic area I have identified partly because the main points have already been summed up in paragraph 3.1.1 and partly due to the fact that most of the arguments that I would have put forward here will nevertheless appear in the paragraphs relating to the other two problematic areas of the text, which might have made them redundant.

3.2. Interdiscursivity in translation: the loss of the Woolf reference in the Bennett/Pavani text

3.2.1. The translation critic’s point

Emilia: I have argued in my previous papers that Bennett’s title was to me an open reference to Woolf’s The Common Reader, and this both because Bennett’s Queen, ‘uncorrupted by literary prejudices’, (Johnson 1925/1984) moves from one book to the next following her instinct and personal taste, like Woolf’s common reader who reads English literature free of the conditionings which often enslave literary critics, and due to my awareness that Bennett often weaves interdiscursive relationships in the titles of his books. Probably due to my firmness in this conviction, I took Monica’s use of the word ‘cagna’ (the Italian equivalent of ‘bitch’) instead of ‘cane’ (‘dog’) in her translation of the title My Dog Tulip (La mia cagna Tulip) (one of the books the Queen’s newly made literary aide after meeting him at the travelling library outside Buckingham Palace brings to Her Majesty’s attention) both as a way to recreate (albeit in a highly sophisticated, indirect manner[5]) the interdiscursive relation with Virginia Woolf which had been lost in the title and as a potential act of feminine dissidence placing La sovrana lettrice at the heart of a complex network of references ranging from Barrett and Woolf to as far as Riot Grrrls and other contemporary feminist artists. The term ‘cagna’ does stand out – I still think after hearing Monica’s report of the translation process ─ where it appears, and it may indeed be looked at as a peculiar choice considering that the dog’s sex is totally irrelevant in TUR.

3.2.2. The translator’s point

Monica: In my opinion this is the point where the translator’s work and the translator critic’s work diverge most. As a translator, my ethical approach is always derived from the book I am translating and possibly from an extended knowledge of the writer’s style, which is of course subjected to the limit of the short time allowed for translating. When I read a text with the aim of translating it, I always try to avoid preconceptions and ideological interpretations of it. This is also why I firmly believe that the translation of Ackerley’s book as La mia cagna Tulip – which by the way was not mine but was suggested by the main editor at Adelphi – comes from the effort of rendering in Italian as many as possible of the features the title is meant to give to the reader in English: the dog in the book was actually female and its owner was gay.

From an idealistic point of view, and especially as far as TUR is concerned, the translator should have exactly the same ‘reading horizons’ as the writer, that is to say that they should have read the same books by the same authors. This, however, is actually impossible, due to the short deadline translators must respect to give in their work. I had to hand over at least the first version of the first part of TUR just after one month’s work, even though it is true that the many following revisions were aimed at coming to a better rendering of the author’s style. On the other hand, the time a translation would require is potentially infinite, therefore a precise deadline is sometimes beneficial in so far as it forces the translator to produce a coherent and consistent text despite the gaps in knowledge. All things considered I think I would have probably made the same choices even if more time had been allowed.

3.2.3. Evolutions in the translation critic’s ideas

Emilia: As I have already hinted at above, even now I know that the decision to translate Ackerley’s book as La mia cagna Tulip was actually not Monica’s but the main editor’s choice, what I then considered to be a ‘new intertextual marker’ still seems to me to function extremely well in the ‘architecture’ of the target text as I see it, which makes me want to stress that reading is always a personal experience, and each time brand new, in so far as it is far more widely affected by each reader’s unique repertoire of previous (and therefore also always constantly broader and, as a result, essentially new) readings than it is influenced by other people’s reading of the same books. This opens up, in turn, in my mind, yet another ethical issue within the ethical issue at hand since, as I have argued elsewhere,

I believe that, as in all fields, diversity in translation should be encouraged and stimulated rather than controlled and channelled; it contributes to safeguard the wealth, uniqueness and value of the individual reading process and ensures the ongoing progress of the mind, the life of texts, the survival of literature, the wealth of culture and, ultimately, the improvement of human kind (Di Martino in Di Martino, Pavani 2012: 256).

Moreover, it is also worth stressing that an author’s ‘original’ intentions are always essentially elusive, so faithfulness to the source text is always, in a way, problematic.

Having said that, I think I need to stress that Monica’s account of the specific translation process we are here analysing is crucial in understanding that variables of different nature also make up the ethics of a translation process. Monica has indeed provided an interesting insight into the ‘real’ contexts of translation. I have touched upon the paradox between the present market’s demand to work at increasingly faster rhythms and the ethical need to guarantee the production of high quality translated texts elsewhere (Di Martino 2011b). It is probably worth stressing again the need for more detailed research into the contexts of translation as well as into how such contexts affect the quality of the final product (and at the very same time, it is worth clarifying that the – high – quality of Monica’s work is not at stake here): ‘A not-so-good translation might often be the result of lack of time or lack of access to an information source rather than of insufficient linguistic or extralinguistic skills’ (Künzli, 2007: 53). Recent research on the topic (Künzli 2007, Mossop 2001) also provides interesting details as to how ethics in translation is a more complex issue than it is often conceived of, dependent as it is on ‘external’ (often hidden) variables[6], as well. As such, it cannot be easily pinpointed, nor measured in the same way in different cases.

3.3. Language choice in translation: the disappearance of gay community belonging in the Bennett/Pavani text

3.3.1. The translation critic’s point

Emilia: In my previous papers I have also attempted to show how in fiction, as in real life, speech patterns are also tools that speakers/characters manipulate in order to place themselves and to categorise others. In doing so, they automatically create and/or identify themselves as part of particular speech/cultural communities (Di Martino 2012: 73).

The evidence drawn here from the Bennett/Pavani text in support of my argument concerns purported gay speech, in particular some language choices which I had identified as a crucial element in Bennett’s text. This was due to the fact TUR followed Bennett’s both delicate and crude coming out in Written on the Body (a diversity manifesto, in my opinion) and also to a reference to Cecil Beaton in the text possibly ‘encapsulating’ the fictitious character of the Queen’s literary aide for the British reader (Cecil Beaton, who is still celebrated for his loving portraits of the Royals and especially of Queen Elizabeth II was indeed gay and the Queen Mother’s friend). In a very crude summary, I have argued that the social/cultural groupings implicit in the Bennett text can only be inferred by a handful (if any) of readers of the Bennett/Pavani text due to linguistic choices that may stem from the translator’s (or editorial staff’s) deliberate attempt to affect the text’s reach.

3.3.2. The translator’s point

Monica: I think that the point here is very close to the translation of the title My Dog Tulip with La mia cagna Tulip in Italian. In TUR Bennett makes immediately clear that Norman is gay and his sexual orientation is particularly important as he is bestowed with the responsibility of recommending books to Her Majesty. Of course he suggests all the books and the authors he prefers and the comic effect is created by the fact that the Queen at the beginning is totally unaware that all the books that she is reading are gay-oriented. Having said that, Bennett in this book is more concerned with the effect of reading on the Queen (and the human as well as political consequence of such an activity) than with the ‘gay issue.’ This is why I – together with the editorial staff at Adelphi – particularly concentrated on rendering the effectiveness of the dialogues more than on the single words that could refer to Norman’s belonging to the gay community.

An interesting example perhaps is when Norman’s plainness is the object of mockery and he is described by the equerry as ‘(n)ot dolly enough’ on one occasion. The word ‘dolly’ – which is not reminiscent of ‘pretty’ or ‘beautiful’ to the ordinary person – has a strong gay connotation in this context. I did not know the meaning of ‘dolly,’ so I asked an English friend of mine and was told that ‘dolly’ means ‘pretty or nice for a gay.’ After the equerry says ‘Not dolly enough’, the private secretary comments ‘Thin, ginger-haired. Have a heart’.

I did not know of any adjective in Italian which indicates ‘nice for a gay.’ At first I had translated «Ma non è certo un figurino» (‘But he’s not certainly a fashion-plate’), which was different but to me sounded closer to ‘not dolly enough.’ The final choice of the main editor was in favour of «Non è abbastanza carino» (18) (‘He is not nice enough’), which in fact loses its gay connotation but within the dialogue, because the comment is made by the equerry (a man) ‘to the private secretary not to the Queen,’ (that is, to another man), it is pretty clear that the equerry might be personally interested in Norman if only Norman were nicer.

3.3.3. Evolutions in the translation critic’s ideas

Emilia: Briefly going back to the ‘My Dog Tulip’ title issue (which gets translated as La mia cagna Tulip in the Italian translation of Bennett’s TUR), let me mention that, as I have hinted at above[7], the name of the dog of which Tulip is the fictional counterpart was Queenie (as we learn in TUR) and this name has curiously become Reginetta in Monica’s translation (actually the only proper name that is translated in the book). Unlike Monica, I do not think that Reginetta sounds like an obvious choice for a gay person’s dog name[8]. Quite the opposite, I believe that, had Monica or the Adelphi editors decided to leave it unchanged, Queenie would have sounded nearly as suggestive of the gay world in Italian as it is in English ─ Queenie was actually changed to Tulip when My Dog Tulip came out because the publisher thought the name would encourage jokes about its author’s sexual orientation. Indeed, I am of the opinion that quite a straightforward mental association of the name Queenie is with the band Queen, whose vocalist Freddie Mercury was widely known to be gay. Let me offer an extract from the book to rest my case. It will hopefully provide an opportunity to read more closely into the utterance where the name appears with all its most provokingly gay associations (the dog’s name is in bold in the text for clearer reference; the phrase appearing four times in square brackets is mine, again used for reference):

«Tulip» disse più tardi la regina a Norman. «Che strano nome per una cagna [‘dog’ in the English version]». «La storia è romanzata, Maestà, ma l’autore una cagna [‘dog’ in the English version] ce l’aveva veramente, un pastore tedesco». (Non le disse che si chiamava Reginetta [‘Queenie’ in the English version]). «Quindi fuor di finzione è un libro autobiografico». «Oh, » disse la regina «Ma perché fingere?» Norman pensò che l’avrebbe scoperto leggendo il libro, ma lo tenne per sé. «Tutti i suoi amici detestavano quella cagna [‘dog’ in the English version], Maestà». «Ci siamo passati tutti, disse lei, e Norman annuì con aria solenne, perché anche i cani reali erano generalmente invisi. La regina sorrise. Che fortuna aver trovato Norman! Sapeva di incutere soggezione; pochi domestici riuscivano ad essere spontanei con lei. Ma Norman, per quanto strambo, era solo e soltanto se stesso. Una vera rarità.

The allusion I personally get as an Italian reader is of the character in question not daring to confess to the Queen that the dog’s name is Reginetta, lest she takes it as an irreverent act of equalling her royal person with a dog (actually a ‘cagna’, a female dog, i.e. a bitch. I think I can actually detect an intention of building up a whole network of equations regina=cagna, i.e. ‘detestata’/detested/disliked intensely and ‘invisa’/unpopular to comic effect). Had the character used the name Queenie, instead, the gay references (with all their embarrassing weight for the utterer as being aware he is gay – both daring and not daring but finally daring ─ throughout the book because he does not really know how the Queen would feel about him once she realised he was gay) would have been clear to me in Italian, as well. Having said that, whereas my previous understanding of the disappearance of such words as ‘dolly’ and ‘Queenie’ ─ which are highly evocative of gay speech (in gay-speak ‘queen’ is used to depict a rather flamboyant homosexual) in the Pavani/Bennett text was slightly judgmental, described as it was in essentially negative terms (loss, sanitization etc.), I feel I have now steered towards a more descriptive position in so far as I am more aware that it is indeed difficult to clearly identify to whom or what the translator should be faithful. The disappearance of the references to gay-speak mentioned just above in the specific decision-making process at hand was, in my opinion, norm-governed, i.e. it was, paraphrasing Toury (who would however certainly disagree with this recourse to non-observable conjecture) the translation of a value/idea ‘shared by a community – as to what is right and wrong, adequate and inadequate – into performance’ (Toury 1995: 55)[9]. It is related to the type of fidelity that, in Arrojo’s opinion, ‘we owe to our own assumptions, not simply as individuals, but as members of a cultural community which produces and validates them’ (1994: 160), the fidelity which is essential to make the translation ‘prospectively adequate’ (Vermeer 1996: 77) to its target-text skopos, the intended function of the translation I am here analyzing clearly being an escapist or amusing one. This is also close to Levine’s idea of responsibility towards the translation’s readership: ‘recontextualizing the ideology of the original text’ (1991: 3) is actually one of the effects translation should pursue. As Levine states, ‘what matters here is not the monolithic value of a quoted text but rather the relationship between texts, and between the novel and its reader’ (1991: 131) and, one may add, such readers’ worldviews, their expectations and the constraints implicitly imposed by the receiving culture. Monica’s many references to the teamwork involved in her translational process both withdraws her, in a way, from personal responsibility, and guarantees that the meanings the Bennett/Pavani text conveys are ‘shared’.

3.4. Assessing the translator’s ethical behaviour in La sovrana lettrice

Emilia: Because Monica’s ‘translation purpose justifies the translation procedures’ (Nord 1997: 124) that have been used and her account of the translation process here and in Di Martino, Pavani 2012 also reveals awareness of her responsibility to the translated author, i.e. of her ‘bilateral commitment’ and the consequent, commendable attempt to integrate the perceived aims of the source into the target text as far as possible, I cannot but look at the Italian text (a new, independent text in terms of translation as creative writing, Petrilli 1999/2000; Bassnett, Bush 2006, Loffredo, Pertenghella 2006) positively in terms of the ethical principles identified by Berman (1995), of Simon’s idea of fidelity to the writing project (1996) and of Nord’s Loyalität (1991, 1997 a and b; Nord in Pym 2001). Moreover, I think Monica’s work can also be assessed positively in terms of the four components of moral translation behaviour I have identified in 2.2: Monica’s comments provide evidence of

1) ability to recognise an ethical dilemma (moral sensitivity) and engage in moral reasoning;

2) ability to make judgements about what ‘ought’ to be done in a specific translation situation (moral judgment) (in support of my opinion on both points 1 and 2 in this list, let me kindly ask the reader to briefly turn back to Monica’s arguments in paragraphs 3.1.2 and 3.2.2; Monica’s comments in Di Martino, Pavani 2012 are further evidence of the abilities under analysis);

3) a commitment to be consistent with the choices made (moral motivation) (for this point the reader could refer back to paragraphs 3.1.2 and 3.3.2 and, also in this case, expand the issue reading Di Martino, Pavani 2012);

4) persistence in the translation action (moral character) (the reader should here consider Monica’s persistence in translating the text, despite the pressing deadline imposed by the publisher and the commitment to let the editors have the last say may have led her against accepting ─ or completing ─ the job.

4. Conclusions

4.1. In search of a translation ethics framework (if there is such a thing)

Emilia: It would obviously be desirable (and, above all, useful) to sketch a framework for the professional translator’s use as a sort of point of reference to help more clearly identify and address the ‘delicate’ areas of a text. And yet I wonder whether this is really possible, first and foremost because what will be counted by each individual translator as a moral issue or challenge will most certainly vary according to the theory they decide (or feel naturally bound) to refer to: in short, how do we identify what moral considerations are most relevant so as to raise translators’ attention to them? And how do we guide translators’ moral imagination? Moral reasoning clearly depends upon translation theory (and ethical translation theory) to anticipate issues and possible strategic options as well as to account for the different ways in which the factors implicit in the choices to be made may interact in various contexts. Also, contexts are virtually infinite and each new context always makes even the most widely talked about and deeply analysed issues unique. Moreover, as is evident in Monica’s comments, when faced with translation problems, sometimes translators address them through explicit reasoning, attempting to reach a well-supported decision to a clearly identified translation problem, sometimes they reason tacitly, thinking in much the same way as during explicit reasoning, but without explicitly identifying all the aspects of the question, sometimes they have to act instinctively because they do not always have time to pause to reason about what ought to be done.

Despite being more of an ideal than an actually feasible point of reference for the professional translator to use in real work-related situations, one such framework (a possible example is provided in Table 1) would be a useful object to think with, a valuable stimulus for reflection and discussion for the prospective translator and the novice translation critic to use in hypothetical situations (simulations) or real, other-produced translation tasks presented in class (particularly large classes, as hinted at above) contexts. Moreover, it could easily be turned into an assessment tool: providing shared criteria for the evaluation of assigned translation tasks, its use would make the assessment stage of the translation teaching/learning process meaningfully world-related, involving a good coverage of abilities which are most likely to ensure future success in any working (and life) situation, i.e. evaluation of such high-order skills as thinking and presentation abilities. This would, in turn, integrate and relate assessment with/to teaching, avoiding useless ‘eating into’ teaching/learning time, and enable the teacher to get a good overview of student profiles. In addition, it would empower the student providing greater involvement in, and therefore greater control over, their learning and assessment (the framework may actually be used as an object of self-directed learning). As a consequence, the assessment process would prove to be highly beneficial in terms of learner growth and self-awareness (and as such scoring high in terms of consequential validity) and overall more motivating and rewarding for students, with a potential high backwash on the whole teaching/learning process.

Framework of moral translation behaviour

(to be filled out with reference to both translations and other sources of the translator’s voice: prefaces, footnotes, book events, conference presentations,  papers, interviews, etc.)

This framework is aimed at guiding you to both collect and analyse information about specific translating processes performed by others, and/or to raise awareness to your personal translating activities in order to both help to identify areas for improvement, and to enable you to demonstrate your translation’s or translation criticism’s strengths. The information you collect and highlight will allow you to better communicate your abilities to others, which is critical to gradually build a successful career and/or attract immediate interest from potential employers. The end result is an evaluation of the formative type (i.e. results are meant to promote your personal growth, not to express a pass/fail judgement on a specific translation activity), that is why you will find more room for notes ─evidence─ than precise criteria (these should be fine-tuned to the specific translation in an actual context).

Moral sensitivity

(ability to recognise an ethical dilemma)

Does the translator appear to be aware of how their behaviour impacts others?

Does the translator appear to have identified possible courses of action?

Does the translator appear to have determined the consequences of each potential strategy?


Tick or Cross the following:

Tick or Cross the following:

Tick or Cross the following:


YES (ability to assess a translation problem)


YES (ability to visualize and evaluate multiple possible options)


YES (ability to foresee possible contradictions)






Moral judgment

(ability to make judgements about what ‘ought’ to be done in specific translation situations)







Moral motivation

(commitment to be consistent with the choices made and to accept responsibility for the outcome)







Moral character

(persistence in the translation action)







Table 1: Framework of moral translation behaviour

4.2. Beyond class use. In search of fidelity to the reader

Emilia: What is still missing in this picture ─ (the gap some researchers are trying to fill) and necessary, in my opinion, to ‘triangulate’ the translation operation, i.e. to increase its credibility and validity, despite taking us well beyond the didactic scope which is the aim of the present paper ─ is that faithfulness to the reader which is implicit in Levine’s stress on the readers’ need to receive information about the translation process, about how ‘differences and similarities between cultures and languages affect what is finally transmitted’ (1991: XV). At the end of the day, what in my opinion is really morally questionable in a translation is unspoken, undercover manipulation as opposed to openly reporting what has been (i.e. who has decided what and possibly why)[10]. But withholding such information is usually the publisher’s, not the translator’s choice, and whether or not it is commendable to inform a reader whom such a publisher has targeted as being one of escapist literature is, admittedly, in itself debatable.

4.3. In search of Applied Translation Ethics Studies (ATES)

Emilia: Resonating much of the present academic reflections in different fields of study, I have argued above that the study of translation ethics should be ‘situated’, i.e. contextualised and focused on individual translators’ decisions, thus taking the shape of qualitative, ethnographic research that tackles specific translation cases and discusses ethical behaviours that are hardly ever re-applicable as such in other contexts. Yet this also means that such a study should be ‘diffused’, i.e. aware of the need for norms, rules and laws of wider applicability, and as such open to a constant, mutual exchange of influences: each individual behaviour is part of a system which constantly re-defines the very status of translation ethics. As such, it should be ‘disseminated’ as case study, read not as ready-made recipes to be re-used in different contexts, but as experience repertoires and, in relevant cases, passed on to encourage others to take up political action in the form of critical engagement aimed at social transformation. Which also means it should, vocationally (and ethically!), always be applied in so far as it should not merely aim at expanding general knowledge on the topic but also at increasing what is known about the topic with a view to paving the way for increasingly more ethical translation behaviours.


Emilia Di Martino is the author of sections 0, 1, 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, 3.1.1, 3.1.3, 3.2.1, 3.2.3, 3.3.1, 3.3.3, 3.4, and 4; Monica Pavani is the author of sections 2.4, 3.1.2, 3.2.2, and 3.3.2.


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Danks, Joseph H., Shreve, Gregory M., Fountain, Steven B., McBeath, Michael K. (eds.) (1997) Cognitive Processes in Translation, Thousand Oaks, (CA), Sage Publications.

Derrida, Jacques (1997) Of Grammatology, Baltimore, John Hopkins University Press.

Di Martino, Emilia (2010) “La sovrana lettrice e The Uncommon Reader: un approccio critico al testo tradotto ” in Tradurre in pratica. Riflessioni, esperienze, testimonianze, Flora De Giovanni, and Bruna di Sabato (eds), Napoli, Edizioni Scientifiche Italiane: 113-40.

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[1]Also see Chesterman’s statement that ‘descriptive research on ethics seeks to uncover the ethical principles governing particular kinds of actions.’ (1997: 171).

[2] Consider, in regard to this, Pym’s statement that ‘[t]here would seem to be increasing agreement to focus on people rather than texts, and to do so in terms that cannot be reduced to textually inscribed subjectivities.’ (Pym 2001: 137).

[3] For a practical example of what I mean by ‘moral reasoning’, see e.g. Katan and Straniero-Sergio’s (2001) interesting analysis of a corpus of Italian talk show interpreting and their proposal of setting up ‘an ethics of entertainment’, as well as Sidiropoulou’s (2001) reflections on the translation of urgent messages.

[4]See Lila Azam Zanganeh’s interview to Roberto Calasso, available at [url=http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/6168/the-art-of-fiction-no-217-roberto-calasso]http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/6168/the-art-of-fiction-no-217-roberto-calasso[/url].

[5] The dog in My Dog Tulip is actually the fictional counterpart of the book author’s own dog, an Alsatian named Queenie (this name intriguingly becomes Reginetta in Monica’s translation), and this brought to my mind both Woolf’s strong bond with Pinka and Pinka’s fictional double, Flush.

[6] Mossop lists such factors as deadlines and text chunking, whereas Künzli,mentions, for example, a frequent lack of direct communication between a translation’s commissioner, ‘who may also be the source-text author and/or the target-text receiver, and the translator; neither is there any direct communication between the translator and the reviser nor between the reviser and the commissioner. This situation may lead to different types of conflicts, not least because of the relative anonymity that characterises the interpersonal relationships. To give one example: revisers might get caught in an ethical dilemma between loyalty to the commissioner (who is willing to give priority to speed rather than quality) and loyalty to themselves or the profession at large (which generally expects priority be given to high quality).’ (Künzli 2007: 44) 

[7] See footnote 5.

[8] Monica has argued, in a previous co-authored paper: ‘The translation of Queenie by “Reginetta” was my choice, as the word kept the reference to “queen” (in Italian “regina”). I also thought that a gay man might name his dog after a kind of beautiful but fake showgirl or a Miss World (in Italy Miss World contestants are often called “Reginette” and they wear a crown). I therefore considered that Reginetta was an amusing name for the dog, and would be an appropriate translation.’ (Di Martino, Pavani 2013: 253)

[9] See, among other things, “Attacco al videogioco con le famiglie gay ‘Minaccia l’educazione dei bambini,’” La Repubblica (14 May 14 2011), where Marco Pasqua gives an account of the reaction of a number of Italian politicians strongly criticizing the videogame The Sims due to its featuring gay families among its characters.

[10] See, for example, Monica’s disclosure that the choice of ‘cagna’ instead of ‘dog’ in the Italian title of My Dog Tulip/La mia cagna Tulip was actually the main editor’s.

About the author(s)

Emilia Di Martino is Associate Professor of English linguistics. Her interests cover a wide variety of topics, mostly focusing on the nexus of identity, language, and power. She sits on the advisory panels of a series of national and international journals. Her latest publication is a research monograph: Celebrity Accents and Public Identity Construction (Routledge, 2019).

Monica Pavani (PhD in Anglo-American Literature from Ca’ Foscari, Venice) is a freelance translator. Among her translations: The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett (La sovrana lettrice, Adelphi 2007), Mouvement par la fin by Philippe Rahmy (Movimento dalla fine, Mobydick 2008), Adonais by Percy Bysshe Shelley (Adone, Marsilio 2014) and Parisina by Lord Byron (2G Editrice 2015). She is also author of L’eco di Micòl. Itinerario bassaniano (The Echo of Micòl. A Walk through the Writings of Giorgio Bassani), published in a bilingual version by 2G Editrice in Ferrara in 2011. She is currently translating into Italian a collection of essays and short-stories about the Ghetto in Venice and a novel by British writer S J Bennett.

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©inTRAlinea & Emilia Di Martino & Monica Pavani (2021).
"When Hic et Nunc is the Only Right Thing: Discussing Ethics in Translation in Light of a Personal Case", inTRAlinea Vol. 23.

This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/index.php/archive/article/2530

ELF communication and intercultural mediation

An interdisciplinary approach

By Stefania Taviano (University of Messina, Italy)


Research into the impact of English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) on the work of professional translators and interpreters has so far been extremely limited, with few exceptions (e.g. Albl-Mikasa 2017, Taviano 2013). Nevertheless, translation and interpreting are part and parcel of the global world that we inhabit, marked by ever growing migration flows. ELF deeply affects interaction between displaced people and intercultural mediators who facilitate communication in a wide range of contexts, such as hospitals, courts and police stations. This paper aims to address the peculiarities of ELF communication between African asylum seekers and Italian professionals, who are in a position of authority, from an interdisciplinary perspective, combining a translation approach with ELF research. Six mediated interviews of six asylum seekers with a psychologist, carried out in a Protection System for Asylum Seekers and Refugees (SPRAR) centre, will be examined. The translanguaging strategies and accommodation practices observed during these encounters testify to the hybrid nature of ELF whereby meaning is constantly negotiated by asylum seekers and Italian professionals as ELF users with different linguacultural backgrounds. However, it will also be shown how ELF communication is affected by power asymmetries and communication dynamics determined by Italian professionals often leading to misunderstandings. The case studies analysed in this paper show that raising awareness of ELF users’ linguacultural backgrounds and the social and political dynamics in which ELF encounters are embedded is extremely important to overcome such asymmetries.

Keywords: ELF, intercultural mediator, migrants’ rights, asylum seeker, communication failure, accomodation, language policy, translation

©inTRAlinea & Stefania Taviano (2021).
"ELF communication and intercultural mediation An interdisciplinary approach", inTRAlinea Vol. 23.

This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/index.php/archive/article/2536

An interdisciplinary approach to ELF

This paper focuses on practices of mediated ELF encounters between African asylum seekers and Italian professionals, which occur through interpreting, translation, and translanguaging. The analysis is carried out by considering an interdisciplinary perspective bringing together a translation approach with ELF studies. Translation, in all its various forms, and practices such as translanguaging and metrolingualism (Pennycook and Otsuji 2015, García and Wei 2014), have become central in the global society we inhabit and are increasingly receiving scholars’ attention, as well as changing our perception of the English language(s), as Bernardini and Mair claim (2019). Following on from Jenkins’ definition of ELF as a “Multilingua Franca” emphasising “the relationship between English and other languages in respect of the multilingualism of most ELF users and the “multi-competence of the community” (Jenkins, 2015: 59), I argue for a conceptualization of ELF as a translational and hybrid lingua franca in which “translation is intended as an intrinsic process underlying a fluid relationship between languages” (Taviano, 2018). ELF users’ multilingualism and their translanguaging practices are thus particularly relevant to such a notion of ELF.  

“Translanguaging is the act performed by bilinguals of accessing different linguistic features or various modes of what are described as autonomous languages, in order to maximize communicative potential”, as García argues (2009: 140). Such strategies include, but are not limited to, code-switching (García and Wei 2014), and are intrinsic to an “hybrid language use” (Gutierrez, Baquedano-Lopez and Alvarez 2001:128) resulting from the fuzzy nature of language boundaries. It is precisely through these strategies that meaning is constructed and negotiated (see Jenkins 2007; Seidlhofer 2007, 2011, Mauranen 2009; Mortensen 2013) during ELF encounters due to the diverse linguacultural backgrounds of its speakers (Cogo and Dewey 2012), as will be further shown. Furthermore, given ELF’s role as a tool of intercultural communication and a social practice (Baker 2015), the sociocultural context in which mediated ELF encounters between African asylum seekers and Italian professionals are embedded becomes particularly relevant.

These encounters are unequal because marked by asymmetries between the position of asylum seekers and the authority of Italian professionals, who shape and affect communication dynamics. Hierarchical relationships between Europeans and migrants inevitably determine predominant images of the latter’s identities, which are politically and socially constructed as different from the norm (Bucholtz and Hall 2004, Taviano 2019). Migrants, and individuals in general, are and continue to be imagined as being “organically linked to an exclusive, clearly demarcated ethnicity, culture and nation”, as Yildiz reminds us (2016:3) despite the spread of multilingualism because of the implications and persistence of the “monolingual paradigm”. As Polezzi rightly argues (forthcoming), translation reminds us that language is always plural and that languages are not isolated and self-contained systems. Lack of attention to questions of language causes “language indifference”, which is “what we encounter every time language is assumed to be transparent, neutral, irrelevant” (Polezzi, forthcoming). It is precisely by questioning the role of the monolingual paradigm, thus acknowledging the diverse linguacultural backgrounds of the ELF users involved in these encounters that such asymmetries can be at least partially overcome, as will be further shown (see also Guido 2015, Sperti 2017).

Accommodation strategies and translanguaging practices

ELF users tend to adapt their speech according to intercultural contexts and requirements, as ELF scholars, such as Jenkins (2007), Canagarajah (2007), Seidlhofer (2011) among others, have argued. Meaning is constantly negotiated through a bidirectional process during which speakers and their interlocutors need to ensure they are mutually intelligible. To this end, pragmatic strategies, such as turn-taking and discourse markers, backchannels, simultaneous talk, ELF tags, paralinguistic and prosodic features (pauses, intonation and voice pitch) are only some among several tools which are examined to understand how meaning is constructed in ELF interactions (see Seidlhofer 2001, House 2003, Mauranen 2006, 2009, Cogo and Dewey 2012, among others). In this sense mutual intelligibility is the result of a collaborative co-construction and negotiation of meaning in the here and now of each exchange.

ELF is a dynamic and hybrid tool of communication, which always needs to be contextualized in relation to communication goals and speakers’ linguacultural backgrounds. As House (2007) claims, it is more appropriate to refer to ELF users as multilingual speakers of English, rather than as non-native speakers, due to the multilingual resources they possess. Key skills, such as intercultural awareness of culture-specific beliefs and values, interpersonal sensitivity and cognitive flexibility resulting in accommodation strategies and processes of cooperation are in fact recognized as central to ELF communication (Seidlhofer 2004, 2007). Interestingly enough, these are precisely some of the many skills that cultural and/or intercultural mediators (as they are variously called in Italy) are required to have.

In Italy, the linguists who are involved in interactions with displaced people (from social and economic migrants, to refugees and asylum seekers) are often referred to as mediators. They are Italian or migrant professionals, as well as non-professionals, who interact with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in a wide range of contexts, such as hospitals, courts, police stations and Protection System for Asylum Seekers and Refugees (SPRAR) centres hosting unaccompanied minors and women victims of trafficking. However, despite the significance and complexity of mediators’ role, which goes well beyond interpreting (see Amato and Garwood 2011, Rudvin and Spinzi 2014, Katan 2015), and the challenges posed by intercultural communication, this is far from being a fully recognized profession with adequate hourly rate. While the definitions and profiles of intercultural mediators versus community interpreting in Italy and other countries, subject to an ongoing scholarly debate (see Pokorn and Mikolič Južnič 2020), are beyond the scope of this article, Inghilleri’s understanding of interpreting as a “socially situated activity” (2003) is particularly relevant to ELF mediated communication since the social and cultural backgrounds of mediators and displaced people, as well as the context in which their interaction is embedded, determine subsequent communication dynamics.

Pitzl’s conceptualization of the social dimension of ELF in Transient International Groups (TIGs) is thus useful to examine interactions in such contexts. TIGs are groups “comprised of multilingual ELF users who interact for a particular purpose at a particular location for a certain amount of time” (Pitzl 2018:21), as in the case of asylum seekers communicating with Italian professionals in SPRAR centres, on which this paper focuses. During the four interactions reporter here, ELF users tend to make use of their multilingual repertoires and through translanguaging practices they adopt or coin terms and collocations, which are then accepted and/or challenged.  Once these terms are accepted and negotiated by members of the TIGs, they can become consolidated. This is what occurs in the encounters examined in this paper where an Italian professional intercultural mediator, translating interviews of six asylum seekers with a psychologist from and into ELF, adopts terms and collocations as appropriated and coined by asylum seekers through negotiation and consolidation processes, typical of TIGs.

I collected the data by observing, recording and transcribing in full six one-hour interviews conducted over a period of six months. All asylum seekers were hosted in a SPRAR centre for unaccompanied minors in Messina, Sicily, where they can remain for a maximum of six months after becoming adults. The interactions were recorded when they were all being interviewed to discuss their future plans. They were informed about my research purposes, and asked to consent to my presence and to the recording of the interviews. The observation of these encounters was followed and complemented by semi-structured interviews with the staff members involved, i.e. the intercultural mediator and the psychologist, to further discuss their communication strategies. I also interviewed the legal advisor and two asylum seekers. While these interviews are not discussed in detail here, they are nevertheless briefly mentioned to further assess asylum seekers’ awareness of their legal status and their experience as mediators.

 My interview with the intercultural mediator (IM) focused on her training and professional experience, her views on the role that mediators play and her personal approach as exemplified by the language strategies emerged from the interviews. She has a degree in Education and has attended a training course on intercultural mediation offered by a private institution. She has been working as an intercultural mediator for a couple of years in the SPRAR centre where the asylum seekers are hosted and thus knows them relatively well. IM claims to have specifically modified and adapted her English to communicate with asylum seekers by reducing complex sentences to short and simple ones and by simplifying syntactical structures as much as possible to make sure that she is properly understood. Such communication strategy aimed at simplifying her English has proved generally effective according to her professional experience. For instance, she avoids using the auxiliary fronting in interrogative clauses since she has observed that asylum seekers as ELF users do not use it and have problems in understanding it and identifying it as such. Interestingly enough, the lack of auxiliary fronting in interrogative clauses is a feature of what Guido defines “Italian-ELF variation” (2015:164) and is rather common among ELF users (see Graddol 2006). In other words, what IM defines as a “simplifying” linguistic strategy that she would adopt to facilitate communication is a syntactical structure that she shares with African asylum seekers as ELF users.

While asylum seekers’ knowledge of English inevitably varies according to their educational and cultural background, what is relevant for the present analysis is that IM, and other professionals, are all ELF users exactly like asylum seekers. The communication strategies mentioned above, together with translanguaging practices, are thus relevant since they represent instances of how multilingual repertoires are adopted in intercultural communication. The four extracts of interactions between asylum seekers and the psychologist reported below are used to show and discuss these strategies. Excerpts 1,2,3, and 4 are all taken from dialogues during which the psychologist aimed to assess asylum seekers’ awareness of their legal status and rights. It should be noted that all asylum seekers were under the age of eighteen at the time of their arrival or of the interview and were thus particularly sensitive to the authority of their interlocutors. However, professionals, such as the psychologist and the mediator, did their best to pay due attention to the minors’ age while relying on their previous experience with this age group.

Excerpt 1 is taken from a dialogue between an asylum seeker (M1), who is nineteen at the time of the interview, and the psychologist (PS). M1 has been granted asylum status and is attending the equivalent of the third year of Italian middle school. His mother tongue is Somali, but he was taught both in Somali and English at school. In this and all the following dialogues English is used as a lingua franca since IM does not speak any of the asylum seekers’ native languages, such as Somali and, in other cases, Fulani, Mandinga, or Wolof.

Taviano 2021- Excerpt 1

Here IM’s choice to translate the Italian proroga, meaning “extension”, with “the possibility to have other months”, focusing on the benefits of a longer stay in the SPRAR centre, is immediately clear to M1 and does not require further negotiation of meaning. IM, in fact, chooses to avoid the legal term and to make its temporal connotation explicit since, according to her previous experience, specialized terminology is more often than not unclear to her interlocutors. The lack of auxiliary fronting, which IM fails to recognize as a common ELF syntactical structure, contributes nevertheless to create a balanced communication.  Paralinguistic features, such as IM’s low tone of voice, her reassuring facial expressions and gaze, further testify to her “proactive role” (Todorova 2019). Like interpreters and translators in contexts of social and political injustice (Boeri and Maier, 2010; Baker 2006, 2013), IM is far from being neutral and contributes to make M1 feel at ease. Her activist strategies prove effective as individual instances of her “powerful and visible” role (Angelelli 2004:3). In this sense, in her recent study, Filmer rightly emphasizes “the impossibility of neutrality in intercultural mediation” (2019: 21).

Particularly interesting examples of asylum seekers’ translanguaging practices, negotiated and similarly adopted by IM, involve the use of Italian lexical terms, which acquire specific connotations as a result of ELF communication. As IM told me, when interviewed for the first time and asked their age, asylum seekers tend to reply by saying bambino, an Italian term meaning ‘child’, which they use as a synonym of minor. They have learned to use bambino with such a connotation in Libya and continue to use it among themselves and when communicating with Italian professional figures. Asylum seekers’ translanguaging practices are not, however, limited to the use of Italian terms with uncommon connotations. They also coin unusual collocations, such as bambino camp, used by M1 during the interview to refer to the Ahmed SPRAR centre for unaccompanied minors in Messina, and bambino finito, literally meaning “ended child”, to indicate that they are no longer minors, thus adults.

In all these cases, asylum seekers appropriate Italian terms by making them acquire new meanings and create new collocations through an inherent translation process in which ELF and Italian, more precisely a hybrid form of Italian used as a lingua franca, coexist (see Guido 2015 and Sperti 2017). Crucially, for the purpose of this analysis, IM reported that she adopts the word bambino with the ELF specific connotations negotiated with asylum seekers, together with the other collocations, to ensure successful communication. She emphasizes that she adapts and shapes not only her English, but also her Italian during ELF interactions, using this hybrid form of Italian herself whenever necessary. It becomes a two-way process whereby IM and asylum seekers influence each other’s language(s) while sharing communication strategies. 

In IM’s view, this is an inherent part of her job as an intercultural mediator. Furthermore, given the unequal nature of mediated encounters between Italian professionals, who are monolingual or, at best, speakers of an ELF variant and asylum seekers, acknowledging the latter’s multilingualism becomes particularly relevant. This involves, for instance, on a pragmatic level, understanding the importance and implications of African speakers’ phonetic traits. IM, like other Italian and Nigerian mediators I previously interviewed (Taviano 2019), pays particularly attention to these features and acknowledges that asylum seekers’ pronunciation can be influenced by African languages. This is the case of uneducated Nigerians who speak Pidgin English, a spoken lingua franca, whose pronunciation is affected by local languages.

During one of the mediated encounters I observed, when an asylum seeker was asked whether he wanted to stay in Italy, his pronunciation of the verb “to live” was misleading and thus conveyed a desire “to leave”. Thanks to IM’s awareness of the asylum seeker’s phonological patterns, and the negotiation of meaning through a further question and an overall cooperation strategy the ambiguity was clarified. This is a simple and obvious example, which is immediately solved, whereas in other cases negotiation of meaning and information can be much more complex. IM’s tendency, for instance, to paraphrase legal terms referring to asylum seekers’ status to encourage their knowledge and awareness of their rights can lead instead to a communication breakdown, as will be shown in the next section.

ELF communication breakdowns

When asylum seekers and Italian professionals, such as legal advisors, administrative personnel, and psychologists, mutually engage in the practice of ELF dialogues and interviews mediated by intercultural mediators, they do not share common repertoires of legal knowledge. For this reason, asylum seekers are constantly informed about their legal status and this is achieved through different steps. On arrival, they are identified and divided into groups according to their nationality and the first language they speak. Then, they are provided with information regarding the procedures for asylum applications, the progress of their own applications and their rights. However, there is a marked difference between what recently arrived asylum seekers hear from other asylum seekers about their legal status, which can vary considerably according to individual experiences, nationalities, and reasons for leaving their countries, and the information that psychologists and legal advisors try to convey.

Asylum seekers’ awareness is predominant to such an extent that, for instance, they constantly request electronic identity cards and permits, which they define as plastic, as the legal advisor explained during our interview. While one of its possible meanings as an English noun is credit or debit card, asylum seekers specifically use it to refer to the electronic format of Italian identity and residency documents. However, plastic acquires further individual and social significance for asylum seekers since these documents are issued only when they are granted asylum status. The fact that they repeatedly insist on requesting plastic confirms the value that asylum seekers attribute to these documents well beyond the ELF connotations of the term. Plastic represent a point of reference for them and are perceived as a marker of identity, whether they have been granted asylum status or not.

The following excerpt from an interview with a minor from Gambia (M2) shows how IM’s approach and her tendency to simplify by focusing on a single term can make communication problematic.

Taviano 2021- Excerpt 2

IM’s oversimplification of the psychologist’s question about the legal aspects of M2’s status through the term “justice” is an example of one of her accommodation strategies. It consists of selecting a term and subsequently going through a sort of trial-and-error process. Once IM has ensured that asylum seekers understand it, she continues to use it. In this particular instance, however, her strategy leads to an obvious misunderstanding, despite her following attempts to clarify that the question refers to the asylum seeker’s documents and his legal status, reinforced by her use of the ELF tag “ok”. M2 repeats his answer to confirm his willingness to abide by the law, rather than addressing the psychologist’s question regarding his rights. The mediator then adopts a different strategy by suggesting an exaggerated hypothesis to obtain a relevant answer while the psychologist continues the exchange by asking further questions.

Despite further attempts, IM and the psychologist do not succeed in obtaining the information they require and thus contribute to a communication breakdown. Their efforts to disambiguate their questions prevent mutual intelligibility and although M2 appears willing to cooperate on a pragmatic level, the sequence of questions do not have the desired effect of assessing M2’s awareness of his status as an asylum seeker. The psychologist’s position of authority inevitably affects this encounter dynamics making the communication unbalanced. This is confirmed by the fact that after M2 fails to provide the answers that PS expects, she chooses to inform him that he cannot leave Italy in English, rather than in Italian, thus overshadowing IM’s role as a mediator. It is noteworthy that, as opposed to IM, she uses a grammatically correct standard form of English in her attempt to strengthen the illocutionary force of her utterance.

As the professionals involved in this study confirmed, asylum seekers can change and adapt their stories when they feel under pressure and become aware of what their interlocutors want to hear. In other occasions, they relax if they feel that they can trust their addressee. In this case, despite the fact that M2 knows his interlocutors quite well, thus trusts them and he is not subject to particular stress (as would be the case, for instance, during interviews for asylum applications), his answers show to what extent ELF communication dynamics can be affected by status asymmetries. Guido (2015), for instance, discusses a case, among others, of a mediator who tries to disambiguate an asylum seekers’ answers in his report. The result is that he distorts the locutionary reference, thus the illocutionary force of the asylum seeker’s speech, to make narration consistent with his own interpretation. Similar issues are reported by asylum seekers after their interview with asylum commissions. When they read the commissions’ report with the help of IM and the psychologist, in some cases, they complain that it does not correspond to what they have said. However, when asked why they did not tell the commission, they confess that they were so anxious that they did not realize there was a problem at the time.

The following excerpt, taken from an interview with an asylum seeker from Sierra Leone (M4), who was a minor when he arrived in Italy and was eighteen at the time of the interview, shows similarities with the previous case. In the first part of the exchange he is asked about his plans for the future. PS and IM’s series of questions and moves aimed to stimulate M4’s answers clash with his hesitant and brief replies.  

Taviano 2021- Excerpt 3

As in the previous exchange, despite IM and the psychologist’s paraphrases and repetitive questioning, and IM’s use of the ELF tag “ok” to encourage M4’s answers, he provides very limited information while revealing his lack of knowledge on how to look for a job. In the second part of the exchange, M4 is asked about his legal status.

Taviano 2021- Excerpt 4

M4 first replies that he does not remember what his legal status is and contradicts himself immediately after by referring to the so-called two-year humanitarian protection, also known as “special cases”. He does so, however, only after the psychologist suggests the Italian term, and its duration. While these shared linguistic strategies, including code-mixing in this case, appear to be useful, M4 admits again to his lack of knowledge. His uncertainty about his rights becomes even more evident through his mistaken belief that he might need to contact a lawyer.

This exchange, like the previous one, shows that ELF communication between professionals and asylum seekers regarding their rights is unsuccessful despite shared translanguaging practices and the legal information they are constantly provided with. Indeed, it could be argued that asylum seekers do not relate to such information because ELF communication dynamics are determined by Italian professionals whose efforts and commitment to mutual intelligibility do not prove to be sufficient. IM and the other professionals attribute such communication failures to asylum seekers’ refusal of the legal information they receive due to changes in Italian migration policy and procedures, determined by succeeding governments. For instance, before the 2018 decree by the former Italian Home Minister Salvini, unaccompanied minors were automatically granted humanitarian protection, while they now have to apply for it with the risk of a possible denial.

It goes without saying that asylum seekers may have difficulties in understanding such changes and that this might confuse them, at least to a certain extent. However, the dialogues I have observed reveal a more complex interaction affected not only by asylum seekers’ arguably limited knowledge of their rights, but also, and perhaps even more so, by communication dynamics established by Italian professionals, despite IM’s emphatic attitude and her commitment to mutual intelligibility. Key issues such as power imbalances remain to be fully addressed to avoid communication breakdowns, both at the level of individual actions and strategies, and within a wider social and political context.  

Addressing power asymmetries

One first possible answer might lie in training courses addressed to all professionals (from legal aids to psychologists) interacting with asylum seekers to make them aware of the impact that ELF users’ linguacultural diversity has on mutual intelligibility and on the overall communication dynamics. This would mean calling into question predominant hierarchical relationships whereby asylum seekers’ speeches and narratives are judged on the basis of monolingual Western standards and narrative models, as previously argued. It is precisely by making Italian professionals operating in these settings aware that ELF is far from being neutral and equally accessible to everyone that these dynamics can be subverted, thus, for instance, avoiding language practices, such as simplifying strategies, particularly if they prove unhelpful.

Recognizing asylum seekers’ multilingual skillset as a resource by offering them interpreting and translation training and subsequent job opportunities, more than it is currently done, could represent a further option. It goes without saying that such a choice would go against the current legislative framework, which encourages the fragmentation of academic and professional training while systematically failing to recognize intercultural mediators’ professional role on a national level (see Amato and Garwood 2011, Katan 2015, Filmer and Federici 2018, among others). The situation is particularly alarming in Sicily due to the lack of a regional law regarding intercultural mediators and the fragmented training context, despite the region’s prominent geographical position. According to Filmer and Federici (2018), the development of too many policies regulating mediators’ tasks and profiles according to regional requirements becomes counterproductive since it prevents local authorities from optimizing training, qualifications and resources. The lack of professional recognition, coupled with extremely low funding, is a clear indication of the limited attention devoted to intercultural communication leading to the violation of a human right: “it is not an emergency to organize linguistic support for asylum seekers who are in reception centres as long as three years, it is a human right in protection of language minorities […] and a first step for better integration, as demanded by the legislative framework.” (Filmer and Federici, 2018: 248-249). Filmer’s recent study provides further evidence of the disregard for intercultural mediation by Italian authorities, local institutions and politicians, and she rightly claims that the “current immigration policy is likely to bring even more instability to the ‘interpreter’s habitus’ (Inghilleri 2005) within the already uncertain and fluid sphere of cultural mediation” (Filmer 2019:22).

It is in such an unbalanced context, clearly pursued and maintained by political networks and lobbies, that I believe it is paramount to recognize the value of asylum seekers interested in becoming professional mediators as an asset. It is precisely to discuss their familiarity with translation practices that I decided to interview two asylum seekers with mediation experience: one from Gambia (M2) and the other from Ghana (M3). A speaker of Mandinga, Fulani, Wolof, ELF, and, more recently Italian, M2 has acted as a mediator, encouraged by IM, whenever requested in the SPRAR centre hosting him, as it often occurs in refugee emergency contexts (Todorova 2019). This was a particularly challenging experience for him through a three-step process whereby he translated from Fulani into ELF, which was then translated into Italian by IM. It was also an opportunity to put into practice his multilingual skills and familiarity with translation strategies that he tends to adopt in everyday communication. For instance, when talking with Senegalese asylum seekers to Gambia, who tend to code-mix Wolof with French, if he said “bul worry” (don’t worry) in Wolof and realized that his/her interlocutor was not a Wolof speaker, he immediately translated it into English, thus showing to possess those interpersonal sensitivity and cognitive flexibility that the role of mediators requires. Like M2, M3 is also familiar with translanguaging and translation practices. He has been speaking Twi and ELF since childhood, he also speaks basic Arabic and, after studying Italian for over a year and obtaining the middle school diploma, he is now fluent in Italian. M3 has occasionally acted as a mediator from Twi into ELF in SPRAR centres and together with M2 has taken part in a project funded by the Messina Port Authority, WelcoMe/AccogliMe, which offers English-speaking and French-speaking asylum seekers the opportunity to welcome cruise ship tourists.

Asylum seekers cannot automatically ensure successful communication simply because they share common experiences, and/or linguacultural backgrounds with other displaced people, given also the variety of languages they speak. Nevertheless, as Vigo’s study shows (2015), there are remarkable differences in terms of power asymmetries and metacognitive frames adopted by non-Italian mediators compared to their Italian colleagues and this often leads to a higher percentage of efficiency in intercultural communication.  What non-Italian mediators like M2 and M3 can bring to ELF communication is their awareness as multilinguals that the powerful biological metaphors of mother tongue and native speaker are culturally constructed (Polezzi, forthcoming) and thus irrelevant, or better detrimental, to successful communication. As previously argued, asylum seekers’ entitlement to receive information about their rights and legal status in their native language or in a language they understand is a human right. Although recognizing such a right is far from being on the current political agenda in Italy, it is through single, albeit politically significant, pilot projects whereby asylum seekers are given training opportunities, for instance within the same reception centre where they are hosted, as I have shown elsewhere (Taviano 2019), that the current system can start to change through a bottom-up process.


I hope I have managed to show the fluid and hybrid nature of ELF as negotiated in mediated encounters, together with the complexity of the communication dynamics determined by Italian professionals in a position of authority. Misunderstanding and communication breakdowns examined in this paper are the result of language indifference on the part of Italian professionals who assume that they can convey legal information to asylum seekers through a supposedly neutral tool of communication without sufficiently taking into account ELF users’ linguacultural diversity. Inghilleri (2017), among others, believes that the limited language and translation resources available to displaced people confirm that quality translation provision is far from being considered a key aspect of human rights. This is why activist strategies, such as those shown here, together with others (see Olohan and Davitti 2015, Taronna 2015), are particularly relevant for the radical challenges that they oppose to widespread practices aiming to maintain the status quo. Documenting and analysing these strategies and experiments, as well as identifying and proposing new initiatives and actions, is the responsibility of researchers and scholars interested in giving their contribution to radical social and political change, as I argue elsewhere (Taviano forthcoming).

The need for further sustained and detailed study of the implications of language indifference in ELF mediated communication, as in all other cases, cannot go unnoticed. It is precisely by recognizing the importance of language diversity, multilingualism and translation practices that the interconnections between mediated ELF communication and displaced people’s rights can start to be addressed. Raising awareness of the implications of language indifference is thus vital to put language(s), ELF communication and intercultural mediation at the centre, rather than at the margins, of migration policies and legislation to limit or put an end to cases of inequality and injustice and safeguard migrants, refugees and asylum seekers’ rights.


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About the author(s)

Stefania Taviano lectures in English at the University of Messina, Italy. She is author of Translating English as a Lingua Franca (Mondadori Education, 2010), Staging Dario Fo and Franca Rame. Anglo-American Approaches to Political Theatre (Ashgate, 2005) and editor of Mediazione e Identità Culturale (Mesogea, 2008). She has written extensively on Italian modern dramatists as well as on Italian American theatre and performance art. She has translated Italian contemporary playwrights, such as Spiro Scimone, and contributed to the translation of Dario Fo and Franca Rame’s Johan Padan and the Discovery of the Americas, The Peasants’ Bible and The Story of the Tiger. Her current research areas include language phenomena resulting from globalization,particularly multilingual and translational practices in Hip Hop music; the spread of English as a Lingua Franca and its impact on translation; and the interconnections between migration, ELF communication, and intercultural mediation. She is also a professional translator and interpreter.

Stefania Taviano è ricercatrice di Lingua Inglese e Traduzione presso l'Università degli Studi di Messina. È autrice di Translating English as a Lingua Franca (Mondadori Education, 2010), Staging Dario Fo and Franca Rame. Anglo-American Approaches to Political Theatre (Ashgate, 2005) e ha curato Mediazione e Identità Culturale (Mesogea, 2008). Si è occupata di traduzione teatrale, teatro e performance art italo-americani. Ha tradotto drammaturghi italiani contemporanei, come Spiro Scimone, e ha contribuito alla traduzione di Johan Padan a la descoverta de le Americhe, La Bibbia dei villani e la Storia della tigre di Dario Fo and Franca Rame. Le sue aree di ricerca attuali comprendono i fenomeni linguistici frutto dei flussi globali di comunicazione, in particolare le pratiche multilingue e traduttive nella musica Hip Hop; la diffusione dell’inglese come lingua franca e il suo impatto sulla traduzione; e le interrelazioni tra migrazione, comunicazione in ELF e mediazione interculturale. È inoltre traduttrice e interprete professionista.

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©inTRAlinea & Stefania Taviano (2021).
"ELF communication and intercultural mediation An interdisciplinary approach", inTRAlinea Vol. 23.

This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/index.php/archive/article/2536

La adquisición de conocimiento experto en el ámbito de la traducción especializada:

aplicación de nuevas tecnologías en la formación de traductores

By Carmen Álvarez-García (Universidad de Sevilla, Spain)

Abstract & Keywords


Based on theories about the basic elements in specialized translation, where understanding the source text using conceptual knowledge plays a key role, this paper introduces a reflection on the process of acquiring expert knowledge in specialized fields in order to present actions that can be implemented in specialized translation training. The paper begins with an introduction, where the essential theoretical aspects related to elements required to achieving an efficient specialized translation are shown. Then, it continues with a description of expert knowledge as a high level of competence and a review of the translation competence and its acquisition. This will provide the theoretical basis for presenting a learning project implemented in specialized translation training based on cooperative translation projects where students put new technologies currently required in the translation industry into practice, as a way to acquire thematic competence in areas of specialization. Based on theories about the basic elements in specialized translation, where understanding the source text using conceptual knowledge plays a key role, this paper introduces a reflection on the process of acquiring expert knowledge in specialized fields in order to present actions that can be implemented in specialized translation training. The paper begins with an introduction, where the essential theoretical aspects related to elements required to achieving an efficient specialized translation are shown. Then, it continues with a description of expert knowledge as a high level of competence and a review of the translation competence and its acquisition. This will provide the theoretical basis for presenting a learning project implemented in specialized translation training based on cooperative translation projects where students put new technologies currently required in the translation industry into practice, as a way to acquire thematic competence in areas of specialization.


A partir de las teorías sobre los elementos esenciales a la hora de enfrentar la realización de traducciones especializadas, donde interviene de manera decisiva la comprensión del texto origen a partir de los conocimientos conceptuales, el presente artículo presenta una reflexión sobre el mecanismo de adquisición del conocimiento experto en el campo de especialización donde se enmarque el texto a traducir, con la intención de mostrar las acciones que se pueden implementar en la formación en traducción especializada. El artículo comienza con una introducción, en la que se presentan los aspectos teóricos fundamentales relacionados con los elementos que requiere la elaboración de traducciones especializadas. A continuación, se adentra en la descripción del conocimiento experto como aquel que confiere la cualidad de competente, para continuar con la revisión de las teorías sobre la competencia traductora y su adquisición. De esta manera, sentamos las bases teóricas para presentar un proyecto docente llevado al aula de formación en traducción especializada, en el que se muestra la utilidad de introducir proyectos cooperativos de gestión de traducción que incluyen el empleo de herramientas tecnológicas demandadas en la industria de la traducción, como herramienta de ayuda a la adquisición de competencia temática en áreas de especialidad.

Keywords: Traducción especializada, conocimiento experto, competencia traductora, proyecto cooperativo, formación de traductores, specialized translation, expert knowledge, translation competence, cooperative project, translator training

©inTRAlinea & Carmen Álvarez-García (2021).
"La adquisición de conocimiento experto en el ámbito de la traducción especializada: aplicación de nuevas tecnologías en la formación de traductores", inTRAlinea Vol. 23.

This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/index.php/archive/article/2538

1. Introducción

La didáctica de la traducción ha recibido especial atención en las últimas décadas. Autores como Enrique Alcaraz Varó (1994), Sonia Bravo Utrera (2001), Jean Delisle (1980), Jean-Claude Gémar (1995), Christiane Nord (1997) o Michel Sparer (2002), entre otros, han abordado esta materia con la intención de ofrecer a los profesores una pedagogía más sistemática. Dentro de este campo, si nos centramos en la didáctica de la traducción económica, observamos que existen pocos estudios, aun cuando se trata de un ámbito de especialidad que genera una gran cantidad de textos y situaciones comunicativas en las que el traductor o el intérprete tienen cabida como mediadores lingüísticos y culturales.

Existen estudios sobre la adquisición de la competencia traductora en el campo de la economía y sobre los retos de traducción que plantean los textos enmarcados en esta especialidad o sobre la terminología económica. No obstante, no es fácil encontrar aquellos que hagan referencia a técnicas traductológicas o procedimientos que se pueden emplear para enfrentar los retos.

Un punto de partida para acometer dichos análisis puede ser la idea de autores como José Francisco Pérez Berenguel (2003), para quienes la comprensión exhaustiva de los conceptos incluidos en los textos económicos, que suelen materializarse a través de los términos o fraseotérminos, es un requisito indispensable para la correcta traslación de un texto a una comunidad lingüística y cultural diferente de aquella para la que iba dirigido el texto original. De esta manera, a la hora de reflexionar sobre la formación en traducción especializada económica, debemos adentrarnos en el análisis del proceso de adquisición del conocimiento como acto resultante de una labor previa de comprensión.

A la hora de analizar la comprensión de conceptos, la terminología cobra especial importancia. Esta disciplina ha investigado la organización del pensamiento especializado en relación a su transmisión entre expertos, ya que su objeto de estudio es multidisciplinar: es simultáneamente unidad del lenguaje, elemento de cognición y vehículo de comunicación (Cabré 1999). La terminología, por tanto, organiza el conocimiento especializado, lo representa y también lo transmite, haciéndolo de manera circular, por lo que, al ser un elemento dinámico, presenta una gran diversidad expresiva y comunicativa.

Además, hay que tener en cuenta que, en el conocimiento especializado, intervienen unidades léxicas especializadas, distintas a las de otros ámbitos del saber o incluso a las del lenguaje general, que van acompañadas por otras unidades léxicas que no muestran ninguna característica especial de manera independiente, aunque, cuando van unidas a las primeras, adoptan especificidad conceptual, es decir, se resemantizan (Estopà y Valero 2002: 79).

No obstante, para realizar una traducción adecuada de un texto especializado, Pamela Faber (2010) apunta que se debe poseer una serie de destrezas que van más allá de la terminología especializada y los conocimientos de ambos idiomas, pues el hecho de ser bilingüe y experto en una materia no implica que se posean de manera innata las habilidades y destrezas cognitivas que la actividad misma de traducción requiere. El traductor que las posee, al no ser experto en una materia, debe desarrollar mecanismos que le permitan adquirir los conocimientos necesarios para enfrentarse a la traducción de un texto de especialidad. Estos mecanismos deben permitirle adquirirlos en el tiempo más breve posible, pues ningún cliente estará dispuesto a esperar mucho, teniendo en cuenta que no solo tendrá que obtener un control de la terminología de la especialidad en las dos lenguas que intervienen en la traducción, sino que, mucho más importante, tendrá que ser capaz de comprender los conceptos que subyacen en el texto origen, para poder trasladarlos adecuadamente al texto meta.

De igual manera, Natividad Gallardo San Salvador (2006) incide en la necesidad de conocer la terminología especializada del campo en cuestión para poder acceder al conocimiento especializado y para poder acometer con éxito el proceso de transferencia del conocimiento, aunque añade que la terminología necesita ir acompañada de la capacidad para transferir situaciones comunicativas.

Por tanto, existe un consenso en cuanto a la necesidad de introducir el estudio de la terminología a la hora de adquirir el conocimiento necesario para traducir en un ámbito de especialidad, la cual debe ir acompañada por otras competencias. En este sentido, en traductología, se establecen dos supuestos que sirven de base a los modelos que tratan de explicar el proceso de adquisición de conocimiento experto (Gregory Shreve 2002):

  • Los procedimientos de traducción se van adquiriendo a medida que se aprende la segunda lengua, puede decirse que de manera incidental
  • el conocimiento no estructurado, que se consigue a través de este aprendizaje incidental, puede ser estructurado para que se convierta en conocimiento especializado a través de un aprendizaje consciente y deliberado.

Por su parte, las corrientes funcionalistas de Katharina Reiss y Hans Vermeer (1984) o Justa Holz-Mänttäri (1984) defienden la idea de que el significado se ve influido de manera determinante por el contexto social y cultural, con lo que van más allá de los términos en sí, que quedan situados en un contexto que afecta al significado. Lo mismo ocurre con el conocimiento especializado, de tal manera que, a la hora de aportar el significado de un término, se ayudaría a su comprensión correcta añadiendo una explicación sobre el contexto espacial y temporal, consiguiendo así una traslación adecuada hacia la lengua meta en una traducción o interpretación.

Por tanto, para llevar a cabo la traslación de un texto enmarcado en un ámbito de especialidad, a la hora de representar los conceptos, es necesario reflexionar sobre la terminología específica del ámbito y tener en cuenta el contexto, para asegurar su correcta comprensión y aprendizaje.

2. El Conocimiento Experto

Según Robert Glaser (1986), el conocimiento experto es el que confiere la condición de competente: “[A]n expert is someone who possesses a high level of competence in a given domain which results from the interaction between knowledge structure and processing abilities, expert performance being characterized by rapid access to an organized body of conceptual knowledge” (Glaser 1986: 915).[1]

Así las cosas, ¿de qué manera puede adquirir el traductor o intérprete conocimiento experto suficiente en una materia como para elaborar una traducción de calidad? Existen distintos enfoques.

Hubert Dreyfus y Stuart Dreyfus (1986) establecieron la Teoría de la Pericia, en la que distinguieron cinco etapas en la adquisición de la condición de experto: novato, principiante, competente, eficiente y experto (novice, advanced beginner, competent, proficient y expert).

Por su parte, Juan Ignacio Pozo Municio, Carles Monereo i Font y Montserrat Castelló Badia (2001) indicaron que existen tres perspectivas sobre el aprendizaje:

  • la teoría directa, por la que las condiciones del aprendizaje se corresponden de manera unidireccional con sus resultados, de lo que se desprende que para que se dé el aprendizaje se debe producir una exposición a la realidad;
  • la teoría interpretativa, en la que la actividad de la persona interesada en el aprendizaje es vital para que se produzca, lo cual implica que, ante la misma realidad, cada persona tendrá una interpretación subjetiva que hará que el aprendizaje no sea idéntico entre distintas personas;
  • la teoría constructiva, que postula que los procesos internos son esenciales para aprender, no como una reproducción, sino como una construcción de la realidad.

De esta manera, Pozo Municio, Monereo i Font y Castelló Badia (2001) entienden el aprendizaje como un cambio conceptual que implique la reestructuración del conocimiento, bien desde una perspectiva realista o bien desde la perspectiva interpretativa o la constructiva.

Por otro lado, también resulta de interés analizar los mecanismos que se pueden utilizar para adquirir conocimiento experto, entre los que encontramos recursos que aíslan las unidades de su contexto habitual (hablamos de glosarios, diccionarios, etc.) y recursos que permiten observarlos en un entorno natural, como los corpus de textos reales que permiten encontrar concordancias. A la vista de los postulados teóricos, resulta evidente que esta segunda vía supone un mejor acercamiento al conocimiento experto, ya que la creación del conocimiento a través de las construcciones discursivas no es una cuestión estática, precisamente por la propia evolución y desarrollo de los campos especializados, en continuo avance e investigación.

En el campo de la economía, nos encontramos con este fenómeno de creación constante de conceptos nuevos, cuya asimilación se realiza principalmente a través de los textos reales, ya que ofrecen todas las relaciones posibles entre los elementos que intervienen en la comprensión del texto.

Se puede observar la experiencia realizada en el aula de traducción especializada de la Universidad de Málaga, en la que Tanagua Barceló Martínez e Isabel Jiménez Gutiérrez (2011) analizaron propuestas didácticas en las que el alumno debía enfrentarse a la traducción de estatutos de empresa, labor que requiere conocimientos lingüísticos sólidos en ambas lenguas, conocimientos de cultura general y conocimientos temáticos, terminológicos y fraseológicos del ámbito de especialidad. Los alumnos debían contextualizar los textos en cada una de las culturas intervinientes en el proceso traductor.

Tras su experiencia en el aula, las autoras afirman que la vía de acceso al conocimiento especializado más importante la aporta la terminología en contexto y el texto especializado se convierte en el elemento a partir del que se produce la adquisición de conocimiento experto, debido a que constituye el contexto en el que los términos evolucionan. Además de todo ello, se requiere una formación cultural, lingüística y léxica adecuada.

Las profesoras Barceló Martínez y Jiménez Gutiérrez (2011) constatan la necesidad de que el propio alumno debe ser quien participe de manera activa en el proceso de adquisición de conocimiento experto.

Mª Teresa Cabré (2002: 89) hace hincapié en la terminología y establece que los traductores pueden adquirir conocimientos especializados a través de los análisis textuales que tengan como finalidad la organización de la terminología, pues, teniendo en cuenta que los especialistas son los que establecen por consenso los conceptos de los términos especializados en su materia, cuando un traductor consigue identificar la estructura conceptual de un texto, adquiere competencia sobre dicha materia (Cabré 2002: 100).

Por su parte, Lieve Vangehuchten (2000) realizó un estudio sobre el uso de la estadística en las lenguas extranjeras con fines específicos, centrándose en el discurso económico-empresarial en español. Concluyó (2000: 7) que un alumno medio necesita entender entre el 95 % y el 98 % de las ocurrencias terminológicas en un texto escrito para poder comprender dicho texto en su totalidad de manera aceptable. Sin embargo, en el corpus que utilizó para su estudio, encontró que las unidades léxicas especializadas en los manuales de economía estudiados representaban el 98,22 % del corpus, superando dicho 98 % que asegura la lectura fluida.

Estudios como este, que no abundan, demuestran la importancia de realizar un análisis más detallado sobre las unidades léxicas que componen los discursos de especialidad en economía.

3. La competencia traductora

Como ya hemos comentado, el conocimiento experto es aquel que confiere la cualidad de competente (Glaser 1986), por lo que, desde una perspectiva traductológica, es conveniente abordar la cuestión de la competencia traductora.

Si bien es cierto que muchos autores hablan de manera trasversal sobre el concepto de competencia traductora, su estudio como tal es relativamente reciente, aun cuando puede ser considerado un elemento clave en la enseñanza de la traducción, pues el hecho de conocer los procesos empleados para conseguirla puede permitir el diseño de una oferta formativa más adecuada y adaptada a las necesidades de los estudiantes.

La aportación de Nord (1988) es muy relevante, ya que identifica varias destrezas: la lingüística, la cultural y la de transferencia. Por su parte, Daniel Gile (1995) no emplea el término ‘competencia’, sino que describe la translation expertise como el conjunto de habilidades relacionadas con el dominio de las lenguas de trabajo, con el dominio activo y pasivo, con el conocimiento de la temática y con la habilidad de traducir.

Centrándonos en los modelos más relevantes, debemos mencionar las aportaciones de Amparo Hurtado Albir (1996; 2016), PACTE (2000), Dorothy Kelly (2002; 2005) y del European Master’s of Translation Board (EMT 2017).

Hurtado Albir (1996: 34) se adentra en la descripción de subcompetencias y señala las siguientes: la lingüística en las dos lenguas intervinientes; la extralingüística; la de transferencia o traslatoria; la profesional o de estilo de trabajo, y la estratégica, que hace referencia a los procedimientos que emplea el traductor para resolver los problemas que surjan en el proceso traductor.

Partiendo de las subcompetencias de Hurtado Albir, el grupo PACTE (2000; 2001) ha trabajado en la clasificación, ampliando las subcompetencias y relacionándolas entre sí. Distingue seis subcompetencias imbricadas que, de manera conjunta, conforman la competencia traductora: competencia comunicativa en las dos lenguas, extralingüística, de transferencia, instrumental y profesional, psicofisiológica y estratégica (PACTE 2001: 40). En esta relación de imbricación, la competencia estratégica, afirma el grupo, es la que juega un papel central, pues regula y compensa el resto de subcompetencias, siendo la competencia de transferencia la más importante por integrar a todas las demás.

En base a la propuesta de PACTE y las propuestas previas, Kelly (2002) ofrece también una clasificación de las competencias, que igualmente se encuentran interrelacionadas y que juntas conforman una macrocompetencia, considerada competencia traductora: la comunicativa y textual en al menos dos lenguas y culturas; la cultural, que incluye conocimientos enciclopédicos, sobre valores, mitos, creencias y comportamientos, así como sus representaciones textuales; la temática, referida a los conocimientos básicos sobre los campos temáticos; la instrumental profesional, o uso de fuentes documentales de todo tipo, búsqueda de terminología y gestión de glosarios, bases de datos, etc., manejo de aplicaciones informáticas, etc; la psicofisiológica, es decir, la conciencia de ser traductor, la confianza en sí mismo, la capacidad de atención, de memoria, etc.; la interpersonal o capacidad para interrelacionarse y trabajar en equipo; y la estratégica, relacionada con la organización y realización del trabajo, con la identificación y resolución de problemas y la autoevaluación y revisión (Kelly 2002: 14).

Para finalizar, debemos mencionar al grupo de expertos de la red EMT que se encargó de diseñar el marco competencial para los traductores y la traducción en 2009, cuya rueda competencial fue actualizada en 2017, donde se distinguen los siguientes grupos de competencias: la lingüística y cultural, referida a la conciencia transcultural y sociolingüística, así como a las habilidades comunicativas; la traslativa, donde se integran la competencia estratégica, la metodológica y la temática; la tecnológica, relacionada con el uso de las herramientas y las aplicaciones tecnológicas; la personal e interpersonal, donde se incluyen la adaptabilidad y la empleabilidad; y la competencia para la prestación de servicios de traducción y lingüísticos en general, en un contexto profesional.

3.1. Adquisición de la competencia traductora

Una vez determinados los componentes de la competencia traductora, surge la cuestión de cómo alcanzarla, es decir, de cómo adquirir el conocimiento experto. El grupo PACTE (2001) considera que la adquisición se trata de un proceso dinámico y cíclico, que requiere pasar del conocimiento novato al conocimiento experto, empleando estrategias de aprendizaje y reestructurando y desarrollando de manera integrada tanto los conocimientos declarativos como los procedimentales.

Donald Kiraly (2000) defiende el enfoque por proyectos, desde una perspectiva constructivista, pues afirma que el proceso de adquisición de conocimientos no se basa en la transmisión por parte del docente al alumno, sino que es el propio alumno quien lo construye mediante sus relaciones de interacción con el mundo que le rodea, con otros alumnos y con el propio docente. Por tanto, propone una serie de principios para la formación:

  • es esencial situar el aprendizaje en el mundo real mediante experiencias auténticas;
  • siempre existirán diversas traducciones viables que podrían funcionar como traducciones aceptables;
  • el concepto de colaboración […] es clave y se da a distintos niveles, y
  • el profesor estará más presente al inicio del curso, cuando los estudiantes son más inexpertos y se irá retirando gradualmente a medida que los alumnos aumentan su experiencia. (Kiraly 2000: 65-69).

Si nos adentramos en el conocimiento experto en el ámbito económico-financiero, existe un debate en relación con la necesidad de poseer conocimientos activos o pasivos. Roberto Mayoral Asensio (2004) afirma que, si las fuentes de documentación son realmente fiables y en casos de traducción muy concretos, es posible traducir determinados conceptos de manera adecuada sin que necesariamente se dominen los conceptos empleados, es decir, aboga por la suficiencia de los conocimientos pasivos si se realiza un trabajo adecuado de documentación. Sin embargo, Gallardo San Salvador (2006) apunta que, en caso de no comprender los conceptos del texto a traducir, los traductores noveles tienen mayor dificultad a la hora de conseguir una traducción de calidad que los traductores experimentados, que son capaces de conseguir la función comunicativa del texto original en el texto de llegada aun sin comprender algunos fragmentos del primero, es decir, apuesta por la necesidad del conocimiento activo en el caso de traductores sin experiencia.

Los conceptos de «conocimiento activo» y «conocimiento pasivo» han sido estudiados de manera amplia en la investigación sobre el aprendizaje de lenguas extranjeras, donde también se les denomina conocimiento receptivo o declarativo, en referencia al pasivo, y conocimiento productivo o procedimental, en el caso del activo. Myriam Haydee Casamassima (2008: 45) señala que los expertos poseen un conocimiento procedimental organizado, sin embargo, en muchas ocasiones tendrán dificultades para expresar qué estrategias emplearon para adquirirlo. Según J. Michael O’Malley y Anna Uhl Chamot (1990), “Las investigaciones sobre estrategias de aprendizaje se basan en la afirmación de que las estrategias comienzan siendo conocimiento declarativo que puede transformarse en procedimental con la práctica y, como sucede con las habilidades cognitivas complejas, continuar a través de los estadios cognitivos, asociativos y autónomos del aprendizaje” (O’Malley y Chamot 1990: 84).

4. Proyecto de posedición para potenciar conocimientos especializados

Tras repasar los diversos postulados teóricos expuestos, podemos concluir que las traducciones en ámbitos de especialidad requieren, entre otras, la capacidad de comprensión de los conceptos especializados y configurar un conocimiento activo, cuando no se dispone de suficiente experiencia en la traducción. Para poder adquirir dicho conocimiento activo, hay que prestar especial atención a la terminología especializada del campo en cuestión y trabajarla en contexto.

Por ello, teniendo en cuenta que la competencia traductora no solo implica conocimientos lingüísticos y culturales, sino también conocimientos temáticos, habilidades tecnológicas y capacidades estratégicas, el proyecto docente que presentamos se ideó a partir de tres elementos fundamentales: el empleo de textos reales actuales que situaran al alumno en contexto real de los ámbitos de especialidad tratados; el trabajo por proyectos en el que los miembros del equipo debían trabajar de manera cooperativa, potenciando así la adquisición de la competencia traductora, siguiendo los postulados constructivistas de Kiraly (2000); y el empleo de la posedición de una traducción automática para facilitar el análisis de los textos origen y meta, necesario para la adquisición de conocimiento experto (Barceló Martínez y Jiménez Gutiérrez 2011), potenciando, a su vez, las competencias tecnológicas necesarias en la profesión.

De esta manera, el proyecto docente pretendió introducir nuevas tecnologías que facilitaran la adquisición de competencias temáticas en la formación en traducción especializada económica, jurídica y para el comercio exterior, ámbitos que no suelen contar con el interés previo por parte de los alumnos, que tampoco poseen conocimientos conceptuales elementales de materias económicas y jurídicas en la lengua materna, lo que conlleva un esfuerzo adicional para poder enfrentarse con éxito a la traducción de textos enmarcados en los ámbitos de especialidad mencionados.

El proyecto docente, por tanto, debía potenciar las competencias clave integradas en la competencia traductora, fomentando el trabajo cooperativo entre los alumnos, que debían colaborar para alcanzar el resultado final consistente en la realización de la posedición de la traducción automática, en unas condiciones de simulación de la gestión de un proyecto de traducción profesional.

El proyecto se llevó a cabo durante el curso académico 2016/2017, en la asignatura Traducción Especializada CII inglés, del último curso del Grado en Traducción e Interpretación de la Universidad Pablo de Olavide, en Sevilla (España), en cuyo programa académico se contemplaba el aprendizaje de la traducción en tres ámbitos de especialidad: económico, jurídico y de comercio exterior, con la combinación lingüística inglés-español.

El trabajo consistió en la gestión de un proyecto de traducción a partir de la posedición de una traducción especializada en el que los alumnos tuvieron que formar equipos de 5 o 6 miembros, entre los que eligieron a un gestor que coordinó las tareas del resto del equipo.

La decisión de incluir la tarea de posedición de una traducción automática parte de la descripción de los modelos sobre competencia traductora, en los que, como hemos presentado, los diversos autores coinciden en la importancia de diversas habilidades clave: la lingüística en ambos idiomas, la temática, la tecnológica y la estratégica. Centrándonos en la competencia tecnológica, nos encontramos con que la posedición ha irrumpido en el mercado de la traducción en los últimos años, como muestran las diversas investigaciones sobre la materia[2] y su incorporación progresiva en la formación de traductores, respondiendo a la necesidad de fomentar la actitud de aceptación de las nuevas tecnologías por parte de los estudiantes (Plaza Lara 2019), ya que tanto la elaboración de una traducción automática como la evaluación de su calidad a través de parámetros estandarizados y la posedición requieren el empleo de herramientas tecnológicas.

De esta manera, el diseño del proyecto partió de la necesidad de potenciar al menos los cuatro elementos clave de la competencia traductora:

  1. En relación a la competencia lingüística, hay que tener en cuenta que la asignatura se enmarca en el último curso del Grado, por lo que los alumnos han debido potenciar sus capacidades lingüísticas durante los cursos previos. No obstante, el propio ejercicio de traducción, posedición, búsqueda de información y lectura de textos en la lengua extranjera, potencia la competencia lingüística.
  2. En relación a la temática, el proyecto buscaba potenciar la adquisición de terminología especializada y conceptos propios de los ámbitos de especialidad tratados, a través de la búsqueda documental y la necesidad de corregir o editar una traducción automática.
  3. El tercer objetivo del proyecto consistió en la potenciación de las competencias tecnológicas, a través del empleo de herramientas conocidas y el aprendizaje de nuevas herramientas tecnológicas que se demandan actualmente en el sector. De las herramientas empleadas, los estudiantes conocían SDL Trados, pues habían aprendido su uso durante un cuatrimestre, si bien, se requería práctica para consolidar el aprendizaje. Además, se introdujo la evaluación de la calidad de una traducción automática para que los estudiantes adquirieran competencias en el empleo de la plataforma TAUS, de tal manera que los estudiantes no solo incorporaron nuevos conocimientos tecnológicos, sino que también se familiarizaron con parámetros de evaluación estandarizados, comprendiendo la importancia de determinados elementos a la hora de elaborar una traducción de calidad.
  4. Por último, la competencia estratégica quedaba contemplada a través del diseño de grupos de trabajo en los que la actuación de uno de los miembros afectaba al resto y al resultado final, es decir, en la necesidad de realizar trabajo cooperativo en el que no existiera la posibilidad de individualizar las tareas y en el que todos se implicaran en todas las fases. De esta manera, los estudiantes debían solventar los problemas como equipo y tomar decisiones a partir de la estrategia de equipo.

Con los cuatro objetivos en mente, se realizó un encargo de trabajo consistente en tres fases, que debía coordinar el gestor del equipo, encargado también de elaborar el informe de conclusiones a entregar junto con la traducción final:

  • La primera fase consistió en la elaboración de la traducción automática de tres textos del género periodístico, cada uno de ellos de unas 400 palabras, que incluían terminología y fraseología propia de los tres ámbitos a estudiar en la asignatura, para lo que se empleó la herramienta online de uso gratuito Google Translator Toolkit, que si bien los alumnos desconocían, no tuvieron ninguna dificultad para su empleo, ya que proporciona acceso gratuito y es muy intuitiva.
  • La segunda fase consistió en la evaluación de la calidad de la traducción automática generada, a través del empleo de los parámetros estandarizados de la plataforma online gestionada por la red mundial de datos lingüísticos para las industrias del lenguaje y la traducción TAUS/CNGL, así como en la generación del informe resumen que ofrece la propia plataforma sobre las valoraciones señaladas a partir del trabajo de documentación previo.
  • La última fase consistió en la posedición de la traducción automática, empleando como ayuda el informe de evaluación de la calidad y las fuentes de documentación registradas por los evaluadores.

Los textos con los que los equipos debieron trabajar se seleccionaron a partir de una serie de premisas, a saber: se eligieron tres textos enmarcados en el lenguaje del comercio exterior, en el jurídico y en el económico; se buscaron textos reales del ámbito periodístico, con el objetivo de adaptarlos y limitar su extensión a unas 400 palabras, reduciendo así la pérdida de cohesión intradiscursiva. Los textos finalmente elegidos fueron los siguientes: Inflation (publicado por SparkNotes, sitio web elaborado por expertos); The Basic Elements of Contracts (publicado en el sitio web jurídico jlp-law.com); y Marketing in Logistics: 4 Elements of the Market Research Phase in a Sound Digital Marketing Strategy (publicado por la compañía logística Cerasis.com).

Es conveniente mencionar que se dedicó una sesión de clase a la explicación del registro en la plataforma Quality Dashboard de TAUS, así como de su empleo, para que todos los estudiantes tuvieran acceso a la herramienta aunque no se les hubiera asignado la función de evaluador en el reparto de tareas, ya que se pretendía potenciar las competencias en nuevas tecnologías en todo el grupo y, además, se conseguía que, en caso de que surgiera algún problema en la fase de evaluación, todos los miembros del grupo pudieran contribuir a su solución.

Para poder operar en la plataforma, los estudiantes debían elaborar un fichero en formato .tmx, propio de las memorias de traducción, que, si bien se podía conseguir directamente con Google Translator Toolkit, una vez llevada a cabo la traducción automática, se instó a que se elaborara a través del programa de asistencia a la traducción SDL Trados, instalado en los ordenadores de la universidad, con la intención de favorecer la familiarización con esta herramienta con alta demanda en el mercado de la traducción.

La plataforma Quality Dashboard ofrece la posibilidad de evaluar la calidad a través de una serie de parámetros estandarizados, que se agrupan en tres categorías:

  1. Fluidez: relacionada con la naturalidad de la traducción, en la que se analiza la gramática de las oraciones, los errores ortotipográficos, la correcta interpretación de la traducción por parte de un nativo, así como el empleo de terminología, títulos o nombres habituales en la lengua meta. Se emplea una escala del 1 al 4, donde el 4 representa una mayor fluidez.
  2. Adecuación al sentido del texto origen: en la que se emplea la misma escala del 1 al 4 para determinar en qué grado el texto traducido contiene el sentido del texto original (debiendo otorgar la puntuación de 1 cuando el texto no contiene nada del sentido original y valorar progresivamente hasta el 4, que corresponde a los segmentos que expresan todo el sentido del texto original).
  3. Tipología de errores: en el que se cuantifican los errores de cada segmento en relación con la precisión, el lenguaje, la terminología, el estilo y las convenciones locales.

Para facilitar la comprensión de todos los aspectos del proyecto, se elaboraron tres tutoriales: un primer tutorial con la descripción de las funciones y los pasos que debía realizar cada uno de los miembros del equipo; un segundo tutorial con la elaboración de memorias de traducción a través del empleo de SDL Trados 2015; y un tercer tutorial con el registro y empleo de la plataforma Quality Dashboard de TAUS. Todos estos tutoriales estuvieron a disposición de los estudiantes desde el primer día de clase y durante todo el desarrollo del proyecto.

Como parte del diseño del proyecto, se decidió incluir un cuestionario sobre conceptos relacionados con las tres materias a tratar en la asignatura, que los estudiantes deberían responder al comienzo y al final de la ejecución del proyecto, sin acceder a ningún tipo de fuente de información y sin que fueran avisados de su realización, con la intención de tener un elemento comparativo de los conocimientos temáticos de los estudiantes antes y después del proyecto. El cuestionario se elaboró partiendo de la terminología y los conceptos que aparecían en los textos elegidos e incluía 15 preguntas de las que 10 implicaban respuestas cortas a definiciones y 4 eran de tipo test. En la pregunta número 15, debían mencionar las fuentes fiables de información jurídica, económica y de comercio exterior que conocieran, tanto en español como en lengua extranjera.

El primer día de clase, se entregó el cuestionario a los estudiantes, quienes tuvieron que responder las preguntas sin emplear ningún tipo de fuente de información, para valorar los conocimientos temáticos de partida y así poder compararlos con los conocimientos al finalizar el proyecto, a través de las respuestas al mismo cuestionario, que contestaron 14 semanas después, una vez ejecutado el proyecto.

De los 27 alumnos matriculados en la asignatura, solo 22 participaron en el proyecto, que formaba parte de la evaluación continua y, de ellos, 20 respondieron al cuestionario inicial y solo 15 al final. Como hemos mencionado, se decidió no realizar ningún aviso previo sobre la realización del cuestionario final, para evitar que los alumnos realizaran alguna actividad extra que pudiera desvirtuar los resultados, de ahí que, al no tratarse de una asignatura con asistencia obligatoria, el número de alumnos se redujo en relación al número de cuestionarios iniciales recogidos.

Observando los resultados obtenidos en el cuestionario inicial, solo el 10 % aprobó el cuestionario, es decir, obtuvieron al menos 5 puntos sobre 10 solo 2 alumnos. La nota media de todos los alumnos participantes se situó en el 3,8 sobre 10 y la nota máxima ascendió a 6,9. Por su parte, en el cuestionario final, realizado el último día de clase, dos días antes de la finalización del plazo de entrega del informe y la traducción final y sin haber sido avisados, la tasa de aprobados fue del 46,7 % (aprobaron 7 de 15 alumnos), lo que supone una mejoría importante; la nota media global se incrementó un punto, hasta alcanzar 4,8, y la nota máxima ascendió a 8,3 sobre 10 puntos.

Debemos mencionar que los cuestionarios se rellenaron a mano en ambas ocasiones y que las respuestas correctas se comentaron el último día de clase, tras haber recogido las respuestas al cuestionario final, con la intención de evaluar el progreso en competencias temáticas producido por la documentación y consulta de fuentes fiables de información requeridas por el proyecto.

Resulta igualmente de interés destacar la variación en las respuestas correspondientes a la última pregunta del cuestionario, en la que, como se ha mencionado, se solicitaba indicar las fuentes de información fiables relacionadas con cada uno de los ámbitos de especialidad tratados que el alumno conociera tanto en español como en lengua extranjera. En el cuestionario inicial, 9 alumnos de los 20 que rellenaron el cuestionario respondieron de manera correcta (lo que representa el 45 %), mientras que en el final el porcentaje ascendió al 93 %, es decir, prácticamente la totalidad de los alumnos supieron responder la pregunta (14 de 15). De igual modo, también se pudo constatar una mejora en el número de fuentes fiables correctas incluidas en las respuestas, pues del 10 % de alumnos que nombraron en el cuestionario inicial más de tres fuentes de información fiables, se pasó al 60 % en el cuestionario final.

5. Reflexión final

Tal como se ha expuesto en la fundamentación de este trabajo, las corrientes teóricas sobre el proceso que debe realizarse para llevar a cabo traducciones especializadas señalan la necesidad de obtener una comprensión adecuada del texto origen, lo que se encuentra estrechamente relacionado con los conocimientos especializados en la materia en la que se enmarque el texto. Esta comprensión debe basarse en dos elementos principales: la terminología del ámbito de especialidad y las capacidades para adquirir los conocimientos esenciales que den sentido a los conceptos.

Para poder conseguir dichos conocimientos, se debe hacer hincapié en el aprendizaje activo, para lo que es fundamental analizar los términos en contexto. Es decir, para ser competente en un ámbito de especialidad y conseguir alcanzar una traslación adecuada de la función del texto original, el conocimiento experto requiere no solo conocimientos pasivos de la materia, sino también una serie de conocimientos activos que aporten competencia comunicativa.

Basándonos en los diversos postulados descritos en el presente trabajo, establecimos la necesidad de implementar en el aula de traducción especializada económica el enfoque por proyectos, dado que la adquisición del conocimiento experto, que es el que confiere la cualidad de competente, consiste en un proceso progresivo en el que el alumno debe tomar parte activa y trabajar de manera cooperativa con la ayuda del docente como guía en el proceso.

A través del proyecto llevado a cabo en el aula, se buscaba acercar a los estudiantes a la realidad, siguiendo la perspectiva de la teoría directa del aprendizaje, incluyendo también una perspectiva constructivista, al dotar al alumnado de una creciente autonomía a la hora de alcanzar el objetivo final. De igual modo, se les proporcionó también una serie de recursos útiles, una vez observada la carencia de conocimiento sobre fuentes y recursos de información fiables, como se puso de manifiesto en los cuestionarios iniciales.

Los resultados del proyecto nos han permitido constatar la utilidad del trabajo cooperativo entre alumnos, con proyectos basados en el modo de trabajo de la realidad profesional en la industria de la traducción, a través del empleo de las nuevas tecnologías relacionadas con la traducción automática, con la evaluación de la calidad y con la posedición, para adquirir competencias temáticas en los ámbitos de especialidad trabajados.

Los cuestionarios iniciales mostraron carencias tanto en conocimientos activos como pasivos, ya que no fueron capaces de responder a preguntas relacionadas con el ámbito de la especialidad y tampoco consiguieron mencionar fuentes fiables de documentación donde obtener la información necesaria para entender los conceptos, lo que necesariamente podría condicionarles en el éxito a la hora de cursar la asignatura. Estas carencias han puesto de manifiesto la necesidad de implementar tareas destinadas al entrenamiento en el proceso de documentación que requiere la traducción, ya que, aun cuando los estudiantes habían cursado la asignatura Documentación, en el primer curso de la carrera, no parecían haber sido capaces, en los cuatro años de estudio, de transformar los conocimientos adquiridos en competencias prácticas, al menos en los ámbitos de especialidad que se cursaban en la asignatura, entrando en conflicto, por tanto, con los postulados de Gallardo San Salvador (2006), máxime si hablamos de estudiantes, novatos en traducción.

En base a los resultados obtenidos en el cuestionario final, la realización del proyecto parece haber ayudado a obtener una mejora general en la adquisición de competencias temáticas en los ámbitos de especialidad, es decir, que el proceso llevado a cabo mediante el proyecto docente ha servido para facilitar a los estudiantes la incorporación de conocimientos conceptuales activos, lo que, sin duda, mejorará la calidad de las traducciones en estos ámbitos de especialidad.

Por otro lado, la mejora en la última pregunta de los cuestionarios, relacionada con las fuentes fiables de documentación, nos indica lo idóneo de este tipo de actividades en la formación de traductores, si bien, también muestra la necesidad de implementar tareas conducentes al desarrollo de competencias documentales en los cursos intermedios, para facilitar que los alumnos apliquen las técnicas de documentación aprendidas a proyectos de traducción reales, adaptados a distintos niveles y ámbitos de especialidad.

La realización del proyecto ha constatado la necesidad de implementar, en la formación de traductores, acciones que conlleven la participación activa de los discentes en el proceso de adquisición de conocimientos temáticos, así como actividades que potencien la utilización de fuentes fiables de información, más allá de los glosarios o diccionarios. De esta manera, los estudiantes tendrán herramientas para analizar la terminología en contexto y conseguir llevar a cabo traducciones especializadas adecuadas, ya que en general no son conscientes de las estrategias que llevan a cabo para documentarse y ello conlleva que no siempre puedan realizarlo con éxito.

Es importante destacar que la buena acogida por parte de los estudiantes, quienes observaron la mejora en sus conocimientos sobre ámbitos de especialidad en los que tenían muchas lagunas conceptuales, anima a introducir proyectos similares en los que, tal como los propios participantes destacaron de manera generalizada, el hecho de trabajar en equipos donde el trabajo de uno afecta al resto y donde todos pueden aportar soluciones para enfrentarse a los problemas, facilita el trabajo y la cohesión intragrupo y reduce la sensación de desequilibrios en las labores ejecutadas por distintos miembros del equipo.

Anexo: Preguntas del cuestionario

1. ¿Qué es un estudio de mercado y por qué es útil para la empresa?

2. ¿Qué es el marketing?

3. ¿Qué significan las siglas SEO?

4. ¿A qué hacemos referencia cuando hablamos de SEO?

a) Ejemplos de mejora de los resultados mostrados por los buscadores web.

b) Acciones para mejorar nuestra posición en los resultados de los buscadores web.

c) Acciones de mejora de los resultados mostrados por los buscadores web.

5. ¿A qué nos referimos cuando hablamos de ‘mercado objetivo’?

a) a las características objetivas de un mercado donde se va a vender nuestro producto: tamaño, número de empresas que comercian en nuestro sector, etc.

b) al conjunto de compradores potenciales de un producto o servicio.

c) al conjunto de compradores actuales de un producto o servicio.

6. Describe el significado de “objeto del contrato”.

7. Indica las partes generales de un contrato.

8. Explica qué diferencia existe entre un contrato y un acuerdo (si la hay) en el derecho inglés y en el derecho español.

9. Describe con tus palabras la inflación.

10. ¿A qué hacen referencia las siglas PIB? Explica con tus palabras su significado.

11. Explica brevemente en qué se diferencia la macroeconomía de la microeconomía.

12. Indica el término que se emplea para denominar el negocio por el que una empresa vende a otra empresa y el término que se emplea cuando una empresa vende a un consumidor.

13. ¿Qué significan las siglas IPC?

a) Impuesto al Patrimonio Conjunto

b) Índice de Precios del Consumidor

c) Índice de Precios al Consumo

14. ¿Qué es el deflactor del PIB?

a) es la variación de los precios de los bienes y servicios de una economía durante un periodo de tiempo dado.

b) es un índice que ayuda a analizar los precios de bienes y servicios de la economía, ya que los hace constantes.

c) es un índice que permite ver la proporción del incremento del PIB que corresponde a los precios y no a la producción.

15. Nombra las fuentes fiables de información económica, jurídica y de comercio exterior que conozcas, en español y en lengua extranjera.


Alcaraz Varó, Enrique (1994) El inglés jurídico. Barcelona: Ariel.

Barceló Martínez, Tanagua, e Isabel Jiménez Gutiérrez (2011) “Adquisición de conocimiento experto y terminología en el proceso de enseñanza-aprendizaje de la traducción especializada (ámbitos jurídico y técnico)” en Anales de Filología Francesa 19: 25–39.

Bravo Utrera, Sonia (2001) “Modelo didáctico para la interpretación y análisis del texto original en las clases de traducción. Vinculación entre la teoría y la práctica” en Lengua y Cultura. Enfoques didácticos, Emilio Menéndez y Arturo Delgado (eds), Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, SEDLL, ULPGC: 203–212

Cabré, María Teresa (1999/2005) La terminología: representación y comunicación. Elementos para una teoría de base comunicativa y otros artículos, Barcelona, IULA, Documenta Universitaria.

---- (2002) “Análisis textual y terminología, factores de activación de la competencia cognitiva en la traducción” en La traducción científico-técnica y la terminología en la sociedad de la información, Amparo Alcina Caudet y Silvia Gamero Pérez (eds.), Castellón, Publicacions de la Universitat Jaume I: 87–105.

Casamassima, Myriam Haydee (2008) Intervención en el Desarrollo de la Interlengua: Estrategias de Aprendizaje de Vocabulario en Idioma Inglés como Lengua Extranjera en Estudiantes del Nivel Medio de Escolarización, Tesis Doctoral, Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales y Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Argentina.

Delisle, Jean (1980) L’analyse du discours comme méthode de traduction: Initiation à la traduction française de textes pragmatiques anglais, théorie et pratique, Ottawa, Presses de l’Université d’Ottawa.

Dreyfus, Hubert y Stuart E. Dreyfus (1986) Mind over Machine: the power of human intuition and expertise in the age of the computer, Oxford, Basil Blackwell.

European Master’s of Translation Board Expert Group (2009) Competences for professional translators, experts in multilingual and multimedia communication, Bruselas, Comisión Europea.

---- (2017) EMT Competence Framework, Bruselas, Comisión Europea.

Estopà, Rosa y Antoni Valero (2002) “Adquisición de conocimiento especializado y unidades de significación especializada en medicina”, Panace@ 3, 9–10: 72–82.

Faber, Pamela (2010) “Terminología, traducción especializada y adquisición de conocimiento”, en La traducción en contextos especializados. Propuestas didácticas, Esperanza Alarcón (ed.), Granada, Atrio: 87–96.

Gallardo San Salvador, Natividad (2006) “Comunicar el conocimiento especializado: perspectivas de la economía desde el punto de vista del traductor” en V Jornada-Coloquio de la Asociación Española de Terminología (AETER), Madrid, Instituto Cervantes: 73–103.

URL: http://cvc.cervantes.es/lengua/aeter/conferencias/gallardo.htm (acceso el 4 de abril de 2018).

Gémar, Jean-Claude (1995) Traduire ou l’art d’interpréter. Langue, droit et société: éléments de jurilinguistique, Québec, Presses de l’Université du Québec.

Gile, Daniel (1995) Basic Concepts and Models for Interpreter and Translator Training, Amsterdam, John Benjamins.

Glaser, Robert (1986) “On the nature of expertise” en Human memory and cognitive capabilities: Mechanisms and performances, Friedhart Klix y Herbert Hagendorf (eds.), Amsterdam, Elsevier-North Holland: 915–928.

Holz-Mänttäri, Justa (1984) Translatorisches Handeln. Theorie und Methode (Suomalaisen Tiedeakatemian Toimituksia/ Annales Academiæ Scientiarum Fennicæ B 226), Helsinki, Suomalaisen Tiedeakatemian.

Hurtado Albir, Amparo (1996) La enseñanza de la traducción, Castellón, Publicacions de la Universidad Jaume I.

---- (ed) (2016) Researching Translation Competence by PACTE Group, Amsterdam, Benjamins.

Kelly, Dorothy (2002) “Un modelo de competencia traductora: bases para el diseño curricular”, Puentes 1: 9–20.

---- (2005) A Handbook for Translator Trainers, Manchester, St. Jerome.

Kiraly, Donald (2000) A Social Constructivist Approach to Translator Education, Manchester, St. Jerome.

Mayoral Asensio, Roberto (2004) “Lenguajes de especialidad y traducción especializada. La traducción jurídica”, en Manual de documentación y terminología para la traducción especializada, Consuelo Gonzalo García y Valentín García Yebra (eds.), Madrid, Arco Libros: 49–71.

Nord, Christiane (1988) Textanalyse und Übersetzen, Heidelberg, Groos.

---- (1997) Translating as a Purposeful Activity. Functionalist Approaches Explained, Manchester, St. Jerome.

O’Malley, J. Michael y Anna Uhl Chamot (1990) Learning strategies in second language acquisition, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

PACTE, Grupo (2000) “Acquiring Translation Competence: Hypotheses and Methodological Problems of a Research Project” en Investigating Translation, Allison Beeby, Doris Ensinger y Marisa Presas (eds.), Amsterdam y Filadelfia, John Benjamins: 99–106.

---- (2001) “La competencia traductora y su adquisición”, Quaderns. Revista de traducció 6: 39–45.

Pérez Berenguel, José Francisco (2003) “Glosario de errores comunes en la traducción económica y financiera” en I AIETI. Actas del I Congreso Internacional de la Asociación Ibérica de Estudios de Traducción e Interpretación. Granada 12-14 de febrero de 2003, Ricardo Muñoz Martín (ed.), Granada, AIETI: 619–628.

Plaza Lara, Cristina (2019) “Análisis DAFO sobre la inclusión de la traducción automática y la posedición en los másteres de la red EMT”, en Post-Editing in Practice: Process, Product and Networks, Lucas Nunes Vieira, Elisa Alonso y Lindsay Bywood (eds), JosTrans, Issue 31 (January 2019): 260–280.

Pozo Municio, Juan Ignacio, Carles Monereo i Font y Montserrat Castelló Badia (2001) “El uso estratégico del conocimiento” en Psicología de la educación escolar, César Coll, Jesús Palacios y Álvaro Marchesi (coord.), Madrid, Alianza editorial: 221–258.

Reiss, Katharina y Hans Vermeer (1984) Grundlegung einer allgemeinen Translationstheorie, Madrid, Ediciones Akal.

Shreve, Gregory (2002) “Knowing Translation: Cognitive and experimental aspects of translation expertise from the perspective of Expertise Studies” en Translation Studies. Pespectives on an Emerging Discipline, Alessandra Riccardi (ed.), Cambridge, Cambridge University: 150–171.

Sparer, Michel (2002) "Peut-on faire de la traduction juridique? Comment doit-on l’enseigner?", Meta 47(2): 265–278.

TAUS (2016) “TAUS Post-Editing Guidelines”.

URL: [url=https://www.taus.net/think-tank/articles/postedit-articles/taus-post-editing-guidelines]https://www.taus.net/think-tank/articles/postedit-articles/taus-post-editing-guidelines[/url] [11 de enero de 2019]

TAUS/CNGL (2011) “Machine Translation Post-Editing Guidelines” https://www.taus.net/academy/best-practices/postedit-best-practices/machine-translation-post-editing-guidelines (acceso el 11 de enero de 2019).

Vangehuchten, Lieve (2000) “En busca de un enfoque apropiado para la enseñanza del lenguaje económico en ELE: ¿lexicología o terminología?”, I Congreso Internacional de Español para fines específicos, Centro Virtual Cervantes, Bélgica, UFSIA,Universidad de Amberes: 92–97.


[1] «Un experto es aquel que posee un alto nivel de competencia en un determinado dominio, como consecuencia de la interacción entre la estructura de conocimiento y las habilidades de procesamiento; la actuación del experto se caracteriza por el rápido acceso a un cuerpo organizado de conocimiento conceptual» (traducción propia).

[2] Para mayor información sobre las investigaciones recientes en posedición y traducción automática, se puede consultar el monográfico de la revista JosTrans dedicado a la posedición, Post-Editing in practice: Process, Product and Networks (2019) editado por Lucas Nunes Vieira, Elisa Alonso y Lindsay Bywood, JosTrans, Issue 31.

About the author(s)

Carmen Álvarez García is a lecturer at the Department of German Philology, Universidad de Sevilla, Seville, Spain. Since 2012 she has been working as a lecturer in universities in Spain and Germany and her main subjects are specialized translation (foreign trade, web localization and posediting) as well as business language. With both degrees in Translation and Interpreting and in Economics and Business Administration, her research works are focused on the relationship between economics and translation in order to improve teaching of specialized translation and interpreting, which have resulted to date in a book, thirteen chapters and ten articles. Among them, it is worth mentioning Estudio de especialidad económico: el lenguaje del comercio internacional (2010), Texts in Foreign Trade: A Taxonomy for Translator Training (2016) and Fehleranalyse und didaktische Vorschläge für die Qualitätssteigerung beim bilateralen konsekutiven Dolmetschen (2019).

Email: [please login or register to view author's email address]

©inTRAlinea & Carmen Álvarez-García (2021).
"La adquisición de conocimiento experto en el ámbito de la traducción especializada: aplicación de nuevas tecnologías en la formación de traductores", inTRAlinea Vol. 23.

This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/index.php/archive/article/2538

Entre les livres à succès et la littérature « déconcertante » :

le roman français contemporain à travers son intraduction polonaise (2001–15)

By Elżbieta Skibińska (University of Wrocław, Poland)

Abstract & Keywords


This study reconstructs the image of the contemporary French novel as it emerges from the list of translations published in Poland in the years 2001–15. By deciding to publish translated works, the publisher certainly contributes to the enrichment of the target culture through the import of foreign elements. But he also contributes to the shaping of the representation of a given culture in the target culture: he is a key cog in the mechanism of selection and presentation of the translated works to the readers. The analysis leads to the conclusion that even if part of the importation of the translation is motivated by a search for “safe investments” (literature that has won prizes; significant sales in France; numerous translations), the editorial offer is also driven by a logic of discovery, which allows Polish readers to follow French literary novelties.


Cette étude reconstruit l’image du roman français contemporain telle qu’elle ressort de la liste des traductions publiées en Pologne dans les années 2001 à 2015. En décidant de publier des œuvres traduites, l’éditeur contribue, certes, à l’enrichissement de la culture d’accueil par l’importation d’éléments étrangers. Mais il concourt aussi à la formation de la représentation d’une culture autre dans la culture d’accueil : il est un rouage clé dans le mécanisme de sélection et de présentation au lecteur des œuvres à traduire. L’analyse conduit à la constatation que même si une partie de l’intraduction est motivée par la recherche des placements sûrs (consécration par des prix ; chiffres de vente importants en France ; nombreuses traductions), l’offre éditoriale est aussi mue par une logique de la découverte qui permet aux lecteurs polonais de suivre l’actualité littéraire française.

Keywords: roman français contemporain, traduction polonaise, représentation de la littérature source, marché éditorial, contemporary French novel, Polish translation, representation of source literature, publishing market

©inTRAlinea & Elżbieta Skibińska (2020).
"Entre les livres à succès et la littérature « déconcertante » : le roman français contemporain à travers son intraduction polonaise (2001–15)", inTRAlinea Vol. 22.

This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/index.php/archive/article/2526

1. Introduction

Cet article se propose d’esquisser un portrait de la littérature française contemporaine, et plus particulièrement de la création romanesque, à travers la liste des traductions publiées en Pologne sous forme de livres dans les années 2001– 15[1]. Si ce travail se situe dans le cadre de la sociologie de la traduction, son objectif  l’éloigne des questions le plus souvent soulevées, concernant les relations de pouvoir liées à la position des littératures dans la République Mondiale des lettres ou les contraintes économiques ou idéologiques qui pèsent sur la traduction considérée comme échange international (Casanova 1999, Casanova 2002, Sapiro 2008, Sapiro 2012). Il met l’accent sur la part des médiateurs culturels – ici, les éditeurs, pivot de la circulation transnationale des biens culturels que sont les livres – dans la formation des représentations qu’une culture peut avoir d’autres cultures à la suite des décisions qui régissent l’intraduction[2]; en effet, «Le marché de la traduction est le terrain sur lequel se joue l’image d’une culture nationale dans un champ de réception donné, tout en étant aussi l’indicateur qui permet de voir sa cote monter ou bien décliner» (Frisani 2012: 116).

L’intérêt, voire la nécessité d’étudier le rôle de la traduction comme force formatrice des représentations de la culture de départ sont de plus en plus soulignés en traductologie. L’objectif de telles études serait, entre autres, de découvrir comment les représentations générées par la publication des œuvres traduites peuvent agir sur les relations entre les cultures mises en contact par la traduction (Baker 2014: 15-17 ; Roig-Sanz,  Meylaerts (éds.)  2018). En effet, si en décidant de publier des œuvres traduites, l’éditeur contribue à l’enrichissement de la culture d’accueil (de son « répertoire culturel », tel que le définit Even Zohar 1997), il concourt aussi à la formation de l’image d’une culture autre dans la culture d’accueil. Il est un rouage clé dans le mécanisme de sélection des œuvres à traduire, mais aussi dans la façon de les présenter au lecteur. L’utilisation qu’il fait du péritexte, notamment de la « prière d’insérer » placée en quatrième de couverture,   contribue  à « contraindre la réception, à contrôler l’interprétation, à qualifier le texte », tout comme le recours à divers dispositifs formels, tels que l’appartenance à une collection, le format du livre, les conventions typographiques, qui sont investis d’une « fonction expressive » et portent la construction de la signification (Chartier 1991: 6, cité d’après Marpeau 2010: 4)[3].

L’examen du contenu de l’intraduction de la littérature française contemporaine en polonais offre la possibilité d’en découvrir les traits tels qu’ils se laissent saisir à la suite des choix des éditeurs polonais qui décident d’inclure telle ou telle œuvre traduite à leur catalogue. Mais il est important de tenir compte du fait que, au-delà de cette sélection des œuvres à publier, on sélectionne aussi des idées et des esthétiques qui véhiculent des façons particulières d’appréhender le monde et le présenter à travers la littérature. Considérés globalement, les choix éditoriaux contribuent ainsi à la création de la « marque française » de la littérature présente dans un espace éditorial étranger[4].

Or pour le critique Lech Budrecki, l’attitude des éditeurs polonais envers la littérature française semblerait plutôt défavorable : « Nasi wydawcy nie przepadają za literaturą francuską. Bądźmy uczciwi – za współczesną literaturą francuską. W każdym razie nie interesują się nią przesadnie. Wydają ją ostrożnie, oględnie, z umiarkowaniem, tak jakby za każdym razem liczyli się z czytelniczym fiaskiem, z edytorskim niepowodzeniem. [Nos éditeurs n’aiment pas la littérature française. Soyons honnêtes et précisons : la littérature française contemporaine. En tout cas, elle ne les intéresse pas outre mesure. Ils la publient avec prudence, avec modération, comme si, à chaque fois, ils prévoyaient qu’elle déplaira aux lecteurs, que ce sera un échec éditorial.]» (Budrecki 2000: 3).

Ainsi s’ouvre son article « Okaleczony obraz. Jak wydaje się w Polsce literaturę francuską » [Une image mutilée. Comment publie-t-on la littérature française en Pologne] publié en automne 2000 dans le mensuel Kurier Czytelniczy [Courrier des lecteurs].

Trois mois plus tard, dans la revue Dekada Literacka [Décade littéraire], Jerzy Lisowski, Michał Paweł Markowski, Krystyna Rodowska et Ireneusz Kania – tenus pour des « connaisseurs et propagateurs de la culture française » – ont été invités à répondre à la question suivante : « Le rayonnement de la culture française sur le monde est-il terminé ? Et si oui, pourquoi ? ».

Les réponses semblent affirmatives, doublées parfois de regrets : « Faktem jest, że we Francji niewiele się dzisiaj dzieje ważnego w tej dziedzinie. [Le fait est qu’en France actuellement, il ne se passe plus grand-chose d’important dans ce domaine. »] (Lisowski 2001: 21) ; « Już samo sformułowanie tych dwóch pytań w jednym, sugeruje, że czas najwyższy odegrać marsza żałobnego dla kultury francuskiej, lub ogłosić wszem i wobec, że król jest nagi, i to od dawna. [Le simple fait de formuler ces deux questions en une seule laisse à penser qu’il est grand temps de sonner le glas de la culture française, ou en tout cas de proclamer que le roi est nu, et qu’il l’est même depuis longtemps.] » (Rodowska 2001: 21); « Oczywiście, że oddziaływanie francuskiej kultury na świat się skończyło. Jedni – zwłaszcza starsi, którzy francuskiego uczyli się jeszcze od nie wiadomo czemu zasiedziałych w Polsce guwernantek – uważają to za katastrofę, drudzy – zwłaszcza młodsi, którzy w Paryżu na obiad idą do MacDonalds’a – za zbawienie, a wszyscy razem za znak czasów, w których subtelność smaków ustąpiła pośpiesznie wpychanej bułce z kotletem. [Le rayonnement de la culture française dans le monde est terminé, c’est évident. Pour les uns – surtout les plus âgés, ceux qui ont appris le français avec une gouvernante venue s’installer en Pologne pour des raisons inconnues –, c’est une catastrophe ; pour les autres – surtout les jeunes, ceux qui vont déjeuner chez MacDonald’s quand ils sont à Paris –, c’est une libération ; mais pour tous, c’est un signe des temps : on vit à une époque où les saveurs subtiles ont cédé la place au hamburger avalé sur le pouce.] » (Markowski 2001: 24).

Elles révèlent aussi certains points forts de la littérature française : le « métissage» culturel ou la présence, sur les bords de la Seine, d’écrivains francophones dont l’œuvre contribue au renouvellement du potentiel artistique de la langue française ; la richesse de l’essai, genre qui permet de véhiculer des idées philosophiques et des considérations littéraires. Elles semblent ainsi apporter une explication à la réticence des éditeurs polonais dont parle Budrecki, mais aussi une suggestion pour guider leur choix.

Mais il y a plus : elles sont comme un écho des constatations de Casanova (1999) sur la position affaiblie de Paris comme centre de la République mondiale des lettres et aussi – comme une prédiction des discussions qui ont suivi la publication, le lundi 3 décembre 2007, de l’édition européenne du magazine Time, dont la couverture portait le titre « La mort de la culture française » (« The Death of French Culture ») ; il annonçait un article de Donald Morrisson, « In search of lost time », qui constatait : « Once admired for the dominating excellence of its writers, artists and musicians, France today is a wilting power in the global cultural marketplace » (Morrisson 2007)[5].

En effet, en ce qui concerne la littérature française et son rayonnement par le biais de la traduction, les statistiques montrent que non seulement elle a cédé depuis longtemps sa première place à la littérature anglaise et américaine, mais aussi que, en deuxième position, elle est concurrencée par la littérature traduite de l’allemand (Sapiro 2008). Ce relatif déclin ne signifie cependant pas une disparition totale : d’une part, du fait de son ancienneté et de son prestige, la littérature française occupe toujours une bonne place sur le marché international des livres classiques (Sapiro 2012: 37) ; d’autre part, chaque année, de nouveaux titres (et auteurs) paraissent en France, et une partie de ces nouveautés devient accessible au public étranger par la voie de l’extraduction.

Telle est aussi sa situation en Pologne. Parmi les 200 titres traduits du français publiés en moyenne chaque année depuis 1989[6], les œuvres de Jules Verne, Alexandre Dumas, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Honoré de Balzac, Albert Camus ou Marcel Proust sont toujours en tête de liste. Les rééditions de traductions anciennes ou de nouvelles traductions d’une même œuvre témoignent de la valeur attachée aux auteurs « classiques » et à la « grande » littérature française, la littérature française « canonisée ». Elles restent aussi la toile de fond, plus ou moins immuable, des traductions d’œuvres d’auteurs français contemporains.

2. Principes de constitution de la liste des romans français contemporains traduits

 L’appartenance des œuvres traduites à la catégorie « roman français contemporain » demande une définition de ce qui est contemporain, mais aussi – de ce que l’on considère comme français. Ces définitions sont nécessaires pour éclaircir les principes qui ont guidé le choix des données analysées, qui sont – rappelons-le – des données bibliographiques de traductions publiées comme livres[7].

La liste des traductions a été dressée à partir des données des catalogues de la Bibliothèque Nationale polonaise (BNP) recoupées par la consultation de ceux de la Bibliothèque de l’Université de Wrocław (BUWr)[8], et complétées, au besoin, par des informations tirées des sites Internet des éditeurs. Ont été sélectionnées les œuvres dont la description bibliographique mentionne : a. la traduction (tłumaczenie polskie, tłumacz) ; b. le genre et l’origine : roman français (powieść francuska) ; c. la date de publication en polonais : de 2001 à 2015.

Les données relatives aux « genre et origine » de certaines œuvres varient selon les catalogues : ainsi un roman de Nancy Huston est classé comme roman canadien de langue française à la BUWr et comme roman français à la BNP ; Łaskawe (Les Bienveillantes) de Littell est un roman américain selon la BUWr, et un roman américain et roman français pour la BNP ; les œuvres de Mabanckou sont des romans, respectivement, français, africains ou congolais en langue française à la BUWr, mais congolais à la BNP. Les données peuvent aussi varier à l’intérieur du même catalogue : ainsi, à la BUWr, le roman Cesarzowa (Impératrice) de Shan Sa est classé comme roman français, mais la notice de Konspiratorzy (Les conspirateurs), de la même auteure, contient l’information « roman d’espionnage français – auteurs d’origine chinoise ». Certains romans de Nothomb sont classés comme français, d’autres comme belges de langue française, dans les deux bibliothèques.

Ces hésitations, incohérences ou disparités sont probablement dues à l’incertitude des bibliothécaires, désormais exposés à l’émergence d’un phénomène complexe et important : la « dénationalisation de la littérature » (Sapiro 2014: 72-75), avec pour corollaire la « naissance d’une littérature-monde en français »[9]. En effet, « la langue française est une langue partagée. Plusieurs littératures, très différentes entre elles, l’écrivent », constatent les auteurs d’une synthèse sur la littérature française contemporaine. Ils signalent aussi la difficulté que cette situation entraîne lors du travail sur la « littérature française » et précisent que dans leur ouvrage, les paramètres décidant de l’inclusion d’un auteur dans cette littérature ont été le lieu de publication et de réception de l’œuvre : la France (Viart, Vercier 2008: 9-10).

Ce critère, très convaincant, ne se laisse cependant pas appliquer dans une étude basée sur les données des catalogues : ceux-ci ne donnent pas systématiquement d’information sur le lieu de publication, et lorsqu’il est indiqué, c’est celui de l’édition qui a servi de base à la traduction, différente parfois de la première édition de l’œuvre. Aussi, dans la liste étudiée, retrouvera-t-on des romans classés comme français dans au moins un des catalogues-sources.

La notion de contemporain suscite elle aussi des incertitudes : « une large part du malaise provoqué par le contemporain, dans une perspective historique, est fondée sur l’incapacité à saisir cette période » (Audet 2009: 13; voir aussi Ruffel 2010 ; Rousso 2016) ; cette incapacité vient de la nature complexe ou de la spécificité de la contemporanéité, dans laquelle le passé et le présent se suivent et coexistent en même temps, ou encore dans laquelle s’installe « une singulière relation avec son propre temps, auquel on adhère tout en prenant ses distances » (Agamben 2008: 11, cité après Havercroft, Michelucci, Riendeau 2010: 8).

Dans cette étude, la notion doit servir d’outil de discrimination du matériel analysé, un outil de périodisation, qui demande une indication précise de la date à partir de laquelle une œuvre ou un auteur sont considérés comme contemporains. Les ouvrages consacrés à la littérature des dernières décennies insistent sur l’importance des années 80 du siècle dernier : la littérature « au présent » est « celle qui a commencé de naître au début des années 1980 et qui continue d’évoluer autour des mêmes enjeux » (Viart, Vercier: 9) ; c’est un temps où « une conjonction des crises » (Touret (dir.) 2008: 429) marque une rupture, ou l’ouverture d’une période littéraire dans laquelle se manifestent de nouvelles formes et de nouveaux enjeux de la création fictionnelle (romanesque). Pour en souligner le caractère « présent », on utilise aussi le terme « extrême contemporain », en le dotant parfois d’un sens qui dépasse son utilisation « chronologique » ou « périodisante » : « […] si on le considère en tant que notion critique, l’extrême contemporain se présente telle une possibilité supplémentaire pour mieux comprendre notre rapport à la contemporanéité. » (Havercroft, Michelucci, Riendeau 2010: 8).

Dans ce travail cependant, réduire le matériel à des œuvres originales publiées en 1980 et dans les années suivantes conduirait à amputer le corpus d’une partie des traductions publiées en Pologne dans les années 2001–2015 – et par conséquent, d’une partie de ce qui constitue la représentation de la création romanesque française contemporaine construite par les choix des éditeurs polonais. L’outil discriminatoire a donc été non pas la date de publication des œuvres, mais une donnée de la biographie de l’auteur : ainsi, sont considérés comme contemporains les romans dont l’auteur est en vie, ou l’était encore dans les années 2000, et peut (a pu) intervenir dans la promotion transnationale de ses œuvres.

La liste comprend aussi les nouvelles éditions de traductions publiées avant l’an 2000 et republiées dans la période 2001–15, parfois chez un nouvel éditeur ; parmi celles qui ont été faites après l’an 2000, seules les premières éditions sont prises en considération, même si certaines œuvres ont été rééditées plusieurs fois. Ainsi, l’analyse des données véhiculées par la liste – soumise aux questionnements suivants : (1) quels titres et quels auteurs français (ou considérés comme tels) ont été sélectionnés pour être traduits et (re)publiés en polonais dans la période indiquée ? (2) par quels éditeurs ? – devrait-elle permettre d’atteindre l’objectif de cette étude, celui de décrire la représentation de la littérature française contemporaine générée par les traductions polonaises publiées en ce début du XXIe siècle.

3. Qui traduit-on? Que traduit-on?

3.1. Observations générales

Les résultats des premières observations de la liste ont un caractère quantitatif : 582 œuvres de 261 auteurs ont été publiées par 62 éditeurs. Concernant les auteurs, la grande majorité (206) n’ont qu’un ou deux titres traduits en polonais (graphique 1). Près d’un quart des titres publiés (149, soit 25,60 pour cent) sont l’œuvre de dix auteurs (graphique 2), et 101 autres titres, celle de 16 auteurs (tableau 2). Ainsi, pourrait-on dire que 250 œuvres (soit 43 pour cent de la totalité), écrites par 26 auteurs (soit 10 pour cent) et publiées par 12 éditeurs (soit 19,35 pour cent) donnent le ton à la présence de la littérature française en Pologne.

Graphique 1 : Nombre de titres selon l’auteur (jusqu’à dix titres)

Avant de passer à des analyses plus détaillées, il n’est pas inutile de signaler l’âge et le sexe des auteurs traduits en polonais. Ainsi, si la liste contient des auteurs nés dans la première moitié du XXe siècle (une quarantaine), la majorité sont des quinquagénaires (nés dans les années 60), près d’une trentaine sont des quadragénaires, et ceux qui sont nés dans les années 80 (deux) apparaissent déjà ; on constate ainsi que la plupart des romans traduits appartiennent à l’extrême contemporain. Un tiers (32 pour cent) des titres traduits ont été écrits par des femmes. Certaines sont nées dans la première moitié du XXe siècle (Benzoni, Groult…), mais les auteures se retrouvent surtout dans le groupe des quinquagénaires et leur nombre augmente avec le temps, ce qui correspond à la visibilité croissante des femmes sur la scène littéraire française.

3.2. Les auteurs les plus traduits : le top de la liste

Graphique 2 : Auteurs français les plus traduits et publiés (dix titres et plus)

L’analyse de la présence polonaise des auteurs qui viennent en tête de liste révèle quelques phénomènes importants :

(1) Les auteurs les plus traduits sont à situer plutôt dans le domaine de ce que, depuis Bourdieu (1971), on appelle « le champ de grande production », celui des biens ajustés à une demande préexistante parce que régi par l’impératif économique. Dans un autre ordre d’idées, on pourrait parler de littérature « concertante » ou « consentante », celle qui « consent à occuper la place que la société préfère généralement lui accorder, celle d’un art d’agrément […] » et qui s’oppose à la littérature « déconcertante », celle qui « ne cherche pas à correspondre aux attentes du lectorat mais contribue à les déplacer » (Viart, Vercier 2008: 10 -12) [10]. À côté des séries de romans d’espionnage de Gérard de Villiers, ce sont les cycles de romans historiques de Max Gallo, Christian Jacq ou Juliette Benzoni, les best-sellers mondialisés de Marc Levy et Guillaume Musso (« deux auteurs en mode start-up », selon Loubière 2019) ou les romans à suspense et les policiers de Maxime Chattam qui dominent la liste ; la présence parmi eux du prix Nobel Le Clézio ne fait que souligner cette prédominance de la production de diffusion massive à vocation de divertissement.

Si Le Clézio est le seul à avoir reçu la consécration suprême (en plus d’autres prix « institutionnels »[11]), d’autres écrivains se sont vus attribuer un siège à l’Académie Française (Gallo), des « anti-prix », comme le Grand Prix des lectrices de Elle (Werber), ou se sont trouvés en tête des meilleures ventes et ont été traduits dans des dizaines de langues. Ainsi, tous ont d’une manière ou d’une autre atteint une certaine consécration littéraire.

La représentation féminine est très faible (un seul nom de femme dans le groupe de dix auteurs, voir graphique 2) ; les âges des auteurs en revanche semblent plus équilibrés (cinq sont nés avant 1950, deux en 1960, deux dans les années 1970).

Le tableau 1 montre le résultat de la tendance des éditeurs polonais à détenir le monopole d’un auteur (relation d’exclusivité)[12] : ainsi, Chattam n’est publié que par Sonia Draga, Benzoni par Wydawnictwo Bis, Levy et Musso principalement par Albatros, Gallo est partagé entre Rebis et WAM. Dans certains cas, on peut constater aussi la même relation entre auteur, éditeur et traducteur (Gallo, Benzoni, Musso). Il faut remarquer cependant que certains titres sont des rééditions de traductions préexistantes chez le même éditeur (Le Clézio publié par PIW ou Pax) ou chez un autre éditeur (Benzoni).




Benzoni Juliette

Wydawnictwo Bis

Barbara Radczak ; Lidia Bazańska

Jacq Christian

Świat Książki (10) ; Libros (10) ; Noir sur Blanc (4)


Schmitt Eric-Emmanuel



Chattam Maxime

Sonia Draga


Gallo Max


Jerzy Kierul


Agnieszka Trąbka

Villiers Gérard de

Twój Styl


Musso Guillaume

Albatros Andrzej Kuryłowicz

Joanna Prądzyńska

Marc Levy

Albatros Andrzej Kuryłowicz,

Świat Książki (2)

Joanna Prądzyńska, Krystyna Szeżyńska-Maćkowiak

Le Clézio Jean-Marie Gustave

PIW 5, Pax 1, WAB 3 Cyklady 1


Werber Bernard

Sonia Draga 8, Muza 1, Videograf 1


Tableau 1 : Les auteurs et leurs éditeurs

3.3. Les auteurs les plus traduits : de cinq à neuf titres

Si, dans le groupe des seize qui ont à leur actif cinq à neuf titres publiés en Pologne (tableau 2), on retrouve aussi bien les auteurs consacrés par l’institution littéraire (prix Nobel, Goncourt, Renaudot, siège à l’Académie Française…) que par les lecteurs (divers prix de lecteurs, meilleures ventes), les proportions sont ici différentes entre les titres qui relèvent de la « littérature concertante » et de la « littérature déconcertante ». De même, la représentation des différentes tranches d’âge change : si, parmi les seize auteurs (dont deux femmes), il y en a encore quatre nés avant 1950, ce sont les sexagénaires (qui ont débuté dans les années 1980 et dont les œuvres peuvent être situées dans l’extrême contemporain) qui dominent (six auteurs).


Nombre de titres



Druon Maurice


Goncourt 1948

Gavalda Anna, Japrisot Sébastien



Modiano Patrick

Goncourt 1978

Nobel 2014

Besson Philippe, Frèches José, Grangé Jean-Christophe, Pancol Katherine



Echenoz Jean, Houellebecq Michel, Lemaitre Pierre, Makine Andreï, Quignard Pascal


Sardou Romain



Carrère Emmanuel, Claudel Philippe

Femina, Renaudot

Tableau 2 : Les auteurs les plus traduits 

Les observations qui précèdent, portant sur 250 titres de 26 auteurs, permettent ainsi de dresser un premier portrait de la littérature française. Elle apparaît comme écrite essentiellement par des hommes, pour la plupart d’âge mûr ou avancé. Les grandes œuvres consacrées, voire canonisées (écrites exclusivement par des hommes), y côtoient la production à succès, qui présente des traits autres que ceux qui prévalent dans la littérature légitimée : polars, romans à sensation, romans d’espionnage, romans chick lit… dont l’efficacité narrative, basée sur des représentations collectives, permet d’adhérer facilement à un discours simplifié sur le monde à un moment déterminé.

4. Affiner l’image…

Les observations portant sur les œuvres qui n’appartiennent pas au « palmarès » étudié ci-dessus permettent d’affiner de quelques traits l’image de la littérature française basée sur son intraduction dans l’espace éditorial polonais.

4.1. Littérature plus jeune et plus féminine

Si, dans le groupe des 26 auteurs étudiés plus haut (les plus traduits), trois seulement sont nés dans les années 1970, cette tranche d’âge est bien plus présente dans le cas du groupe des auteurs ayant à leur compte un à quatre titres publiés en traduction polonaise. Les graphiques 3A et 3B, quant à eux, rendent compte de la forte présence des femmes dans ce groupe :

Graphiques 3. (A) : Relation nombre d’auteurs femmes vs hommes
(B) : Nombre de titres selon le critère du sexe de l’auteur

4.2. Littérature consacrée ou industrielle ?

L’analyse révèle que la consécration institutionnelle est toujours un facteur important dans les choix des éditeurs[13]. L’exemple du prix Goncourt est probant : tous les romans qui l’ont reçu sont accessibles aux lecteurs polonais et ont été publiés dans les trois ans. Mais le graphique 4, qui présente les vingt éditeurs qui ont publié au moins neuf titres, montre une forte présence des maisons considérées comme des « fabriques de best-sellers », qui misent sur les meilleures ventes et dont l’activité, obéissant aux règles de la littérature standardisée et soumise aux goûts des lecteurs, s’inscrit dans les tendances globales (Sonia Draga, Albatros, Świat Książki, Amber, Książnica). Les maisons dont les catalogues contiennent principalement des ouvrages qui permettent d’accumuler du capital symbolique sont une minorité, et ce capital est déjà fort dans leur cas, puisqu’il s’agit d’éditeurs prestigieux qui existaient déjà dans les années 1940 ou 1950 : Czytelnik, PIW, Wydawnictwo Literackie… ou de nouvelles maisons de niche, comme Sic![14].

Graphique 4 : Éditeurs ayant publié neuf titres ou plus

4.3. De curieux rattrapages

Si la moyenne du temps écoulé entre la publication de l’original et la sortie de la traduction est de trois ans – un délai qui garantit l’actualité de la littérature française accessible en Pologne –, on peut constater aussi que le phénomène de rattrapage, si caractéristique de la production éditoriale polonaise dans les années 90 (Skibińska 2009), n’a pas encore disparu. En témoignent les romans de Jeanne Bourin, La chambre des dames (1979), qui a attendu 34 ans avant d’être publié en polonais, et sa suite, Le jeu de la tentation, sorti en 1981 et traduit en polonais 33 ans plus tard.

Les titres dont la traduction et/ou réédition tardive pourrait susciter un certain étonnement sont ceux de deux livres d’Emmanuelle Arsan (Emmanuelle. Livre 1, La Leçon d’homme, 1967 ; 2013[15] ; L’Antivierge, 1968 ; 2014, tous deux publiés dans la collection Erotica de Grupa Wydawnicza Foksal) et Histoire d'O de Pauline Réage, sorti en 1954 et publié en 2013 par la maison Amber (coll. Bestsellery literatury erotycznej [Bestellers de la littérature érotique][16]). Si l’on pense que la traduction polonaise de Fifty shades of Grey est sortie en septembre 2012, on comprend facilement que la publication de ces classiques de la littérature érotique française se fait dans la foulée du best-seller anglais et s’inscrit dans une mode pour ce genre littéraire. D’ailleurs, la même année, Amber publie aussi L’appel du désir d’Éric Mouzat et Le manoir d’Emma Cavalier, des ouvrages plus récents[17].

4.4. Littérature française ?

La question de la « dénationalisation de la littérature » a déjà été mentionnée plus haut. Une des manifestations du phénomène est la présence dans la liste de noms d’auteurs à consonance non française : Andreï Makine, Mariella Righini, Jonathan Littell, Atiq Rahimi, Shan Sa… Ils appartiennent à un groupe grandissant d’écrivains qui se sont installés pour un temps en France et y ont publié en français, certains ayant même été consacrés par le prix Goncourt. Or, il y a lieu de rappeler que c’est après l’attribution de ce prix aux Bienveillantes que Le Monde des livres a publié en mars 2007 son manifeste annonçant la « naissance d’une littérature-monde en français », c’est-à-dire d’une littérature incluant les œuvres écrites en français en dehors des frontières de la France et par des « non Français».

Cependant, il semble que le cachet « français » ait perdu son pouvoir d’attirer le lectorat : aucun éditeur n’a dans son catalogue une collection comprenant uniquement des romans français[18] ; ceux-ci font partie de collections variées, telles Kalejdoskop [Kaléidoscope] de Muza, Biblioteczka Interesującej Prozy [Petite bibliothèque de prose intéressante] de Prószyński ou Mroczna Seria [Série sombre] de W.A.B (Foksal), dans lesquelles ils côtoient des ouvrages polonais et des traductions de diverses langues. Ils sont publiés aussi hors collections.

5. Conclusion

Cette revue des œuvres de romanciers français contemporains traduites et publiées en Pologne dans les années 2001-2015 permet d’abord de réagir à la constatation pessimiste de Lech Budrecki : non, les éditeurs polonais ne sont pas réticents à publier de la littérature française. Ils y trouvent de la matière susceptible de satisfaire aussi bien les lecteurs à la recherche de réflexion profonde sur le monde que ceux qui cherchent simplement à se divertir ou à frémir d’émotion à la lecture des best-sellers internationaux d’un Musso, d’un Chattam ou d’une Pancol. Ce qui contredit la conviction que seule la littérature populaire américaine peut « cartonner » auprès des lecteurs polonais.

On peut constater aussi que l’offre éditoriale polonaise présente une littérature française en mutation : le nombre croissant des écrivaines, le répertoire des genres enrichi par des nouveautés (chick littérature, nouvelles variantes de polars, thrillers…), des noms « venus d’ailleurs » en témoignent. L’intraduction permet aussi de rendre compte de phénomènes qui semblent caractéristiques de cette littérature : diverses facettes de l’individualisme qui se manifestent d’un côté par la célébration hédoniste du quotidien de Philippe Delerm et, de l’autre côté, par le « pessimisme cynique » de Michel Houellebecq ; l’attachement à la tradition du roman historique (Jeanne Bourin, Françoise Chandernagor) et, parallèlement, de nouvelles façons d’écrire l’Histoire (Philippe Claudel, Patrick Modiano, Sébastien Japrisot) ; l’exploitation des possibles qu’offre le roman policier, genre relativement ancien, mais considéré comme une des « principales innovations du XXe siècle dans le domaine de la fiction » (Boltanski 2016: 21), bien présents dans les catalogues (Jean-Patrick Manchette, Claude Izzo, Philippe Djian, Fred Vargas…).

Ainsi peut-on considérer que même si la recherche de placements sûrs, c’est-à-dire de valeurs consacrées par des prix ou des chiffres de vente importants en France et à l’étranger semble la motivation principale des éditeurs, une partie de l’intraduction peut être considérée comme effet de résistance au diktat du marché.

Une telle image surgit des données des catalogues; ils forment cependant un objet d’observation de la « surface », privilégiant une approche quantitative. Des observations en « profondeur », de caractère qualitatif (enquêtes, entretiens, études des matériaux conservés dans les archives des maisons d’édition et/ou des traducteurs), seraient nécessaires pour mieux saisir la Frenchness des éditeurs polonais et les enjeux de ces médiateurs culturels qui, par leurs décisions concernant la publication des traductions, contribuent à la formation de représentations des autres dans la culture d’accueil. 


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[1] La « résurgence du romanesque» est considérée comme un phénomène qui marque la littérature française « au présent » (Viart, Vercier 2008: 5). Précisons qu’il s’agit du roman et de ses sous-genres pour adultes, la littérature pour les jeunes lecteurs constituant un autre secteur de la production éditoriale, régi par des mécanismes qui lui sont propres (voir Paprocka 2018).

[2] L’« intraduction » signifie l’importation littéraire sous forme de traduction, 1’« extraduction », l'exportation sous forme de traduction (Ganne, Minon 1992: 58). Sur le rôle du médiateur culturel voir  D'hulst, Gonne, Lobbes, Meylaerts, Verschaffel (2014).

[3] Les analyses des péritextes éditoriaux le confirment ; ainsi, une analyse des quatrièmes de couverture des romans français publiés en Pologne montre que, lues ensemble, elles construisent l’image d’une littérature qui attire un large lectorat français et international, qui touche des questions vitales du monde contemporain, qui le fait de façon innovante, souvent avec raffinement (Skibińska 2011). Les quatrièmes de couverture des livres publiés dans la collection « Pavillons. Domaine de l’Est » (Robert Laffont), considérées ensemble, forment pour le lecteur francophone une narration sur l’histoire de la littérature des pays est-européens et en construisent une image particulière : elle forme un bloc peu différencié, mais frappé de cette spécificité locale qu’est le poids de l’histoire qui pèse sur les gens et les littératures (Skibińska 2014). Voir aussi Torres (2002), Paprocka (2015), Schwartz (2018).

[4] Frisani parle de Frenchness : « une » catégorie utilisée au sein de milieux éditoriaux britanniques pour désigner une certaine représentation qu’ils se font de la littérature française » (Frisani 2012 :128). Cette représentation, qui conditionne les décisions des éditeurs, se répercute sur la façon de percevoir cette littérature par le lectorat.

[5] L’article a provoqué, en France, de nombreuses réactions, et a été suivi du livre de Morrison, Compagnon (2008).

[6] L’année des bouleversements politiques et économiques qui ont remodelé aussi le marché éditorial polonais. Sur la place de la traduction sur ce marché voir Skibińska (2009), et sur la traduction du français – Skibińska (2010).

[7] Sur l’utilisation des données bibliométriques et bibliographiques dans l’étude sur la traduction voir Poupaud, Pym et Torres Simón (2009).

[8] Les deux bibliothèques sont dépositaires du dépôt légal. Une partie des ressources provenant des catalogues de la Bibliothèque nationale ont été collectées par Oliwia Ostrowska pour son mémoire de maîtrise (Ostrowska 2019). Nous la remercions de nous avoir donné accès à ces données.

[9] C’est ainsi que le nomment les signataires d’un manifeste publié dans Le Monde des livres en mars 2007, persuadés que « la langue libérée de son pacte exclusif avec la nation, libre désormais de tout pouvoir autre que ceux de la poésie et de l’imaginaire, n’aura pour frontières que celles de l’esprit ». Et que « le centre, ce point depuis lequel était supposée rayonner une littérature franco-française, n’est plus le centre » (Le Bris, Rouaud 2007).

[10] On pourrait enfin parler de la paralittérature ou « ensemble disparate des productions imprimées fictionnelles à diffusion massive et vocation de divertissement, dont la valeur esthétique se trouve uniment niée par ce que l’on a coutume de nommer l’institution littéraire » (Huybrechts). Voir aussi Letourneux 2017.

[11] L’« institution » est comprise ici comme « un ensemble de normes qui définissent une légitimité, c’est-à-dire l’intériorisation collective d’un rapport de forces » (Glinoer). Les prix « institutionnels » sont ici les prix Goncourt, Renaudot, Femina, Médicis, Interallié et le Grand Prix du Roman de l’Académie française, attribués chaque année entre novembre et décembre et appelés « les prix d’automne ».

[12] Tendance qui inscrit l’édition polonaise dans le mouvement mondial.

[13] Sur le rôle des prix littéraires français comme facteur favorisant la sélection des œuvres à traduire, voir Tomicka 2010.

[14] Sur la structure du champ éditorial polonais, voir Marecki (éd.) (2014).

[15] Réédition d’une traduction publiée en 1991 par la maison Wydawnictwo Łódzkie.

[16] Réédition d’une traduction publiée en 1992 par la maison Spacja.

[17] On remarque l’absence des romans publiés par les Éditions Hors Collection dans la collection « L’instant érotique » inaugurée en 2010. Parmi les auteurs, on trouve Emmanuel Pierrat, Tran Arnault et Paule Angélique, « tous les trois professionnels du monde de l’édition et spécialistes de l’art et la littérature érotique […] auteurs qui, de par leur activité professionnelle, se situent, par rapport à la littérature érotique, au niveau du métatexte ou du métalangage » (Swoboda 2013: 60).

[18] La seule collection qui renvoie, par son nom, au français est Literatura frankofońska [Littérature francophone] publiée par la maison Dialog dont la vocation principale est de publier des livres portant sur les cultures asiatiques et africaines ([url=https://wydawnictwodialog.pl/about-publishing-house,2,5.htm]https://wydawnictwodialog.pl/about-publishing-house,2,5.htm[/url]., consulté le 12 décembre 2019). On peut mentionner ici Heksagon, collection créée par la maison Amber au début des années 1990 pour intraduire uniquement des auteurs français (avec Pennac, Maalouf, Agota Kristof, d’Ormesson...), qui, cependant, n’a pas fait long feu.

About the author(s)

Professor in the Department of Romance Languages and Literature at the University of Wrocław. Research area: translation studies, literary translation (French-Polish). Major works: Przekład a kultura. Elementy kulturowe we francuskich tłumaczeniach „Pana Tadeusza", [Translation and Culture: Culture-bound Terms in the French Translations of Pan Tadeusz] Wrocław, Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Wrocławskiego, 1999, Kuchnia tłumacza. Studia o polsko-francuskich relacjach przekładowych, Kraków TAiWPN Universitas, 2008; editor of collective volumes: Przypisy tłumacza [Translator’s Footnotes] (2009); Lem i tłumacze [Lem and his translators] (2010); Parateksty przekładu [Translation Paratexts] (Między Oryginałem a Przekładem 17, 2011); Figure(s) du traducteur (Romanica Wratislaviensia, 59, 2012); with Regina Solová and Kaja Gostkowska Vingt-cinq ans après... Traduire dans une Europe en reconfiguration (2015); with Magda Heydel and Natalia Paprocka La voix du traducteur à l’école / The Translator's Voice at School, t. 1 : Canons, t. 2 : Praxis, 2015.

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©inTRAlinea & Elżbieta Skibińska (2020).
"Entre les livres à succès et la littérature « déconcertante » : le roman français contemporain à travers son intraduction polonaise (2001–15)", inTRAlinea Vol. 22.

This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/index.php/archive/article/2526

Education as Translation:

Toward a Social Philosophy of Translation

By Salah Basalamah (University of Ottawa, Canada)


Translation has been considered an equivalent to intercultural communication as long as it has been contemplated within the confines of linguistic and cultural paradigms. However, because culture is considered the broadest of these two paradigms, it has rightfully been defined in multiple ways and at multiple levels in order to fit more elaborate and wider frameworks. For instance, as dichotomous structural boundaries have faded away in favor of hybridity and métissage, it has been argued in anthropology and in cultural and postcolonial studies (around the notion of cultural translation most notably) that culture is in and of itself a translational phenomenon. This means that the framework of education is itself a place where culture as an intellectual practice and process can be transmitted. Culture considered as education, and education as a space of predilection for the transmission/translation of culture.

The goal of this paper is to reflect on issues involved in what could be termed as educational translation, studied both retrospectively and prospectively. Raising the issue of education not only as a space of communication but also as a sort of transformation of the human mind (both its values and its principal orientations) is inevitably an attempt to determine which social blueprint is expected at the end of the educational process in translational terms. The cases of the German Romantics, Joseph Jacotot and Henri Le Saux will be the main illustrations to our reflection.


©inTRAlinea & Salah Basalamah (2020).
"Education as Translation: Toward a Social Philosophy of Translation", inTRAlinea Vol. 22.

This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/index.php/archive/article/2524


Translation has been considered as an equivalent to intercultural communication as long as it was contemplated within the confines of the linguistic and the cultural paradigms. However, if culture would be the broadest framework of the latter, it has rightfully been defined in multiple ways and at multiple levels in order to fit more elaborate and wider paradigms. For instance, it has been argued in anthropology, in cultural and postcolonial studies—around the notion of cultural translation notably—that culture is in and of itself a translational phenomenon as dichotomous structural boundaries have faded away in favor of hybridity and métissage (Wolf 2002; Bachmann-Medick 2006; Buden and Nowotny 2009). This means that the framework of education is itself a place where culture as an intellectual practice and process can be actually transmitted. Culture, then, is considered as education, and education as a space of predilection for the transmission/translation of culture.

Now in the vein of the enlargement of the cultural paradigm, there have been several instances in various disciplines where translation as a metaphor has been used to represent genetic decoding (molecular biology), transfer, exchange and implementation of knowledge (medical research), change of internet protocol address (networking), TV or radio retransmission (broadcasting), property transfer or legal transplantation (law), and political regime change (political science). Even in casual conversations, translation is used as a figure of speech to express the transformation of an idea into something concrete. Hence, one can say that translation is moving toward a paradigm that would be encompassing enough to consider translation not only as an object of study beyond language and culture but, more importantly, as a paradigm itself (Ricœur 1996; 2006) in order to serve as a lens to look through and study various transformative phenomena, one of which would be education.

This paper reflects on questions and examples involving what could be termed as educational translation, considered both retrospectively and prospectively. To raise the issue of education not only as a space of transmission but also as a means of transformation for the human mind (both its values and principal orientations) is inevitably an endeavor to discover which social blueprint is expected at the end of the educational process. Intercultural communication—hereinafter translation—is not simply a competence to articulate cultures and mediate them, it is the very process by which education is actually handled and experienced at the same time.

After a short overview of the evolution of the concepts of translation and culture in the interdisciplinary contexts of the humanities and social sciences, this paper will first articulate the broad lines of translation as a philosophical paradigm and then illustrate the latter with three cases of education as an (inter)culturally transformative phenomenon in a global context.

What do we mean by translation?

Given the context of globalization and the resulting de facto interconnectivity among multiple sources and destinations, the relativity of points of view regarding the topics exchanged—as well as the heterogeneity of the perspectives, understandings, and interpretations—become unavoidable. In other words, since this multiplicity of languages, narratives, and perceptions takes place in a globalized world; since the semiotic space provides the means of achieving the greatest impact on the masses today; and since people cannot coexist without acting together for the good of themselves and the greatest number, what type of foundational undertaking, one that is both multiple and combined, could be promoted to the rank of concerted global action in the realm of education? The short answer proposed in this reflection is translation, but it is necessary to start by understanding the object of study and the breadth of its scope.

What is understood as translation here depends on the goals assigned to it. If a conceptual instrument is necessary to understand the intricacies of a mediated education process, it is just as important to ensure that the concept that designates it applies appropriately to its referent. We usually face a problem when a notion used outside of its principal meaning consists in the non-obvious character of its figurative usage: the literal meaning is generally qualified as ‘primary’, being the one that most immediately comes to mind, whatever the context. The figurative usage is considered secondary because it is both less frequent and less direct, i.e., it requires the detour of a displacement of meaning between two different conceptual domains: the (more concrete) source and the (more abstract) target. This is the very definition of a “conceptual metaphor” (Kövecses 2002: 6). It is this paradox of the secondary nature of the figurative (compared to the literal) meaning combined with the recurrence of the metaphor that determines the unique characteristic of translation. On the one hand, the translating action is located “downstream” from what is commonly known as the “original creation” and is therefore secondary. On the other hand, it not only participates in the actual development of our conceptual system, but also the word “translation” is linked etymologically to metaphor (analogic/comparative process linking/assimilating two objects): One of the terms from which translation comes in ancient Greek is metapherein. Translation is therefore, and as a starting point, metaphorical by definition.

A number of disciplines are turning to the concept of translation as metaphor because of its heuristic power to represent and clarify the phenomena of transmission and transformation beyond the linguistic domain. Relying on the knowledge and experience gathered in linguistics, fields such as anthropology, sociology, political science, economics, marketing, cultural studies, and postcolonial studies are using the concept of translation to describe the processes of interpretation, adaptation, and displacement of cultures, powers, or even people. So the study of the translation concept in the metaphorical sense consists in considering distinct objects—whose meanings are perceived from different perspectives or fields of knowledge. But it also consists in transforming them from reciprocal points of view and observing the types and degrees of changes brought about as well as probable modifications in content and form as a result of the translational action.

Translation metaphors are multiple and cover several aspects of the translational process that can be organized into three main and complimentary categories. The first is communicative, which is made up of two interdependent sections. On the one hand, as in the hermeneutical tradition in philosophy, translation is equivalent to the act of understanding, interpreting, and grasping. On the other hand, it is the corresponding process which consists of making understood, expressing, (re)formulating, or clarifying signs and meanings through the use of other signs and symbols. Thus, in the hermeneutic tradition from Heidegger to Gadamer and Derrida to Ricœur and Steiner, translation has represented both aspects of the communicative process:

Translation is formally and pragmatically implicit in every act of communication, in the emission and reception of each and every mode of meaning, be it in the widest semiotic sense or in more specifically verbal exchanges. To understand is to decipher. To hear significance is to translate. (Steiner 1998: xii, emphasis added)

This means that translation occurs at the stage of the very expression of our thoughts and their transformation into sounds, phonemes and signs, as well as at their meaningful integration into others’ minds, understandings.

The second category is transformative, referring to the process of progressive or sudden change that occurs between two distinct states of the same object or individual. To illustrate this, one could point to the idea of translation as political reform, which conceives of the alternation of political regimes, ideologies and their respective discourses as instances of political transformations of one and the same political jurisdiction (Cain et al. 2003). Likewise, this kind of political philosophy can be linked to the idea of mutually translating the causes of different groups toward a common struggle, which is substantially inspired by the works of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe. The latter considers that socio-political movements cannot deal with the hegemony of liberal globalization without forming “chains of equivalence” (Mouffe 2000; 2005; Mouffe and Laclau 2001), i.e. translations of various democratic struggles against a common adversary. Through articulating disparate political forces, the formation of the chain consists in agreeing on the smallest common denominators in ideology and strategy in order to effect a transformation and thereby form an “agonistic” opposition (not ‘antagonistic’ as considered by Carl Schmidt 1996) in view of fighting the designated political enemy democratically (Basalamah 2008).

The third and last category is both transactional and recursive. Translation is transactional inasmuch as it plays a role in managing difference, in negotiating between poles of meaning that, in a last phase of the transformation, must reduce tension and find a balance. Translating therefore consists in making at least two shapes, objects, or individuals converge and negotiate their coexistence. To do so, one cannot be satisfied with only unidirectional movement in the process of searching for stability but should instead seek a succession of convergences originating from all parties. Thus, after the first transactional movement, the next one will follow and so on recursively until the point of equilibrium and rapprochement between the parties involved is found. This is, for example, Habermas’s logic of “communicative action” (1985) or Gadamer’s “fusion of horizons” (2004), in which recursive translation represents the ever-renewed process of looking for common understanding or consensus.

Through its three complementary and overlapping facets, translation conceived of as a philosophical paradigm takes on considerable social and political functions that are finally being recognized beyond the traditional linguistic and cultural frameworks (Basalamah 2010; 2012). But what do we mean here by paradigm? Although definitions could be found in many different sources, one that was privileged for the purposes of this paper comes opportunely from the field of education:

A paradigm is the fundamental lens through which we view our environment. The paradigm that governs our thinking about a given system is the theory that determines the invariant features that shape the system and defines how to succeed within the system. Usually a paradigm is so ingrained, so rooted in our familiar sense of the way things are, that we hold it unconsciously, without either choice or deliberation. (Tagg 2003: xiii)

In fact, similar to the etymological meaning of ‘theory’ (theoria is to observe, to perceive), a paradigm enables us to literally see new objects and interpret them according to the new framework of reference.

The historian of science Thomas Kuhn has even gone further in describing the change of scientific paradigm and its effects: “Rather than being an interpreter, the scientist who embraces a new paradigm is like the man wearing inverting lenses.” (1970: 121-122) For Kuhn, until the said paradigm becomes the accepted worldview among scientists, the field has to undergo a “crisis” that pits competing paradigms against each other (1970: 153-154;158) to such an extent that they are deemed “incommensurable” (102). Although it is not suggested that this is the case in translation studies or in any discipline of the humanities and social science, the fact is by including the social and political dimensions of the transformative process of translation in the purview of the proposed translational paradigm—instead of being confined to a linguistic-cultural-based one—we are drawn into a primarily relational conception of translation. A conception that is at the heart of the discursive formation of the new political identity of the postmodern subject and constituted by the logic of equivalence (Laclau and Mouffe 2001: 130-131). And one that would be also illustrative to Salman Rushdie’s famous quote:

The word “translation” comes, etymologically, from the Latin for “bearing across.” Having been borne across the world, we are translated men. It is normally supposed that something always gets lost in translation; I cling, obstinately, to the notion that something can also be gained. (Rushdie 1991: 16)

Rushdie hence illustrates the fluid nature of the translational identity as the very fabric of our being, which seems to be woven and supplemented by its continuous decentering and overcoming beyond oneself.

Translation understood this way as well could be of paramount usefulness to perceive and conceptualize many transformational phenomena where the objects of translation are actual social and/or political players. The interaction between teachers and learners is a case in point.

Education as translation

Education as formation

If we consider the Western history of translation as predating the actual discipline of translation studies, stretching from Cicero to the wake of the end of WWII, there is one particular historical period that has shed a great deal of light on the notion of translation as I would like to present it in this paper: eighteenth and nineteenth-century German Romanticism. As a matter of fact, authors such as Herder, Goethe, Schiller, Schlegel, and Hegel have defined the concept of Bildung as both the German counterpart of Kultur and the degree of formation of an artwork, that is “the way in which the culture interprets its mode of unfolding” (emphasis in original). Berman (1992) has attempted to show how “translation (as a mode of relation to the foreign) is structurally inscribed in Bildung” being both a process and a result (43). Moreover, through Bildung more broadly “an individual, a people, a nation, but also a language, a literature, a work of art in general are formed and thus acquire a form, a Bild” (43-44). As it is a temporal process punctuating moments and stages in history, “Bildung is a process of self-formation concerned with a ‘same’ unfolding itself to attain its full dimension […] the movement of the ‘same’ which, changing, finds itself to be ‘other’” (44, emphasis in original). A Hegelian experience in the broadest meaning of the term.

The way German Romantics conceived of Bildung as formation is a pervasive organic metaphor. In effect, similar to the creation and evolution of an artwork, “Bildung is always a movement toward a form, one’s form—which is to say that, in the beginning, every being is deprived of its form” (Berman 1992: 44). Moreover, using organic images such as the virgin that becomes a women, the child that becomes an adult, and the bud that becomes a flower are all metaphors indicating that Bildung “deals with a necessary process” (44), although paradoxically entailing freedom at the same time. In this sense, the concept is understood as a temporal process encompassing the various stages of gaining experience and knowledge, much like in education. To go through a formative development can be likened to a translational elaboration from one’s initial state of being/knowledge to a further enlarged one. Although the state of innocence (or virginity) may be considered as an ideal, the fruitful expansion that can derive from the relation to the foreign/unknown is even more desired (Berman 1992: chapter 2).

It is Berman (1992) who links the preliminary understanding of Bildung as translation to the concept of the novel as the primary literary form that has symbolized the mediating characteristic of translation:

Goethe's Wilhelm Meister is the story of the education of the young hero, a formation which passes through a series of mediations and mediators, one of whom is significantly called the "Foreigner." Because the foreign has a mediating function, translation can become one of the agents of Bildung—a function it shares with a series of other "trans-lations" which constitute as many critical relations to the self and the foreign. (Berman, 1992: 46)

Thus, translation epitomizes the educational formation process through which “agents of Bildung” undertake the journey toward their maturation and self-fulfillment. When undertaking the decentering step of going out toward otherness in general, cultures like their proponents undergo a translation process leading to their growth and “expansion,” according to Herder (Berman 1992: chapter 2).

Education as mutual transformation

Similar to the movement of Bildung, the formal education process unfolds into a transformational experience whereby learners and instructors translate themselves from one state to another. According to Cook-Sather (2001), a science education researcher who relies heavily on the translation metaphor, preservice teachers search for their own voices by listening to the voice of the students in order to redefine themselves and acquire their identity as teachers (186):

These embodiments of translation of text and self, like the range of definitions of translation, are particularly appropriate for capturing the constant re-conceptualizations and re-renderings that constitute the active process of becoming a teacher. When one becomes a teacher, one changes one’s condition; one makes a new version of one’s self; one makes oneself comprehensible to others in a new sphere; one is, in some ways, transformed. (Cook-Sather 2001: 181-182)

Not only does the preservice teacher learn to become an actual teacher and to cope with her new identity and voice, both the experienced teacher and the learner undergo a translation process literally and metaphorically at the same time:

In the literal sense, when one undertakes a formal educational experience, one must learn to recognize a new vocabulary, think in new ways, speak and write using these ways of thinking and these new words. If one engages in the process fully, one translates oneself in a more metaphorical sense: A learner who genuinely engages in well-designed formal education changes her condition, makes herself comprehensible to others in a new sphere, makes a new version of herself, is transformed. (Cook-Sather 2006: 333)

In fact, as long as the instructor is practicing education, she is engaged in an inescapable transformative process that cannot be separated from that of the learner.

A dialectics further illustrated in the example of Jacotot, a French teacher who taught in Holland in the 1830s and “caused quite a scandal […] by proclaiming that uneducated people could learn on their own, without a teacher explaining things to them, and that teachers, for their part, could teach what they themselves were ignorant of.” (Rancière 2010: 1) This radical view of education, where equality becomes a condition for the emancipation of the learner from her dependence on the instructor’s explanation, is actually founding its tenets on the translation paradigm:

Thought is not told in truth it is expressed in veracity. It is divided, it is told, it is translated for someone else, who will make of it another tale, another translation, on one condition: the will to communicate, the will to figure out what the other is thinking, and this under no guarantee beyond his narration, no universal dictionary to dictate what must be understood. Will figures out will. (Rancière 1991: 62)

According to Rancière, teachers do not transfer knowledge to their students; they help them emancipate themselves from the power relation and inequality of the “knowledge-to-come” or the ‘explanation’ worldview considered as an illusion to a relation of interdependent equality. It is a transformation process that teachers and students undergo together through the mutual translation of their respective thoughts and understandings. The drive of the self to understand the other and the desire of both to reformulate their respective appropriation of the object of knowledge is a translational movement that is similar to the concept of “adaptation” in the field of intercultural competence, i.e. a process of “interdependence and alteration of behavior in episodes of interaction, such that the actions of one interactant influence the actions of the other interactant(s) in the context” (Spitzberg and Chagnon 2009: 6) and vice versa.

This reciprocal disposition to transform through a mutual willingness to understand is translational in the very words of Jacotot, The Ignorant Schoolmaster (Rancière 1991):

Understanding is never more than translating, that is, giving the equivalent of a text, but in no way its reason. There is nothing behind the written page, no false bottom that necessitates the work of another intelligence, that of the explicator…Learning and understanding are two ways of expressing the same act of translation. There is nothing beyond texts except the will to express, that is, to translate. (Rancière 1991: 9-10)

In the era of post-metaphysics and the axiom of equality, the hidden meaning that used to be mediated by the prophets of knowledge is now the transactional and open property of both the learner and the trainer. Hence, the very process of communication between the agents of education, i.e. both teachers and students, is not achieved through transfer, but rather through mutual transformation.

The challenge that Jacotot is proposing to take up is that of any hypothetical intercultural situation where representatives of different cultures and languages (like him and his Dutch students trying to read Fénélon in French) would be willing to communicate but are prevented by what is commonly seen as the “language barrier.” But his thesis is that impediments to communication are the very motivation for people to be striving to translate each other by using their remoteness to a shared space of understanding:

But what, brings people together, what unites them, is non-aggregation…People are united because they are people, that is to say, distant beings. Language doesn’t unite them. On the contrary, it is the arbitrariness of language that makes them try to communicate by forcing them to translate—but also puts them in a community of intelligence (Rancière 1991: 58).

This is almost exactly what philosophical hermeneutics—mainly Gadamer (2004)—have been saying using the metaphor of translation to explain the recursive process of mutual understanding in a conversation. Similar to translation, the action of comprehending is always incomplete, resistant and irreducible as there is no way to fully grasp the other’s utterance in its dematerialized cognitive state but through the deciphering process represented by discourse in communication.  As a matter of fact, Gadamer presents the other as Anstoss, i.e. obstacle/clash and impulse/impetus at the same time (2004: chapter 5), which means that the interaction with the other is impossible. At the same time however, it is the necessary prompt for all the different parties to converge around the search for intercomprehension.

Conversion as educational translation

In terms of transformational learning, the French Christian monk Henri Le Saux of the early 20th century was another case in point (Baumer-Despeigne 1983). After leaving his monastery in Northwestern France for India, he endeavored to deepen his Christian spiritual experience in the caves of Arunachala and the Himalayas. In 1948, along with Benedictine priest Fr Jules Monchanin, who invited him to

form the first nucleus of a monastery (or rather a laura, a grouping of neighboring anchorites like the ancient Laura of Saint Sabas in Palestine) which buttresses the Rule of Saint Benedict—a primitive, sober, discrete rule. Only one purpose: to seek God. And the monastery will be Indian style. We would like to crystallize and transubstantiate the search of the Hindu sannyāsī [renunciation]. Advaita [non-duality] and the praise of the Trinity are our only aim. This means we must grasp the authentic Hindu search for God in order to Christianize it, starting with ourselves first of all, from within. (As cited in Oldmeadow 2008: 8)

As any missionary type of undertaking, the spiritual translation was initially conceived of as predominantly unidirectional—i.e. to Christianize Hinduism—despite the openness to the compelling call of Indian spirituality (Baumer-Despeigne 1983).

Then the determining encounter with Sri Ramana Maharshi, one of the most influential saints of his time, occurred in 1949 at Arunchala, the cave of the holly mountain of Lord Shiva. The impact was powerful and his meeting with the Sage had such an impact that Le Saux became himself a swami (a religious teacher of the Advaita Vedanta). In fact, Le Saux “was no longer primarily motivated by the ideal of a monastic Christian witness in India but was now seized by the ideal of sannyāsa as an end in itself.” (Oldmeadow 2008: 11) And as a result of this sojourn in presence of Ramana, instead of converting/translating Hinduism to Christianity, Le Saux was himself translated into Swami Abhishiktananda (his Hindu name).

At the same time, he admittedly never renounced Christianity either, which has given him the benefit of both spiritual traditions, but only after overcoming the tensions of his dual belonging.

Abhishiktananda, with heroic audacity, chose to live out his life on that very frontier, neither forsaking Christianity nor repudiating the spiritual treasures which he had found in such abundance in India. . . .It was a position which was to cause him much distress and loneliness, and a good many difficulties with some of his fellow Christians, be they ecclesiastical authorities, priests and scholars, or acquaintances. (Oldmeadow 2008: 16)

To be torn apart between two worlds is exactly the fate of most translators and multicultural beings, to the extent that one of the most commonly spread metaphors of translation is that of the bridge to which Le Saux has also identified:

It is precisely the fact of being a bridge that makes this uncomfortable situation worthwhile. The world, at every level, needs such bridges. The danger of this life as “bridge” is that we run the risk of not belonging to either side; whereas, however harrowing it may be, our duty is to belong wholly to both sides. This is only possible in the mystery of God (Le Saux as quoted in Baümer 2004 by Oldmeadow 2008: 16-17).

Although apparently static, this image of the bridge nonetheless reminds us of the Hegelian experience of the Romantics when considered more dynamically through more spiritual and plastic representations of the inner world where the spatiality of the path linking the two sides of a gulf becomes the temporally lived reality between two states of consciousness.

For Abhishiktananda advaita, in the first place, is not a recondite doc- trine but an immediate experience of a mystery—the mystery of God, the world, and man himself. It is an “experience” like no other certainly, and one most difficult to conceptualize or communicate. . . .It is an “inner” awareness of the Real (Self/Ātman-Brahman/God/Divine Presence) in which all dualities disappear, including that of “experience” and “expe- riencer,” of subject and object. It is quite beyond the reach of either the senses or the mind. It can only be described symbolically and metaphorically: it is a “blazing discovery,” a “consuming fire,” an endless “pillar of fire,” “a cataclysmic transformation of being,” “a shattering” of all one’s previous understandings, a fathomless abyss, “an interior lightning flash.” (Quoted in Stephens 1984: by Oldmeadow, 2008: 137)

The “cataclysmic transformation of being” is then this deep revolution that is similar to the one experienced by the cultural learner when discovering the other’s unusual perspective and finally understanding its beauty or validity—with the difference though that it may be a significantly longer process than that of the mystic.

The mystical experience, as described by countless saints and sages through the ages, results in absolute certitude about the supra-sensorial Reality to which the experience gives access. It is almost always associated with luminosity and with bliss. The mystical experience-proper triggers a radical and spontaneous self-transformation which ineradicably changes the trajectory of the life in question. (Oldmeadow 2008: 147)

In accordance to Herder’s theory of translation (Berman 1992: chapter 2), the contact of the foreign necessarily leads to one’s development and expansion—sometimes even against one’s own conscious or premeditated resolve. In that sense, the paradox of Le Saux’s example reveals that the deliberate translation of oneself would entail the result of eventually becoming translated.


Despite all the postcolonial suspicions that portrayed translation as an unequivocal accomplice of the colonial powers (Bassnett and Trivedi 1999: 3), these examples show that, on the contrary, it can be considered an instrument of liberation from inequalities and subjugations that could be found not only in politics, but in the inevitable servitudes of the realm of (spiritual) education as well.

If the German Romantics taught the world that translation is a source-oriented activity where the passage through the experience of the foreign is the condition of possibility of any progress, they have however not overlooked the fact that translation is by definition ethnocentric (Berman 1999) and is primarily meant to develop the self. Despite the ethical translation tradition initiated by Berman (1992) and Venuti (1998), then spread by philosophers like Ricœur (2006) and Jervolino (2008), the development of one’s own cultural or spiritual identity and knowledge—what we would like to brand as educational translation—is nothing of an egocentric undertaking. On the contrary, especially if we think of the formation of a local scholarly language:

Je suis convaincu qu’on ne peut enseigner la science que dans la langue nationale, c’est-à-dire dans la langue que les gens utilisent dans leur vie quotidienne, la langue vivante de la société. [I’m convinced that we cannot but teach science in the national language, that is in the language that people use in their daily lives, the living language of society.] (Rashed 2004: xxvii, my translation)

To actually build one’s own scientific knowledge and culture requires educating and acquiring knowledge in the familiar environment of one’s own dominant language, i.e. by translating science and putting into practice intercultural competence in a way that would integrate it and appropriate it to the degree that it eventually becomes homegrown.

The claim of any invention or novelty starts with the appropriation of another’s initial idea retranslated in one’s own terms, language and context. Because translating entails recognizing that all original production is made, in the terms of Bernard of Chartres, by “dwarfs perched on the shoulders of giants” (Saresberiensis 1955: 167)—i.e. on the basis of previous transmissions—education becomes the conduit of novelty every time it occurs at the light of its new conditions of production. To educate is to translate newness at each communicative occurrence.


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About the author(s)

Salah Basalamah's research focuses on Translation Studies (including the philosophy of translation, translation rights, ethnographic translation and translation as metaphor), Postcolonial, Cultural and Religious Studies, as well as the study of Western Islam and Muslims. He is now working on a forthcoming book on the philosophy translation and its applications in the fields of the human, social and natural sciences.

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©inTRAlinea & Salah Basalamah (2020).
"Education as Translation: Toward a Social Philosophy of Translation", inTRAlinea Vol. 22.

This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/index.php/archive/article/2524

Dubbing of Sound in the Samurai Movie Love and Honor

A Comparison of Japanese and English Language Versions

By Reito Adachi (Kurashiki City College, Japan)


This paper aims to examine how the acoustic nonverbal elements in a particular Japanese live-action film are dubbed in the US English version. The focus is on the aural modification of sound effects, background music, and paralanguages in Yoji Yamada’s samurai movie Bushi no Ichibun (Love and Honor). The two versions are compared to examine the dubbing process in terms of deletion, addition, amplification, and reduction. Although the dialogue and visual images in the English version are generally faithful to the original Japanese version, sound elements have shown a notable tendency to undergo changes, including omissions, as a strategy of dubbing a film from a high-context culture to a low-context culture. These findings indicate the importance of studying audiovisual translation not only from the verbal and visual perspectives but also from the acoustic perspective.

Keywords: dubbing, sound, audiovisual translation, Japanese film, Love and Honor

©inTRAlinea & Reito Adachi (2020).
"Dubbing of Sound in the Samurai Movie Love and Honor A Comparison of Japanese and English Language Versions", inTRAlinea Vol. 22.

This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/index.php/archive/article/2522

1. Introduction

The present paper intends to contribute to the advancement of audiovisual translation (AVT) studies by casting a new light on the aural aspects of dubbing between what Edward T. Hall (1976) calls high-context and low-context cultures. He states that “a high-context (HC) communication is one in which most of the information is already in the person, while very little is in the coded, explicitly transmitted part of the message. A low-context (LC) communication is just the opposite; i.e., the mass of the information is vested in the explicit code” (p. 91). Countries like Japan, Italy, France, Spain, Saudi Arabia and Egypt have high-context culture while countries where low-context culture is dominant include the United States of America, Germany, Switzerland, and Scandinavia.[1] This paper is designed to investigate how acoustic elements in the Japanese samurai movie Bushi no Ichibun (Love and Honor)[2] are adapted in the process of dubbing into English in the USA. The acoustic elements studied here include background music, sound effects, and paralanguages such as sighs, laughter and silence.[3] AVT deals with multimodal information, which is broadly classified into screen images and sounds. Audiovisual text can be further classified into four basic elements: visual verbal (e.g. subtitles), visual nonverbal (e.g. images), acoustic verbal (e.g. dialogue), and acoustic nonverbal (e.g. background music and sound effects) (Delabastita 1989; Zabalbeascoa 2008: 24). Dubbing is the act of maintaining a balance between adequacy and acceptability of what Oittinen (1993: 85) calls the “whole situation”.

Acoustic nonverbal elements are generally considered to play a peripheral or, at most, supporting role to the other three elements, which mainly convey and represent information and ideas to the audience. Background music and sound effects work most effectively when they act in harmony with visual and verbal information. However, acoustic nonverbal elements have distinctive characteristics that can create an atmosphere without relying on words or even visual images, appealing strongly to the emotions of the audience. Moreover, according to Hall (1976), while high-context cultures tend to concentrate more on nonverbal elements, the latter are less important in low-context cultures where most contextual elements require explanation. This can cause confusion or misunderstanding to people who are unfamiliar to the unspoken rules of a given culture. Thus, the effects of acoustic nonverbal elements on a context should not be overlooked in AVT studies.

2. Previous Studies

According to Chaume (1997), nonverbal elements were strongly disregarded in the field of Translation Studies, “as if translation of verbal utterances took into account every single paralinguistic, kinetic or semiotic sign which cohesively complements verbal signs” (315). However, the 21st century has seen a growing number of studies on acoustic nonverbal elements in AVT, such as voice quality, vocalization, and vocal qualifiers (e.g. Braun and Oba 2007; Palencia Villa 2002; Pennock-Speck and Del Saz-Rubio 2009). More recent studies include Sánchez-Mompeán (2020) which carried out a comprehensive examination of prosaic features of dubbed dialogue from the perspective of both theory and practice, as well as Bosseaux (2019) who pointed out the importance of appropriately choosing of voice actors in the French dubbing context. More obviously relevant to later discussion in the present paper are investigations that deal with background music, sound effects and paralanguages, such as silence. Building on the studies by, for example, Susam-Sarajeva (2008), Bosseaux (2008) and Minors (2013), De los Reyes Lozano (2017) focused on how translation plays a variety of roles within a musical context and analyzed translation strategies and techniques adopted in the process of dubbing animated films. Other insightful views include Dastjerdi and Jazini (2011) and Ranzato (2011; 2013) who examined how acoustic elements, such as off-camera sound effects and live laughter, are eliminated or manipulated in subtitles and dubbing.

In Japanese movies, including samurai dramas, communication via indirect or implicit messages has provided topics in film studies and other fields, such as cultural studies (e.g. Došen 2017). According to some research, a good example of Japanese communication style is the use of silence (Nakane 2007) and real-life Japanese speakers insert pauses and silences into dialogue more frequently than American speakers (Yamada 1997: 77). Pauses and silences could, therefore, provide an interesting standpoint to discuss the use of acoustic nonverbal elements in Japanese films. Jin (2004) argues that silence and sound, for example, in Akira Kurosawa’s Japanese movie Kumonosujo [Spider Web Castle] (the English title is Throne of Blood), which is an adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth, are as eloquent as Shakespeare’s introspective speeches that convey dramatic power. These nonverbal elements communicate effectively “through the manipulation of silence and the interaction between silence, natural sound, and noh music” (2).

Furthermore, after comparing between the original Japanese versions and English-dubbed versions of Japanese animated movies imported by the USA in the late 20th century, Adachi (2013) concludes that “in the pre-2000 English-translated versions, examples of high-context communication, such as fragmented dialogue and pauses and silences, are one of the obvious targets for serious modification” (171-2). In spite of temporal and contextual limitations, the pre-2000 translations are based on word-specific communication, which is why great importance is placed on making the textual message as explicit as possible so that it can remove verbal ambiguity and enhance its autonomy.[4] Moreover, by examining the treatment of silence in the translation of Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away released in the USA in 2003, Adachi (2016) clarifies that the US English version of the animated fantasy movie removes multiple instances of silence not by interpolating words but by “inserting fillers and by adding or amplifying sound effects” (153).[5]

3. Materials and Methods

3.1 Characteristics of Love and Honor

The Japanese film Bushi no Ichibun, which literally means “the honor of the samurai warrior,” is based on Japanese novelist Shuhei Fujisawa’s short story “Momoku Ken: Kodama-gaeshi” [blind blade: echo return] published in 1981 in his collection of historical stories Kakushi Ken: Shofusho [hidden blade: autumn breeze]. The short story was made into a movie with the title Bushi no Ichibun in 2006 by the director Yoji Yamada. Bushi no Ichibun is the third film of Yamada’s samurai trilogy, following Tasogare Seibei (The Twilight Samurai, 2002) and Kakushi Ken: Oni no Tsume (The Hidden Blade, 2004). The hero of Bushi no Ichibun is a low-ranking, blind samurai named Shinnojo Mimura (henceforth, Shinnojo). He serves as a food taster for poison for a local lord of Unasaka-han (present-day Shonai region) fiefdom in the Tohoku district around the end of the Edo period (1603-1868 AD). The movie involves many things particular to Japan, including the natural environment of the northeast region, periodical sense of feudal Japan, and social status as a samurai. Bushi no Ichibun achieved both popular and critical acclaim in Japan. It was the sixth-biggest box-office hit among the Japanese movies released in Japan in 2006. More importantly, it was so highly acclaimed for its excellent aural elements that it was nominated for the Japan Academy Film Prizes for Outstanding Achievement in Sound Recording and Outstanding Achievement in Music on 16 February 2007.

 Director Yoji Yamada (2006) discusses sounds in the movie as follows:

The novel’s descriptions of how the scenery changes delicately every morning and evening in the four seasons are very beautiful. The fact is that I considered a lot about how to express rain, mist, and wind in the movie. I guess, in the old days, people led a quiet life in the Edo period and Shonai region. I imagine that because nothing made a large noise around them, people heard sounds like street vendors’ voices, bird’s notes, chirping of insects, and the murmuring of a stream very well. (Translation by the author)

It is evident that Yamada has carefully considered the sensitivity of sound aspects of this film such as meticulously recording and reproducing a variety of sounds of nature and daily life, as well as street noises. Examples include wind, rain, thunder, bird song, insect sounds, dog howls, noises in the kitchen, rustles of clothing, the opening and closing of the fusuma (sliding door), whooshing sound of swords and street vendors’ cries. Furthermore, Bushi no Ichibun is unique in its theme and background music played by traditional Japanese instruments such as a Japanese bamboo flute called shakuhachi, a Japanese lute called biwa, and a Japanese wind instrument called sho, accompanied by newly created or modified sounds of a modern synthesizer. It is interesting to add that the rare sound of hibashi or metal chopsticks for handing hot charcoals is also used as a musical instrument in this film (Myochin n.d.). Throughout the movie, these sound effects and music are used almost without a break, giving a vivid and convincing impression of scenery, sentiment, and characterization in the work.

In Bushi no Ichibun, acoustic elements are worthy of attention not only for the audience but also for the main character, Shinnojo. For the audience, the sound serves as a means to enhance the effect of the dramatic presentation. For Shinnojo, sound is a vital source of information about the surroundings in which the blind hero lives. He always keeps his ears open, which is emphasized in the original short story that ends with the sentence: “Samazama na oto o kikinagara Shinnojo wa cha o susutte iru” [Listening to various sounds, Shinnojo is sipping tea] (Fujisawa 2004: 382). Shinnojo’s trust in his finely honed sense of hearing is especially obvious in the duel scene, where it helps him to avenge his wife’s dishonor by defeating Toya Shimada, the chief duty officer and master swordsman. Simultaneously, however, he gets into predicaments when he cannot take advantage of this outstanding listening ability. In the duel scene mentioned above, the rumbling roar of fierce gusts that are blowing intermittently drowns out all other noises, including the subtle sounds of Shimada’s footsteps and breathing. The original short story does not mention any sound of the wind; it is unique to the movie. In addition to the wind, many other sound effects in the movie are not described in the original short story, including birds’ cries, temple bells, and thunderclaps. It can be assumed that the extensive use of sound effects relates to director Yamada’s remarks quoted above, providing strong evidence of the great importance he places on the acoustic aspects of the film.

3.2 Production of the US English Version

Love and Honor, the US English version of Bushi no Ichibun, was released in 2007. It was dubbed and distributed by Funimation Entertainment, which produces merchandise and releases entertainment properties in the USA and international markets. Funimation was founded as an entertainment company predominantly focused on licensing Japanese anime. It is known for producing re-dubbed versions of Japanese anime that were so heavily Americanized by other production companies that they garnered significant criticism from anime fans. In contrast to those first dubbed versions, Funimation attempted to translate anime fairly faithfully to the original Japanese versions (Adachi 2012: 194-5). These animated works include popular titles such as One Piece, Dragonball, Pokémon, Naruto and Yu-Gi-Oh! Funimation then expanded into distributing live-action movies from Asia. Love and Honor was one of the first live-action films that Funimation brought into the USA. According to the CEO of Funimation, Gen Fukunaga who is a Japanese-born American entrepreneur, there are three reasons why Funimation picked up Bushi no Ichibun: (1) it is artistically excellent; (2) it was expected to cultivate new audiences by winning over fans of samurai movies, including those of Akira Kurosawa, and (3) the first film of director Yamada’s samurai trilogy, The Twilight Samurai, was so critically acclaimed in the USA that it was nominated for an Oscar in the category of Best Foreign Language Film at the 76th Academy Awards (Interview 2008). Love and Honor was expected to have similar recognition.

3.3 Study Methods

To begin with, the author extracted the sound data from the Japanese film Bushi no Ichibun and the US English film Love and Honor in the AC-3 file format from the DVDs released in Japan and the USA, respectively. The sound pressure levels of each dataset were adjusted with the loudness-matching function of the audio editing software Adobe Audition® in order to standardize the audio levels between the two files. Next, silences in the Japanese and American versions were measured in terms of number, duration, and location and analyzed from a quantitative angle in the Results section. Silence is defined here as a period during which sounds are lower than –40 decibels relative to full scale (dBFS) for longer than 10 seconds.[6] Algorithms to measure audio program loudness and true-peak audio levels are based on ITU BS1770-2, an international loudness-measurement standard defined by the International Telecommunication Union. Then the two sound data were listened to and compared with the change in silence as a clue, and major adaptations of acoustic elements, such as sound effects, background music and paralanguage, were classified into reduction, deletion, amplification, and addition in Results. Finally, a descriptive analysis of concrete cases was conducted, considering how and why acoustic modifications were made in the process of dubbing of Love and Honor.

4. Results

4.1 Visual Nonverbal and Acoustic Verbal Elements

Before examining the adaptation of acoustic nonverbal elements, it is helpful to look at the state of visual nonverbal and acoustic verbal elements in the translation of Bushi no Ichibun. In visual images, there are no differences between the original Japanese version and the English version. Furthermore, the spoken dialogue is generally faithfully translated with few, if any, minor additions or deletions.[7] In fact, the translation of dialogue is so consistently faithful to the original version that even culture-specific words, which may seem too foreign for most American audiences to understand, are used as loanwords in the English-dubbed version, borrowed directly from Japanese without translation. Culture-specific Japanese words that appear in Love and Honor include Japanese honorific suffixes like -sama, -tono (-dono), -san, -han, and -sensei. In Japanese, the use of such honorifics functions effectively as an indicator of differences in the relationships between the speaker and the person being addressed or referred to. However, it is doubtful whether they make sense in this way to an audience who are unfamiliar with Japanese language and culture. In fact, in the subtitles, almost all such honorific suffixes (with the exception of one use of -sensei) are deleted or replaced with English equivalents and alternatives such as lord, counselor, and squire. Many other Japanese words are taken as loanwords from the original Japanese version, such as koku (a unit of volume of rice), dojo (a hall for the practice of martial arts), tsubugai (Japanese whelk), fugu (blow fish), katana (sword), and hakama (traditional Japanese trousers). As a result, some lines in Love and Honor contain multiple Japanese words that are probably unknown or unfamiliar to most of the American audience. The following are two random examples: answering a question about the food he is tasting, Shinnojo says succinctly, “Some red tsubugai sashimi” (01:12:14); and Shimada boasts that he practiced at a prestigious Japanese fencing school, saying, “I am Shimada Toya who trained at Naganuma Dojo in Koishikawa” (01:37:05).

4.2 Acoustic Nonverbal Elements

With those points in mind, we can now consider how acoustic nonverbal elements are dealt with in Love and Honor. As Adachi (2010) shows, there is a strong tendency to decrease the instances of silence in Japanese movies in the process of translation into English. However, Love and Honor is an interesting exception to this tendency: The English version has more instances of silence than the original Japanese version, which is summarized in Table 1 in the Appendix. There is an increase of 38% in the total instances of silence, from 13 in the Japanese version to 18 in the English-dubbed version.

Moreover, comparisons of acoustic elements between the Japanese and English versions reveal that, in contrast to the faithful translational attitude toward the spoken dialogue, the English version has various adaptations, including deletion, reduction, amplification and addition of sound. The main examples are listed in Table 2 in the Appendix. It is important to point out that regarding sound effects, deletion and reduction far exceeded addition and amplification both in number and time length. There is no doubt that the tendency toward subdued sound effects resulted in the overall increase in the instances of silence in the English version.

5. Discussion

5.1 Amplification and Reduction of Sound

Adrian Cook, a mixing editor for Love and Honor, has provided basic information for the present study.[8] According to him, sound adaptation is strictly limited not only due to temporal and contextual limitations of AVT but also out of the contractual obligations as well as respect for the director of the original version. He examined the audio archive for the dubbing and found that this holds true for Love and Honor. Cook states that no audio elements are added to or deleted from the original source sent directly from the studio. However, he admits the possibility that an unsatisfactory mixing environment at the time resulted in the production of an English-dubbed version in which the sound intensity of the background music and sound effects is weaker than in the Japanese version (Cook, personal communication, 30 August 2018; 8 September 2018). He also mentions that it is common practice in the process of sound mixing to change the sound pressure levels under the director’s preference in order to convey more emotion for American audiences, for example, by widening the dynamic range that can be defined as the ratio between the strongest and the weakest sound intensity (Cook, personal communication, 28 August 2018).

Regarding changes in sound pressure, the swells of the background music are noticeably used to highlight the emotions of the characters. This manipulation of background music in the movie helps to enhance expressive lyricism in key points that move the story towards the climax. Examples include the following scenes: Kayo transfers a liquid medicine from her mouth to that of unconscious Shinnojo (#19 in Table 2; the same applies hereafter); Kayo stares at Shinnojo without being able to tell him that his eyes are incurable (#20); he grows suspicious about Kayo’s infidelity (#16); he cares for his sword the night before the duel (#21); he wins the duel (#22); he burns the birdcage alone in the evening twilight (#23); and Kayo comes home at the end (#24).

As the mixing editor suggests, the pressure of the sound effects in the English version is generally kept far lower than in the Japanese version. This is evident in many parts of the film, including the last 20 minutes from the duel scene to the happy denouement where the young couple is reunited. These parts have minimum dialogue, causing the audience to pay attention to its visual and nonverbal aspects. In the supper scene, Kayo is so quiet that Shinnojo asks her jokingly if she has lost her tongue; she expresses her fear, sadness, and joy eloquently using gestures and facial expressions as well as sobbing a few lines. The background sound effects for the last 20 minutes are various, such as the cawing of crows and barking of dogs, but the most impressive is the gusts of wind that rage during the duel and shake Shinnojo’s house until he forgives and receives Kayo back. During the supper scene at home, the winds outside are clearly heard in the Japanese version. They produce the effect of an uneasy and threatening atmosphere in which Shinnojo and Kayo find themselves. However, that atmosphere is barely audible in the English version (#2–#6, #12–#15). The English version lowers the deafening sound of the winds in the duel scene, which becomes especially noticeable while Shinnojo and Shimada are speaking: a sudden hush falls over them as if the storm has calmed down for a while (e.g. 01:45:15–01:46:25 and 01:47:49–01:48:00). Obviously, these frequent fluctuations in sound pressure are made deliberately so that dialogues can sound clearer for the audiences. As a result, the silent aspect of the film becomes more obvious in the English version.

5.2 Deletion and Addition of Sound

As Table 2 shows, the English-dubbed version has a lot of acoustic deletions and a few sound additions. This is an important point that the mixing editor did not mention because there is a significant difference between reduction and deletion as well as amplification and addition. These differences are not just a matter of degree but also a matter of intrinsic quality. Reduction and amplification of aural elements are applied to the sounds that are deemed acceptable and desirable enough to be adjusted to the taste and expectations of American audiences. However, sound deletion is performed on the aural elements that are judged to be unacceptable or inappropriate for the English version and added sounds are quite new to the original version, reflecting deliberate consideration of the characteristics of the target language and culture. The question of why some of the sound effects, background music, paralanguage, and even dialogue are deleted or sometimes, very rarely though, added in the process of dubbing Love and Honor will be discussed from the three viewpoints: (1) heterogeneous sounds, (2) lip-synchronization, (3) consistency between image and sound.

5.2.1 Heterogeneous Sounds

In the scene where the feudal lord receives Shinnojo in the audience, the English version erases the cries of a bird of prey called tobi, a black kite. The shrieks ring out unexpectedly when the lord comes in and immediately leaves, saying a curt “good work” to Shinnojo who sacrificed his sight to save his life (#8). The same sound of a black kite is also deleted in several scenes, including the duel scene (#13, #14). The screams of black kites were removed in the English-dubbed version simply because these birds do not inhabit North America and their unique cry could be unfamiliar and confusing to American audiences. In addition, Japanese temple bell tones are also deleted from a couple of scenes in the English version (#10, #11). In the Japanese version, the sound floats from the distance when Kayo confesses in tears to her old servant Tokuhei that she has provided sexual favors for Shimada in exchange of continuing Shinnojo’s samurai stipend. The sacred bell sound strongly implies Kayo’s profound penitence and repentance for her indiscretion. In the English version, however, the toll of the temple bells is erased while other sound effects, including the chirping of insects and the cawing of crows, are left unchanged. It is clear that the peal of the temple bells was intentionally eliminated to avoid the risk of misinforming American audiences, who might be unfamiliar with the low, lingering sound coming from nowhere. A negative effect of acoustic elements is that sounds familiar to the audience in one country can be unfamiliar to the audience in a different country. In this case, the acoustic elements used in a movie are likely to be an obstacle to intercultural communication, which prevents the audience from enjoying or even fully understanding the translated version.         

5.2.2 Synchronization

Synchronization, including lip-synchrony, kinetic synchrony, and isochrony, is an important characteristic of AVT, especially in the context of dubbing (Chaume 2004). Conversely, paralanguages, such as sounds of laughter and moans, tend not to be included in the English version when not accompanied by obvious lip movements (#25, #26, #28, #30). Following the same logic, a conversation made by off-screen characters is cut out (#27). In contrast, the English version sometimes dubs even the subtle background utterance by characters in the distance as long as their lip movements are apparent to the audiences (#31–#37). In the temple scene (#32), for example, Tokuhei at the front is watching Kayo and the monk from behind a tree. They are out of hearing distance and it is almost impossible to catch their words in the Japanese version. However, their conversation is clearly audible in the English version. Then the sound pressure of their chatting drops suddenly when Tokuhei starts grumbling. These audio manipulations may be considered unnatural but they conform to the governing principle of sound mixing that gives high priority to synchronization.

Another interesting example of synchronization effects can be seen in the scene where Shinnojo is informed about Kayo’s sexual relations with Shimada. He is too shocked to speak initially, remaining silent so that Kayo does not notice that he already knows about what she did. In the Japanese version, while Kayo is away in the kitchen, Shinnojo moves his lips with a distressed look, trying in vain to say something to his wife. He never pronounces the words, but his lip movement in close-up is so distinct that what he is trying to say is understandable to Japanese speakers: the phrase “aho ga” [how foolish] (#36), which he uses frequently. By contrast, these unuttered words are vocalized into his agonized sigh in the English version. Note that the word aho could have been translated directly into foolish or stupid in the same way that the word is dubbed literally in other parts of the film. It would have also been possible to keep the monologue unspoken, as in the original version. However, the English version chooses to replace the silent lip movement with the paralanguage, so that the adaptation makes it possible not only to express Shinnojo’s emotional dilemma audibly but also to comply with the general principles of lip-synchronization.

5.2.3 Message Coherence Between Image and Sound

For reasons other than synchronization, the English version tends to seek consistency in message delivery between image and sound by manipulating acoustic elements. In order to avoid causing disharmony in message with the onscreen image, sound effects and background music are occasionally edited out. The development of computer technology makes it easier to select and edit only particular parts of sound effects or background music. The sound of thunder, for example, is cut off from the scene in which poison tasters, including Shinnojo, are performing their duty (#7). During this scene, the rumbling of thunder is heard frequently, which functions as an omen of the tragedy that is about to strike Shinnojo. Visually, however, this scene involves a relaxed atmosphere with comical characters. While the poison tasters on duty are chatting about the food in a relaxed manner, their elderly superior starts snoring in front of them; he then tries to stand up, slips and nearly falls down on the tatami mat. These farcical acts do not fit with the use of thunder as a sinister symbol. The discrepancy between the visual and audio messages may enrich the multilayered structure of the original film, stimulating the audiences’ interest in the contrast displayed. Simultaneously, however, the dissonance of the contradicting visual and audio messages can make the action of the film vague and ambiguous. It may safely be assumed that the US English version eliminates the audio message that is not in harmony with its visual counterpart and prioritizes the distinct delivery of the visual message.

The same is true for another part of the film: the chirping of a pair of little birds, which Shinnojo and Kayo keep in a cage at home, is erased from the approximately 15-second shot of Shinnojo sitting alone on the veranda of his house (#9). The birds cannot be seen, but their twitter is heard clearly and constantly in the Japanese version. There is no doubt that these birds’ songs in the English version have been deliberately removed because the other sounds in the background, including smaller ones, such as an attendant’s footsteps and drawing of water, can be heard as well as in the Japanese version. In this scene, Shinnojo has a flower in his hand, around which a white butterfly is floating, but he does not notice it. Likewise, he is still unaware of Kayo’s infidelity. The butterfly here serves as a symbol of fragility and fleetingness of Shinnojo’s life. Just like the lull before the storm, this 15-second shot is one of the most static and quiet periods of time in the film. Perhaps one of the reasons why the birds’ songs from off-screen are deleted is simply that the sharp and high-pitched twitter of the birds can seem incompatible with the image of the silent butterfly. By cutting off the birds’ twitter that can distract the audience from the tableau-like shot, the English version emphasizes the quietness and tranquility of the butterfly scene more than the Japanese version.[9]

When a written media is translated from a high-context culture to a low-context culture, it is possible to add more words in order to convey an explicit verbal message in a plain and easily understandable manner, incorporating explanations and comments as necessary into the original text. In AVT, however, dubbing is subject to severe constraints of time and synchronism with visual signs such as lip movement, gestures and camera blocking. Moreover, as Japanese animated works started to gain recognition in America as their fansubs and fandubs (subtitles and dubs created by fans) were circulating among eager anime fans, if not the general public, during the 1990s (Díaz Cintas and Muñoz Sánchez 2006), the tendency toward a faithful translation strengthened and became practically predominant in the 2000s (Adachi 2012: 194-231). This tendency is observable in the translation of verbal and visual elements in Love and Honor. However, as far as acoustic elements are concerned, its dubbing strategy’s noticeable characteristic is that a lot of acoustic non-verbal elements have been deleted because not only dialogue but also sounds can be a major cause of frustration and confusion in intercultural communication.[10] In spite of the loss of information, the removal of sound is the simplest way to make a translated film accessible to a target-culture audience, avoiding the potential dissonance and irrelevancy of audio messages to visual and verbal messages to the audience.

6. Conclusion

On the basis of these findings, it is suggested that, of the three codes of audiovisual texts that fall within the scope of this article, the acoustic verbal and visual nonverbal codes proved faithful to the original Japanese version of Love and Honor. In contrast, the observations of specific cases showed that the acoustic nonverbal code such as background music, and sound effects, as well as paralanguages as a form of acoustic nonverbal code, had a marked tendency to undergo adaptation, most interestingly, by the means of omission in the US English version of the samurai movie. It demonstrated high value and positive attitude toward words and images at the cost of simplifying the rich layers of meaning and implication provided by nonverbal sounds even though the original version of the film was highly acclaimed among Japanese critics for its sound elements. The mixing editor of Love and Honor may have been correct when he said that new sound was not added to nor substituted from the original source that was sent directly from the studio. However, as this study revealed, the method of auditory deletion was used as a strategy for dubbing a film in a high-context culture to suit the needs and preferences of audiences in a low-context culture. Therefore, it seems reasonable to suppose that acoustic elements are not just a major component of a film, but are an equally rich and diverse object of AVT study.

There are some limitations in this present study. First of all, this research is intended to be exploratory with a case study of the English translation of a Japanese film. Future studies can explore some of the issues identified in this paper using a larger and more representative sample of Japanese films that were translated into English. Second, in order to do so, it is necessary to establish methods that enable us to accumulate acoustic data more efficiently and analyze them from more diverse angles. The present study deals with an aspect of the acoustic elements focusing on silence so it may be too early to generalize from these results. Lastly, a more empirical approach to clarifying the process of decision-making in sound operation should be pursued. The mixing editor for Love and Honor provided useful firsthand information, but professional dubbing projects follow a complex and multifaceted process.[11] To investigate the process as a whole is beyond the scope of this brief paper and remains as a matter to be discussed further. Therefore, the findings of this present study need to be carefully interpreted with these limitations in mind.

Despite its preliminary character, however, this research contributes to a growing literature that suggests the importance of examining sound elements to obtain a better understanding of AVT between high-context culture and low-context culture. A further direction of this study will be to provide more evidence for these results.


This work was supported by JSPS KAKENHI Grant Number 15K02374.


Table 1


US English

Starting time


Starting time


























































































Table 1. The instances of silence in the Japanese and US English versions of Love and Honor.

Table 2

Audio elements




Starting time

Ending time

sound effects








Sound of the chief poison tester opening the front of his kimono.


Chirping of birds


Household sounds

Barking of a dog























Thunder during Shinnojo’s tasting for poison

Sounds of a black kite

Chirping of birds while the butterfly flits around Shinnojo

Temple bell during Kayo’s visit to the temple

Temple bell during Kayo’s confession

Cawing of crows

Sound of a black kite

Sound of a black kite

Cawing of crows





















Chirping of insects while Shinnojo’s doubt about Kayo’s fidelity is growing.



background music




Sound of the Japanese drum

Sound of the Japanese drum












Main theme (Kayo nursing Shinnojo.)

Main theme (Chat about fireflies between Shinnojo & Kayo)

Main theme (Night before the duel)

Main theme (Shinnojo’s victory)

Main theme (Shinnojo alone in the evening twilight)

Main theme (Kayo’s homecoming)













dialogue, paralanguage









The chief poison tester’s sigh before committing hara-kiri (suicide)

Shinnojo and Kayo’s sighs

Kayo’s off-screen voice and laughter

Children’s laughter in the background

Reverberation of Shinnojo’s roar in the duel

Shinnojo’s sigh




















Off-screen dialogue between Kayo and Tokuhei

Distant dialogue between Kayo and the monk

Shinnojo’s moan in the duel

Shimada’s groan after the duel













The vassal’s whisper to the lord in the distance

Shinnojo’s silent lip movement

Shinnojo’s moan in the duel







Table 2. Major adaptations of audio elements in the dubbing of Love and Honor


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[1] However, overgeneralization and stereotyping should be avoided. According to Krizan et al. (2007: 36), for example, although American culture is considered a low- context culture, communications among family members tend to be high-context.

[2] The official English titles of Japanese movies are shown in italics in the text or in parentheses, and word-for-word translations of original Japanese into English are provided within parentheses.

[3] Paralanguage, including silence, is considered here as the non-speech sound to modify, limit or enhance the meaning of speech.

[4] Adachi (2013: 170) points out that the pre-2000 translations often displayed a tendency to swing between excessive interpolation (e.g. large and extreme modifications to fill in pauses and silences in The Castle of Cagliostro) and excessive deletion (e.g. more than twenty-one minutes of footage cut from the original Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind in its first US English version Warriors of the Wind).

[5] In contrast, according to Adachi (2013, p. 83), the translation of American movies into Japanese is relatively faithful to the original text as a whole.

[6] In Adobe Audition®, the maximum possible amplitude is 0 dBFS; all lower amplitudes are expressed as negative numbers. A sound intensity level of 0 dB is the maximum amplitude possible; –20 dBFS is the reference level to which broadcast engineers in North America usually adjust their audio equipment (a status known as “broadcast safe”). The loudness level of spoken dialogue in a movie is required to be a minimum of –31 dBFS, according to the dialnorm parameter, an indication of the average volume of normal speech within an audio program (Williams et al. 2007: 1324). The term “dialnorm” is an abbreviation of dialogue normalization. It is a parameter within the Dolby Digital (AC-3) system that identifies the area of normal speech in an audio program.

[7] Although visual verbal elements, such as subtitles, do not come within the scope of this paper, it may be worth pointing out in passing that the subtitles were generally faithful to the source Japanese lines. One notable exception, however, is the title of the movie: Love and Honor. The original Japanese title, Bushi no Ichibun, literally means the honor of the samurai. In comparison with the Japanese title, the English version adds and emphasizes matrimonial love.

[8] Adrian Cook, who is known for his work on many Japanese anime and live-action films, worked with all the sound elements of Love and Honor, especially the final theatrical sound mix for the US English version.

[9] It is interesting to point out that Funimation produced a fairly free translation on rare occasions where it emphasized fidelity to the source Japanese culture. In the Japanese anime Dragonball, for example, the hero, Son Goku, practices the martial art of kung fu in the original version, but it is replaced with karate in the American version simply because Goku is Japanese (Okuhara 2009: 204). In this respect, it is difficult to escape the criticism that cultural stereotypes have been reinforced in the process of translating Dragonball. In a similar vein, there is a possibility that the sound manipulation of Love and Honor could align with the stereotypical image of silent Japanese.

[10] This view is supported by the difference in the treatment of sound effects that can be found in website design for the global marketplace. For example, based on the analysis of the fast-food company McDonald’s websites in countries belonging to high-context and low-context cultures such as Japan and the US, some researches show that the company’s websites in high-context culture have more sound, including the “I’m lovin’ it” jingle and background beat, than those in low-context cultures (Würtz 2006). Compared with the website design in a high-context culture, the website design in low-context culture tends to prefer using verbal elements, both in speech and writing, to relying on aural elements.

[11] The needs, demands and expectations associated with each step are fulfilled by individuals with various skills, including translators, adapters (dialogue writers), synchronizers, dubbing directors, producers, voice actors, dubbing companies (automatic dialogue replacement productions), distributors, and the producers of the original version (Chaume 2004; 2012: 29–39; Martinez 2004).


About the author(s)

Reito Adachi is President and Professor of English language and literature at Kurashiki City College, Japan. He holds M.A. from Hollins University in the USA and received his PhD degree from Okayama University in Japan. His current research interests include audio-visual translation studies and translation of children’s literature.

Email: [please login or register to view author's email address]

©inTRAlinea & Reito Adachi (2020).
"Dubbing of Sound in the Samurai Movie Love and Honor A Comparison of Japanese and English Language Versions", inTRAlinea Vol. 22.

This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/index.php/archive/article/2522

La evolución de las tecnologías en la confluencia de la interacción y el cine

El doblaje en una aventura gráfica

By Laura Mejías-Climent (Universitat Jaume I, Spain)

Abstract & Keywords


Nowadays, the development of new technologies and the different multimedia products that they have brought about evidence the intersection between the field of Audiovisual Translation (AVT) and the professional practice of localization, although the boundaries between them are still vague. The aim of this article is not to close this ongoing debate, but rather to shed some light on the convergences and differences between AVT and localization by analyzing a product situated in between cinematographic conventions and those of video games: a graphic adventure. More specifically, this study focuses on dubbing and its synchronies to compare and contrast their characteristics in the graphic adventure Detroit: Become Human, the dubbing of non-interactive movies and that of some action-adventure video games analyzed in previous studies. The results will show that some game situations bear stronger similarities with cinematographic dubbing, while those game situations implying a greater level of interaction reflect broader differences.


Actualmente, el desarrollo de las nuevas tecnologías y la variedad de productos multimedia que con ellas han traído han hecho evidente la intersección entre el ámbito de la Traducción Audiovisual (TAV) y la práctica de la localización, aunque los límites entre ambas áreas aún permanecen difusos. No será objetivo de este artículo ofrecer una respuesta tajante a este debate, sino, más bien, arrojar algo de luz sobre las convergencias y diferencias que pueden darse entre TAV y localización, tomando como objeto de estudio un producto multimodal a caballo entre el ámbito cinematográfico y los videojuegos: una aventura gráfica. En concreto, nos centraremos en la modalidad del doblaje y sus sincronías para valorar hasta qué punto confluyen y se diferencian sus características en la aventura gráfica Detroit: Become Human, en películas no interactivas y en algunos videojuegos de acción-aventura analizados en estudios previos. Los resultados reflejan que algunas situaciones de juego muestran grandes similitudes con el doblaje cinematográfico, mientras que aquellas situaciones con un mayor nivel de interacción amplían las diferencias.

Keywords: traducción audiovisual, localización, videojuegos, doblaje, aventura gráfica, audiovisual translation, localization, video games, dubbing, graphic adventure

©inTRAlinea & Laura Mejías-Climent (2020).
"La evolución de las tecnologías en la confluencia de la interacción y el cine El doblaje en una aventura gráfica", inTRAlinea Vol. 22.

This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/index.php/archive/article/2509

1. Traducción Audiovisual y localización en el actual entorno tecnológico

Actualmente parece darse un consenso sobre el término localización, entendida como la adaptación de un producto a un determinado mercado local (Bernal Merino 2015: 35). Siempre desde la perspectiva de la Traducción Audiovisual (TAV), este será el ámbito en el que se centrará la atención en estas páginas: el concepto de localización surgió bien como referencia a una idea más amplia de TAV (Bernal Merino 2015) o bien, como referencia a un ámbito profesional diferenciado en el que se adaptan software, sitios web y videojuegos a una cultura distinta de la original (Cadieux y Esselink 2004).

Desde sus comienzos hasta el presente, la TAV ha contribuido a la creación de un panorama cambiante donde la equivalencia puede adoptar un nuevo sentido en referencia a la creación de un producto que está relacionado de alguna manera con el original, pero no necesariamente en términos de equivalencia formal o dinámica (Chaume 2018). Así, los límites entre TAV y localización no son claros, si es que alguna vez lo fueron, y el uso de distintas modalidades de TAV puede apreciarse en cualquier producto multimedia moderno. Por lo tanto, la inclusión de la localización dentro de la TAV o viceversa, o la concepción de ambos conceptos como campos totalmente diferenciados es una cuestión que permanece abierta (O’Hagan y Mangiron 2013).

Tampoco aquí se pretende dar una respuesta contundente a este debate, sino, más bien, se busca arrojar cierta luz sobre las convergencias entre la TAV y la localización desde la perspectiva concreta del doblaje en un producto multimedia que, a su vez, es de difícil clasificación: una aventura gráfica como Detroit: Become Human. En las siguientes páginas se expondrán el análisis y los resultados de un estudio de caso, en comparación con los resultados de la investigación previa de Mejías-Climent (2019), con la intención de trazar similitudes y también algunas diferencias entre las versiones dobladas de videojuegos y películas, es decir, entre productos audiovisuales interactivos y aquellos que no lo son.

Desde sus orígenes, la Traducción Audiovisual ha evolucionado a la par de las nuevas tecnologías y continúa haciéndolo. Se trata de una actividad que se ocupa de productos multimedia en los que la transmisión del sentido tiene lugar a través de, al menos, dos canales: el acústico y el visual. A ellos, puede añadirse el canal táctil (principalmente en videojuegos), que vehicula códigos hápticos al darse interacción con el usuario (Mejías-Climent, 2017). Los distintos códigos semióticos (Bernal-Merino 2016) transmitidos a través de cada uno de estos canales se entrelazan y configuran el sentido del texto audiovisual en su conjunto (Chaume 2004). Es aquí donde la TAV encuentra su función, en la recreación de ese complejo mensaje en la versión meta de un determinado producto.

Tanto en el panorama actual de los Estudios de Traducción (ET) como en la práctica profesional, la TAV se identifica como un término de gran amplitud que abarca modalidades de traducción muy variadas. Estas dependen tanto de la naturaleza del texto de partida y del traducido (Hurtado Albir 2001/2011) como de los métodos técnicos empleados para el trasvase del mensaje lingüístico de un texto audiovisual original a uno meta (Chaume 2004: 31). Asimismo, buscan satisfacer plenamente las expectativas de consumo de los usuarios, aspecto básico también para la práctica localizadora (O’Hagan, 2018). Chaume (2012) recopila las principales modalidades de TAV recogidas en los dos grandes bloques de revoicing y captioning.

La variedad creciente de modalidades de TAV pretende ajustarse a las necesidades de consumo modernas. La oferta audiovisual se ha multiplicado en los últimos años con la expansión de cada vez más plataformas de vídeo bajo demanda. También se ha disparado el desarrollo de dispositivos que facilitan el consumo de productos audiovisuales. Las tecnologías han traído consigo nuevas modalidades de transferencia audiovisual o nuevas combinaciones de las ya existentes (Chaume 2018: 41).

Con el crecimiento exponencial en la producción audiovisual, el concepto de TAV se ha enfrentado al reto de tratar con muy variados tipos de productos y modos de transmisión, y también con formas de consumo tanto pasivas como activas, dada la aparición del componente interactivo. Todo ello ha dado lugar a la emergencia de otros términos que coexisten con el de TAV, en ocasiones refiriéndose al mismo concepto; en otras, evidenciando de manera más específica la actual y cambiante realidad tecnológica. En todos ellos, no obstante, traducción es la idea que subyace y que da cuenta del acceso, por parte de una audiencia meta, a cualquier producto audiovisual.

En el presente y cambiante panorama tecnológico, Chaume (2018) señala algunas de las características de la TAV que están ampliando los límites del concepto mismo de traducción: además de la transferencia inter e intralingüística, también se produce una transferencia intersemiótica en el caso, por ejemplo, de audioguías para museos o la audiodescripción. La transadaptación (Neves 2005; Gambier 2003) podría incluso abarcar todas las modalidades de TAV conocidas hasta la fecha (Chaume 2018) y, para Pruys (2009), consiste en dos variaciones del mismo tema. La transcreación implica una gran creatividad para inclinar la balanza hacia la audiencia meta (Muñoz Sánchez 2017) y puede entenderse como otra forma de adaptación semiótica. Las narrativas transmedia (Pujol 2015), rewritings (Chaume 2018) y las adaptaciones como los remakes son prácticas habituales actualmente. Por último, la localización, como señalábamos, ha traído consigo nuevas formas de entender la traducción en general y los límites de la TAV en particular. Veremos algunos de los puntos de encuentro entre TAV y localización centrándonos en una modalidad de TAV de gran arraigo en España: el doblaje.

2. Perspectivas de la localización

La TAV incluye una amplia lista de modalidades de traducción (Chaume 2004: 31; Hurtado Albir 2001/2011: 69-70), lo cual pone en cuestión el concepto tradicional de traducción en el sentido más estricto de ‘transferencia lingüística’. La creciente variedad de productos multimedia requiere de prácticas de traducción adaptadas a sus particularidades, que han de acomodarse a los continuos cambios de la configuración tecnológica de los productos y la forma en la que estos se consumen. De hecho, en el presente, el término localización puede abarcar tanto procesos ya consolidados como aquellas prácticas más innovadoras de TAV interlingüística, intralingüística e intersemiótica (Chaume 2018), refiriéndose la localización al proceso industrial completo de adaptación de un producto multimedia (como la localización de un software interactivo) y la traducción, a la transferencia del código lingüístico en un entorno audiovisual determinado, como una de las facetas de la localización (Yuste Frías 2014).

Originalmente, el término localización surgió a finales de los 70 y comenzó a expandirse durante los 80, cuando quienes desarrollaban software en Norteamérica detectaron la necesidad de adaptar sus productos para poder conquistar nuevos mercados (Jiménez-Crespo 2013; O’Hagan y Mangiron 2013: 87). Con el rápido desarrollo de la industria del videojuego, especialmente a partir de los 90, el término localización se estableció en el ámbito profesional y se entiende generalmente como un complejo proceso de adaptación, más allá de un mero trasvase lingüístico (Bernal Merino 2006). Dicho autor insiste en que este término, sin embargo, no hace referencia a nada novedoso que el concepto mismo de traducción no incluyera ya. Dado su arraigo en la industria, resulta necesario aceptarlo también en el ámbito de los ET, pero siempre seguido del adjetivo lingüística, para diferenciarlo del proceso industrial y de adaptación completo descrito por profesionales como Esselink (2000) o Maxwell-Chandler y Deming (2012).

El debate continúa en torno al nexo entre localización y TAV. Según Vázquez Rodríguez (2018: 9-23), algunos sectores profesionales defienden que la localización representa un ámbito diferenciado, pues conciben la traducción desde una perspectiva meramente lingüística y reduccionista (Cadieux y Esselink, 2004). También hay profesionales e investigadores que prefieren separar la idea de localización de cualquier otra modalidad de traducción, en este caso, dado el amplio abanico de procesos de adaptación que ella implica, las particularidades en la práctica profesional y el tipo de producto que se traduce (Pym 2014; Méndez González 2015; Jiménez-Crespo 2013; Mata Pastor 2005).

Por otra parte, la idea de localización no suma nada novedoso al concepto de traducción que defienden investigadores/as como Bernal Merino (2006, 2015) y O’Hagan y Mangiron (2013). La misma postura adopta Vázquez Rodríguez, reconociendo que el término localización se emplea ampliamente en las esferas profesionales y, como tal, puede adoptarse también en la investigación, como manera de identificar la práctica de la traducción que se ocupa específicamente de videojuegos, software y contenido web.

En definitiva, ¿la localización es otra modalidad más, dentro del ámbito de la TAV, o, por el contrario, es un área completamente diferenciada y con entidad propia? En ambos casos, se trata de la traducción de un producto multimedia con características compartidas, a excepción de la dimensión interactiva, presente en unos y no en otros. Bien es cierto que la localización de videojuegos puede asemejarse a la TAV en el sentido de abarcar a su vez otras modalidades, como el doblaje o la subtitulación, además de otras prácticas en el campo de los contenidos legales, técnicos o material externo al juego, y algunas modalidades de accesibilidad, además de la fuerte presencia de contenido paratextual que «rodea, envuelve, acompaña, prolonga, introduce y presenta al texto» (Yuste Frías 2015: 67).

Sin embargo y como se ha expuesto, la TAV es un ámbito de gran alcance en donde cualquier texto multimedia puede encontrar su modalidad de traducción. Al fin y al cabo, ambas prácticas se centran en la adaptación de productos multimodales, incluso de aquellos que sumen un canal interactivo. Parece por tanto que todo dependa de la perspectiva desde la que se consideren ambos procesos.

Como práctica profesional, la localización de videojuegos puede entenderse como el hiperónimo bajo el que reunir diferentes modalidades de traducción. La localización busca reconocimiento y entidad propios en la industria, en estrecha relación con el concepto de transcreación (O’Hagan y Mangiron 2013), aunque, por el momento, no parece contarse con una definición establecida basada en estudios empíricos que valide este término (Bernal Merino 2015).

En el ámbito académico, la TAV se entiende como el proceso de adaptación de cualquier producto multimedia y multimodal, entre los que se incluyen los videojuegos. Según señalan O’Hagan y Mangiron (2013: 106), el surgimiento de nuevos productos multimedia resultantes de la convergencia entre distintas tecnologías da lugar a que los dominios de la localización y la TAV, que previamente se mantenían separados, se unan ahora para ocuparse de los nuevos productos que necesitan de una preparación para el mundo globalizado. Que la TAV se incluya en la localización o viceversa es una cuestión no resuelta, aunque en el presente es evidente que la TAV se está afianzando dentro de los ET.

Dada la dificultad de situar un ámbito o práctica dentro del otro, en estas páginas seguimos el enfoque de Vázquez Rodríguez, quien propone adaptar las prácticas investigadoras de la TAV para incluir la dimensión interactiva y la jugabilidad en un estudio empírico, con la intención de determinar la repercusión que ambas cuestiones pueden tener en los procesos de traducción de productos audiovisuales interactivos. Por lo tanto, no parece necesario establecer un paradigma completamente diferenciado para la localización. Al menos, en lo que a investigación se refiere (O’Hagan, 2018).

Únicamente, al emprender el análisis de un videojuego, ha de tenerse en cuenta el canal semiótico y pragmático (Bernal-Merino 2016) adicional de la interacción en la configuración del producto estudiado (Mejías-Climent 2017). Así, mediante análisis descriptivos, se podrán detectar algunas diferencias en la traducción de películas y videojuegos. Según se mostrará a continuación, existen divergencias evidentes en el conjunto del producto. Pero, en ciertas áreas, las similitudes son más marcadas que las diferencias, en especial, en el caso de los videojuegos del género de la aventura gráfica, como Detroit: Become Human, pues, en gran parte, se percibe como una película que añade opciones interactivas.

3. TAV y localización: el doblaje

3.1. Doblaje en medios interactivos y no interactivos

«El doblaje consiste en la traducción y ajuste de un guion de un texto audiovisual y la posterior interpretación de esta traducción por parte de los actores, bajo la dirección del director de doblaje y los consejos del asesor lingüístico, cuando esta figura existe» (Chaume 2004: 32). Esta modalidad de traducción se practica en la localización de videojuegos triple A, es decir, aquellos con un elevado presupuesto cuya desarrolladora puede permitirse una localización plena, de todos los componentes del videojuego.

Aunque la definición es compartida, sí existen ciertas diferencias en el doblaje de un videojuego frente al de una película tradicional. En particular, pueden mencionarse los siguientes aspectos (Mejías-Climent 2019): No existe un guion lineal único, sino texto repartido en cadenas (strings), generalmente en hojas de cálculo, que podrán agruparse según quién sea el personaje que las emite y otros criterios; por tanto, no existe división en takes, como sí es práctica habitual en países como España o Italia, para facilitar la tarea de los actores de doblaje en sala; no se emplean los tradicionales símbolos, aunque el director de doblaje sí puede introducirlos posteriormente en las cadenas de diálogo agrupadas para entrar en sala; no se emplean códigos de tiempo (TCR), pues no existe un desarrollo lineal de los hechos en un videojuego; por último, en la mayoría de los casos no se dispone de imágenes para doblar en sala. En ocasiones, se emplean las ondas de audio originales, a las que se procura adaptar las ondas ya dobladas lo máximo posible. En cualquier caso, quienes traducen nunca tendrán acceso a imágenes que apoyen los diálogos.

Aparte de estas diferencias, los resultados en el doblaje de un videojuego moderno y el de una película parecen ser bastante próximos, con algunas llamativas pero raras excepciones, como es el caso de los doblajes al español peninsular de Arizona Sunshine (Vertigo Games, Jaywalkers Interactive, 2016) o Age of Pirates (Akella, 2006).

El doblaje es una práctica históricamente extendida en países como España, en donde los productos doblados se adhieren a una serie de estándares de calidad para que los espectadores los consuman satisfactoriamente (Chaume 2007). Entre ellos, la sincronía es una de las características más prominentes.

3.2. Los tres ajustes del cine y las cinco restricciones de los videojuegos

Las sincronías en doblaje representan la coherencia entre lo que se oye (una banda sonora con diálogos doblados) y lo que se aprecia en pantalla. En la traducción han de respetarse los movimientos articulatorios de la boca (sincronía fonética/labial), del cuerpo (sincronía cinésica) y la misma duración de enunciados traducidos y originales (isocronía). Todo ello «constituye uno de los pilares básicos de un doblaje que pretenda ser verosímil y gustar al espectador» (Chaume 2005: 7).

En el caso del doblaje al español peninsular, ente otros aspectos (géneros y convenciones históricas), la implementación de las tres sincronías depende de la configuración audiovisual del producto. En especial, los códigos paralingüísticos, los de colocación del sonido (canal acústico) y los códigos fotográficos, kinésicos y de planificación (canal visual) determinan en gran medida el nivel de precisión con el que se haya de aplicar cada uno de los tres tipos de ajuste (Chaume 2004).

Esto sucede en productos audiovisuales lineales, en los que los canales acústico y visual están configurados de forma fija de antemano. En un videojuego, por el contrario, la interacción abre la configuración audiovisual a un mayor número de opciones y, por tanto, el ajuste no necesariamente funciona de la misma manera. Las sincronías desempeñan un importante papel también en el doblaje de videojuegos (Mejías-Climent 2019). Se trata del producto audiovisual y multimodal moderno más complejo (Maietti 2004). Pero, como productos audiovisuales, comparten notables similitudes con una película en muchos aspectos, en especial, en lo que a escenas cinemáticas se refiere.

Sin embargo, los materiales de los que se dispone durante el proceso de traducción no son los mismos: ni se cuenta con un guion lineal ni con los vídeos correspondientes. Por tanto, el proceso se da de manera diferente y las sincronías, más bien, han de entenderse como una serie de restricciones (Pujol 2015: 197) que se indican a los traductores mediante un número máximo de caracteres o palabras. También pueden marcarse según el tipo de cadena: los diálogos y el contenido sonoro serán más restrictivos (la traducción deberá asemejarse mucho más a la duración del original), mientras que los diálogos in-game tienden a ser más flexibles.

Muchos otros factores operan al determinar las restricciones en el doblaje de un videojuego: cada empresa de localización trabaja diferente, como se desprende del trabajo de Mejías-Climent (2019). Además, los distintos agentes que participan en la traducción para doblaje de un videojuego tienen diferentes responsabilidades al aplicar restricciones (es decir, sincronías) al texto traducido.

Es en el estudio cuando se pueden identificar hasta cinco tipos de sincronías aplicadas a las cadenas de texto traducidas para doblaje en un videojuego, a diferencia de las tres sincronías descritas para cine y televisión. Los actores y directores de doblaje aplicarían las tres sincronías tradicionales si dispusieran de los vídeos correspondientes a las locuciones. Sin embargo, este no suele ser el caso y solamente reciben, en la mayoría de los proyectos, las ondas de audio para los títulos triple A. Por tanto, tienden a imitar las ondas de audio originales lo máximo posible, a fin de asegurar un diálogo doblado bien ajustado. En este punto, hasta cinco niveles de restricción pueden aplicarse, dependiendo del tipo de cadena que se doble. Los técnicos de sonido buscan que las ondas de audio dobladas se asemejen lo máximo posible a las originales, de acuerdo con los cinco niveles de restricción que se corresponden con las cinco sincronías del doblaje de videojuegos (Mejías-Climent 2017: 105; O’Hagan y Mangiron 2013):

  • Libre (VO): sin restricción (voces en off).
  • Temporal (TC): las cadenas traducidas deben tener aproximadamente la misma longitud que las originales, con un 10%-20% de margen.
  • Temporal exacto (STC): las cadenas traducidas deben tener exactamente la misma longitud que las originales, sin respetar pausas o cualquier tipo de entonación.
  • Sonora (SS): las cadenas traducidas deben tener exactamente la misma longitud que las originales, reproduciendo también pausas y entonación.
  • Labial: las cadenas traducidas deben tener exactamente la misma longitud que las originales, reproduciendo también pausas, entonación y articulación labial.

Estas cinco sincronías pueden asociarse con distintas situaciones de juego (Mejías-Climent 2019: 90). Las situaciones de juego son momentos que se van alternando continuamente a lo largo de cualquier videojuego (Pujol 2015: 150). Son consecuencia directa de la inclusión de la dimensión interactiva e implican diferentes condiciones para la interacción, dependiendo no solamente del género, sino también de cada videojuego particular. Generalmente, en videojuegos de acción-aventura, las cinemáticas detienen la interacción completamente, puesto que se trata de videoclips cerrados que emplean la configuración cinematográfica; la acción de juego implica interacción plena, es decir, el momento plenamente dinámico durante el cual el jugador hace que el videojuego se desarrolle; los diálogos representan intercambios dialécticos con otros personajes y pueden considerarse una situación a caballo entre las cinemáticas y la acción: pueden detener la interacción parcialmente, de forma que la actividad del jugador se limite a unos pocos movimientos de cámara, por ejemplo; o no interferir en absoluto en la acción. Finalmente, las tareas son instrucciones para quien juega y pueden darse durante la interacción plena o, por el contrario, detenerla completamente, dependiendo de cada videojuego.

En Mejías-Climent (2019) se estableció una relación entre las situaciones de juego y las sincronías del doblaje empleando un corpus de tres videojuegos del subgénero de acción-aventura (pertenecientes al género interactivo de videojuegos de aventura). Según tal análisis empírico, en estos tres videojuegos, las tareas siempre se doblaron sin restricción (libre), puesto que se transmitían mediante voces en off; la acción de juego es una situación relativamente flexible, puesto que la interacción plena no siempre permite el máximo nivel de visibilidad de los personajes. Por tanto, se emplea frecuentemente el ajuste temporal, con algunos casos de ajuste libre, si hay voces en off; los diálogos son una situación híbrida en términos de interacción, puesto que varían notablemente de un videojuego a otro. El resultado es que las cinco sincronías pueden detectarse en los diálogos, aunque el ajuste temporal parece ser ligeramente más frecuente. Por último, las cinemáticas tienden a imitar las películas lo máximo posible. Esto es evidente también en el tipo de sincronía empleado con más frecuencia: el ajuste labial. También el libre se emplea siempre que haya voces en off.

4. El caso de una aventura gráfica

El videojuego Detroit: Become Human (Quantic Dream, 2018) salió a la venta en 2018 para PlayStation 4. Su director, David Cage, también es fundador del estudio en donde se desarrolló esta aventura gráfica, Quantic Dream, especializado en la narración interactiva. La obra de Cage genera cierta polémica entre los jugadores más puristas, dado el elevado nivel de narrativa que todos sus juegos contienen, en detrimento de una experiencia absolutamente interactiva. El contenido narrativo parece ser más importante que una mecánica de juego basada en reacciones rápidas por parte de un jugador (Altozano 2017). Con sus videojuegos, Cage insta al jugador a «jugar la historia», combinando continuamente cinemáticas con diálogos interactivos y quick time events (secuencias de acciones con opciones pero ineludibles). A pesar de las fuertes críticas de algunos sectores, Cage insiste en que lo que su obra persigue es una inmersión plena y realista, más que una mera exposición narrativa (Altozano 2017).

Los quick time events (QTE) son uno de los rasgos más identificativos en la obra de Cage. Un QTE representa una acción que se completa automáticamente tras pulsar un determinado botón en un periodo de tiempo limitado (Yova Turnes 2020). Suelen darse durante las cinemáticas. Si se pulsa correctamente el botón indicado, la escena continúa exitosamente (Altozano 2017: 131). Los QTE son una herramienta útil para hacer avanzar la historia combinando acción y cinemáticas. Por una parte, un QTE es como ver una película, con la salvedad de que al espectador se le pide pulsar determinados botones si quiere que la historia prosiga. Por otro lado, los sectores más puristas lo ven como una interrupción de la auténtica jugabilidad (Altozano 2017: 132). En cualquier caso, lo cierto es que los QTE son una herramienta recurrente que Cage emplea en sus juegos para permitir que la historia avance convirtiendo al jugador en protagonista de una forma impredecible pero limitada.

Este videojuego, como cualquier otro de Cage y Quantic Dream, busca hacer al jugador partícipe de la historia mediante una mecánica sencilla basada en movimientos simples, diálogos continuos, numerosas cinemáticas y QTE dialógicos (que a veces contienen diálogos que han de doblarse; los QTE basados en mera acción, sin texto, no se contabilizarán para el análisis). La historia gira en torno a una Detroit distópica, donde los androides comienzan a experimentar sentimientos, más allá de lo que se espera de una máquina, lo cual motiva que algunos divergentes se rebelen contra los humanos y luchen por sus derechos. El jugador controlará tres personajes alternativamente. La historia se divide en secuencias. Tras cada una, un diagrama de árbol mudo muestra las diferentes posibilidades que quien juega podría haber seguido con sus elecciones.

5. Metodología del estudio

En este estudio de caso, se ha analizado Detroit: Become Human (DBH), del género de aventura y subgénero de aventuras gráficas, con intención de determinar si la relación entre situaciones de juego y tipos de sincronía también se da en un género interactivo que parece guardar aún mayor relación con la configuración audiovisual de una película. Se discutirá en especial el doblaje de las escenas cinemáticas en términos de sincronías, para identificar si se da una clara diferenciación entre el doblaje de una película y el de las cinemáticas de un producto audiovisual que añade interacción.

Se llevó a cabo un estudio empírico y cuantitativo, siguiendo la metodología empleada en Mejías-Climent (2019, 2017), en el marco de los Estudios Descriptivos en Traducción. El fenómeno en cuestión en el que nos centramos son las sincronías del doblaje en cada situación de juego detectada durante el desarrollo del videojuego, primero, doblado al español peninsular. A continuación, se siguió la misma ruta en inglés, en busca de los tipos de ajuste aplicados en los segmentos originales y traducidos. Se jugó durante 10 horas en cada lengua. Se analizó así un total de 20 horas de juego. El análisis se basó en recoger, en una hoja de cálculo, cada situación de juego que se iba sucediendo en ambas versiones junto con su tipo de ajuste.

Además de las tareas, la acción de juego, los diálogos y las cinemáticas, hemos mencionado los QTE como particularidad en la obra de Cage. Aunque no representan una situación de juego diferenciada, en este caso están en estrecha relación con los diálogos, pues permiten que el jugador decida qué diálogo mantener. Por lo tanto, en este trabajo, los QTE se consideran diálogos como situación de juego: habitualmente introducen una pregunta o respuesta que el jugador ha de elegir con un plazo limitado de tiempo, como parte de un diálogo más extenso. Los QTE puros, basados solo en acción (sin diálogo), no se dan tan frecuentemente en DBH ni tampoco se considerarán una situación de juego que haya de analizarse, ya que no requieren ningún tipo de doblaje. Por ejemplo, durante una pelea, debe pulsarse X, △ o ○ para golpear al enemigo o para cubrirse, pero no se muestra ningún contenido lingüístico relacionado con el QTE. En tales casos, los QTE no se han contabilizado. A continuación, se ofrece una muestra del comienzo del análisis:

Tabla 1: Ficha comparativa de las 5 sincronías en DBH

6. Análisis en Detroit

6.1. Las situaciones de juego y su ajuste

Según se describía, el juego analizado se jugó durante 10 horas en cada lengua, hasta completar la trama, siguiendo elecciones idénticas siempre que fue posible. Se obtuvieron 696 registros en la ficha de análisis (Tabla 1), distribuidos en 35 secuencias (Tabla 2).

Tabla 2: Situaciones en 10 horas de juego de DBH

La situación que más se repite son las escenas cinemáticas, seguidas de los QTE dialógicos, la acción y, por último, las tareas. Estos datos ilustran la naturaleza del juego: una aventura gráfica se centra en el componente narrativo. La historia es el pilar del juego y todas aquellas situaciones que impliquen un mayor peso narrativo serán más frecuentes que la acción plena. Además, los datos contrastan con el número de situaciones de juego obtenido en los citados estudios previos (Mejías-Climent, 2019 y 2917), en los cuales, se analizaron juegos de acción-aventura y, en ellos, la acción de juego era la situación más repetitiva.

Con respecto a los tipos de ajuste detectados en cada situación de juego, se obtuvieron los siguientes datos:

  • Las tareas se transmiten exclusivamente mediante texto in-game. Por tanto, su traducción nunca requiere del doblaje, sino de texto escrito en pantalla, con una única excepción, durante una secuencia introductoria del menú principal, en la que una androide guía al jugador para configurar el juego. Es la única tarea que presenta un claro ajuste labial.
  • La mayor parte de la acción de juego se dobla empleando ajuste libre (24 casos en español e inglés). También son frecuentes el temporal exacto y el temporal (en la versión en español, 31 y 22 casos, respectivamente; 31 y 21 en inglés). El ajuste labial solamente se emplea en dos casos en español, pero en 6 ocasiones en inglés. Hay 80 momentos de acción de juego durante los cuales no se escuchan diálogos (por tanto, no se da ningún tipo de ajuste).
  • Con algunas excepciones, la mayoría de los QTE dialógicos se doblan empleando ajuste labial. Así, se asemejan considerablemente al doblaje empleado en las películas. Solamente se da un caso de ajuste temporal, cuatro de ajuste temporal exacto y dos de ajuste sonoro, tanto en español como en inglés. Hay cinco momentos en los que intervienen voces en off, dobladas con ajuste libre.
  • Las cinemáticas, al igual que los QTE dialógicos, se doblan empleando casi exclusivamente el ajuste labial (221 casos en español y 222 en inglés). Únicamente se han detectado un ejemplo de ajuste libre, de temporal y de temporal exacto, así como cinco de ajuste sonoro, todo ello en español; en inglés, también se han detectado un ejemplo de ajuste libre, de temporal y de temporal exacto, y cuatro casos de ajuste sonoro.

Estos resultados encajan con la naturaleza del subgénero interactivo de una aventura gráfica, al menos, en el caso de DBH: los diálogos mediante QTE y las escenas cinemáticas son la situación de juego más frecuente en un producto cuyo objetivo es recrear una atmósfera cinematográfica, sin suprimir el componente interactivo, es decir, sin dejar de recordar al jugador de que es suya la responsabilidad de tomar todas las decisiones que hacen que la historia avance. Además, el uso del ajuste labial como la sincronía más frecuente refleja la similitud en la configuración audiovisual entre una aventura gráfica y una película tradicional, en términos del doblaje y de su ajuste.

6.2. Las sincronías del cine en videojuegos

El mayor nivel de restricción, el ajuste labial, es el aplicado más frecuentemente en el doblaje de la aventura gráfica DBH. Este es también el tipo de ajuste más complejo de aplicar en una película, dado que la reproducción de los movimientos articulatorios en el texto traducido no siempre es completamente compatible con una traducción precisa y natural, y tiende a reservarse casi exclusivamente para los primeros y primerísimos planos, y los planos detalle (Chaume 2012).

En DBH, la forma de ajuste más restrictiva se aprecia en casi todas las cinemáticas y los QTE dialógicos. En ellos, una similitud evidente con el doblaje de cualquier película no interactiva es que para los labios de los personajes en DBH se han empleado técnicas de animación que reproducen la articulación labial de los actores en la versión original en inglés. En una película, participan actores de carne y hueso cuyas locuciones se sustituyen en el doblaje por las locuciones traducidas de los actores en la lengua meta. En videojuegos, se discute la validez del concepto de versión original (Méndez González 2015: 106), dado que todo videojuego necesita de actores reales que presten su voz a los personajes animados, por tanto, cualquiera de las versiones podría ser la original.

No obstante, en videojuegos modernos catalogados como triple A, el movimiento de los personajes e incluso la articulación labial se recrean mediante la técnica de animación conocida como motion capture o captura de movimiento (Turnes 2020), para la cual se emplean sensores sobre el cuerpo humano que captan el movimiento de la persona para recrearlo en un modelo digital de animación del personaje virtual (Kines 2000). De tal forma, los labios de los personajes en DBH reproducen con precisión los movimientos originales de las bocas de los actores en inglés. Por ello, las leves diferencias entre la articulación labial exacta de la versión original y la versión doblada en español aplicando un ajuste labial se pueden apreciar por igual en una película y en el doblaje de DBH.

Con respecto al nivel de precisión del ajuste labial, debe señalarse, como se ha explicado, que en la mayoría de los casos los actores no disponen de las imágenes que apoyen las locuciones que doblan. Ello podría redundar en un ajuste labial ligeramente menos preciso que el de una película no interactiva que, sin embargo, prácticamente no aprecia la mayoría de los usuarios. En el caso concreto de DBH, el ajuste labial resulta considerablemente preciso, a pesar de que se detectan algunos ejemplos en los que algunas vocales abiertas y consonantes labiales y labiodentales no coinciden con absoluta exactitud con el inglés.

En los siguientes ejemplos se aplica el ajuste labial. El símbolo (G), habitual en los guiones de doblaje al español, indica los elementos paralingüísticos (toses, carraspeos, onomatopeyas…). Las pausas se señalan con una barra / y, siempre que el jugador deba optar por una elección de diálogo en un determinado tiempo, se ha insertado la sigla [QTE].

Anderson: (G) ¡Sumo! ¡Ataca! / Buen perro. / ¡Ataca! // ¡Mierda! Creo que voy a vomitar… [QTE] [QTE] (G) ¡Déjame en paz, capullo! No voy a ninguna parte… [QTE] ¿Qué coño estás haciendo? […]

Connor: Es por su propio bien.

Anderson: (G) / (GG) ¡Ciérralo, ciérralo! (GG) (GG) / ¿Qué coño estás haciendo aquí?

Connor: Hace 43 minutos denunciaron un homicidio. Como no lo encontré en el bar de Jimmy, he venido a su casa.

Anderson: (G) Dios... seguro que soy el único poli del mundo al que le asalta en su propia casa su puto androide.

Anderson: (G) Sumo! Attack! / Good dog. / Attack! // Fuck! I think I'm gonna be sick... [QTE] [QTE] Ah, leave me alone, you asshole! I'm not going anywhere... [QTE] What the hell are
you doing? […]

Connor: It's for your own good.

Anderson: (G) (GG) Turn it off! Turn it off! (GG) (GG) / What the fuck are you doing here?

Connor: A homicide was reported 43 minutes ago. I couldn't find you at Jimmy's bar, so I came to see if you here at home.

Anderson: (G) Jesus, I must be the only cop in the world that gets assaulted in his own house by his own fuckin' android...

Ejemplo 1: Escena cinemática (registro n.º 298)

Connor: Lo entiendo… Tampoco creo que tuviera mucho interés… Han encontrado el cadáver de un hombre en un burdel del centro… Ya resolverán el caso sin nosotros…

Anderson: Oye, no me vendrá mal tomar un poco el aire. En el armario de la habitación hay ropa.

Connor: Iré a por ella.

Connor: I understand… It probably
wasn't interesting anyway… A man found dead in a sex club downtown… Guess they'll have to solve the case without us…

Anderson: You know, probably wouldn't do me any harm to get some air… There're some clothes in the bedroom there.

Connor: I'll go get them.

Ejemplo 2: QTE-Diálogo (registro n.º 302)

En estos ejemplos, todos los elementos que deben aplicarse en un ajuste labial se han respetado con precisión: la longitud de las oraciones originales y traducidas es exactamente la misma; la entonación, las pausas y los elementos paralingüísticos también se reproducen en ambas lenguas. Los símbolos reflejan que estos aspectos paralingüísticos son prácticamente idénticos en ambas versiones. Asimismo, las vocales abiertas y la mayoría de las consonantes labiales y labiodentales se replican en la medida de lo posible (señalado en negrita).

Este doblaje consigue asemejar en gran medida el máximo nivel de restricción en videojuegos al ajuste que se aplicaría en un producto audiovisual no interactivo, a pesar de que los traductores y, muy probablemente, los agentes en sala de doblaje no dispusieron de los vídeos para doblar. En la mayoría de videojuegos triple A localizados mediante el modelo outsourcing o externo (se encarga la localización a un proveedor de servicios de traducción especializado), los vídeos ni siquiera se han producido cuando se lleva a cabo el doblaje en sala, puesto que el mismo videojuego está aún en desarrollo, a la vez que se va localizando, para conseguir el lanzamiento simultáneo en varias lenguas o sim-ship (O’Hagan y Mangiron 2013). No obstante, las condiciones de localización de este videojuego no han podido corroborarse por ahora.

El uso del máximo nivel de restricción en el texto traducido para doblaje de un videojuego implica que todos los niveles previos también se han tenido en cuenta: la longitud de las oraciones (TC y STC) y la reproducción de la entonación y las pausas (SS). Así pues, la isocronía se aplica tal y como se haría en una película no interactiva, siendo este, aparentemente, el estándar de calidad más valorado entre la audiencia española (Chaume 2007).

También se han detectado algunos ejemplos de sincronía cinésica en el doblaje de DBH. Muy probablemente no se trata de una sincronía que se aplique intencionadamente, puesto que no se dispone de los vídeos. Pero algunas construcciones deícticas se omiten (véase el ejemplo 2) o se reproducen de forma literal, exactamente en el mismo lugar de la oración original, para conseguir una correspondencia con la imagen idéntica a la versión en inglés.

En el ejemplo 2, There're some clothes in the bedroom there se ha traducido como ‘En el armario de la habitación hay ropa’. El adverbio there se ha omitido, pero la referencia a «la habitación» ha de ser suficiente para hacer que cualquier posible indicación corporal del personaje resulte coherente con una referencia a ella, sea cual sea su ubicación en la casa (el personaje, de hecho, señala con el dedo hacia el lugar donde se encuentra su dormitorio).

7. Conclusiones

El objetivo principal de este artículo ha sido ofrecer una revisión de las similitudes y diferencias más señaladas entre el doblaje cinematográfico y el de un videojuego del subgénero de la aventura gráfica, dentro del género interactivo de los videojuegos de aventura. Los videojuegos representan el ejemplo actual más complejo de texto multimedia y, como tales, comparten muchas de las características de un producto audiovisual no interactivo. La particularidad de la dimensión interactiva añadida en los videojuegos los convierte en un caso específico que requiere de un complejo proceso de localización cuando estos productos se exportan a otra cultura, más allá de una mera traducción lingüística, en su sentido más estricto.

En la industria, los sectores profesionales defienden la idea de que la localización representa un ámbito independiente y diferenciado de la TAV, puesto que requiere de otros procesos de adaptación que incluyen un enfoque aún más creativo por parte de los traductores y la modificación de contenidos tanto lingüísticos como no lingüísticos del producto localizado. En el ámbito académico, no obstante, parece no haber indicios evidentes que justifiquen la necesidad de separar la localización de la TAV. Ambos campos se ocupan de la traducción de productos multimedia y abarcan una serie de modalidades de traducción tales como el doblaje o la subtitulación, entre muchos otros.

Aún se necesita más investigación sobre los aspectos comunes y diferentes del proceso de doblaje de una película y de un videojuego, y en el ámbito de la localización y de las distintas modalidades de TAV en general. Así, el objetivo de estas páginas es tan solo recoger algunas convergencias llamativas en el resultado del doblaje de una aventura gráfica y las películas tradicionales, no interactivas, en lo que a las sincronías se refiere.

En doblaje fílmico se emplean tradicionalmente tres tipos de ajuste (Chaume 2012, 2007, 2004). En el doblaje de videojuegos de acción-aventura, se ha identificado la necesidad de establecer una nueva taxonomía que dé cuenta de las distintas restricciones que se aplican en el texto traducido (Mejías-Climent, 2019, 2017). Sin embargo, en el caso específico de las escenas cinemáticas y los diálogos en forma de QTE de una aventura gráfica como Detroit: Become Human, se ha descrito cómo el tipo de ajuste más restrictivo en videojuegos, el ajuste labial, abarca también las tres sincronías del doblaje tradicional exitosamente. Debe matizarse, evidentemente, que un estudio de caso en absoluto es suficiente para identificar tendencias de traducción (Toury 1995), ni tampoco para cerrar el debate sobre el nexo entre TAV y localización. Aun así, este estudio pretende únicamente servir como punto de partida para futuros trabajos en los que se amplíe el corpus de análisis de videojuegos de aventura. También habrán de explorarse otros géneros interactivos de videojuegos para buscar tendencias en el uso de las sincronías del doblaje, así como para determinar las situaciones de juego más frecuentes en cada género.


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About the author(s)

Laura Mejías-Climent holds a PhD in Translation from the Universitat Jaume I (UJI) and a Bachelor’s degree in Translation and Interpreting from the Universidad Pablo de Olavide (UPO). She works as a lecturer and researcher at the UJI and she is a member of the research group TRAMA. She has worked as a lecturer at UPO, and ISTRAD, and teaches at Universidad Europea (Valencia). Furthermore, she has worked as a translation project manager and professional translator. She has also taught in the USA thanks to a Fulbright scholarship. She holds a Master’s Degree in AVT from the Universidad de Cádiz/ISTRAD and a Master’s Degree in Translation and New Technologies from the UIMP/ISTRAD. Moreover, she completed the Master’s Degree in Secondary Education and Languages at the Universidad de Sevilla. Her lines of research focus on Descriptive Translation Studies, specifically, on translation for dubbing and video game localization.

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©inTRAlinea & Laura Mejías-Climent (2020).
"La evolución de las tecnologías en la confluencia de la interacción y el cine El doblaje en una aventura gráfica", inTRAlinea Vol. 22.

This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/index.php/archive/article/2509

Shifts in Transadapting Western Socio-cultural References for Dubbing into Arabic. A Case Study of The Simpsons and Al-Shamshoon

By Rashid Yahiaoui & Ashraf Fattah (Hamad Bin Khalifa University, Qatar)


Each culture has its specificities that are governed by its socio-cultural norms. Cultures that share the same values and worldviews tend to facilitate the task of translators to transfer specific socio-cultural references to their own audience with minimal intervention. However, translators of distant cultures may find themselves at the mercy of many unsurmountable constraints and need to mitigate transmitting foreign content by resorting to either creative ways or even through blatant manipulation.

This paper investigates the transadaptation of Western socio-cultural references of an audiovisual corpus dubbed for Arab audiences. The study looks at how, and to what degree, the Arabic translator managed to render these elements, and what intrinsic or extrinsic factors were behind any shifts in the process.

The corpus examined was selected from The Simpsons: Seasons 1, 2 and 3; which was dubbed into Egyptian vernacular in 2005. The series addresses many sensitive issues with candour rarely seen in animated programmes. Because it is animated, it is generally assumed that The Simpsons targets children and teenagers; however, because of its satirical character and some of the themes that it tackles, it is looked at with suspicion and vigilance in the Arab World.

Drawing on notions such as culture, ideology, manipulation, while leaning on the Descriptive Translation Studies framework and using Discourse Analysis as a tool to unveil any shifts in translation, the results demonstrate clear manipulation of the source text by the translator which seems to be attributed to his own agenda or the influence of patronage.

Keywords: The Simpsons, dubbing, manipulation, ideology, culture, Discourse Analysis

©inTRAlinea & Rashid Yahiaoui & Ashraf Fattah (2020).
"Shifts in Transadapting Western Socio-cultural References for Dubbing into Arabic. A Case Study of The Simpsons and Al-Shamshoon", inTRAlinea Vol. 22.

This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/index.php/archive/article/2521

1. Introduction

Translation has a paramount effect on shaping cultural and national identities and enhancing or undermining entities (Bassnett, 1996; Fawcett, 1998; Lefèvere, 1992). Translation is far from being a mere transfer of ideas above suspicion; research shows how, in the process of translation, ideas, notions and, at times, complete ways of life can be censored and manipulated. The process even embeds codes to undermine the target culture or change perceptions. Bassnett (1996: 22) states that, ‘[o]nce considered a subservient, transparent filter through which a text could and should pass without adulteration, the translation can now be seen as a process in which intervention is crucial’.

The translator’s intervention, ideologically motivated or otherwise, can have far reaching implications on the target audience. Alvarez and Vidal argue that the translator’s choice to select, add or omit any words, or even place them in a given order in the text is an indication that ‘there is a voluntary act that reveals his history and the socio-political milieu that surrounds him; in other words, his own culture and ideology’ (1996: 5).

This intervention is arguably more prevalent in Audiovisual Translation (AVT) modality of dubbing, in which the source verbal-text is completely removed and replaced by that of the target language (Chaume, 2012), leaving the door wide open for manipulation.

2. Case study and research focus

One of the main reasons that researchers in Translation Studies are so intrigued by culture and its various sub-cultures, like popular culture, is its ability to reveal and foreground public consciousness as well as the role it plays in creating solidarity and cohesion between same-culture masses and a schism between various classes. It is exactly this important role culture plays in the manifestation of social consciousness that this study aims to investigate; how Western cultural elements in The Simpsons were reproduced or not in its Arabic counterpart Al Shamshoon. It is important to state that, despite the fact that a considerable number of Arabs are non-Muslims and represent a religious mosaic in the Middle East and North Africa, they still share homogenous socio-cultural values almost as if they were one ethnic and religious unit. It is on the basis of this understanding that we use ‘Arab’ and ‘Muslim’ in this study.

Twenty-six episodes of the famous American animated sitcom The Simpsons, which were dubbed into the Egyptian vernacular and broadcast on MBC channel in 2005, were selected as a case study. It is worth noting that only four seasons of the sitcom have ever been dubbed into Arabic. This selection stems from two main observations a) the rich content in the show and its representation of the Western culture and b) the mammoth challenges this content presents to the Arabic translator.

The episodes in question were transcribed, then the instances selected from the original and their dubbed counterparts were contrasted and analysed. A back-translation was provided for non-Arabic speakers.

3. Theoretical framework

This study draws on various notions such as of culture, ideology, and manipulation and leans in its analysis on the Descriptive Translation Studies (DTS) framework, as it is very helpful for the study of AVT, as argued by Díaz Cintas (2004), mainly because it includes no presumptions of premeditated manipulation. In fact, although it takes into account the source text, this paradigm shifts the main focus towards the function of translated text in the target socio-cultural context. This flexibility in the paradigm renders it helpful in the study of newer forms of translation.

The use of the DTS paradigm also resolves the issue of whether or not dubbing is considered a form of translation due to the intrinsic equivalence problems involved. Toury (1995) argues that equivalence is always assumed, and the only thing that needs to be done is to establish the form that this equivalence takes.

Lambert and Van Gorp (1985) bring to our attention the many relationships, other than the most obvious one between source text and target text, which deserve the attention of translation scholars, such as that between the target text and original texts in the target language. Despite the fact that the relationship between the target text and the reader is significant in the discussion of acceptability, the relationship between the source text and the target text remains the focal point of Toury’s (1995) model of analysis. This can be seen through the use of ‘coupled pairs’. These constitute ‘solution + problem’ units (Toury, 1995: 38), which are recognised and taken from the source text/target text pairs under study.

Although Toury (1995) regards translations as facts of the target culture, and all his analyses begin with the translation and not the source text, it is vital to contrast both the source and the target texts. This is because, the former contains the various elements under study, and the latter demonstrates how these elements were conveyed into Arabic, which is the prime objective of this research. Nonetheless, the emphasis is on the translated version and how it is manipulated and/or subverted in order to fit within the socio-cultural and religious norms of the target culture.

4. Culture and translation

Since the cultural turn, Translation Studies scholars have started to examine various thorny translation issues from their diverse cultural perspectives. Snell-Hornby (1988) advocates a culture-oriented translation theory and succinctly argues for translation as a cross-cultural communication process. Concepts like history, function, rewriting and manipulation were introduced in translation studies by Bassnett and Lefèvere (1990), who claim that the process of translation should function as per the cultural requirements of the target audience. In order to uncover and analyse limitations on the apparatus of translation and various norms that translators abide by, Lefèvere (1990) introduces the theory of patronage, poetics and ideology, which probes the process of translation by placing literary systems into social and cultural contexts.

Thanks to many scholars such as Bassnett, Calzada-Pérez, Lefèvere, Schäffner, Toury, Tymoczko and Venuti, the focal point shifted towards the role of agency or what has become known as the power turn, as suggested by Tymockzo and Gentzler (2002), where it is ideology in its various aspects that determines the outcome of translation. Ideology and translation are inextricably linked — a text to be translated is determined by agents’ interests and aims, and ideological markers are embedded within the text itself both at lexical and grammatical levels (e.g. selection of particular words and expressions, and the use of passive voice etc.).

Critical discourse analysis (CDA) can help in understanding these processes when it is used ‘to expose the ideological forces that underlie communicative exchanges (like translating)’ (Calzada-Pérez, 2003: 2). CDA theorists argue that language use as a whole is ideological; hence translation is a major site for ideological encounters. In support of this point, Schäffner (2003a: 23) suggests that ‘the choice of a source text and the use to which the subsequent target text is put are determined by the interests, aims and objectives of social agents’. This implies that translation is a process that manipulates, rewrites and produces new texts that comply with target language and socio-cultural norms. Translations, as Lefèvere (1992a) claims, ‘whatever their intention, reflect a certain ideology and poetics and as such manipulate literature to function in a given society in a given way. Rewriting is manipulation undertaken in the service of power’ (ibid: vii).

If we accept the assumption that every aspect of human life is governed by one form of ideology or another, then the exercise of translation becomes a prime suspect every time it is practised. If, on the other hand, one agrees that the ‘original is impossible to find’, this opens the door of ‘permissibility’ wide open (ibid), freeing the translator from the shackles of the source text, to take complete control over the manner in which they render it. All they need is an ideological cover.

So how does ideology manifest itself in translation? According to Tymoczko (2003), ideology in translation is a melange of the source text content and the various acts represented that are relevant to the source context, as well as the content and its relevance to the target audience and the variety of the speech acts utilised in the process of translation addressing the target context and the various differences between the two processes. In addition, there is the position and the voice of the translator and its intent; the translator as an interpreter of the source text and the producer of the target text seems to possess considerable power to mould the outcome and steer it in the desired direction. True as this assumption might be, the translator is not the only mastermind of this operation; rather, many external actors interject their own views and visions and, in many cases, impose them on the translator.

It is important to state that since it is quite difficult for the Arab audience, especially those with little exposure to Western culture, to make a connection between various source socio-cultural references, we decided to analyse only the translation of elements specific to the American (US) culture, excluding references to other cultures. It is also equally important to note that the manipulative treatment of audiovisual material dubbed into Arabic is by no means exclusive to The Simpsons. The phenomenon is entrenched in Arab governments’ censorial policies which have a debilitating effect on the industry’s practice itself. Gamal (2009: 3) asserts that the industry in Egypt is under constant monitoring by the Censorship Office and is required to adhere to its rules: “no explicit sexual language, no blasphemous reference to the Almighty, prophets or revealed Books, and no swear words were allowed”. A good case in point is the “the moral face lifting” Sex and the City received in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) where it was stripped of its sex scenes and then was never broadcast (Al-Adwan & Yahiaoui, 2018: 85). In Saudi Arabia, the most conservative Arab country, a fatwa was issued to kill the owners of MBC (the Dubai-based private broadcaster) for ‘airing religiously immoral matters’ following the broadcast of the Syrian dubbed Turkish series Gumus in 2008 (Elouardaoui, 2013: 35).

Despite the prominence of Latin America Telenovelas and Turkish series on both terrestrial and satellite channels in the Arab World, only those that conform to Arab and Muslim socio-cultural norms are selected. Those that pass the initial filtering are usually subjected to further editing of love scenes, sexual situations or excessive violence. In this vein, Elouardaoui (2013: 96) states that the Moroccan TV channel 2M, which airs Telenovelas, constantly censors ‘culturally inappropriate dialogue’ and thus words such as ‘whore’ have been replaced by ‘immoral’ or ‘debased’ and ‘have sex with’ by ‘have a relationship with’. Contracted translators working on The Devil Knows Best series were ‘given strict orders’ to ‘drastically diverge from the original script’ when necessary (ibid: 97). 2M even cancelled Ugly Betty when it discovered that it dealt with issues of transsexuality (ibid: 102).

Although, it could be argued that the Turkish series have more socio-cultural proximity with the Arabs than Western programmes, as they conform more closely to the socio-cultural norms of the Arab society, with their ‘modern’ perception of religious and cultural values and the bold way they tackle various ‘taboo’ issues such as cohabitation, having children out of wedlock, consumption of alcohol etc., these series were subjected to significant manipulation in order to be approved by Arab censorship boards (cf. Buccianti 2010; Kraidy 2012).

It is worth noting, however, that MBC introduced a ‘pay to watch’ service channel (MB+) to broadcast uncensored Turkish Soap Operas. This move came in response to the popularity of the ‘uncut’ series on the Internet. This shift in the conventional broadcasting reflects the increasing rift between the conservatives and the modernists in the Arab society and the impact of the World Wide Web on reconstructing socio-cultural norms.

In what follows, we look beyond the conventional approach of addressing linguistic transfer issues and focus on the analysis, in greater detail, of the choices made by the Arabic translator in the process of transferring socio-cultural references in order to point to “the need to understand and acknowledge one’s cultural predispositions and biases” as well as “a translator’s engagement with the culture of the self as well as the cultures of others” (Tymoczko, 2007: 254)

5, Western socio-cultural references

Socio-cultural references are culturally exclusive elements of a given culture which are foreign to the TT audience. Ergo, they tend to pose a significant challenge to translators. Given the intricate notion of the concepts of culture and religion, we perceive religious references to constitute a significant part of culture and are used as such in this paper. Many scholars such as Nedergaard-Larsen (1993); Romero Fresco (2006); Pedersen (2007); Dore (2009); Zanotti (2012); Gottlieb (2014); Ranzato and Zanotti (2018), to name a few, have studied the issues governing the translation of cultural references in AVT. Whitman Linsen (1992) argues that translating culture-specific content is very intricate. In addition to dealing with patrons and censorship issues, the translator needs to make well-informed decisions in order to make culturally foreign, and at times completely alien, material clear to the target audience. Things that are taken for granted by the source language audience belonging to homogenous linguistic and cultural communities, which in turn shape their moral values, political affiliation, identity and aesthetic tastes, all have to be carefully analysed and adequately rendered to conform to the target audience’s own expectations. This is because, as Whitman Linsen suggests, when the target audience is exposed to a foreign film ‘the threads interwoven in the particular socio-cultural skein have to be rewound for those coming from different backgrounds’ (1992: 125).

Source Text

Arabic Translation

Back Translation

1. Barney: Hi, Estelle? Will you go to the prom with me (7F12)

أهلاً سامية، تتمشى ف الجنينة معايا؟

Hi Samia, care to walk with me in the garden?

2. Grampa: We never danced the hootchy-koo either (7F11)

وهو احنا عمرنا رقصنا بلدى يعن