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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"
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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 (https://easytvproject.eu/) 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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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 Membe.r 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 i.s 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

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©inTRAlinea & Irene Tor-Carroggio & Pilar Orero (2019).
"User profiling in audio description reception studies: questionnaires for all"
inTRAlinea Volumes
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This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
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Translating Echoes

Challenges in the Translation of the Correspondence of a British Expatriate in Beresford’s Lisbon 1815-17

By António Lopes (University of the Algarve)


In 1812 the Farrer family established their wool trading business in Lisbon. Samuel Farrer and, a couple of years later, James Hutchinson remained in regular correspondence with Thomas Farrer, who owned a textile mill in the vicinity of Leeds, then centre of the wool trade in England. Their correspondence, spanning the period 1812-18, offers a vivid account of life in Lisbon and its hardships and troubles in the aftermath of the Peninsular War. Those letters mirror the turbulent politics of the time and articulate an attempt to narrate otherness and the way it kept challenging their gaze. The translation of the letters has posed some challenges, especially on a stylistic level. In order to confer a sense of historical authenticity on the target-language text and to attend to the stylistic features of the source-language text, the translator has been forced to revisit the Portuguese language of the period as it was spoken and written by the urban middle class in Lisbon. In this article I discuss some of the issues, both theoretical and practical, that have arisen in the course of the translation process.

Keywords: travel writing translation, commercial correspondence, private sphere, estrangement, displacement, double disjuncture, Peninsular Wars

©inTRAlinea & António Lopes (2013).
"Translating Echoes Challenges in the Translation of the Correspondence of a British Expatriate in Beresford’s Lisbon 1815-17"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Translating 18th and 19th Century European Travel Writing
Edited by: Susan Pickford & Alison E. Martin
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/1967

1. Introduction

The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.
Saint Augustine

During my research for the British Travellers in Portugal project – an ambitious initiative that has been carried out for almost three decades by the Anglo-Portuguese Studies group at the Centre for English, Translation and Anglo-Portuguese Studies (Lisbon and Oporto) –, I chanced upon a rather curious collection of letters housed at the National Archives in Kew.[1] Written by James Hutchinson Jr. (1796 - ?), a young Yorkshire merchant working in Lisbon, and addressed to his brother-in-law, Thomas Farrer, who headed the family’s wool business back in Farnley, Leeds, these letters span a period of approximately two and a half years (from 22 July, 1815 to 29 November, 1817), at a time when Portugal was struggling hard to stand on its feet after the scale of destruction caused by the Peninsular War.

Originally, the primary purpose of my undertaking was to contribute to an anthology of translated accounts of the city of Lisbon by British travellers. This meant that a considerable portion of the original text, most of it dwelling on private affairs or matters of commerce, would have to be excised in order to leave only those passages where explicit references were made to the Portuguese capital. However, it soon became evident that the scope of the content of these letters called for a differentiated approach and so the editor commissioned me to translate the complete set. The investment in an unabridged translation would give readers the opportunity not just to satisfy their curiosity about Lisbon, but above all to gain a sense of the complexity of the historical, social and economic issues with which the letters engaged, all the more so because translation is not about impoverishing the original, but about giving it a new lease of life: translation is not just a question of making a text accessible to another community of readers by acquiring a new linguistic and cultural dimension, but above all of allowing the letters to transcend their immediacy and the original purpose for which they were written, and inscribing them in new discursive practices.

So, instead of publishing excerpts of the letters in the anthology, both the editor and I decided to publish the complete set in two issues of the Revista de Estudos Anglo-Portugueses (CETAPS, Lisbon) (see Lopes 2010). This would allow us to preserve the integrity of the letters and, given the fact that the Revista is aimed at a scholarly readership (historians, philologists, cultural anthropologists, sociologists, and so on), to invest in a more detailed and in-depth approach, marked by philological accuracy and by a consciousness of the challenges posed by the hermeneutical inquiry. This would also give me the opportunity to set my own translation agenda, not just in terms of style and method, but also in terms of the future of this project. As a matter of fact, the files contain dozens of other letters and papers written by other members or friends of the family which, in view of their historical value, are also worth translating. I decided to amass all of them with the aim of publishing the whole collection in one single volume. That work is now underway.

Since translation is necessarily always a reflexive process (in more than one sense: on the one hand, the translator has to speculate about the meanings that the source text does not immediately disclose and about the readers’ responses to his/her choices; on the other, the target text always presents itself as a mirror image of the source text), the task of rendering this piece of nineteenth-century English prose into contemporary Portuguese prompted a series of theoretical and empirical questions which I set out to explore in the present article. The next section seeks to set the letters in their political, social and economic context. The meanings they contain are rooted in a specific historical setting, which has to be revisited so as to enable the text to function simultaneously as a piece of documentary evidence and as an instance of resistance: in the case of the former, substantiating that which historiography has already validated; in the case of the latter, defying or even rebutting historical theories. The third section (‘An Englishman in Lisbon’) touches on issues of estrangement, displacement and the quest for a sense of belonging, all of which are central to travel writing. The fourth section (‘Prying into a Gentleman’s Private Correspondence’) discusses the ethics and the challenges of translating the intimacy and confidentiality of private correspondence, and how the author’s objectivity gives the translator a foothold in the factual validation of his translation. The last full section (‘Translation as a Double Disjuncture’) focuses on issues of spatiality, temporality, representation and re-representation, as well as on some of the solutions to the problems posed by the historical dimension of the texts (modes of address; anachronisms; outdated terminology; formulaic language; and the need for historical research).

2. The Letters in Context: Portugal and her British Ally 1809-20

The Farrers were one among many of the local families whose lives revolved around the woollen and worsted manufacture and trade in Yorkshire. The success of their business went hand in hand with the economic growth and technological development of the period, a process which would leave an indelible mark on the landscape of the Midlands and the North of England. These developments led to major changes in the social structure, with a generalised phenomenon of rural-urban migration meeting the industry’s need for labour (Fletcher 1919: 77-84). The Yorkshire region soon became the chief export centre for manufactured woollen goods. In a world of cut-throat competition, those who succeeded in business were of an unrelenting entrepreneurial and ambitious spirit that often looked beyond the confines of Britain.

Industrial expansion forced traders to look further afield and open up new markets; Portugal swiftly became a key destination. Since Napoleon’s Continental Blockade, decreed in 1806, was firmly in place, the first industrial nation found itself in a worrying predicament. Portugal, where Britain’s commercial stakes ran high, was also left particularly exposed. It was only through Lisbon that it was possible to gain access to the Brazilian market, which had long become the mainstay of the intensive southern Atlantic economy, responsible for the capitalisation of the European market in the Early Modern period. Besides, the Portuguese could not afford to lose the support of the old ally, whose navy provided protection for the trade routes between the metropolis and its colonies. The French invasions of Portugal pushed it to the periphery of the very empire it had founded. If the demise of both commerce and industry had a terrible impact on the economy, the destruction the war wrought in the provinces proved no less damaging. Looting, extortion and massacres left a trail of blood, hatred and revulsion across the whole nation that was to remain unabated for generations. Wellington’s scorched earth policy – aiming to deprive the French troops of victuals and other supplies – aggravated the situation even further. Agriculture and husbandry practically ground to a halt and farmers were unable to produce the foodstuffs required to feed the urban centres. Famine set in and with it a period of demographic stagnation.

Freeing Portugal from the chains of Napoleonic imperialism was not without its costs. Unable to overcome such complete vulnerability, the nation was at the mercy of British interests. Certainly a significant part of the Portuguese economy had for a long time depended on Britain. Whether Portugal benefited from this trade relationship or not is a matter of controversy (Borges de Macedo 1963; Bethell 1984; Maxwell 2004; Pijning 1997; Pardo 1992). However, at least since the Methuen Treaty (1703) Britain had been undermining the Portuguese industry with a substantial influx of cheap manufactured goods undercutting all competition. In January 1808 the opening of the Brazilian ports to Britain represented a fatal blow. Two years later, the protective mechanism of customs duties was removed precisely when the Portuguese economy was most in need of it. The prospects for the manufacturing sector grew dimmer as British cotton and wool cloths flooded the Portuguese market.

The political power that William Carr Beresford, commander-in-chief of the Portuguese troops during the invasions, held during this crucial period in the country’s history played a decisive role in protracting this position of economic subordination. He ended up gaining considerable ascendancy over the representatives of the Prince Regent. In the post-war years he headed the military government, a position which rapidly eroded his earlier prestige as a war hero. People started protesting against the way public funds were being squandered to pay for the presence of British troops on national territory. Portuguese officers likewise harboured deep-seated resentment towards the British officers, who were now apparently being granted all sorts of privileges and promotions (see Glover 1976). Beresford’s radical intransigence in politics led to the repression of those who advocated a more liberal agenda, namely those who were suspected either of sympathising with the ideals of the French Jacobins, or of defending a constitutional monarchy. As a stern defender of Tory absolutism, his views were in line with the ones shared by two other Anglo-Irish potentates, namely Wellington and Castlereagh (Newitt 2004: 107). His absolutist values, along with his thirst for power, left him isolated in a world riven by deep-rooted hatreds. The revolutionary clamour heard in Oporto on 24 August 1820 was to put paid to Beresford’s ambitions. Paradoxically, partly thanks to the influence of the British officers, the British tradition of liberalism ended up taking root in a country lacking in ideological coordinates to define its political future.

When James Hutchinson first set foot in Lisbon, the country was going through a period of economic depression. His letters mirror the upheavals and the social unrest of the period and therefore help to shed light on historical processes, since they testify to the way in which individuals perceived reality and (re)acted accordingly. Popular reactions to the new king, news of the uprising in Pernambuco (Brazil), political persecutions, and hangings are well documented elsewhere,[2] but here we are given a view from the inside. Moreover, rather than just affirming the picture that the extensive historiographical literature on the subject has already established, the letters also disclose new facets. They prove that, despite the impressive growth of Britain’s exports in this period, British trade did not run smoothly in Portugal. Hutchinson could hardly be said to be the definitive model of the successful businessman. His efforts, nonetheless, were mostly undermined by factors that lay beyond his reach. General poverty, scarcity of money, shortages of food and other essentials, and rationing, for example, became recurrent, if not obsessive, subjects in his letters, betraying his sense of frustration and underachievement. Moreover, Hutchinson was forced to deal with fierce competition within the Portuguese market and the incompetence of the Customs officials, not to mention liabilities and bad debts, marketing obstacles and, curiously enough, an increasingly demanding clientele, all of which imposed psychological costs he found ever more difficult to cope with. And although he was not so forthcoming in discussing political issues, such as Beresford’s repression, his fears and silences about the persecutions are no less telling.

Each letter contains, as it were, the very essence of history and, through the picturesque and sometimes disconcerting episodes they feature, they help us recreate a reality long buried by time. Precisely because this is a genuine voice that has remained hidden amidst other archival material for almost two centuries, unscathed by later misappropriations or misinterpretations, we are able to salvage pristine fragments of the historical experience and to retrieve for our collective memory some of the particularities and singularities that are usually overlooked in the construction of the historical grand narratives of the nation. In a letter dated 18 October 1816, for instance, Hutchinson speaks of the funeral ceremonies of Queen Maria I and clearly enjoys recounting the peculiar causes of the accidental fire that burned down the church where those ceremonies were being held. In a later letter (22 October 1817), he provides a first-hand testimony of the horrendous hanging of the men who followed Gomes Freire de Andrade in his revolt against Lord Beresford’s roughshod rule. Elsewhere he laments the shortage of foodstuffs and the rise in prices which mercilessly strike the poor (letter dated 25 January 1817), but he cannot help relishing the story of a woman arrested for stealing bodies from the cemetery to produce black pudding to be sold to the local shops (9 August 1816). In another letter he speaks of an earthquake that threw the city ‘into the most dreadful alarm’ and the scenes of panic that ensued, while rejoicing at the fact that he remained ‘during the whole of the night in a sound slumber’ (3 February 1816).

3. An Englishman in Lisbon: Estrangement, Displacement and the Quest for Belonging

Notwithstanding the rapid decline of the Portuguese economy during and after the Peninsular War, British traders rapidly resumed their investments in the country. Samuel Farrer & Sons were amongst them. Samuel Farrer Jr. established the family’s business in Lisbon in 1812. The family’s entrepreneurial effort must have paid off somehow, for upon his death, in February 1815, they decided to keep on investing in their Portuguese venture. It would be up to young James Hutchinson Jr. to take up the business. His inexperience notwithstanding, James was not entirely at a loss. The need to account for every transaction and to keep his brother-in-law posted about how business was being conducted resulted in a correspondence of considerable length, which lasted until his departure from Lisbon at the end of 1817. The letters were permeated by the young man’s comments, remarks and anecdotes about life in the Portuguese capital. Being an outsider in customs, language and feelings, Hutchinson tried hard to accommodate himself to his new setting.

In his letters, however, the affectionate attachment he exhibits towards his sister and the other members of his family indicates that his stay in Lisbon was, emotionally speaking, hard to bear. He often complained about her silence and the fact that she now seemed to have forsaken him altogether. But then, it was not just the separation from his loved ones that threw him into a state of melancholy. His life in the Portuguese capital was infused with a sense of estrangement he was unable to overcome. He felt uprooted and disengaged.

It becomes all too apparent that his gaze is that of an outsider, of someone struggling to succeed in a strange, disturbing world, whose social and political environment contrasts in many respects with that of his native land. He soon realised it would not be easy to fit in. Despite the support that other British expatriates residing in Lisbon gave him, he complained to his family about living conditions there. Blatantly ironic, he confessed that he ‘suffer[ed] very much from the Muschetos [sic], Bugs & other filth with which this sweet City so much abounds’ (11 August 1815).

His difficulty in understanding the Portuguese is particularly visible when he is faced with the lack of patriotic fervour of the man in the street, a fervour one should expect from a nation that had been recently freed from the Napoleonic terror:

On Saturday last the King was proclaimed throughout the City and Sunday was appropriated for the acclamation.—The Troops were reviewed by Marshal Beresford, yet never did I witness their going through their manoevres [sic] in such an inanimate manner:—never was such a Viva given by the Portuguese to their Sovereign; scarcely did one Soul open his mouth, excepting the Marshal and his Staff Officers:—it was a complete ‘Buonapartean Viva’ a forced shout of applause dying away in a groan. (11 April 1817)

Since most of the time he was consumed by work, it becomes difficult for the contemporary reader to detect such feelings of estrangement in the midst of commercial jargon and ledger accounts. He sought to be meticulous in his book-keeping and reports and sensitive to changes in market conditions, especially as far as fashion, trends, tastes and purchasing power went. He struggled to prove himself worthy of the trust and respect not just of his brother-in-law, but also of other foreign merchants who had already established their names in the Portuguese market. He even got carried away by the idea of opening his own establishment in order to fend off competition and to tackle the problem of low bids, which often forced him to keep the bales in store for unusually long periods of time.

In order to perceive how displaced he felt, one has to read between the lines. When his enthusiasm waned or his health gave way, an undeclared anxiety and irritation would surface. His less than flattering comments on Portuguese customs officials and the tone of his replies to his brother-in-law whenever suspicion of laxness or mismanagement hung in the air prove the point. He became impatient when ships from Brazil, New York or Falmouth were unduly delayed. He was unnerved by the negligence of long-standing debtors, who often turned a deaf ear to his entreaties. Besides, in spite of the considerable sums of money that passed through his hands, James was far from leading an easy and comfortable life. In a sense, it was through his own body that he first measured the degree of his maladjustment. He was constantly ill, poorly dressed, and found his lodgings uncomfortable. The weather did not suit him and he feared death might creep up on him. For some time he had to resign himself to ‘a Bed Room fitted up for me in the Warehouse, without any other convenience or sitting room’ (11 April 1817). He would wear the same clothes for months on end, winter and summer alike. Disease would take hold of him and he would be confined to bed for several weeks. His neat copperplate handwriting would then degenerate to illegible scribbling. In the spring of 1817 he would confess that ‘I have suffered very materially in my health since I came here’. Convinced that he was no longer fit for the job, he would then ask Thomas to let Ambrose Pollett, a friend of the family, replace him in the firm. His physical condition would not let him endure another winter in Lisbon. In his last letter, dated 29 November, he once more complained about his health, saying that the cold weather caused him to ‘spit blood in considerable quantities from the lungs’ and that he was afraid he would never be able to return to his homeland again ‘since I fell [sic] persuaded I shall never get better of the severe illness I had in the Spring of the year 1816’. To him Lisbon, thus, ended up representing the proximity of death, that ultimate moment of displacement. His fears, however, were unfounded and he went back to England where he remained in convalescence, before returning to Portugal. But once more the climate did not agree with him. His health worsened, especially after hearing the news of his nephew’s death in December 1818, and he was compelled to leave Lisbon one last time.[3]

In the course of his stay, James was badly in need of a focal point to keep things in perspective and letter writing served such a purpose. More than anything else, it allowed him to keep his sense of belonging alive. These letters ended up being the only bridge not just to his origins, but above all to his own identity. He felt so helpless when his sister failed to reply to his letters that ‘it even grieves me to the heart when I reflect upon it’ (17 February 1816). This sentimentality towards his family is in marked contrast with his attitude as an observer. Although Hutchinson cannot entirely detach himself emotionally from what he witnesses, there is a kind of Verfremdungseffekt in his writing, a journalistic objectification of the topics he covers, whereby the distance between himself and the other is never to be entirely spanned.

4. Prying into a Gentleman’s Private Correspondence: Issues of Intimacy, Confidentiality and Objectivity in Translation

Translating something as intimate and confidential as private letters has the potential to border on voyeurism. It raises issues that concern the ethics of translation, since the translator, unlike the casual reader, is supposed to leave no stone unturned in his struggle to reach communicative effectiveness. His labour consists in unveiling all meanings, in ransacking the secrets of the author’s mind, and, if necessary, in exposing the frailties of his body. The innermost thoughts are not fenced off from the translator’s dissecting tools. In this sense, translation is to be viewed as an act of intrusion and, simultaneously, of extrusion (in other words a disclosure and a close examination of that which pertains to the private sphere). The former constitutes a form of violation, of disrupting that which belongs to the realm of the confessional and becoming, to borrow the words of St. Augustine, ‘privy to the secrets of conscience’; whereas the latter manifests itself in the form of violence, destroying the integrity of the textual body, vivisecting it and exhibiting it to the public gaze. Nevertheless, such violence is mitigated by the transmutational properties of time. Over time, these texts have acquired the status of archaeological evidence, which does not necessarily mean that in this respect the position of the translator is less delicate. After all, he was not the addressee of the letters and that fact alone poses some problems. An outsider may find it difficult to penetrate the referential fabric of the letters. Unlike travel accounts or autobiographies written for publication, these texts were not intended for a wide readership. They were personal in tone and content, and the writer knew what responses to expect from his only reader living across the English Channel. The writer did not project an ideal or fictional reader to whom he might grant full right of access to the world recreated in his prose. As a consequence, his world remains sealed off from a larger audience and the translator is forced to break into the textual space like a trespasser. Implicatures lie hidden within this corpus of letters but they can never be entirely unravelled: whatever inferences the translator may draw, he or she will always lack the necessary background knowledge to establish their validity. Such implicatures, one must not forget, are a symptom of the close relationship existing between the two correspondents. Implicit meanings result from a common experience, excluding other readers. Fortunately, the text in question is generally far more objective and factual than one would suppose, and this alone gives the translator significant leverage over the hidden aspects of the correspondence. It is in the terrain of factuality and narrativity that the translator moves free from major constraints, although it is certain that the faithfulness of the representation can never be taken for granted (see Polezzi 2004: 124).

Of course one cannot expect to find in such letters a precise and exhaustive portrait of Beresford’s Lisbon, systematically organised in such a way as to cover all possible angles. What we get instead is a myriad of disparate images that can hardly be coalesced into one single picture. The reason is obvious: the stories he tells do not follow any thematic pattern, other than the fact that all of them revolve around the city itself. Apart from the town of Sintra, a popular tourist resort in the nineteenth century, where he spent some time ‘for the benefit of my Health which, thank God I have recovered beyond my expectation’ (14 June 1816), he never set foot outside of the capital (or at least there is no archival evidence of him doing so) and therefore he apparently did not know what was going on in the rest of the country. His letters lack the ‘horror and pity’ William Warre experienced as he crossed the country chasing after the fleeing French army and encountering ‘many people and children absolutely starving and living upon nettles and herbs they gathered in the fields’ (Warre and Warre 1909: 222). Not even Sintra, that ‘glorious Eden’ with its ‘views more dazzling unto mortal ken than those whereof such things the Bard relates’, as Byron wrote in his celebrated Childe Harolds Pilgrimage (1812), succeeded in enrapturing our author, who preferred to remain faithful to whatever notable occurrences Lisbon had to offer the outsider’s gaze.

Hutchinson’s short narratives appear scattered throughout the letters in a rather random way, and it is their reading as anecdotal collages, rather than as a set of tightly-woven, interrelated stories, that allows the reader to gain a taste of the spontaneity of the narration and the ingenuousness of the narrator. Although the anecdotal episodes themselves are self-contained and refer only to fragments of both individual and collective experiences in early nineteenth-century Lisbon, they play an important part in the process of historiographical reconstruction of the past. The historiographical value of the letters lies in the fact that they contain accounts that were neither censored nor doctored: no one ever scrutinised or edited the stories, which were simply committed to paper without any concern for accuracy, trustworthiness or factuality. The ensemble of letters forms a sort of scrapbook containing clippings or mementos that were never meant to be published. Such moments, however, were bound together by a common genetic code: they all emerged out of the drive for novelty, a drive partly explained by the way the processes of cultural displacement affected the author.

However, when it comes to Hutchinson’s values and ideological assumptions, they are not readily easy to detect. He preferred to position himself as an observer rather than as a commentator, and avoided getting entangled in elaborate considerations. If the translator wants to gain a glimpse of his ideas and opinions, then he/she must proceed by engaging in a symptomatic reading of the letters, observing, for example, the way he framed and skewed the subject matter, or how he got himself more or less emotionally involved with the events he narrated, or simply how he refrained from passing judgement on what he saw. Far from highly opinionated, the letters nonetheless give us the chance of peering into his personality, albeit obliquely.

Sometimes, however, he felt compelled to take sides, such as when he dared to air his own opinion on Beresford:

...being the weaker power & finding himself defeated in all his projects, it is reported that he is about leaving [sic] the Country, which in my opinion is the wisest step he can take, else a worse fate may attend him. (11 April 1817)

Such explicitness was rare. Shortly after the rebellion in Pernambuco, Brazil, Hutchinson censured himself for letting slip his views on the political turmoil that had gripped the country and decided to not to return to the issue for fear of reprisals:

You are well aware that it is necessary to be very cautious how we treat upon political subjects in this Country, for which reason I avoid any thing of this nature, only sofar [sic] as I suppose it may be connected with the interests of Mercantile Affairs. (4 July 1817)

His fears over the consequences of political dissent were not wholly misplaced. The horrific hanging of the Conspirators he watched on 22 October 1817, shortly before his departure, left a lasting impression on him:

[C]uriosity led me to be one of the spectators of this awful scene & however disgraceful hanging may be in England I can assure you it is not less so here. The Executioner is obliged to ride astride the shoulders of every man he hangs.—It was about four O’Clock in the Afternoon when the Prisoners arrived at the foot of the Gallows & was about midnight when this melancholy scene closed.—After the Execution of all 7 out of the 11 were burnt on a Funeral Pile on the spot.

Here, his voyeurism matched his horror as he came to the full presence of death—that dark character that kept resurfacing in his writing.

5. Translation as a Double Disjuncture

As we have seen, what was once private acquires, over time, an archaeological value: the status of artefact is conferred on language as privacy metamorphoses into historical evidence. In translation, chronological distance is of the essence: one might even argue that every translation has embedded in its genes an indelible anachronism. In sharp contrast with our contemporary world, where synchronous forms of communication and instantaneous access to information seem to have taken hold of the way we communicate with each other, the art and craft of translation necessitates the slow transit of time. It is a painstaking process of problem-solving, reflection and maturation. It takes time and perseverance. And when it involves the representation of past historical phenomena, as in the present case, the temporal dimension acquires critical significance. On the one hand, the translator cannot help excogitating his own condition as a historical subject: he becomes conscious of the relativity of values, of the differentials separating lifestyles, habitus (in the Bourdieusian sense) and Weltanschauungen. On the other, the target text ends up constituting the representation of a representation and, as such, it is, as Althusser once stated of ideology, a representation of an ‘imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence’ (Althusser 1971: 162). And here, in the translation process, the time gap separating source and target texts functions not so much as a thread linking both acts of writing along a historical continuum but rather as a lens, generating several simultaneous optical effects, where light shifts in unsuspected ways and where appearance must be understood in its composite and elusive nature. The world of the (author’s) ‘present’ can never be reconstructed as such in the target text. The translator necessarily operates in the time gap between two ‘presents’ (his/her own and the author’s). That is why the translator’s labour must be that of a conscious re-representation of history. This, of course, entails much scrupulous work of detailed historical research, as well as the ability to articulate it within the translational process.

The crux of the matter lies in being able to dwell in the interstices between two languages, two cultures and two historical periods. This is the translator’s privilege and the source of many of his tribulations. To be able to lay claim to the ability to contemplate the insurmountable differences that separate not only languages but also cultures, one is required to perceive how far one’s own consciousness depends not only on λόγος and on the chains of meanings that help one make sense of the world, but also on the points of rupture of discourse, those points where signifiers and signifieds (regardless of the language) can no longer encompass those phenomena that keep resisting appropriation, including the culture of the other. In other words, one must learn to come to terms with the undecidability which undermines the certainties offered by our ingrained logocentrism.

As the translator shifts, in the course of the translation process, from one logosphere (in the Barthesian sense) to another, he realises that the movement itself does not (actually, cannot) entail the loss or gain, subtraction or addition of meanings. Meaning does not constitute some sort of universal currency (that is, manifestations of a universal language common to all human beings) that can be subjected to a process of direct exchange or transaction. Meanings cannot migrate freely from one language to another. I can only subtract meanings within the system they belong to. Languages weave their own networks of meanings and the exact value of each meaning, if it can ever be assessed, is to be determined only symptomatically by the effects generated by its presence or absence in one particular social and cultural context. To believe in the transferability of the meaning and its capacity to survive as a whole in two distinct linguistic and cultural environments (as in a process of ecesis) is not to realise something that Derrida pointed out: that even within the same language meanings not only differ (a problem of spacing), but are forever deferred (which is the condition of their temporality). One of the main problems of translation, therefore, is not just spatiality but also temporality, particularly the historical condition of the texts.

And this, I think, poses an obstacle far more difficult to overcome, since it has to do with the impossibility for the translator to render two externalities compatible in one single (target) text. Just as Hutchinson was compelled, as an expatriate, to come to terms with the social and cultural reality of his host country[4] (which is, for all purposes, a question of spatiality), so the translator, like a migrant travelling through time, is forced to come to grips with an ancient world governed by laws long forsaken and now irretrievable (the question of temporality). And since both writer and translator are forever barred from a fully unmediated contact with the unconsciously lived culture of the Other, both seeing it as something external to themselves, though not necessarily negative, their attempts to assimilate cultural elements and national idiosyncrasies can only take place on the terrain of the imaginary, which enables them to crop, select, filter and reshape elements and idiosyncrasies in order to discursively tame the otherness. It is when the translator is trying to tackle texts of this nature that he feels – to allude to one of Derrida’s most quoted metaphors, borrowed from Shakespeare – that ‘time is out of joint’, namely that he is supposed to take up the writer’s voice, but without being able to adjust either to the discursive and ideological framework within which the texts once gained their coherence, or to the past ‘structure of feeling’ (to use one of Raymond Williams’s concepts of cultural analysis) that informed the emotions, thoughts and actions of the original writer (Williams 1965: 64-6).

Translators of travel writing therefore have to operate on a double disjuncture. On the one hand, they have to deal with the cultural gap that exists between the author and the people he visits (Hutchinson and the Portuguese), a gap which over-determines the perceptions, constructs, responses and projections of otherness of the British expat, but which -- since it is barely made explicit in the text -- can only be detected by means of a symptomatic reading. On the other hand, translators have to negotiate the disjunction that will always separate them from the time and the concrete conditions under which the texts saw the light of day -- a disjunction that is further amplified by the impossibility of mapping the exact location of the intersection of cultures which gives the letters their characteristic intercultural tension (see Cronin 2000: 6). Therefore, the translator is left with no choice but to try to overcome these two disjunctions, both of which constitute distinct moments of resistance to interpretation.

The translator’s path is strewn with obstacles, for the minute he or she starts translating the text that distinction is no longer clear: the two moments overlap and the barriers between them become blurred, since his or her gaze is constructed in and through the gaze of the expatriate. How can we then circumvent the limitations to translation that such a double disjuncture imposes? Of course a careful, detailed investigation into the empirical elements offered by the letters and the issues broached therein must always be conducted, but this is not enough: it can only be through a critical awareness of these tensions and resistances that translators may decentre themselves and avoid the pitfalls of identification and idealisation. It is this decentring at the core of translation that ends up being in itself a form of travelling. After all, ‘translatio’ in Latin means ‘carrying across’, ‘transporting’, ‘transferring’, and, in contrast to what we may think, it is not the source text that is ‘carried across’ to a target culture. It is rather the translator and his reader who are invited to venture across a frontier -- the frontier that sets the limits to their identities, values and representations, and that is both spatial and temporal.

In fact, the main challenges to the translation of these letters were posed by the problem of temporality, that is, by the difficulties of bridging the time gap. The first issue to be tackled was the stylistics of the Portuguese target text. It was not just a matter of finding the best equivalents and transferring contents from the source text into the target language without major semantic losses. It was also a matter of finding a style and a register that could somehow match the original ones. In order to do that, I compared the letters to similar archival and bibliographical sources in Portuguese. Two manuals of commercial correspondence proved invaluable: Arte da correspondência commercial ou modelos de cartas para toda a qualidade de operações mercantis [The Art of Commercial Letter Writing or Letter Templates for all Sorts of Trade Operations] (Anon.; 1824) and Monlon’s Arte da correspondência commercial ou escolha de cartas sobre o commercio [The Art of Commercial Letter Writing or a Selection of Business Letters] (1857), the only key style manuals of the day in this area still available for consultation in the Portuguese National Library. The analysis of the examples of letters allowed me to determine the way in which the target text was to be drafted.

One of the most complicated aspects I had to deal with was choosing the mode of address: the original letters invariably start with ‘Dear Brother’, and then the addressee is always referred to with the second person personal pronoun ‘you’. In Portuguese, this is not so linear. In the early nineteenth century, modes of address would have varied according not only to social class, age or degree of familiarity, but also to written language conventions. ‘You’ could be translated either as ‘Tu’ (too informal; the verb is conjugated in the second person singular), ‘Você’ (slightly more formal; the verb is conjugated in the third person singular), ‘Vossa Mercê’ (idem), or ‘Vós’ (more formal; verb conjugated in the second person plural), among several other possibilities. Back then, a relationship with a brother-in-law, close as it might have been, did not necessarily imply the use of the informal ‘tu’, since informality and closeness are not synonyms. The way Hutchinson closed the letters (‘Your ever Affectionate Brother’) bears witness to such emotional proximity, but it is far from being indicative of a relaxed, informal manner. The solution to the difficulty in ascertaining whether we were dealing with informality or politeness was partly given by the 1824 manual. The plural ‘Vós’ is used when addressing both singular and plural persons, but in some cases all we have is the initial ‘V—’, which could stand either for ‘Vós’, ‘Você’ or ‘Vossa Mercê’. When the ‘V—’; form occurs, the verb is conjugated in the third person singular, midway between formality and affable politeness. This was the form I resorted to throughout.

Another difficulty had to do with wording. The manuals proved useful in guiding my lexical choices. I wanted to give the translation a distinctive period flavour to represent the historical dimension of the original letters. For example, ‘company’ could be translated either as ‘sociedade’ or ‘empresa’, but these words barely appear in the 1824 manual, especially when referring to one’s own company. Instead, the commonest word is ‘caza’ [House] sometimes ‘caza de commercio’ (dated spelling), which I decided to adopt. Many more old-fashioned or outdated Portuguese words that appear in the manual were likewise retrieved: ‘embolço’ [imbursement]; ‘estimar’ [to believe; to guess];  ‘fazer-se de vella’ [to set sail]; ‘governo’ [management]; ‘sortimento’ [assortment]; ‘sortir’ [to sort; to provide]; ‘praça’ [exchange or financial centre; market]; ‘rogar’ [to beseech]. The manual was equally useful in providing formulaic language that was pretty close to some passages in Hutchinson’s letters: ‘Sacámos hoje sobre vós pelo importe da factura (…) L... a 60 dias á ordem de…’ [Today we drew on you for the sum of £… at sixty days]; ‘Vosso reverente servidor’ [Your very Obedient Servant]; ‘Por esta confirmamos a nossa circular de (…) desde a qual ainda não tivemos a satisfação de receber alguma vossa…’ [Without any of your Favors since mine of the … I have now to inform you…].

Another challenge was related to the commercial jargon both in English and in Portuguese. Nowadays commercial terminology in both languages is much more complex, but most of the neologisms that currently exist in Portuguese are English words. Back then, that influence was more tenuous. In any case, the search for the right equivalent would have always been time-consuming. ‘Bill’ alone, for instance, could be equivalent to as many things as ‘letra’, ‘letra de câmbio’, ‘saque’, ‘promissória’, ‘papel comercial’, ‘título de comércio’, ‘factura’, or ‘facturação’. If we multiply this by the wide spectrum of nomenclatures related to those areas of economic activity Hutchinson was directly or indirectly involved in, we have an idea of the complexity of the task.

To start with, there were the inner workings of the wool trade business. I had to unwind the ball of yarn of the English wool and worsted industry, including all the details concerning the different stages of the manufacturing process: recognising the provenance and differences in quality of the raw wool available in both the Portuguese and Spanish markets, the various patterns of the warp and weft, the way the cloth should be cut or dressed, specific types of woollen cloths, their designs and colours, and so on. One particular stumbling block was the enigmatic ‘37 R., 6 F., 4 S., 1 T. & 11 A.’ (letter dated 9 August 1816). It took me a while before I learnt from a magazine published in London in 1804 (Tilloch 1807: 239-42) that the initials did not stand for any English or Portuguese words, but for Spanish ones. They referred to the way Spanish wool (which also included Portuguese wool) was classified: Primera or Refina (R.), Fina (F.), Segunda (S.), Tercera (T.) and Añinos (A.).

Moreover, since conducting business ventures overseas back then was not without its risks, I had to acquaint myself with the idiom used in cargo and shipping insurance, learn about risk-assessment, shipping deadlines, storage conditions, bills of lading, types of merchant ships crossing the Atlantic, and so on. But then there are also taxes and duties, customs procedures and the requirements of port authorities, the valuation of the bales in the Cocket,[5] goods lodged at the Custom House not yet dispatched -- all of this wrapped up in a language of its own, which has to be patiently disassembled, explored, digested, and then reassembled and fine-tuned in the translation process. In order to penetrate that language I had to resort to historical research once more. I visited the ‘Torre do Tombo’ (the Portuguese National Archives) and consulted the records from the customs houses that existed in Lisbon at that time: the ‘Alfândega Grande do Açúcar’, the ‘Alfândega das Sete Casas’, the ‘Alfândega da Casa dos Cinco’ and the ‘Casa da Índia’, the first of which provided invaluable information about the duties on wools and worsted, the classification of wools and of all sorts of cloths, their quantities and provenance, and so on. In the records of the ‘Casa da Índia’, the inventory of the cargo of the French ship Le Commerciant [sic], seized in the summer of 1809, reminds us of the risks faced by merchants like Hutchinson.

I adopted a domesticating approach to a certain extent, adding explanatory footnotes whenever words, phrases or referents might challenge the modern reader’s understanding of the target text. However, since the Revista de Estudos Anglo-Portugueses is aimed at a scholarly readership, it proved unnecessary to insist on the explanation of cultural or linguistic aspects that they are supposed to be already acquainted with. Differences in style between early nineteenth-century and early twenty-first-century Portuguese are noticeable, but they do not make the text less intelligible. In any case, stylistic conventions should not pose a problem for all the scholars who are used to working with documents of that period. So I kept the footnotes to a minimum. The future publication of a book containing the complete correspondence of the Farrer family, this time aiming at a more general readership, will entail a different explanatory methodology, but not a different stylistic treatment.

6. Conclusions

Writing narratives of displacement and travel is in itself a translational act, where the author is always seeking to translate into his mother tongue the manifestations of the culture of the other.[6] The translator of travel writing, in turn, operates on a double disjuncture – the gap between the author and the visited culture, on the one hand, and the gap between the translator and the author, on the other – threefold if you include the inevitable temporal disjuncture. In the process, the translator is forced to question his identity, values and the representations of his own nation and people, especially if the original text is non-fictional and therefore stakes a claim to the immediacy and truthfulness of the experience. The translator thus has to achieve a tour-de-force in bridging all three gaps and rendering the text accessible to the contemporary reader. However, the meanings in the target text will always have but a spectral relation with the ones in the source text: they are constructed at the same time as a re-apparition of a former presence (that does not present itself as full presence) and as the apparition of a new presence –a new text in its own right. This distance between the source and target texts becomes more difficult to span when historical time – fissured as it has been, in this particular case, over these past two centuries by sudden ruptures and discontinuities – keeps eroding the paths that could render the source text recognisable to the reader: hence the importance of the translator’s historical consciousness and the necessity of articulating historical research with the translation process, since any translation of historical material that disregards the intelligibility of historical processes lacks the authority to stake claims to accuracy and credibility.


Althusser, Louis (1971) Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, trans B. Brewster, London, New Left Books.

Bethell, Leslie (1984) Colonial Brazil, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Borges de Macedo, Jorge (1963) Problemas da História da Indústria Portuguesa no Século XVIII, PhD diss, University of Lisbon, Portugal.

Casas Pardo, José (ed.) (1992) Economic effects of the European expansion, 1492-1824, Stuttgart, Steiner Verlag.

Cronin, Michael (2000) Across the Lines: Travel, Language, Translation, Cork, Cork University Press.

Fletcher, J. S. (1919) The Story of the English Town of Leeds, New York, Macmillan.

Gentzler, Edwin (1993) Contemporary Translation Theories, Clarendon, Multilingual Matters.

Glover, Michael (1976) “Beresford and His Fighting Cocks”, History Today 26, no. 4: 262-8.

Lopes, António (2009) “Cartas inéditas de um jovem burguês 1815-1817” (1.ª parte) [“Unpublished letters of a young bourgeois 1815-1817” (1st part)], Revista de Estudos Anglo Portugueses, no. 18: 93-133.

--- (2010) “Cartas inéditas de um jovem burguês 1815-1817” (2.ª parte) [‘Unpublished letters of a young bourgeois 1815-1817’ (2nd part)], Revista de Estudos Anglo Portugueses no. 19: 175-204.

Maxwell, Kenneth (2004) Conflicts and Conspiracies: Brazil and Portugal, 1750-1808, London, Routledge.

Newitt, Malyn (2004) Lord Beresford and British Intervention in Portugal, 1807-1820, Lisbon, Imprensa de Ciências Sociais.

Pijning, Ernst (1997) “Passive resistance: Portuguese diplomacy of contraband trade during King John V’s reign (1706-1750)”, Arquipélago – História 2, no. 2, 171-191.

Polezzi, Loredana (2004) “Between Gender and Genre: The Travels of Estella Canziani” in Perspectives on Travel Writing, Glenn Hooper and Tim Youngs (eds), Aldershot, Ashgate: 121-37.

Tilloch, Alexander (1807) The Philosophical Magazine: Comprehending the Various Branches of Science, the Liberal and Fine Arts, Agriculture, Manufactures and Commerce. vol. 27. London, R. Taylor.

books.google.pt/books?id=fp9JAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false (accessed 15 April 2011)

Warre William, and Edmond Warre (1909) Letters from the Peninsula, 1808-1812, London, John Murray.

Williams, Raymond (1965 [1961]) The Long Revolution, Harmondsworth, Penguin.


[1] Ref. No. E 140/34/1. Records of the Exchequer: King's Remembrancer: Exhibits: Farrer (and another) v Hutchinson (and others). Scope and content: Letters to Thomas Farrer from his brother-in-law, James Hutchinson (Jnr.), in Lisbon. Covering dates: 1815-1817.

[2] Manuel J. G. de Abreu Vidal. Análise da sentença proferida no juízo da inconfidencia em 15 de Outubro de 1817 contra o Tenente General Gomes Freire de Andrade, o Coronel Manoel Monteiro de Carvalho e outros... pelo crime de alta traição. Lisboa, Morandiana, 1820; José Dionísio da Serra. Epicedio feito, e recitado em 1822 no anniversario da sempre lamentável morte do General Gomes Freire de Andrade. Paris, 1832; Joaquim Ferreira de Freitas. Memoria sobre a conspiraçaõ [sic] de 1817: vulgarmente chamada a conspiração de Gomes Freire. London, Richard and Arthur Taylor, 1822.

[3] He outlived Thomas (who died circa 1820) and was appointed executor of his brother-in-law’s estate.

[4] A process E. Gentzler (1993: 37) calls ‘domestication’.

[5] A customs office in Britain where detailed records of exports were kept.

[6] On the relation between travel and translation see Lesa Scholl (2009) “Translating Culture: Harriet Martineau’s Eastern Travels” in Travel Writing, Form, and Empire: The Poetics and Politics of Mobility, Julia Kuehn and Paul Smethurst (eds), London, Routledge; Susan Bassnett and André Lefevere (1998) Constructing Cultures: Essays on Literary Translation, Clevedon, Multilingual Matters; and Susan Bassnett (2002) Translation Studies, London, Methuen.


About the author(s)

Antonio Manuel Bernardo Lopes, PhD in English Culture, MA in Anglo-Portuguese Studies (specialty in English Literature) and BA in Modern Languages and Literatures
(English and German), is Senior Lecturer (Professor-Adjunto) in English Studies with the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures at the School of Education
and Communication, University of Algarve, where he teaches English language, literature and culture, literary analysis and supervises ELT postgraduate projects. He is
also the director of studies of postgraduate programmes in ELT and translation. He is a researcher at the Centre for English, Translation and Anglo-Portuguese Studies
(FCHS/UNL and FLUP), working with the following research groups: Anglo-Portuguese Studies; Literature, Media and Discourse Analysis; British Culture and History. He
has also participated in several European-funded projects related to teacher training and computer-assisted language learning. He is currently the EUROCALL
representative in Portugal. His doctoral dissertation is entitled The Last Fight Let Us Face: Communist Discourse in Great Britain and the Spanish Civil War.

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Transmedial Turn? Potentials, Problems, and Points to Consider

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Marilena Genovese è docente a contratto all’Università degli Studi della Tuscia dove insegna Lingua francese presso il Dipartimento di Economia, Ingegneria, Società e Impresa. Ha precedentemente insegnato all’Università degli Studi di Macerata. Ha curato la progettazione didattica dei corsi online di Lingua e traduzione francese per l’università telematica e-Campus. I suoi interessi di ricerca si focalizzano sulla didattica della lingua francese e sulla letteratura del XX secolo. Tra le sue pubblicazioni più recenti, Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio e l’antagonismo Città/Natura (2019).

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Translations of Aristotle’s Poetics ever since the XVI Century and the Forging of European Poetics

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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)"
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Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/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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Audet, René (2009) “Le contemporain. Autopsie d’un mort-né”, in : Enjeux du contemporain. Études sur la littérature actuelle, René Audet (éd.), Québec, Nota bene: 7-19.

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Marecki, Piotr (éd.) (2014) Literatura polska po 1989 roku w świetle teorii Pierre’a Bourdieu. Raport z badań, Kraków Korporacji Ha!art.

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Paprocka, Natalia (2015) “Les titres traduits et les contraintes extratextuelles qui pèsent sur leur choix. Sur l’exemple des traductions polonaises de la littérature de jeunesse française”, Romanica Wratislaviensia no 62: 11-35.

Paprocka, Natalia (2018) Sto lat przekładów dla dzieci i młodzieży w Polsce. Francuska literatura dla młodych czytelników, jej polscy wydawcy i ich strategie (1918-2014), Kraków, Universitas.

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Sapiro, Gisèle (2012) “Les obstacles économiques et culturels à la traduction”, in : Traduire la littérature et les sciences humaines. Conditions et obstacles, Gisèle Sapiro (éd.), Paris, Département des études de la prospective et des statistiques, Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication: 25-53.

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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 (https://wydawnictwodialog.pl/about-publishing-house,2,5.htm consu.,lté 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)"
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Historiography and translation. Comparative approaches to writing translation histories

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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.


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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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Stephens, Robert A. (1984) Religious Experience as a Meeting-Point in Dialogue: An Evaluation of the Venture of Swami Abhishik- tananda, MA thesis, Sydney University.

Tagg, John (2003) The Learning Paradigm, Bolton, MA, Anker Publishing Co.

Venuti, Lawrence (1998) The Scandals of Translation: Towards an Ethics of Difference, London and New York, Routledge.

Wolf, Michaela (2002) “Culture as Translation — and Beyond Ethnographic Models of Representation in Translation Studies”, in Crosscultural Transgressions. Research Models in Translation: Historical and Ideological Issues, Theo Hermans (ed.), vol. 2, Manchester: St-Jerome: 180-191.

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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"Education as Translation: Toward a Social Philosophy of Translation"
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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

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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.

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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).
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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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"La evolución de las tecnologías en la confluencia de la interacción y el cine El doblaje en una aventura gráfica"
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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"
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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 يعنى.عايز تقول ايه؟

We have never tried the folk dance. What do you mean?

3. Marge: Homer, is this some kind of stag-party? (7G10)

عمر، دى حفلة توديع العزوبية؟

Omar, is this a celibacy-farewell party?

4. Homer: Oh, I went to thousands of heavy metal concerts ... and it never hurt me (8F21)

يا منى، ماانا رحت مليون حفلة موسيقى شبابية و ماحصليش حاجة


Mona, I have been to a million of youth concerts and nothing happened to me.

5. Homer: Are you nuts? That’s the Super Bowl. How about the Sunday after that (8F12)

برعى انت عبيط؟دا نهائى الدورى.ايه رايك الحد اللى بعده؟

Burai, are you stupid? It’s the championship final. How about the Sunday after?

6. Kent: Thanks for your help. This reporter smells another Emmy (7F07)

شكراً على المساعدة يا رجالة. البرنامج بتاع النهارده كان حلو قوى

Thanks for the help guys. Today’s programme was fantastic.

7. Kids: Trick or treat, man. (8F02)

يا حلاوة يا شقاوة

Sweets or kicks

8. Dr. Hibbert: I won't show the horrors of our Three Stooges ward (7F06)

و مش حاحتاج أوريلك باقى الحالات المرعبة اللى عندنا

I need not show you the other horrible things we have.

9. Bart: Mom and Dad have been kissing (7F02)

ماما و بابا رجعوا يحبوا بعض تانى

Mum and dad love each other once again

10. Bart: He has a girlfriend.
Marge: Milhouse?
Bart: Yeah. All they do is kiss.
Marge: How cute. They don’t open their mouths, do they? (8F22)

أصله مصاحب بنت


أيوه..و طول الوقت باصين ف السقف

لطيف قوى. بيبصوا فى السقف؟


He befriended a girl


Yeah! And all the time they look at the ceiling

How nice! They look at the ceiling?

Table 1 Examples of Western socio-cultural references

The Simpsons has employed a wide range of socio-cultural references over the cast years, so much so that such references have become an essential component of humour and satire in the show..

Some of these references were relatively difficult to translate because they have no equivalent in the Arab society, such as ‘going to the prom’, ‘stag-party’, ‘the Emmy’, and the ‘Super Bowl’. The Arabic translator eliminated any reference to the Prom ball, as this indicates teenage courting, mixed partying and the dangers such practices are perceived to pose in Arab society. He simply referred to it as ‘تتمشى ف الجنينة معايا’ (walk with me in the garden). He translated ‘stag party’ as it is understood in Western culture ‘حفلة توديع العزوبية’ (celibacy-farewell party) although such an event does not officially exist in the Arab society; neither does ‘trick or treat’ ‘يا حلاوة يا شقاوة’ (sweets or kicks). As for the ‘Super Bowl’, he substituted it with ‘نهائى الدورى’ (the championship final) since American football is virtually unknown to Arab audiences.

While the ‘hootchy-koo’[1] dance was rendered as ‘رقص بلدى’ (belly dance), keeping the exoticness of the original; while ‘heavy metal concerts’ was rendered as with the much blander and less specific ‘حفلة موسيقى شبابية’ (youth concerts).

Probably the greatest challenge faced by the translator were the allusions to anything sexual. Kissing in public or in front of children, which is considered normal practice in Western societies, is generally seen as lewd conduct in the Arab world and something that only married people can do in the privacy of their bedrooms. Bart, dreading the loss of some of the quality time he usually has with his friend, tells his mother that Milhouse ‘has a girlfriend’, ‘مصاحب بنت’ (he befriended a girl), and that ‘all they do is kiss’ which is rendered in Arabic as: ‘طول الوقت باصين ف السقف’ (all the time they look at the ceiling). Marge, intrigued, says ‘they don’t open their mouths, do they?’, rendered in Arabic as ‘بيبصوا فى السقف؟’ (They look at the ceiling?). As we can see, the reference to kissing and the manner in which Milhouse and his girlfriend practise it has been changed, without any apparent logic, to gazing at the ceiling. This did not pose any contradiction with the visual narrative, since there were no scenes of the actual kissing.

Source Text

Arabic Translation

Back Translation

1. Marge: Hello, everyone. You know, Halloween is a strange holiday. I don’t understand it.
Kids worshiping ghosts, pretending to be devils. Oooh! Things on TV that are completely inappropriate for younger viewers. (7F04)

أهلاً بيكم. عيد 'الأشباح المضحكه' دا غريب جداً.و أنا شخصياً مش فاهماه خالص. الأطفال بيحبوا الأشباح و بيعملوا نفسهم عفاريت و التليفزيون بيعرض حاجات مش مناسبه أبداً للصغيرين.


Hello! This ‘funny ghost holiday is very strange. Personally, I don’t understand it at all. Kids like ghosts and pretend to be demons! TV shows things that are not suitable for kids at all!


2. Gypsy: Chief Wiggum, I am merely a conduit for the spirits. Willie Nelson will astound his fans...by swimming the English Channel (8F03)

حضرة الظابط. اللى بييجى قدامى باقول عليه
)تشهق( ألفريد نوبل حيعمل جايزه كبيرة قوى للمخترعين

Officer, whatever comes before me I will tell (gasping) Alfred Nobel will offer a very big prize for inventors.

Table 2 Examples of references to certain Western traditions and beliefs

In these dubbed versions, Western traditions and customs have undergone a complete transformation. Example 1, from the ‘Tree-house of Horror’ (7F04), is full of references specific to Western culture. This episode, which draws on many other horror movies like Casper: the Friendly Ghost, Psycho, The Exorcist, and Adam’s Family, celebrates Halloween, an alien concept to the Arab audience. Although the translator tried to find something equivalent for Halloween in Arabic culture by using ‘عيد الأشباح المضحكه(Fiesta of the funny ghosts), such a fiesta is non-existent in the Arab World, although many people believe in the existence of ghosts. Expanding on the title, by explaining what the event is about, makes it easier for the audience to understand the theme of the episode.

The most problematic reference in this example, however, is ‘Kids worshiping ghosts, pretending to be devils’. Worshipping anything other than Allah is forbidden in Islam; it is considered shirk (polytheism), and any reference made to that effect is considered gross blasphemy and can provoke very serious consequences. The translator is well aware of this fact and hence rendered this as ‘الأطفال بيحبوا الأشباح وبيعملوا نفسهم عفاريت’ (Kids like ghosts and pretend to be demons). Eliminating the religious element from the text and substituting it with a much softer and more acceptable notion made the target text more credible, albeit the notion of demons is still not something Arab people discuss very freely.

Another issue that is considered taboo and looked upon as un-Islamic, is making any claim to be in contact with spirits, let alone being a conduit of spirits, (example 2). When Chief Wiggum, heading a police man-hunt mission in a desperate attempt to locate the body of the missing Principal Skinner, thought to be kidnapped and probably killed by the Mafia, resorts to a gypsy for assistance, he gives her a photograph of the principal and the following exchange takes place:

Gypsy: (roaming her hands over a picture of Skinner) ‘I see wedding bells for Vanna White and Teddy Kennedy.’
Wiggum: ‘Please, Princess Opal, if we could just stick to Principal Skinner.’
Gypsy: ‘Chief Wiggum, I am merely a conduit for the spirits.’


The medium is said to possess the ability to establish contact with spirits in the other world and acquire information about certain people or things. This practice is prohibited in Islam and anyone found guilty could face dire consequences. The South American Incan tradition uses the shamanic healing technique in a slightly different way; it claims the ability to communicate with a higher power to heal the luminous energy field of the sick person.

The translator rendered the sentence in quite a vague manner. By saying ‘اللى بييجى قدامى باقول عليه' (whatever comes before me, I will tell), the matter is open to interpretation. It is clear, however, that it is more of a clairvoyance reference than spirit channelling. Tarot, palm and cup readings are widely practised in certain countries of the Arab World, like Egypt and Morocco, and it is more tolerated than claims of contacting spirits or Jin.

6, Taboo language

The use of impolite language is generally more unacceptable in Arabic society, compared to the West. Although The Simpsons, like South Park, includes a considerable amount of impolite language, it was considered suitable to be watched by the whole family.

Source Text

Arabic Translation

Back Translation

1. Barney: Teacher’s pet, apple polisher, butt kisser (7G05)

هز الديل، مسح الجوخ، تمشية حال


Tail wagging and shoe polishing is good for getting things done.

2. Box: Shut up! Shut up! Kiss my butt! Go to hell (8F12)

اكتم .اكتم.بوس رجلى اكتم.غور بعيد.غور بعيد

Shut up! Shut up! Kiss my foot, go away, go away!

3. Bart: My name is Bart Simpson. Who the hell are you? (7F01)

بدر شمشون. و انت تطلع مين؟


Badr Shamshoon, and who are you?

4. Bart: Now, sit! I said, sit! Take a walk. Sniff that other dogs butt. See? He does exactly what I say (7F14)

دلوقتى إقعد. قلت اقعد. آ. إمشى. شم أثر الكلب ده شفتى عمل كل اللى قلتله عليه


Now sit! I said sit! Go! Sniff this dog’s trail. You see, it has done all I asked.

5. Bart: I’ll say, Dad, you must really love us to sink so low. (7G08)

يظهر يا بابا، حبك لينا خلاك تهين كرامتك


Dad, it seems your love for us made you tarnish your dignity.

6. Bart: Good morning. This is your wake-up call.
Homer: Wake-up call? It’s 2 a.m.
Bart: Sorry, fatso. (8F01)

صبح الخير، دا معاد الصحيان

صحيان؟ الساعة اتنين الصبح

آسفين يا كابتن


Good morning. This is the wake-up call. Are you awake?

It’s 2 am.

Sorry captain.

7. Bart: Homer ‘The Human Punching Bag’ Simpson (7G06)

عمر، المأسوف على شبابه، شمشون

Omar, the not so young, Shamshoon

8. Bart: Know where this bastard lives (7F16)

و عندك فكرة الضايع دا حنلاقيه فين؟


Any idea where we can find this loser?

9. Emily: You son of a bitch! Good show! All right (7F14)

يا كلب يا عفريت. برافو

You dog! You devil! Bravo!

Table 3 Examples of impolite language

Sterle, Jr. (2011) argues that The Simpsons has become the embodiment of all the wrong values in American society: mockery, drinking, cursing, violence, laziness and so on. The language used in the show caused controversy right from the start, although the level of vulgarity was certainly amplified after few seasons. Sometimes, the rude jokes flow so quickly that only the focused viewer can follow them. Within the chaotic life of Springfield, bad habits and ignorance are the norm. Name-calling, swearing and disrespect of parents and elders are present in most episodes.

Understandably, the Arabic translator eliminated almost every profanity or instance of demeaning behaviour in order to conform to Arab sensitivities on these issues, as the first four examples in Table 3 demonstrate. Expressions like ‘butt kisser’, ‘kiss my butt’, ‘sniff that other dog’s butt’ and ‘who the hell are you’ were translated to ‘حال تمشية ’ ‘بوس رجلى’ ‘شم أثر الكلب ده' 'وانت تطلع مين؟(getting things done, kiss my foot, sniff this dogs trail, who are you.

As Islam calls for utmost respect and reverence of parents and elders, disrespect of parents is considered an act which could have grave ramifications on family and social ties. In this regard, the translator had no alternative but to observe these teachings in his rendering of ‘Dad, you must really love us to sink so low’, ‘sorry fatso’, ‘Homer, the human punching bag, Simpson’, with a softer tone ‘يا بابا، حبك لينا خلاك تهين كرامتك’, ‘آسفين يا كابتن’, ‘عمر، المأسوف على شبابه، شمشون(it seems your love for us made you tarnish your dignity. Sorry captain. Omar, the not so young, Shamshoon).

Another aspect the Arab society considers a result of a bad upbringing is name-calling. While Western expressions like ‘bastard’ and ‘son of a bitch’, in examples 8 and 9, have exact usable equivalents in Arabic (إبن زنا) and (إبن الكلبة) which, however, are much more insulting in colloquial Arabic, the translator translated ‘bastard’ to ‘الصايع(loser) and ‘son of a bitch’ to ‘يا كلب يا عفريت(you dog! You devil!), hence eliminating any serious insulting significance the expressions hold in the original.

It is worth mentioning that the impolite language of The Simpsons has been subject to censorship in many other societies across the world as well. In Japan, for instance, the episode ‘Thirty minutes over Tokyo’ was banned for showing Homer throwing the emperor into a pile of ladies’ underwear and declaring himself ‘Emperor Clobbersaurus’; a similar episode, ‘Goo Goo Gai Pan’, was banned in China for referring to Mao as ‘a little angel who killed 50 million people’; while the Ukrainian censoring body went so far as to ban The Simpsons altogether (Simpsonswiki.com).

7. Gender issues

Gender stereotypes are those negative or positive assumptions and generalisations people have about male and female differences, attributes and the presumed roles of each gender. By applying these assumptions, we perpetuate stereotypes.

Satirists use irony and exaggeration to make fun of societal shortcomings and foolishness to mend human behaviour (Applebee, 1997). To this effect, Mullin (1999) argues that The Simpsons ‘satirizes most aspects of ordinary life, from family, to TV, to religion, achieving the true essence of satire’. In satirical perspective of The Simpsons, women are portrayed as bored and boring housewives or superficial ‘bimbos’ always competing for the attention of men and worrying about their image. By the same token, the men are represented as a beer-loving, family-neglecting, foul-mouthed and ‘losers’ who are unhappy with their lives and take refuge from life’s hardships in Moe’s tavern.

Considerations of gender are significant markers which influence social interaction and translate directly into economic and power differentials in the overwhelming majority of Arab countries. While men dominate the external sphere of society, women’s status is high in the family, particularly in their roles as mothers, wives and sisters. However, long-standing gender stereotypes are very prevalent in Arab society, albeit to varying degrees; the further East one goes in the Arab World, the more fossilised the stereotypes are. Although a considerable number of women demonstrate high levels of success in many areas of society such as academia, business and literary production, their accomplishments tend to go unnoticed and they are excluded from most aspects of public life.

Source Text

Arabic Translation

Back Translation

1. Ex. wife 1: He had some bimbo in Kansas City (7F05)

و بعدها يختى لقيته ماشى مع واحدة تافهة ف بلد تانيه

Then, I found him with another useless one in another town.

2. Homer: See, I’m trying to teach my son here about treating women as objects (7G10)

بص، أنا عايز اعلم ابنى ازاى يعامل الستات باحترام


Look, I want to teach my son how to treat women with respect.

3. Bart: What’s with the skirt? (8F22)

ايه، ليه جايب معاك بنت؟

What! Why did you bring a girl with you?

4. Homer: You express yourself in the home you keep and the food you serve (7F01)

ماانتى حتعبرى عن رأيك ف البيت اللى حتوضبيه و الآكل اللى حتقدميه

You will express your opinion through keeping the house and serving food!

5. Homer: As the pants-wearer of this house ... I get the first wish (8F02)

لا أنت ولا هىّ. بصفتى أكبر راس هنا. أول أمنية ليّا

Neither of you! As the boss here, the first wish is mine.

6. Mr Burns: A bit overly familiar, but I’ll allow it. I took in a movie. A piece of filth featuring a blonde harlot ... who spent half the film naked as a jaybird (8F04)

أيوه، أنت خدت عليا قوى، بس حاسمحلك. اتفرجت على فيلم. تافه ومايساويش بصلة. البطلة بتاعته كانت بنت شقرا فضلت نص الوقت عمالة تلف و تدوور زى الدره المشوى

Yes, overly familiar, but will forgive you. I watched a stupid and worthless movie. The heroine is a blonde who was tossing and turning like ‘toasted corn on a cub’.

7. Player: Check out the mature quail heading over (7F05)

يا جمال، شايف الفرخة العتاقى اللى جاية دى

Jamal, you see that mature hen coming our way?

8. Young Selma: Women cant be astronauts.

Young Marge: Why not?

Young Patty: They distract the men ... so they wouldn’t keep their minds on the road. (8F15)

الستات مينفعوش فى الفضاء
ليه لأ؟

حيشوشروا على رواد الفضاء ويخلوهم مايركذوش فى السواقة

Women won’t do in space

Why not?

They will distract the astronauts, so they won’t focus on driving!

Table 4 Examples of gender related references

Stereotypical views such as those expressed in examples 4 and 5: ‘you express yourself in the home you keep and the food you serve’ and ‘as the pants-wearer of this house ...’; are rendered in the same manner into Arabic, as these stereotypes are widely accepted within Arab societies, regardless of how liberal the man claims to be. By giving his wife the chance to express her opinion by being the ‘kitchen master’, (or mistress, to apply the stereotype), Homer undermines Marge’s opinion on important matters just for being a woman. The translator’s rendering ‘'ماانتى حتعبرى عن رأيك ف البيت اللى حتوضبيه والأكل اللى حتقدميه’ (You will express your opinion through keeping the house and serving food!) and ‘بصفتى أكبر راس هنا’ (As the oldest here) advocates the same male view of women.

Although the woman ought to be revered, as per the teachings of Islam, she is not treated as an equal in the Arab World. Ironically, as hypocritical as it may sound, men’s rhetoric calls for respecting and treating women as diamonds and pearls, an expression often used in religious sermons. The translator’s rendering of example 2 reflects this attitude by giving an opposite meaning of the original ‘I’m trying to teach my son here about treating women as objects’ ‘أنا عايز اعلم ابنى ازاى يعامل الستات باحترام’ (I want to teach my son how to treat women with respect).

Examples 1, 3, and 7 satirize the way women are perceived by men in the West; they are often referred to as chicks, ‘quails (الفرخة) and ‘skirts’ etc., and the ‘blonde’(شقرا) is thought of as dumb and a ‘bimbo(تافهة), good for nothing but fun. Hines (1994: 295) argues that: ‘There is a consistent, widespread, largely, unconscious and undocumented metaphor in English equating women as sex objects with desserts, manifested both in linguistic expressions (such as cheesecake, cookie, tart, etc.)’ (emphasis in original). The Arabic translator has toned down these expressions marginally.

As demonstrated in this section, universal gender stereotypes are just as widespread in Arab society as in any other, and women seem to bear most of the brunt of callous and insensitive attitudes and perceptions of men despite Islamic teachings and the frequently cited Arab saying ‘وراء كل رجل عظيم امرأة(behind the success of every great man there is a woman).

8, Racial issues

The Simpsons uses its characters to portray a range of stereotypes that exist within the American society, and race is prominent in every episode. The characters of the Mexican Bee, Willy, and Apu, for example, are used to represent Latino, Scottish and Asian/Middle Eastern stereotypes. While the Mexican Bee, the actor on a Spanish TV channel, is always droning around in his absurd bee outfit, Willy, the Scott, is perceived as the strong man always ready for digging and donkey work. Apu, the Indian Kwik-E-Mart convenience-store owner, on the other hand, sells products which have passed their use-by-dates at high prices, speaks with a strong accent and looks down on his customers. These portrayals satirize common assumptions in the US that Latinos cannot be taken seriously, the Scottish are only fit for physical work, and Asians are rude convenience-store and petrol-station owners. Although these racial stereotypes are largely communicated visually, there are ample incidents when characters express racial prejudices vocally, as the excerpts in Table 5 illustrate.

Source Text

Arabic Translation

Back Translation

1. Marge: Hmm ... Hostage negotiations.
Homer: Listen, Tabbouleh, we’re ignoring all your demands. What do you say to that? (8F22)

آ، المفاوضات مع المجرمين

إسمع يا دهشورى، احنا رافضيين كل طلباتك. إيه رأيك بقى دلوقتى؟


Ah! Negotiations with criminals.

Listen Dahshury, we don’t accept your demands. Now, what do you think about that?

2. Mr Burns: Damnation! Find me some good players, living players. Scour the professional ranks, the American League, the National League ... the Negro leagues (8F13)

على بختى. طيب، شوفلى لعيبة كويسة. عايشين إقلب اتحاد الكوره، نقابة اللاعبين، جمعيات الزنوج


My bad luck! Ok, get me some good living players. Scour the football federation, players and Negros’ associations.

3. Troy: Our tour starts in your own room ... where Relaxo-vision offers you the latest Hollywood hits ... and after midnight ... the finest ‘R rated movies Europe has to offer. (8F14)

جولتنا تبتدى من حجراتكم الخاصة حيث متعة مشاهدة أحدث أفلام هولى وود. و بعد نص الليل مع أرقى الأفلام الثقافية اللى بتنتجها أوروبا.

Our tour starts in your own room where you can see the latest Hollywood movies and after mid night the best educational films produced in Europe.

Table 5 Examples of racially related references

When Lisa summarises an article she read in a magazine, which claims that one

can lose weight subliminally. An idea is subtly implanted in your head without your knowing it. You listen to tapes while you sleep. As you hear New Age music, a powerful message goes to your brain telling you to eat less,

Homer asks Marge’s opinion: ‘Lose weight and listen to New Age music? Wow! What do you think, Marge?’ To which she replies: ‘Oh, Homer, I love you just the way you are. Lisa, what’s that number?’

After calling the hotline number, Marge is presented with few tape options: ‘Would he like to lose weight, stop smoking, learn the state capitals, or master hostage negotiations?’ The operator said. After a few hesitating moments, Marge, mysteriously, decided on ‘hostage negotiations’. Homer, hearing his wife on the phone, started the negotiation process: ‘Listen, Tabbouleh, we’re ignoring all your demands. What do you say to that?’ The key word here is ‘Tabbouleh’, as it refers to a Middle Eastern appetiser. Thanks to the media, people from the Middle East are equated with violence and acts of terrorism, especially since 9/11, although this episode, (Bart’s friend falls in love), was aired in 1994. Homer used ‘Tabbouleh’ as a metaphor to refer to the terrorists and hostage takers he is dealing with. The translator, being an Arab, did not convey the racial stereotype as it is disparaging and self-incriminating, ‘إسمع يا دهشورى،احنا رافضيين كل طلباتك. إيه رأيك بقى دلوقتى؟(Listen Dahshury, we dont accept your demands. Now, what do you think about that?).

The second example typifies the prejudices some people have about black people. Mr Burns was challenged by his friend Ari, another power plant owner, to a one million dollar bet that his football team would crush Mr Burns’ old and slothful ‘bunch of bums’. When Smithers confirms that indeed the team stands no chance of winning, Mr Burns, seeking to revamp the squad, orders him: ‘Find me some good players, living players. Scour the professional ranks, the American League, the National League ... the Negro leagues.

The Negro league was established in the early 20th century by the leaders of what was known as ‘Organized Baseball’ to promote baseball by contracting black players known for their skills in the game. It was ‘probably the most lucrative black-dominated enterprise in the United States at that time’ (Encyclopaedia Britannica). However, the derogatory ‘Negro, black in Spanish, is associated with a long history of slavery, segregation and discrimination. Its use nowadays is considered politically incorrect and racist. Interestingly, the translator used the exact Arabic equivalent ‘الزنوج’, an old Arabic word that is hardly used in contemporary society.

Just as with a myriad of other stereotypes, Boni mores perpetuate certain perceptions of how society deals with matters of sex and erotica. The Western perception of the East in this regard is widely encoded in the orientalists’ documentation of their accounts in which they portray it as exotic, Harem-focused and where all women are incarnations of Shahrazad. According to similar stereotypes, many people perceive European woman as ‘sexually available and promiscuous’ (Bledowski, 2010), and Italian, French and Greek men as God-given ‘studs’ to women. Perhaps, such misconceptions are the result of the European adult entertainment industry promoted by many channels such as Kanal København, Pink TV, and Spice Channel, or cinematic films such as, Last Tango in Paris, Jamón… jamón, and El Sexo de Los Angeles.

Feeling stressed, Marge decides to take a break from her family and go on a vacation by herself, leaving frantic Homer behind to get a taste of what it means to be a housewife (husband). The tour operator announces that: ‘Our tour starts in your own room ... where Relaxo-vision offers you the latest Hollywood hits ... and after midnight ... the finest “R rated movies Europe has to offer.’ Movies classified as ‘R’ are not suitable for the under 18s, as they have adult content, which could be extreme violence, horror or explicit sexual activity. Being made in Europe, and, as the operator’s suggestive tone alludes, the movies in question are erotic. The translator renders the reference to “R” rated movies with educational materialو بعد نص الليل مع أرقى الأفلام الثقافية اللى بتنتجها أوروبا’ (and after mid night the best educational films produced in Europe); a solution which is ambiguous because in the Egyptian vernacular, this is usually understood to mean pornographic films, while most non-Egyptians would understand this literally to mean educational films.

Dealing with stereotypes is a complex process for translators. Although stereotypes are discouraged in the Arab World, mainly because of religious teachings, they are still widespread. However, due to the stringent guidelines imposed on the translator and the producer, as stated by both in a personal communication (2017), the transfer of Western labels in The Simpsons to Arab viewers is very limited. The owners of MBC, submitting to the comments from their religious advisors and the government censorial body, instructed the producer and the translator, despite the objection expressed by the latter, to sanitize the source text by eliminating any references and innuendos pertaining to sex, alcohol, and any religion other than Islam.

9, Nudity and sexual references

In its early years, The Simpsons was considered a family show with mild sexual overtones and violence. However, as the seasons progressed, the show steered away from its original agenda of being a family programme to becoming a more adult-oriented product. Sexual references became an integral part of the show; visually explicit scenes and sexual innuendos became a common occurrence. An example of a visually explicit scene is in the Homer of Saville episode (JABF18), in which Homer discovers he has a talent for opera singing, when a young and seductive woman proposes to be his fan club manager; however, her real intentions are to seduce him. With soft music playing, she stands in front of him suggestively, unzips her full body-hugging vinyl suit and exposes her naked body – which viewers can see from the back. Despite this scene, linguistic and acoustic references to sex and nudity are used in the show more than visual ones, and many characters are involved in generating various innuendoes. Table 6 illustrates this point.

Source Text

Arabic Translation

Back Translation

1. Bart: Like strip poker (7G08)

بيلعبوا سيجة

They play Sija (Os and Xs game)

2. Bart: But never a girl. What if I want to strut around nude (8F22)

أيوه،مافهمش و لا بنت. احنا ولاد و نحب نلعب براحتنا

Yes, not a single girl. We are boys and we like to play at our leisure.

3. Mr Burns: A bit overly familiar, but I’ll allow it. I took in a movie. A piece of filth featuring a blonde harlot ... who spent half the film naked as a jaybird (8F04)

أيوه، أنت خدت عليا قوى، بس حاسمحلك. اتفرجت على فيلم. تافه و مايساويش بصلة. البطلة بتاعته كانت بنت شقرا فضلت نص الوقت عمالة تلف و تدوور زى الدرة المشوى

Yes, overly familiar, but will forgive you. I watched a stupid and worthless movie. The heroine is a blonde who was tossing and turning like ‘toasted corn on a cob’.

4. Otto: No time, Bart Dude. My girlfriend’s dancing topless at the airport bar (Y3 8F22)

آسف يا بدر البدور. ماينفعش لازم الحق اتفرج على الحلقة الأجنبية ف التليفزيون من اربعة و ربع لاربعة و تلت

I have to make it home in time to watch this foreign episode on TV from 4:15 to 4:20

5. Bart: Oh, fine. I’m tired of watching you two lip wrestle. There’s plenty of other ways to be grossed out (8F22)

حلو قوى. أنا زهقت م الفرجة عليكم فيه حاجات تانية ممكن تسلينى ف البلد دى غيركم

Great! I am bored of watching you. There are other things that could entertain me in this town.

6. Fat one: Your mother didn’t think so (7F12)

صاحبتك كانت عاجباها شقتى

Your friend liked my apartment.

7. Gloria: My name’s Gloria. I’m here because Johnny ... hasn’t been able to cut it, man wise, for some time. Not that I’d want his odour of sour defeat pressed against me (7F20)

أنا اسمى جلوريا. أنا جيت لأن جيمى مابيبطلش يتأمر عليا طول الوقت. و كمان بيزود ف الكلام و مابيعملش أى أحترام


My name is Gloria. I came because Jimmy keeps bothering me, he says bad things and doesn’t respect me.


8. Marge: He’s much happier at work. Just between us girls, he hasn’t been this frisky in years (7F02)

بقى مبسوط أكتر ف شغله. صراحة بينى و بينكم يا بنات أنا، ماشفتوش مرح كده من سنين

He’s much happier at work. Just between us girls, I haven’t seen him this happy for years.

Table 6 Examples of sexual/nudity references

Arab society is quite reserved and considers issues like sex strictly taboo; there is no sex education in schools and discussing the subject is deemed bad behaviour and immoral. The Simpsons’ scenes with visual sexual references were censored in the Arabic version and verbal ones (70 cases in total) were manipulated so much that any sexual innuendos were replaced with random expressions that fill the gap without ruining the flow of the story. The first four examples illustrate this point clearly; references to nudity, as in playing ‘strip poker’, ‘strutting around naked’ or ‘dancing topless’, were all either eliminated or replaced by something more culturally adequate like ‘بيلعبوا سيجة(playing Sija (Os and Xs game)), ‘نحب نلعب براحتنا(we like to play at our leisure) and ‘لازم الحق اتفرج على الحلقة الأجنبية ف التليفزيون(I have to make it home in time to watch the foreign episode on TV) respectively. Interestingly, the translator used an intriguing expression to render ‘a blonde harlot ... who spent half the film naked as a jaybird’, to ‘بنت شقرا فضلت نص الوقت عمالة تلف و تدوور زى الدرة المشوى(a blonde who was tossing and turning like toasted corn on a cob), leaving those with a vivid imagination to figure out the implied message.

References with stronger sexual connotations, such as examples 5 to 8, suffer the same fate. In fact, they were thoroughly censored and replaced with passive and simplistic linguistic formulas in order to comply with MBC’s gatekeepers. Bart’s outburst at Milhouse’s long kissing sessions with his newly found love: ‘I’m tired of watching you two lip wrestle’; Fat one’s implicit reference at being good in bed when his friend told him that he ‘sucks at it’, ‘Your mother didnt think so’; and Gloria and Marge’s mixed fortunes about their partners’ performance, the first complaining that ‘Johnny ... hasnt been able to cut it, man wise, for some time’ and the second unable to contain her satisfaction: ‘Just between us girls, he hasnt been this frisky in years’ were translated to ‘أنا زهقت م الفرجة عليكم(I am bored of watching you), ‘صاحبتك كانت عاجباها شقتى' (Your friend liked my apartment), ‘جيمى مابيبطلش يتأمر عليا طول الوقت و كمان بيزود ف الكلام و مابيعملش أى أحترام(Jimmy keeps bothering me. He says bad things and doesnt respect me) and ‘صراحة بينى و بينكم يا بنات أنا، ماشفتوش مرح كده من سنين’ (Just between us girls, I havent seen him this happy for years).

10, Conclusion

As O’Connell argues ‘the actual words we choose to convey meaning in fact shape that meaning’ (2000: 63); just as language is not always neutral, so translation is not always neutral. Conveying ideas between languages is bound to incur shifts, premeditated or otherwise. These ideas are subject to multileveled interpretation as well, depending on the receiving audience. Consequently, the process of translation operates under the constraints of particular agents and circumstances that force translators to be biased or subversive. The decisions taken by translators in this regard are not always idiosyncratic, but are, as O’Connell (2000) argues, often constrained by factors such as the languages involved, the text genre, the audience and its culture. 

The dubbing of The Simpsons into Arabic was subject to many constraints and norms, which influenced the choices made by the translator as well as the producer. However, such constraints are, at times, justifiable due to the significant differences between Arab and Western cultures, as well as MBC gate-keepers’ fear of a cultural shift among Arab audiences, who are heavily influenced by satellite TV and Internet. These tools free Arab youth in particular from the shackles of local socio-cultural values defined by their geographical space.

By applying censorship and strict guidelines on the production and dissemination of sensitive material targeting young audiences, the gatekeepers hope to minimise the extent of Western ideological and socio-cultural encroachment on local cultures. The outcome reveals that both intrinsic and extrinsic factors play a major role in the process of translating and conveying the intended message to a target audience with socio-cultural and ideological values which are different from those of the source audience. Indeed, religious beliefs, socio-cultural norms and personal views tend to leave an indelible mark on the dubbed product.

The gap between Western and Arab cultures makes the task of translation even more difficult, and culturally emotive expressions of the original text often lose their connotative meaning in the process of translation. As a result, they do not bring forth the same response from the target audience as they do from the source culture (Cf. Zitawi 2006; Yahiaoui 2016; Al-Adwan & Yahiaoui 2018). 

The fact that the Arabic dubbing of The Simpsons fails to be an honest broker could be attributed to various factors, but the most important is the role of censorship, be it imposed by external agents or induced by the translator’s own beliefs.

Appendix: The Simpsons episode guide


Season 1


Season 2










Bart the General

Moaning Lisa

Simpson’s Roasting on an Open Fire

Homer’s Night Out















Two Cars in Every Garage

Simpson and Delilah

Tree House of Horror

Dancin’ Homer

Bart Vs. Thanksgiving

Bart Gets Hit by a Car

One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish

The Way We Was

Bart’s Dog Gets an 'F'

Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou

Old Money

War of The Simpsons



Season 3






Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington

Tree House of Horror

Bart the Murderer

Homer Defined

Lisa the Greek







Homer at the Bat

Homer Alone

Separate Vocation

The Otto Show

Bart’s Friend Falls in Love



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[1] The Hoochie coochie, also spelt (hootchy kootchy), is a deliberately sensual form of belly dance, typically performed as part of a carnival. It is performed by women of (or presented as having) an Eastern European gypsy heritage (American Heritage Dictionary 4).

About the author(s)

Rashid Yahiaoui is currently an assistant professor in Audiovisual Translation and Translation Studies at the College of Humanities and Social Sciences of Hamad bin Khalifa University. He has a Ph.D. in Translation Studies from London Metropolitan University, UK, and a Master in Translation and Interpreting from the University of Salford, UK. He also has extensive experience as a professional interpreter, as he worked for the Home Office and National Health Service in the UK for over 10 years. Rashid’s main research interests are: Audiovisual Translation, Ideology, Critical Discourse Analysis and Media Texts; Political Discourse Analysis, and Translation Pedagogy and Curriculum Development.

Ashraf Abdel Fattah is currently an Assistant Professor at the Translation and Interpreting Institute (TII), College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Hamad Bin Khalifa University in Doha. He has a PhD in Translation Studies from the University of Manchester, with extensive 30-year experience in translation, interpreting, and journalism. Dr Abdel Fattah was the Middle East Bulletin Editor at the Associated Press Television News in London for 13 years. From 1989 to1997, he worked as the Arabic Language Editor at Amnesty International in London. He was also a visiting lecturer in Translation Studies at the University of Westminster for 17 years.  He also worked as a senior interpreter at Al Jazeera Arabic Channel in Doha. His current research interests include appraisal and ideological analysis of news discourse, media translation, contrastive linguistics and corpus-based descriptive translation studies.

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©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"
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Technology in Interpreter Education and Practice: Introduction

By Nicoletta Spinolo & Amalia Agata Maria Amato (University of Bologna, Italy)

©inTRAlinea & Nicoletta Spinolo & Amalia Agata Maria Amato (2020).
"Technology in Interpreter Education and Practice: Introduction"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Technology in Interpreter Education and Practice
Edited by: Nicoletta Spinolo & Amalia Amato
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2520

Technology has deeply changed if not revolutionised many aspects of our daily life. It has changed the way we work, how we shop, where and how we receive information and knowledge, where and when we listen to music and watch movies, the way we communicate and stay in touch, and - last but not least – it has deeply changed how, where and when we learn and teach. If we also include artificial intelligence (AI) in the picture, technology is becoming increasingly capable and proficient in some cognitive activities such as making a diagnosis or translating a text, which we used to think only humans could do. The digital revolution has also changed both the practice of interpreting and interpreter education and training.

In the professional practice of interpreting, technology has stormed in and changed the interpreter’s work basically in three ways. Firstly, it has extended the tools and sources to prepare for interpreting assignments by offering an increasingly wide pool of materials that can be accessed online. Secondly, technology can provide on-the-job support through CAI (Computer Assisted Interpreting) tools for terminology management and information retrieval (Fantinuoli 2017). And thirdly, technology has changed the very way in which interpreting services can be delivered, with a partial but substantial shift from on-site to remote interpreting, a trend which was definitely accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. This has happened both in dialogue interpreting and in conference interpreting, thanks to over-the-phone connections and, more recently, to videoconferencing systems (Russo et al. 2019; Braun and Taylor 2012). For conference interpreting in particular, distance is not the only factor that makes a difference between on-site and remote modes: while, until recently, remote conference interpreting was still delivered using traditional equipment, only with the booths located far from the conference venue (Moser-Mercer 2005; Roziner and Shlesinger 2011), it is currently and increasingly being carried out through specific Remote Simultaneous Interpreting (RSI) platforms, where the interpreter uses a computer and a ‘virtual console’ (or 'soft console') instead of the traditional interpreting console in the booth (or 'hard console'), and may either work from home or from a hub. All these new variables concerning both the location of the interpreter and of primary participants and the tools used for interpreting performance and assistance may have countless implications from the point of view of the interpreters’ workflow management, cognitive load and mediated communication in general (Mellinger 2019).

As far as interpreter training and education are concerned, computer assisted interpreting training tools (CAIT) – derived in the 1990s from computer assisted language learning tools (CALL)  - are now routinely used in several educational institutions (Kajzer-Wietrzny and Tymczyńska 2014). The next step forward was moving from the physical classroom to virtual environments and experimenting with on-line teaching and learning (Ko 2008; Ko and Chen 2011; Braun and Slater 2014; Motta 2016). This migration from physical to digital is constantly and rapidly evolving to the point that our time has been defined the era of the ‘glass slab’ (Susskind 2018), since we spend a great part of our lives in front of a screen (of our desktop or mobile devices), and language teachers, learners and professionals are not an exception to the rule. This is why this special issue of inTRAlinea collects a number of contributions by scholars who are also trainers and who reflect about various ways in which technology has entered or is entering the realm of interpreting education and practice. The ‘technological turn’ in interpreting (Fantinuoli 2018) is mirrored here through a selection of contributions originally presented at the Techling’17 (http://cehum.ilch.uminho.pt/techling2017) ‘2nd International Conference on Languages, Linguistics and Technology: New Trends in Language Teaching, Interpreting and Translation’. All the selected papers focus on the impact of new technologies on interpreting both in professional practice and in education, two areas which are strongly connected and dependent on one another.  

The papers by Amato, Sandrelli and Spinolo mainly focus on professional practice, while those by Araújo and Correia, González Rodríguez, and Prandi are more centred on interpreter training.

The contribution by Amato deals with the rise of telephone interpreting in healthcare service calls. Although service calls are nothing new under the sun, the ‘presence’ of an interpreter in this type of interaction affects the structure of participation remarkably, from the opening of the call till the very end. Using the phone as a medium also affects the role of the interpreter who teams up with the health care professional to deliver a service as efficiently and accurately as possible. The author discusses this aspect on the basis of examples taken from a data set of interpreter-mediated healthcare service calls collected during the EU-funded SHIFT in Orality Erasmus+ research project (http://www.shiftinorality.eu).

Sandrelli’s empirical study compares simultaneous interpreting to respeaking as a method for interlingual live subtitling based on speech recognition technology. Live subtitling is a novel way to generate subtitles for deaf and hard-of-hearing people during live TV broadcasts and events, and it may gain further ground as technology evolves. The subtitles produced via respeaking and the interpreters’ renditions in simultaneous mode produced during the same event – an international conference – are analysed to identify instances of successful content transmission, content loss and content distortion. This case study sheds light on interlingual respeaking, which so far is not a widely investigated translation mode, and raises the issue of defining guidelines and best practice for an activity aimed at facilitating multimodal communication.

Spinolo’s paper presents an overview and a classification of new technologies for delivering simultaneous interpreting, both on-site and remotely, describing their similarities and differences and suggesting configurations for use. The paper starts with a brief presentation of traditional technologies, moves on to introduce the notions underlying BYOD (bring your own device) and RSI technologies as well as their basic features, and ends by recommending a set of good practices. It also highlights the importance of conducting research on these tools and on their impact in order to elaborate and suggest guidelines and standards for education and practice.

Digitally-oriented learning and participatory teaching is the subject of a paper in which Araújo and Correia report about the use of mind mapping in a collaborative digital environment to teach students writing and public speaking skills using consecutive interpreting as a means to acquire them. This approach was developed to meet at least two urgent challenges faced by several education institutions nowadays: moving from the classroom to a virtual environment in order to offer access to education to a higher number of students, and experimenting new teaching methods that are more suitable both to the virtual environment and for the young digital generation.

The paper by González Rodríguez reports on an intensive remote interpreting training proposal and, more specifically, presents suggestions on equipment and space arrangement in the classroom for remote interpreting training. These suggestions are based on the experience of the SHIFT Summer School of Remote Interpreting, a one-week intensive training course in remote dialogue (telephone and videoconference) interpreting held in 2018 at the Department of Interpreting and Translation of the University of Bologna at Forlì within the SHIFT in Orality Erasmus+ project. In particular the paper deals with how to simulate remoteness in an on-site educational setting and how to make the best use of training methods and materials for this purpose.

Finally, computer assisted interpreting (CAI) tools are the object of a study by Prandi, who explores whether and how these tools are integrated in the curricula of 25 different interpreter training institutions. The survey conducted by the author shows that over half of the sample (13 institutions) include CAI tools in their curricula, but only a small number of them offer a specific course devoted to these tools to their MA students. Lack of material or financial resources but also lack of information and interest among conference interpreting trainers are possible obstacles to the inclusion of CAI tools in interpreter education.  More research work investigating the use of CAI tools and providing evidence of their benefits could help remove obstacles and promote a wider integration of these tools in interpreter training and practice.

This inTRAlinea special issue will be of interest for interpreting scholars who wish to have a deeper insight into the role of technology in professional and teaching practice, for interpreter trainers seeking to include technology-enabled practices in their classroom, and for interpreting students and professionals interested in learning more on the use of technology in interpreting.


Braun, Sabine, and Judith Taylor (eds) (2012) Videoconference and remote interpreting in legal proceedings. Cambridge/Antwerp: Intersentia.

Braun, Sabine, and Catherine Slater (2014) “Populating a 3D virtual learning environment for interpreting students with bilingual dialogues to support situated learning in an institutional context”, The Interpreter and Translator Trainer 8, No. 3: 469-485.

Braun, Sabine, Catherine Slater, and Nicholas Botfield (2015) “Evaluating the pedagogical affordances of a bespoke 3D virtual learning environment for training interpreters and their clients” in Interpreter education in the digital age. Innovation, access, and change, Suzanne Ehrlich and Jemina Napier (eds). Washington D.C., Gallaudet University Press: 39-67.

Fantinuoli, Claudio (2017) “Computer-assisted interpreting. Challenges and future perspectives” in Trends in e-tools and resources for translators and interpreters, Gloria Corpas Pastor and Isabel Durán Muñoz (eds). Leiden, Brill Rodopi: 153–174.

Fantinuoli, Claudio (2018) “Interpreting and technology: The upcoming technological turn” in Interpreting and Technology, Claudio Fantinuoli (ed.). Language Science Press: 1-12. DOI:10.5281/zenodo.1493289

Kajzer-Wietrzny, Marta, and Maria Tymczyńska (2014) “Integrating technology into interpreter training courses: A blended learning approach”, inTRAlinea Special Issue: Challenges in Translation Pedagogy,
URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2101


Ko, Leong (2008) “Teaching interpreting by distance mode. An empirical study”, Meta 5, No. 4: 814-840.

Ko, Leong, and Nian-Shing Chen (2011) “Online-interpreting in synchronous cyber classrooms”, Babel 57, No. 2: 123-143.

Mellinger, Christopher (2019) “Computer-assisted interpreting technologies and interpreter cognition: A product and process-oriented perspective”, Revista Tradumàtica. Tecnologies de la Traducció No. 17: 33-44. https://doi.org/10.5565/rev/tradumatica.228

Moser-Mercer, Barbara (2005) “Remote interpreting: The crucial role of presence”, Bulletin VALS-ASLA, No. 81: 73-97.

Motta, Manuela (2016) “A blended learning environment based on the principles of deliberate practice for the acquisition of interpreting skills”, The Interpreter and Translator Trainer 10, No. 1: 133-149.

Roziner, Ilan, and Miriam Shlesinger (2010) “Much ado about something remote”, Interpreting No. 12(2): 214-247.

Russo, Mariachiara, Emilia Iglesias Fernández, and María Jesús González Rodríguez (eds) (2019) Telephone interpreting: the impact of technology on dialoogue interpreting / L’interpretazione telefonica: l’impatto della tecnologia sull’interpretazione dialogica, Bologna: Bononia University Press.

Susskind, Jamie (2018) “Future politics: living together in a world transformed by tech”, Talks at Google, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PcPJjOJO1vo

About the author(s)

Nicoletta Spinolo is research fellow and junior lecturer at the Department of Interpreting and Translation (DIT) of Bologna University where she teaches interpreting between Spanish and Italian and is a member of GRIINT (Gruppo di Ricerca
Interdisciplinare sull’Interpretazione) and of the MC2Lab (Laboratory for Multilectal Mediated Communication and Cognition). Her main research interests include: management of figurative language in interpreting, interpreter training, remote
dialogue and conference interpreting, cognitive friction in remote interpreting.

Amalia A. M. Amato is research fellow and junior 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.

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

©inTRAlinea & Nicoletta Spinolo & Amalia Agata Maria Amato (2020).
"Technology in Interpreter Education and Practice: Introduction"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Technology in Interpreter Education and Practice
Edited by: Nicoletta Spinolo & Amalia Amato
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2520

Interpreting on the phone: interpreter’s participation in healthcare and medical emergency service calls

By Amalia Amato (University of Bologna, Italy)


The rise of remote interpreting (RI) - by telephone, videoconference or through internet platforms - is a natural consequence of both technological advances and various socio-economic trends characterising the second half of the 20th century: migration flows and freedom of movement have made societies increasingly multilingual, multicultural and multi-ethnic; businesses have become global; public institutions are increasingly under pressure to contain the costs of providing services; and last but not least the Covid-19 pandemic. This paper deals with the participation of the interpreter in healthcare and medical emergency service call. Drawing on a set of recordings of interpreter-mediated telephone healthcare interactions, changes in the structure of participation in the different phases of the calls compared to monolingual ones are discussed on the basis of examples.

Keywords: remote interpreting, telephone interpreting, healthcare service calls, medical emergency calls, conversation analysis

©inTRAlinea & Amalia Amato (2020).
"Interpreting on the phone: interpreter’s participation in healthcare and medical emergency service calls"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Technology in Interpreter Education and Practice
Edited by: Nicoletta Spinolo & Amalia Amato
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2519

0. Introduction

The rise of remote interpreting (RI) - by telephone, videoconference or through internet platforms[1] - is a natural consequence of both technological advances and various socio-economic trends characterising the second half of the 20th century: migration flows and freedom of movement have made societies increasingly multilingual, multicultural and multi-ethnic; businesses have become global; public institutions are increasingly under pressure to contain the costs of providing services; and most recently the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Australia, since January 2018, remote interpreting – in which two parties are face-to-face but the interpreter is elsewhere over the phone - has been included as one of eight tasks in the test to become a NAATI (the National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters) Certified Interpreter (Wang 2018a). As regards telephone interpreting (TI), it first took hold in Oceania and America, and only later spread to Europe, where it is now expanding rapidly. In a recent survey conducted in Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom (Veasyt 2018), 199 users of interpreting services in the public and private sectors were asked how often they use TI services compared to face-to-face and videoconference. 15.5 per cent of respondents said they use it always or often, 29.6 per cent said they use it occasionally and 31 per cent said they have never used it but are open to trying. It is therefore a service that not only already has a market share in the three countries of the survey, but also some growth potential, as almost a third of the responders have not yet tried it out and have not expressed any aversion to it.

The objective of this paper is to see how the "presence" of the interpreter in  healthcare and medical emergency service calls changes the structure of participation. To this end, some seminal studies conducted by conversation analysts on monolingual service calls that highlight the constituent sequences of talk will be briefly presented, followed by a summary of the main pros and cons of TI identified in the literature. Finally, drawing on a set of recordings of telephone-mediated healthcare interactions, patterns of participation in the different phases of service calls involving telephone interpreters are discussed on the basis of examples.  

1. Monolingual healthcare and emergency service calls

A service call can be defined as an interaction in which a user/client calls a service or institution to submit a request and the receiver decides whether and how to meet the caller's request. Service calls can cover a wide range of areas and have been studied by many researchers who generally agree on the structure of this particular type of interaction (Schegloff 1979 and 2002; ten Have 2002; Varcasia 2013).

Of particular relevance to the present study is Zorzi and Monzoni’s (2003) analysis of a corpus of service calls in the health sector recorded between 2000 and 2003. Their study was conducted on recordings of calls to the Emergency Service of the Local Health Authority of Forlì, which can be accessed by dialling 118. Two types of interactions were studied: a) service calls from hospitals for the transport of patients and/or medical equipment and b) emergency calls made by ordinary citizens or health workers and law enforcement agencies (family doctors, police, fire brigade, nurses in nursing homes, etc.). The typical overall organization of calls to 118 identified by Zorzi and Monzoni reflects that identified by previous studies on service calls to the emergency number 911 in the United States (in particular Zimmerman 1984; Whalen and Zimmerman 1987 and 1990; Whalen, Zimmerman and Whalen 1988; Zimmerman 1992; Wakin and Zimmerman 1999) and consists of six phases:

  1. Pre-opening: the telephone rings and the operator/service dispatcher opens a communication channel;
  2. Opening/identification/recognition: the operator/service dispatcher of the institution or service receiving the call answers and self-identifies, the caller recognises the institution or service s/he has called;
  3. Caller’s request for a service;
  4. Interview by the service or institution operator/service dispatcher asking a series of questions to assess whether and how to respond to the caller's request;
  5. Answer to the caller's request;
  6. Closing: usually expressions of thanks and greetings.

The duration of each phase is variable, but in monolingual calls they tend to follow this order and are conducted by the operator/service dispatcher. Before turning to an analysis of how the presence of an interpreter affects the organization of this type of service call, in the following paragraph the main pros and cons of TI will be briefly presented.

2. Interpreting on the phone: pros and cons

Telephone interpreting is one of the possible forms of RI that allows communication between participants in an interaction who do not share the same language and are not in the same place[2]. Interpreting Studies have focused on remote interpreting mainly in the last two decades. Some scholars have investigated the advantages and disadvantages of this interpreting mode from the point of view of the two main stakeholder groups: users and interpreters (Gracia-García 2002)[3]. For the institutions or service agencies using TI, the main advantages identified are the following: (almost) immediate availability of the interpreter – an aspect which is crucial in case of emergencies (Kelly 2008; Braun 2012); no travel costs (ibidem); greater ease in finding interpreters for languages of lesser diffusion (ibidem). In the healthcare sector advantages include: more privacy and less physical exposure to a stranger during medical consultations (Kelly 2008; Gracia-García 2002); the possibility for foreign users to make an appointment or receive report or lab results without having to go to  the healthcare centre in order to communicate via an interpreter on site (Gracia-García 2002). For interpreters, the main advantages include the possibility of working from "peripheral" locations (Lee 2007), flexibility in working hours (ibidem) and the opportunity to accept more work since no time is wasted traveling or waiting (Gracia-García 2002). In the case of interviews in police or legal settings with aggressive or violent people or of road accidents, greater safety is also a plus: in both instances, the interpreters need not be physically present, thus reducing the risks for their safety (Andres and Falk 2009; Braun 2012; 2014 and 2015).

On the other side of the coin there are disadvantages that can affect all or only some of the participants in a remote interaction, and in particular on the phone. Among those identified in the literature and that can affect all participants, there is lack of "social" presence in the interactions, with the ensuing difficulty in building rapport between the interlocutors (Ellis 2004; Ozolins 2011); the lack of visual, tactile and kinetic components of communication (Poyatos 2002) and the difficulties due to the poor quality of the channel or sound (BiD 2008; Causo 2012; Wang 2018b). In a conversation over a conventional phone - without a video channel - only the linguistic and paralinguistic components are accessible (rhythm, intonation, etc.) while the kinetic components cannot be perceived (body movements, posture, gestures, gaze). According to various studies, this creates a "communicative uncertainty" that leads the interlocutors to produce rephrasing and repetitions because they are not sure they have been understood and they cannot draw on information from feedback provided by gestures or facial expressions. The absence of visual inputs makes it difficult to regulate turn taking between speakers who do not see each other and interpreters may thus need to work harder at coordinating turns at talk in order to avoid overlaps (Oviatt and Cohen 1992; Wadensjö 1999), which are another perceived challenge by interpreters (Wang 2018b). In a survey conducted in Australia by Wang (2018a) on 465 interpreters, the respondents stated that they felt obliged to coordinate interactions more explicitly when interpreting over the phone. Another  serious disadvantage for interpreters is low remuneration since they are paid by the minute, whereas free-lance community interpreters who work for healthcare centres or in courts are usually paid by the hour and can charge the mileage and waiting time (Gracia-García 2002). In the survey mentioned above, 76 per cent of 465 telephone interpreters perceived poor sound quality as the main disadvantage (Wang 2018b). Other studies have shown that telephone interpreters find it difficult to make use of contextual information (Andres and Falk 2009; Braun 2015). The unpredictability of the topic at issue in telephone calls and therefore the impossibility of preparing for a particular telephone interaction is another drawback for interpreters (Gracia-García 2002; Rosenberg 2007; Lee 2007) who also reported the lack of a briefing by the client about the topic and the context of the call in the survey by Wang (2018b). A number of researchers, however, also state that with well-functioning facilities and equipment, well trained and experienced interpreters and service providers, most telephone interpreting disadvantages can be managed and overcome (Gracia-García 2002; Andres and Falk 2009; Braun 2012).

Drawing on the analysis of data recorded during simulations organised by a company that deals with RI, the following sections will highlight how the structure of participation in healthcare and medical emergency service calls changes when an interpreter enters the scene. The benchmark for this analysis of interpreter-mediated service calls is the structure identified in the literature for service calls in a single language and described in section 1.

3. Data and methodology

The telephone calls analysed in this study were collected within the framework of the Erasmus+ “Shift in Orality” project. This three-year project involved four universities and two companies and focused on communication via telephone and videoconference, both monolingual and multilingual, with the aim of developing training tools for remote interpreting[4]. One of the two companies, Dualia Teletraducciones SL (http//www.dualia.es), which offers telephone interpreting services in Spain and other European countries, provided recordings of simulated interpreter-mediated service calls in different areas: healthcare and medical emergency, insurance, tourism and police emergency. This study focuses on recordings of nine healthcare and medical emergency service calls where users are either English or Italian speakers who are assisted by an interpreter in order to communicate with the service operator who speaks Spanish. The set of telephone interactions analysed here include:

  • six calls made by users to set or change the date of a medical examination;
  • three medical emergency calls;

In all interactions the operator, the foreign language caller and the interpreter are located in three different places and use a three-way conversation system which allows each one of them to hear everything that is said by the other two interlocutors. All calls are incoming to the healthcare or emergency service and, as mentioned above, all recordings are simulations carried out by Dualia Teletraducciones SL in order to evaluate interpreters before they start working for the company. An important feature of these interactions is that interpreters do not know neither to be part of a simulation nor to be recorded. Although the practice of not informing interpreters about this monitoring of their work may be seen as questionable in terms of corporate behaviour, it can be justified by the fact that interpreters may have to work under pressure or emotional stress (in case of emergency calls in particular) and the company wants to be sure that they can cope with such situations. From the research point of view, the data offers a window onto spontaneous production of talk by interpreters, on which some interesting reflections can be made. The interpreters in the calls are either professionals who are about to start working for the company (and therefore have experience in interpreting but not in TI) or students who are close to the completion of their interpreting education. Both groups are acquainted with Dualia protocols for interpreters, which will be briefly described in section 4. The primary speakers are instead actors and experienced interpreters who play the roles of operator and user/caller and simulate typical situations that can be found in routine and emergency healthcare calls. The audio recordings were transcribed according to the conventions adopted for the purposes of the Shift project and derived from conversation analysis (Sacks, Schegloff and Jefferson 1978)[5]. Since the recordings are simulations, it was not necessary to anonymise data because there is no risk of revealing the identity of real operators or users, while names of interpreters, when audible, were changed. The methodology chosen to study the interactions is conversation analysis, a micro-analytical approach based on a turn-by-turn analysis, applied here with the aim of understanding not so much the (co-)construction of the single turn, but the meanings and functions of specific sequences in order to highlight the structure of participation in the various phases of the calls, with a special focus on the interpreter. Before discussing the data, however, it is important to know the "rules of the game" which apply to the interpreters who work for Dualia.

4. Dualia protocols for telephone interpreting for healthcare and social services

In order to make interpreter-mediated communication more effective, Dualia has prepared protocols for interpreters who work on the phone. The protocols concern three different types of calls defined by Dualia as: routine calls, emergency calls and calls from social service centres or reception centres. Some general guidelines apply to calls of all three types. In particular, interpreters are instructed to always:

  1. make sure that the language for which they are called is actually the language required for the conversation. This language check should be performed at the very beginning of the call;
  2. speak loud, slowly and with an emphasis on the main information;
  3. signal any audio problems (especially if they cause loss of information);
  4. avoid adding information. Interpreters however can select what to translate (i.e. summarising or eliminating the user's digressions not strictly related to the object of the call);
  5. be impartial and refrain from expressing an opinion;
  6. maintain confidentiality in everything that is said;
  7. remain kind and patient at all times;
  8. refrain from interrupting the communication or expressing their judgment about the request, even when they suspect that the user is lying.

In short, the protocol requires interpreters to provide an accurate rendition of what is said, avoiding additions or editorialisations. In routine calls, i.e. requests for appointments for medical examinations or for prescriptions of drugs, there is usually a set of questions that callers are routinely asked: first and family name, health insurance card number, name of the hospital or medical centre of reference and general practitioner’s name. Once it is clear that the call is a routine one, the interpreter is allowed to ask the caller to provide all these details even without the operator formulating specific questions to obtain those pieces of information.

In emergency calls, interpreters are encouraged to leave out additional information provided by the caller and to translate only what is essential to solve the emergency as quickly as possible. They can therefore avoid rendering part of the caller's message if it does not contain the information needed to achieve the goal, or they can translate or briefly report it later on, after the main topic of the conversation has been exhausted. In the case of a traffic accident, for example, where the caller may be in an emotional state, interpreters can initiate questions that have not been asked by the operator and go straight to the point with direct questions such as: "What is the name of the street?". In case of difficulty in obtaining the necessary information to respond to the emergency (because the caller is confused or nervous), the protocol suggests that interpreters autonomously ask closed questions with a yes/no answer, for example "Is anyone injured?". Once the essential information has been obtained, interpreters can return to the conventional mode of interpreting, i.e. translate each speaker’s turn.

It should be highlighted, however, that the protocol does not solve one of the main difficulties mentioned above for the interpreter (section 2): the impossibility of preparing on the specific subject matter of the call. Although this is not the central topic of this study, it is still a point that deserves attention and reflection, and it is also one of the reasons why specific training for interpreters and healthcare professionals dealing with multilingual service calls is needed. In this respect our data analysis can be useful to further develop interpreter and healthcare staff joint training materials aimed at providing a better service to expatriates, tourists, foreign nationals and migrants who do not speak the language of the service or institution they need to interact with.

5. The interpreter in healthcare and medical emergency service calls

A three-party conversation in two different languages is obviously more complex than a two-party conversation in a single language from which it differs in several regards: in terms of language and cultural barriers to overcome, different levels of knowledge held by the three participants, the way in which the turns and content of the conversation are managed, and the way in which information is shared and conveyed to the parties involved. All these aspects must be considered if the interaction is to be successful (Wadensjö 1998; Mason 2001). The following analysis aims to see if and what differences emerge in the structure of participation in interpreter-mediated healthcare and medical emergency service calls with respect to the same type of service calls in a single language where the whole interaction is carried out by the caller/user and service operator.

5.1 Opening

Previous analyses carried out on the same data have shown how, when an interpreter takes part in the conversation, the opening phase is modified compared to a call in a single language (Paoletti 2015; Amato 2018). A first aspect that distinguishes interpreted calls from those without an interpreter, at least on the basis of our data, is that in the former case the operator too (in addition to the caller/user) acts as a user who needs an interpreting service. On his/her part, instead, the interpreter acts as a service provider who self-identifies in the opening, as shown in example 1 (in all examples A is the operator or doctor, B is the caller/service user and I is the interpreter).

Example 1



Dualia buenos días mi nombre es Pepe cómo puedo ayudarle?

Dualia good morning my name is Pepe how can I help you?



hola buenas tardes (.) soy Benito de Salud Responde


 hello good evening Benito from Salud Responde speaking [I have]     



[buenas tardes]

[good evening]



tengo:: una li- un alertante en inglés (.) le voy a pasar con él

I have:: a li- an English speaking caller (.) I’ll put him on



de acuerdo muchas gracias=

all right thank you very much=



=o con ella perdón (.) con ella

= or her on sorry (.) her



de acuerdo

all right










hello hello madam my name is Pepe I’ll be the  interpreter how can I help you?



oh hello hello OK ehm I would like to eh OK I have an appointment for the gynae- gynaecologist


In the above excerpt, the healthcare operator calls the interpreting service and the interpreter self-identifies first. Another aspect worth mentioning is that the operator is not able to understand the caller to whom he has to provide a service and therefore becomes himself a user of the interpreting service (turns 4 to 6).

Another peculiar feature emerging from the data is a “double” opening phase. After the operator (or doctor) and the interpreter have mutually self-identified, usually another opening sequence follows immediately. This second sequence involves the interpreter and the service user; in it, the interpreter self-identifies with the foreign language caller. In example 1 the opening between interpreter and healthcare operator occurs in turns 1 to 3, while in turns 7 to 9 there is a second opening sequence between the interpreter and the caller. Turn 3, however, contains another action in addition to the identification of the institution: the operator agrees with the interpreter to share the call, by  informing the latter that he will put the caller on and that the caller speaks English. As we will also see in other excerpts, in the interpreter-mediated calls analysed there are often turns with "procedural" content in which the operator and the interpreter agree on how to proceed before going ahead with the call. In the following turns in this excerpt (from 4 to 9) the interpreter, in addition to self-identifying with the patient, explains his role, in order to clarify his function from the very beginning and avoid confusion. It is also worth noting that the caller, instead, does not self-identify and immediately expresses the reason for the call.

Another difference in our data compared to monolingual calls is that during the opening phase the operator checks that s/he has called the interpreter for the right language. This activity is shown in example 2:

Example 2



Dualia mi nombre es xxx en qué puedo ayudarle?

Dualia my name is xxx how can I help you?



hola buenos días es la intérprete de italiano?

hello good morning are you the Italian interpreter?




This is clearly an activity specifically relevant for interpreter-mediated calls that has no reason to occur in monolingual calls.

In the following sections, phase 3 and phase 4 of the call will be discussed, i.e. the caller/user's request and the interview respectively. In monolingual calls these two phases usually contain the highest informational and procedural load, and it is therefore interesting to see how the interpreter fits into them.

5.2 The request

An aspect worth remembering is that in telephone healthcare and medical emergency calls the caller is the only one who possesses the information the operator needs to provide the service. Example 3 illustrates how the information related to the reason for the call is obtained and shows some discourse moves adopted by the interpreter in order to ensure both smooth communication and the achievement of the interactional goal.

Example 3



>hola buenas tardes me llamo xxx en qué puedo ayudarles?<

hello good evening my name is xxx how can I help you?



hola buenas tardes tengo aquí un usuario que parece que es de lengua inglesa

hello good evening I have a user who seems to be English speaking






sí de acuerdo

yes all right






eh:: necesito saber qué le ha occurrido: (.)eh:: de dónde es (.) eh: la edad y la dirección por favor  

eh: I need to know what happened: to him (.) eh:: where he is from (.) eh: his age and the address please



vale de acuerdo (2) hello

OK all right (2) hello






hello can you hear me sir?



yes yes I can ah >I need an ambulance<



one moment why do you need an ambulance sir? what exactly has happened?



ah I am not pretty sure ah I ate something ah my friend gave me something to eat (.) ahm I am diabetic and he said it was sugar-free (.) bu- but I am not sure about that



all right OK hold on please (.) how old are you?



I’m eighty one









you are eight one [and]






and what’s your name?



my name is Peter






Peter what’s the full name sir?



ah it’s it’s Peter Rufus    



Rufus OK hold on for a moment ah hola compañero? me dice que se [llama…

Rufus OK hold on for a moment ah hello colleague? he tells me [his name is…


In the excerpt above it is very clear how the structure of participation may change in interpreter-mediated service calls. In turn 2 the operator acknowledges that he is not able to understand the request of the patient (his user/client to whom he has to provide a service) and, as in section 5.1,  he therefore becomes himself a user/client of the interpreting service. In turn 4 the operator explains to the interpreter what kind of information he needs to handle the emergency, but leaves the decision about how to obtain it to the interpreter. In this case the flow of questions does not go from the operator to the interpreter and then to the caller (as it would be legitimate to assume) but directly from the interpreter to the caller, generating a dyadic sequence the content of which will be reported to the operator later on by the interpreter (turn 18). In essence, the operator lets the interpreter momentarily conduct the interaction with the caller. In turn 8 the caller immediately announces his request for an ambulance, which is not translated by the interpreter to the operator. This is probably due to the fact that the caller has dialled a number dedicated to requesting an ambulance in case of medical emergencies. Without relaying the request to the operator first, the interpreter immediately initiates a question and answer sequence (the interview phase) aimed at collecting the information - already requested by the operator in turn 4 - which he reports to him only after the patient has provided the details about what has happened, his age and his name. This collaboration would not be possible without precise prior instructions (see section 4) and without mutual trust, which is essential in every form of teamwork and which cannot be taken for granted when two professionals find themselves working together, moreover remotely and therefore without a shared context and history. Cooperation and trust are crucial aspects which should not be underestimated and for which joint professional training would appear essential. This excerpt also contains a second autonomous initiative by the interpreter aimed at fulfilling the operators’ initial request (turn 4): she asks for the caller’s full name (in turn 16), showing that she is aware that this piece of information is also crucial for the provision of the emergency service.

5.3 The interview

Phase 4 in monolingual service calls usually contains a series of questions by the operator, followed by answers by the caller. In this phase the operator’s primary aim is to obtain all the necessary information to decide if and how to provide the requested service. In the following example 4, after translating the reason for the call expressed by the patient in turn 14, the interpreter agrees with the operator on how to proceed and asks him to give him a “mandate” to autonomously collect the necessary data to make the appointment requested by the caller. Once again the flow of questions does not go from the operator to the patient, as it would in a monolingual call, but from the interpreter to the patient and then to the operator. In other words, in interpreter-mediated calls some dyadic sequences take place between the interpreter and the caller which temporarily “exclude” the operator and are then fully translated or concisely reported to the operator by the interpreter once the interpreter-caller exchange is over. Again this differs from calls in a single language where the operator is the only questioner during the interview phase.

Example 4






e:: I need to make an appointment please



OK ah::: (2) hola compañero?

OK ah::: hello colleague?



sí dígame=

 yes tell me



=sí >el señor quiere hacer una cita< le pido: los datos:: personales no? >el número de tarjeta sanitaria< supongo?

 yes >this gentleman wants to make an appointment< I ask him his personal details don’t I? > his health insurance card number< I suppose?



sí [por favor]

yes [please]



[y su nombre]

[and his name]



si fuese tan amable

 if you could be so kind

In our data, the request or initiative by the interpreter to proceed autonomously usually concerns “routine” questions (turns 14 and 16 in the example above) as provided for by the protocol (see section 4) and seems to be a move to expedite the call and make the service more efficient by avoiding “a waste of time” both for the operator and the caller. The interpreter’s contribution, though, besides “optimising” the service’s response to the call, can also be crucial to provide a response to the caller’s request as in example 5 below.

Example 5



mm vale (.) eh:: un momentito (4.2) vale eh: por favor eh: pregúntele eh:: dónde se encuentra

mm OK (.) eh:: one second (4.2) OK eh: please ask her where she is



eh: buen- madam? eh: where are you?

eh: we- madam? eh: where are you?



OK I’m in::: Dinama- Dinamadína?









OK (1) en Dinamedína? o:: madína? (1.2) le dice algo?

OK (1) in Dinamedina? or:: madina? (1.2) does it sound familiar?



eh: no



eh: madam in what city are you?



in Málaga



in Málaga [OK]









en Málaga






eh: pregúntele si podría ser en Benalmádena

eh: ask her if it could be Benalmádena



eh: madam might it be Benalmádena?



eh: yes I think it’s the Spanish eh: (.) ºpronunciationº yes

In the example above, taken from a call where an ambulance is requested by the caller for a medical emergency, the pronunciation of the caller makes it difficult to understand the name of the place where the emergency has occurred. Since the name provided by the caller in previous turns is not recognised by the operator, the interpreter takes the initiative to ask for the name of the city (turn 31). This interpreter’s initiative allows the identification of the place by the operator who is now able to identify the location that the caller tried to communicate but mispronounced. As we saw in section 4, Dualia has a protocol for interpreters who work in emergency calls and one of the fundamental indications is to focus on one objective only: the fast transmission of the most relevant information. In example 5 the interpreter seems to be well aware of this principle and acts precisely to obtain crucial information to send an ambulance as soon as possible.

5.4 Responding to the request

In our data, the response phase is the one that seems most similar to single language calls where it is always the operator who decides if and how to provide the service. In this phase in our interpreter-mediated calls, the operator confirms that he will take care of the service requested and the interpreter performs a purely translational function, as shown in the two following examples 6 and 7.

Example 6



de acuerdo eh::: (1) pues nada (.) dígale que le enviaremos la ambulancia

all right eh::: (1) well nothing (.) tell her that we are going to send her an ambulance



vale eh: we’ll send the ambulance madam



Example 7



de acuerdo (.) muy bien (.) pues muchas gracias (2) dígale dígale a la usuaria que la llamaremos en cuanto tengamos la cita vale?

all right (.) very well (.) thank you very much (2) tell her tell the caller we are going to call her when we have the date of the appointment OK?



eh muy bien (.) madam as soon as they have ah arranged the appointment they they call you back all right?



OK thank you very much


In both cases the operator asks the interpreter to communicate his decision to the caller and leaves no discursive space to the interpreter except for translation. It is noteworthy that in the second example (7) the interpreter asks the user to confirm not only that she has understood (at the end of turn 104), but also that she is happy with the response to her request (all right?) and the caller provides her confirmation in turn 105 (OK thank you very much). This turn makes it clear to all the parties that the purpose of the call has been achieved: the caller expresses her thanks and in this way initiates the closing phase, which we will deal with in the next section.

5.5 Closings

The closing phase in single language service calls usually contains greetings and thanks. Again the presence of the interpreter changes the structure of participation, and sometimes also the contents of this phase. First of all, there is always a "double” closing, i.e. between the interpreter and the foreign caller first and between the interpreter and the operator immediately after, as in example 8 below.

Example 8



OK thank you very much






all right thank you very much bye






eh: pues eh ya se lo he dicho compañero ya está todo arreglado=

eh: well yes I told him colleague and everything is fine



=muy bien muy bien muchas gracias hasta luego

= very well many thanks bye



muchas gracias a usted hasta luego

thank you very much to you bye

Besides a double closing, the excerpt above also contains a turn (108) where the interpreter acknowledges that the goal of the call has been achieved, that the caller is happy and that it is possible to close the call.

Another activity that may occur during the closing is the offer of further help by the interpreter to the operator or the request by the operator to use the interpreter again for another subsequent call, as shown in examples 9 and 10 below.

Example 9



[thank you] very much



thank you thank you






bye sí e:: compañero? ya: hemos terminado eso es todo? puedo ayudarle en algo más?

bye yes e:: colleague? we have finished is this all? can I help you with something else?



nada más (.) muchas gracias

nothing else (.) thanks a lot



a usted (.) un saludo

thank you to you (.) bye



un saludo (.) buenas tardes

bye (.) good evening



buenas tardes

good evening

Example 10



vale (2) vale eh: le podría llamar más tarde para:: [preguntarle con los resultados?]

OK (2) OK eh: may I call you again later [when I have the results]?



[sí cuando quiera]   ((echo))

 [yes whenever you want]   ((echo))



vale fenomenal=

 OK great=



=sí sí claro venga hasta ahora ((echo))

= yes yes talk to you later ((echo)) 



gracias hasta luego

thank you bye



hasta luego ((echo))


The above analysis of the various phases of healthcare service and medical emergency calls mediated by an interpreter has shown that, on one hand, the order in which the various phases identified in the literature for single monolingual calls take place does not change, while, on the other, the structure of participation within the different phases changes substantially. The only exception is the response phase, which contains the decision made by the operator who is the only one entitled to decision-making. This is the only phase where the interpreters confine their activity to translating only.

6. Healthcare and medical  emergency incoming calls without and with an interpreter: what is different

With regard to the characteristics identified in literature (see section 1), we have seen that the overall organisation of monolingual service calls consisting of six phases is replicated symmetrically also in the data drawn from interpreter-mediated calls. What changes is the participation structure as can be seen in the actions carried out by the participants in each phase and which is summarised in table 1. The interpreting activity obviously occurs throughout the call and is inherent to an interpreter-mediated call, so it is not included in the table.

Without an interpreter

With an interpreter

1) Pre-opening

The telephone rings and projects an emergency/virtual request (to the operator)

1) Pre-opening

The telephone rings and projects an emergency/virtual request (to the interpreter)

2) Opening/identification/recognition

Institution or service identification and recognition by the caller

2) Double opening/identification/recognition

  • Opening-identification-recognition between the service/institution and the interpreter and checking the caller’s and interpreter’s languages
  • Opening-self-identification by the interpreter to the foreign language speaking caller
  • The service operator/doctor presents a request to the interpreter

3) Request

Caller’s presentation of request/problem to the operator

3) Request

Caller’s presentation of request/problem to the interpreter who then reports it to the doctor/operator

4) Interview

Question and answer sequence conducted by the operator to obtain detailed information about the problem/request presented by the caller

4) Interview

Question and answer sequence conducted by the operator and (partially) by the interpreter to obtain detailed information about the problem/request presented by the caller

5) Response

By the operator concerning if and how the service will be provided

5) Response

By the operator/doctor concerning if and how the service will be provided

6) Closing

Thanking and greetings between operator/doctor and caller

6) Double closing

Thanking and greetings first between the interpreter and the caller and then between the operator/doctor and the interpreter.

Other possible actions:

  • Request for confirmation that the service is over by the interpreter
  • Request for another interpreting service by the operator

Table 1. Participation structure in a healthcare
and medical emergency service call with and without an interpreter.

Table 1 shows that without an interpreter the identification of the service or institution and the recognition by the caller in phase 2 takes place directly between the operator and the user, while in the interpreter-mediated interactions during the opening the first actions are the interpreter’s and operator’s self-identification and the recognition of the foreign language needed (examples 1 and 2); as will be recalled, this step is required so that the operator can check that s/he has called the right interpreter. Immediately afterwards, in general, the interpreter self-identifies with the foreign caller (example 2). In this phase the operator acts as a service user and presents a request to the interpreter (examples 1 and 3). In phase 3 without an interpreter, the problem/request is presented by the caller, as occurs in calls with interpreters, but the interpreter, after having agreed with the operator or doctor on how to proceed (examples 3 and 4), is immediately put in contact with the caller to obtain information on the reason for the call. Consequently, in phase 4, which in monolingual telephone interactions contains a series of questions about the problem/reason for the call by the operator, in the interaction with the interpreter often contains some teamwork, in which the operator and interpreter work together to achieve the purpose of the call (examples 4 and 5). In particular, the interpreter is asked to take (or spontaneously takes) autonomous initiatives to speed up the course of the interview, a practice which generates dyadic sequences, even long ones, which then are reported to the operator (example 5). The response phase (5) in our data is similar to its counterpart in monolingual calls: here in both cases the operator decides if and how to provide the service (examples 6 and 7). The final phase (6) in the interpreted calls presents instead a double closing, first between interpreter and foreign caller and then between interpreter and operator (examples 8 and 9). At this stage, in addition to greetings and thanks (present in both cases), in interpreted calls there may be a request for confirmation by the interpreter that his/her service is no longer needed or a request for further subsequent services by the operator (examples 9 and 10).

6. Conclusion

With the caveat that the number of calls examined here is quite small (the data is still subject to ongoing analysis), it is possible to preliminarily say that when the interpreter uses the freedom to take discourse initiatives granted by the protocol and when the operators are willing to teamwork with the interpreter, one can observe a shared management of information between them. The operator instructs the interpreter about what kind of information s/he needs and the interpreter takes on responsibility for communicating it in the way s/he considers most effective as an expert of the foreign language and of multilingual communication. This cooperation as the interaction unfolds seems to effectively fulfil the purposes of the telephone service call by optimising it or making it faster through a reduction in the number of turns needed to obtain the necessary information to respond to the caller’s request.

Decisions made by the interpreter such as grouping the operator’s questions into a single turn or proceeding autonomously with the questions the operator would presumably have asked, with or without the operator's prior agreement but on the basis of what the interpreter understands as communicatively relevant to achieving the objective of the call, seem to be effective for the progression of the interaction and do not create distortions or problems in communication if the interpreter translates what has been said to the other parties after each autonomous initiative. In this way no one is excluded from the interaction, and no information relevant to the parties is omitted.

The interview phase consists of questions and answers. The latter may present some difficulties to the interpreter when they contain proper names, in particular of drugs, people and places, which may be difficult to grasp on the phone, as shown in another study on the same data (Amato 2018). These realia may require extensive sequences of verification and confirmation. In such cases again, interpreter’s initiatives can determine the speed with which information is collected and this can be crucial for an emergency call (example 5). For the interpreter to take initiatives, however, s/he must be trained; on the other hand the operator, besides being trained, must be prepared to grant the interpreter some latitude, as we have seen in some examples. In this way, the interpreter, rather than being a "necessary evil", as this professional figure is sometimes perceived, becomes a real “facilitator” of communication who can help speed up the response to emergency situations and contributes to the effective and efficient delivery of the service[6].


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Braun, Sabine (2014) “Comparing Traditional and Remote Interpreting in Police Settings: Quality and Impact Factors” in Traduzione e interpretazione per la società e le istituzioni, Maurizio Viezzi and Caterina Falbo (eds), Trieste, Edizioni Università di Trieste: 161-176.

Braun, Sabine (2015) “Remote Interpreting” in Routledge Handbook of Interpreting, Holly Mikkelson and Renée Jourdenais (eds), New York, Routledge: 352-367.

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Ellis, Ronald (2004) Videoconferencing in Refugee Hearings. Ellis report to the Immigration and Refugee Board Audit and Evaluation Committee. Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, URL: https://irb-cisr.gc.ca/en/transparency/reviews-audit-evaluations/Pages/Video.aspx. (last access 16 January 2019).

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[1] See Spinolo in this publication.

[2] Primary participants in the same place and the interpreter elsewhere is another possible constellation in remote interpreting.

[3] Companies which own or manage platforms and act as remote interpreting service brokers are therefore not included in this short overview of pros and cons.

[4] The project "Shift in Orality" (http://www.shiftinorality.eu) - funded by the European Commission in 2015 as part of the "Key Action 2: Strategic Partnership in Higher Education" - was carried out by the following partners: University of Bologna (coordinator), University of Granada, University of Surrey, University Pablo de Olavide, Dualia SL (Spanish company providing telephone interpreting services) and Veasyt Srl (Italian company providing interpreting services by videoconference).

[5] Transcription conventions are derived from conversation analysis (Sacks, Schegloff and Jefferson 1978) and also used by Varcasia (2013) in her work on monolingual service calls:


a rising vocal pitch or intonation




loud voice, shouting


stretched sounds


words spoken in a low voice


increased speed of delivery


decreased speed of delivery


square brackets indicate overlapping  talk


latching, contiguous utterances or continuation of the same utterance in the next line


micro pause, up to 1 second


length of pause in approximate seconds


sound or feature of talk not easily transcribable


inaudible or doubts about hearing by the transcriber


truncated word


truncated utterance


service provider


service user




[6] In Australia NAATI (National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters) has recognised the need for an active participation and coordination role by interpreters in service calls and in the accreditation test the following skills are tested: stopping the primary speaker(s), managing turn-taking, dealing with overlapping speech, using appropriate techniques for cutting-in, reacting to the clients’ side-conversations, seeking clarifications or repeats, and making self-corrections when required (Wang 2018a).

About the author(s)

Amalia A. M. Amato is research fellow and junior 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.

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

©inTRAlinea & Amalia Amato (2020).
"Interpreting on the phone: interpreter’s participation in healthcare and medical emergency service calls"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Technology in Interpreter Education and Practice
Edited by: Nicoletta Spinolo & Amalia Amato
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2519

Interlingual respeaking and simultaneous interpreting in a conference setting: a comparison

By Annalisa Sandrelli (Università degli Studi Internazionali di Roma- UNINT, Italy)


In recent years respeaking has become the preferred method for live intralingual subtitling; based on speaker-dependent speech recognition technology, it is used to subtitle live TV broadcasts and events for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. The interlingual variant of respeaking is beginning to emerge as a translation mode that can provide accessibility to all, across both linguistic and sensory barriers. There are striking similarities between interlingual respeaking and simultaneous interpreting in terms of process; however, the two modes differ greatly in terms of end product, i.e. a set of subtitles vs. an oral translation. This empirical study analysed simultaneous interpreting and interlingual respeaking (from English into Italian) in the same conference, to compare the semantic content conveyed to the audience via the interpreted speeches and the live subtitles. Results indicate greater semantic loss in the subtitles (especially through omissions), but little difference in the frequency of errors causing meaning distortion. Some suggestions for future research and training are provided in the conclusions.

Keywords: interlingual respeaking, simultaneous interpreting, conference setting, multimedia transcription, text reduction

©inTRAlinea & Annalisa Sandrelli (2020).
"Interlingual respeaking and simultaneous interpreting in a conference setting: a comparison"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Technology in Interpreter Education and Practice
Edited by: Nicoletta Spinolo & Amalia Amato
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2518

1. Introduction

Respeaking is a relatively recent technique developed for the intralingual real-time subtitling of TV broadcasts (talk shows, weather forecasts, sports programmes, the news, etc.) and live events (conferences, ceremonies, debates, meetings, and so on). It is based on speaker-dependent speech recognition technology and requires a trained professional called respeaker who

[…] listens to the original sound of a (live) programme or event and respeaks it, including punctuation marks and some specific features for the deaf and hard-of-hearing (DHOH) audience, to a speech recognition software, which turns the recognised utterances into subtitles displayed on the screen with the shortest possible delay. (Romero-Fresco 2011: 1)

Unlike pre-recorded subtitles, live subtitles are displayed either as scrolling continuous text or in blocks of text, depending on the setting and the speech recognition software.[1] There are some spatial constraints related to screen size and, depending on the chosen set-up, the real-time text may be visible to the entire audience or only to the users of the subtitling service. On TV, live subtitles may be integrated into the images broadcast to all the viewers (open captions) or activated by users via a Teletext page (closed captions). In conferences, live text may be beamed directly onto the screen used for slides, projected onto a second screen below, above or to the side of the main one, or relayed to users’ personal devices (smartphones, tablets or laptops) via a network connection.  

Speed is key in live subtitling via respeaking; the original speaker’s speech rate (OSR), the target audience’s reading rate, and the respeaker’s speech rate all play an important role. Respeakers tend to lag behind the original speaker, not only because they must understand and process the incoming message before producing their own speech, but because they have to add punctuation orally. Studies have shown that, if the OSR is up to 180 words per minute (wpm), the respeaker’s lag is between 0 and 20 words, and it increases even more at higher speeds (Romero-Fresco 2009, 2011). Excessive subtitle latency can become a problem in conferences: when speakers use slides, they tend to illustrate one and then move on to the next one, and there is a risk that the subtitle might be displayed after the related slide has already disappeared. Therefore, respeakers must try to strike a balance between the need to reproduce the original speaker’s message and the objective constraints that characterise live subtitling via respeaking. 

Despite its complexity, over the last 15 years respeaking has become the preferred method to produce live subtitles in many countries. The proliferation of TV channels (both satellite and digital terrestrial ones) and the growth of audiovisual content on the Web have increased demand for accessibility services; respeaking is very often the method of choice to ensure access to culture, entertainment and information. In addition, “[a]s societies have become more linguistically diverse, there has also been growing demand for interlingual live subtitling to make programmes accessible for speakers of other languages” (Romero-Fresco and Pöchhacker 2017: 150). Interlingual respeaking (henceforth, IRSP) adds the translation element to respeaking and is essentially a hybrid translation mode:

With regard to the process, ‘interlingual respeaking’ […] is really a form of simultaneous interpreting, while the product […] is a set of subtitles. (Romero-Fresco and Pöchhacker 2017: 158)

As IRSP is a very recent development, there is not much research to determine its viability. This paper aims to contribute to the discussion by presenting a small-scale empirical study based on an MA thesis (Luppino 2016-17) that compared the target language (henceforth, TL) speeches produced by simultaneous interpreters with the subtitles produced by interlingual respeakers working in the same conference. A multimedia data archive was created; then, a smaller sub-corpus of 4 speeches was selected for the study. The focus was on assessing how much of the semantic content of the source language (henceforth, SL) speeches was conveyed to the audience via the interpreted speeches and the subtitles. A dedicated analysis grid was developed and applied to our data to shed some light into the challenges posed by the two modes and to inform future IRSP research and training. The paper begins with a brief overview of respeaking research, with a special focus on IRSP (§2); it then presents the data and methodology in §3, the analysis in §4 and some conclusions in §5.

2. A brief overview of research on interlingual respeaking (IRSP)

As was mentioned in §1, there is relatively little research on respeaking. Starting with the intralingual variant, the focus of the available studies is either on the process or the product, and they are either experimental or empirical. The earliest available studies discussed the similarities between respeaking and simultaneous interpreting (Marsh 2004, Eugeni 2008, Russello 2008-09). More recent studies have tried to pinpoint what makes a good respeaker, i.e. to identify the skills and competences needed to perform this complex task and to determine whether a specific training background can facilitate the acquisition of respeaking skills (Moores 2017, Remael and Robert 2018, Szarkowska et al. 2018).

From the point of view of the end product, respeaking is studied as a form of (live) subtitling, with the related change in semiotic code (from spoken to written) and need for text reduction connected to the speed constraint (Romero-Fresco 2009, Van Waes et al. 2013, Sandrelli 2013). The main focus of the product-oriented studies has been the development of models to assess subtitle accuracy and the analysis of the specific challenges posed by different settings and text types (Eugeni 2009, Romero-Fresco 2011, Sandrelli 2013). The NER model (Romero-Fresco 2011) is the most widely used one to assess the accuracy of live subtitles produced via respeaking.[2] It distinguishes between (software-related) recognition errors and (human) edition errors, and a score is attributed to each error depending on its severity (minor, standard or serious). After testing the NER model on different TV genres, a score of 98 per cent has been suggested as the minimum accuracy threshold for usable intralingual subtitles (Romero-Fresco 2011). The model has been adopted by Ofcom, the UK broadcasting regulator, which commissioned four reports on the quality of live subtitling on British television (Ofcom 2015a, 2015b). Most of the available research on intralingual respeaking has been conducted on TV settings, while the Respeaking at Live Events project (Moores 2018, 2020) is looking at the feasibility of respeaking in museum tours, conferences, lectures and Q&A panels after cinema screenings and theatre shows. The aim is to identify the specific requirements of each setting and produce best practice guidelines to organise services efficiently.

Turning to interlingual respeaking (IRSP), an interlingual respeaker needs to have good interpreting skills to translate the source language speech into the target language, but also needs to be able to use the speech recognition software efficiently, to add oral punctuation, to monitor the output to correct any mistakes, and to coordinate all of those efforts in real time. In addition, respeakers working in live events (such as conferences) need to take into account the multimodal nature of the SL material, which may include not only speeches but also slides, video clips or other visual information. Unsurprisingly, one of the key issues being investigated is whether a background in interpreting or subtitling may facilitate the acquisition of IRSP skills. An interdisciplinary group of scholars based in Poland carried out an interesting experiment on interpreters, translators and a control group of bilinguals; all the participants performed intralingual and interlingual respeaking tasks for the first time, working with a range of video clips with different characteristics (genre, speech rate, number of speakers, and degree of scriptedness). Participants’ eye movements and brain activity were analysed by means of an eye-tracker and an EEG device. The accuracy of the subtitles was assessed via the NER score and by three independent raters who applied specific guidelines. The rich data generated by this experimental set-up have been analysed in several publications; here only the conclusions in relation to IRSP are briefly summarised. Szarkowska et al. (2016, 2017) analysed cognitive load and EEG peaks during the tasks in order to detect respeaking crisis points. They found that respeaking difficulties can be triggered by many different factors, including very slow and very fast speech rates, overlapping speakers, figures and proper nouns, and complex syntax or word play; in IRSP translation difficulties (for example involving idiomatic expressions) were also found to play a major role. Chmiel et al. (2017) analysed ear-voice span (EVS) and pauses in both intralingual and interlingual respeaking. They found that EVS tends to be much longer in IRSP, with the longest EVS being found in the respeaking of the news (scripted, with a high information density and a high OSR); moreover, pauses were longer in IRSP than in intralingual respeaking. These findings “can […] be taken as empirical evidence confirming previous intuitive conjectures according to which interlingual respeaking requires more cognitive effort than intralingual respeaking as it combines two complex tasks: respeaking and interpreting” (Chmiel et al. 2017: 1222). Finally, Szarkowska et al. (2018) focused on accuracy, to verify whether interpreters had a comparative advantage over translators and bilingual controls. Indeed, the interpreters obtained the highest accuracy scores and the lowest text reduction rates (measured via the NER model).

Turning to product-oriented research on IRSP, a reliable method to assess the accuracy of interlingual live subtitles and quality standards for this translation mode must still be defined. Romero-Fresco and Pöchhacker (2017) developed the NTR model, which distinguishes between recognition errors and human errors.[3] Translation errors include both content-related (omissions, additions and substitutions) and form-related errors (grammatical correctness and style). The model acknowledges that some errors are more serious than others in terms of the effect they have on viewers, and distinguishes between minor, major and critical errors (-0.25, -0.50 or -1 point, respectively). Minor errors slightly alter the message but do not hamper comprehension; major errors introduce bigger changes, but the overall meaning of the text is preserved; critical errors result in grossly inaccurate and misleading information and affect comprehension significantly.

The model needs to be validated in various real-life settings to determine whether a 98 per cent accuracy rate is a feasible quality benchmark in IRSP too. At the time of writing, a few studies have applied the NTR model to experimental data. The SMART (Shaping Multilingual Access with Respeaking Technology) pilot project investigated the training background and skill-set which can best support the fast acquisition of IRSP competences (Sandrelli et al. 2019). Between January and February 2018 an IRSP “crash course” of 6-8 hours was delivered face-to-face to 25 subtitling and interpreting trainees from three universities (UNINT, Surrey and Roehampton); the students had varying degrees of expertise in subtitling, consecutive and simultaneous interpreting, and intralingual respeaking. Two IRSP performances per student were collected at the end of the day-course; in addition, students carried out a self-reflective analysis via a retrospective TAP (think-aloud-protocol) after each task and filled in pre- and post- experiment questionnaires. The NTR model was applied to all the performances and questionnaire and TAP data were analysed. The results of the study are the object of a publication (Davitti and Sandrelli forthcoming), but its key conclusions can be summarised here: a training background in interpreting seems to be an advantage, but it is not sufficient, as the best IRSP performers were those students with a composite skillset comprising interpreting/subtitling and interpreting/subtitling/respeaking. Moreover, there was a high degree of variability among subjects, which suggests that personal traits play a significant role in IRSP. This is not entirely surprising, if the “live skills” required to perform in real time (such as concentration and stress management) are taken into account.[4]

Dawson and Romero-Fresco (forthcoming) report on the results of a four-week pilot training course delivered online within the ILSA (Interlingual Live Subtitling for Access) project, the first IRSP course ever developed. 50 students with a training background in subtitling or interpreting participated in the course, which included 3 weekly sessions and was delivered entirely online. After analysing their performances in the final tests, the authors concluded that IRSP is indeed feasible, with over 40 per cent of subjects hitting or exceeding the 98 per cent NTR mark after this relatively short course.[5] On average, the student interpreters performed better than the subtitlers, but some of the latter also did well, so an interpreting background does not seem to be mandatory.

The above studies seem to confirm that IRSP is indeed feasible, albeit challenging, and that a training background in a related discipline such as interpreting or subtitling may be an advantage in the acquisition of IRSP skills. However, as IRSP is still essentially an experimental practice, more empirical data from various settings and involving different language combinations are needed. One of the problems of carrying out empirical research on IRSP is that it is not (yet) a widespread method to produce live subtitles. However, over the past few years some MA dissertations have reported on small studies in specific settings in which an ad-hoc IRSP service had been organised: Marchionne (2010-11) described an experiment in which several TV programmes were subtitled live via IRSP in the French-Italian language combination; Serafini (2014-15) organised an IRSP-based live subtitling service (English-Italian) during a film festival in Italy. Case studies of this kind do not allow for generalisations, but as best practices have yet to be defined, they are useful to test different IRSP set-ups. The present paper contributes to the on-going discussion by providing some empirical data on IRSP in a conference setting.

3. Data and methodology

The data used in this study come from the 5th International Symposium on Live Subtitling, respeaking and accessibility which took place at UNINT on 12 June 2015. As both simultaneous interpreting and (intralingual) respeaking are taught at our university, the Local Organising Committee decided to provide both live subtitles via respeaking and a simultaneous interpreting service in the two official languages of the Symposium, English and Italian.

3.1 The Symposium

The Symposium was a one-day event, with 20 speakers who included academics, software developers and users of live subtitling services (including representatives from deaf associations) from all over Europe, the US and Australia. The event was made up of a morning session on research issues (with an opening section and two thematic panels) and an afternoon session on practical developments (with two thematic panels, a round table and a closing section). Both thematic panels included conference papers and moderators’ introductions, floor allocations, and announcements; some moderators also acted as discussants and, as well as introducing presenters and ensuring time-keeping, encouraged debate by asking questions. Italian was used in the opening and closing sessions and in the final roundtable, while all the research papers were delivered in English, although only two conference presenters were native speakers.

The Italian speeches were simultaneously interpreted into English and subtitled in Italian via intralingual respeaking; the English speeches were interpreted and subtitled into Italian via IRSP. Simultaneous interpreting was provided by five volunteers, all of them interpreting graduates of our university and native speakers of Italian: one of them had about 3 years’ experience, another one about 2 years and the other three had graduated 3 months before the Symposium. The respeaking service was provided by one of our media partners, the onA.I.R. international respeaking association; it involved four respeakers, all of them Italian native speakers and relatively experienced in intralingual respeaking, but not in IRSP, as in Italy there is not much demand yet. The most experienced respeaker was also a trained simultaneous interpreter. All the respeakers used Dragon Naturally Speaking (v. 12) on their laptops.[6]

The event took place in the university conference hall, an auditorium on two levels equipped with a sound system, a large screen for slide projection and 4 sound-proof interpreting booths on the upper floor; two booths were used by the interpreters and two by the respeakers. As the booths are at a considerable distance from the rostrum and the screen, interpreters and respeakers could not see the screen very clearly; therefore, the organisers made sure they received the speakers’ presentations ahead of time. All the advance material (presentations, programme, abstracts, speakers’ biographical information) enabled interpreters and respeakers to familiarise with the topics and prepare their glossaries; the respeakers were also able to train the software by adding new words to the Vocabulary Editor and by creating macros.[7] Figure 1 shows an interpreter’s booth, with the big screen above the speakers’ table just visible in the background: here the interpreter is using her laptop with the PowerPoint presentations and her glossaries, as well as paper copies of materials.

Figure 1: An interpreter’s workstation

All the conference speakers used the same PowerPoint template for their presentations, in which some space was left blank at the bottom of each slide to accommodate a maximum of three lines of subtitles. The subtitles were beamed directly onto the slides by means of the Text-on-Top software. The end result is shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: A speaker’s slides with 3 lines of subtitle

The above set-up was chosen because the conference hall of our university does not feature two side-by-side screens, and space constraints make it impossible to place an additional screen below or above the main screen, which is common practice in film festivals or theatres.

The entire Symposium was video-recorded with a camera fixed on the speakers’ table; in addition, the interpreters and respeakers recorded themselves by means of digital audio-recorders.

3.2 The multimedia archive and the data for the empirical study

The first step in the creation of the multimedia archive was to edit the video and audio files collected during the Symposium: each SL speech was selected and saved as an individual file, and matching TL audio files were created for the interpreters’ output and the respeakers’ output. All the video and audio clips thus obtained were transcribed orthographically, following the conventions established in the European Parliament Interpreting Corpus (EPIC) project (Monti et al. 2005).[8] A few specific annotations were added for phenomena that occurred during respeaking, such as those cases in which the respeakers entered corrections manually by using the keyboard, or when an SL speaker interrupted the presentation to show a video clip.

It is important to note that the respoken text is made up of all the words the respeakers uttered, including the voice commands for punctuation, macros, and so on; this “intermediary text” (Pöchhacker and Remael 2019) is not meant for the audience but for the speech recognition software, which then processes it to produce the TL subtitles. The respeaker checks the output of the software (and sometimes edits it) before projecting it as subtitles for the benefit of the audience. As the aim of our study was to compare the TL “end products” that reached the audience (the interpreted speeches and the TL subtitles), it was necessary to add a further element to the ELAN transcription layers of the four speeches in question, namely the TL subtitles themselves.[9]

All the transcripts were manually aligned with their corresponding video and audio files by using the ELAN software programme (v. 4.9.4). For each speech, the multimedia file thus obtained includes:

  • a video-recording of the original SL speech;
  • the transcript of the SL speech;
  • the audio recording of the simultaneous interpreter’s TL speech;
  • the transcript of the simultaneous interpreter’s TL speech;
  • the audio recording of the respoken text (the intermediary text dictated to Dragon);
  • the transcript of the respoken text;
  • the text of the TL subtitles displayed to the audience on the screen.

The multimedia file makes it possible to play the original video clip and displays the various transcription layers, thus obtaining a visual representation of the time lag between SL speaker, interpreter and respeaker, as can be seen in Figure 3.

Figure 3: An example of an ELAN multimedia transcript

After preparing the multimedia files of the entire conference, four speeches were selected for our pilot analysis, which was focused exclusively on the English into Italian translation direction. The two speech types that were selected were the “moderator’s introduction” and the “scientific conference paper”. The second selection parameter was the degree of scriptedness, i.e. whether the speech was impromptu or read from the slides or written notes. The resulting sub-corpus consisted of four speeches:

  • two introductions: M1 was a short impromptu Q&A session, consisting of an introduction by the moderator, a question asked by an audience member, and the answers given by two panel speakers; M2 was an introduction in which the moderator read out the speaker’s biographical note;
  • two conference papers: P1 was delivered by a researcher who illustrated his slides speaking impromptu; P2 was delivered by another researcher who read the slides aloud.

Both conference papers had a duration of about 18 minutes, while the introductions were about two and a half and three and a half minutes each. M1 (the impromptu introduction) was much faster than the other three speeches. In the Interpreting Studies literature a speed around 100-120 w/m is considered “comfortable” for interpreting purposes (Pöchhacker 2004:129); in respeaking, the addition of oral punctuation and the need to monitor the subtitles increases the time lag between the original speaker and the respeaker (see §1). In this respect, P1 and M2 were manageable, P2 was a bit fast and M1 was definitely challenging.

SL speeches




(SL words)




17’ 55’’




18’ 09’’




3’ 24’’




2’ 29’’




41’ 57’’



Table 1: The four SL speeches

The four SL speeches were interpreted by two recent graduates, while the subtitles were produced by the most experienced respeaker (who was also a trained interpreter).

3.3 The analysis grid

Each of the four SL speeches was subdivided into idea units on the basis of semantic content (with grammatical and prosodic features helping to determine the boundaries); then, matching idea units were identified (if present) in the interpreted version, in the respoken version and in the TL subtitles. In order to carry out the analysis, a taxonomy that could be applied to all of our TL data had to be developed, with categories describing the relationship between each SL idea unit and corresponding TL idea unit in terms of the information made available to the TL audience. To this end, a review of relevant literature on quality in simultaneous interpreting (including Barik 1971, Altman 1994, Falbo 2002), subtitling (Gottlieb 1992, Díaz Cintas and Remael 2007) and intralingual respeaking (Romero-Fresco 2011) was carried out.

Our taxonomy tries to combine all of the above classifications in three macro-categories, namely semantic transmission, reduction and distortion. Transmission refers to those instances in which the semantic content of the SL idea unit was successfully conveyed by the TL idea unit; reduction refers to cases in which some information is missing in the TL message, which only expresses part of the SL content; and distortion refers to factual alteration of semantic content, i.e. the TL unit expresses a different idea. Each macro-category includes a few sub-categories, as can be seen in Table 2; definitions and examples are provided in §4.

Semantic Transmission

Semantic Reduction

Semantic Distortion

Transfer (T)

Decimation (DEC)

Substitution (S)

Condensation (C)

Omission (O)

Generalisation (G)

Explicitation (E)


Addition (A)

Deletion (DEL)



Table 2: Analysis grid

It is important to note that the labels used here refer to the comparison of SL and TL versions and do not imply the use of deliberate strategies on the part of interpreters and respeakers, as that would amount to speculating about their intentions. Moreover, like in all taxonomies, there is a degree of subjectivity in the application of the categories, and also a degree of overlap between them, which means that it is necessary to select the one that seems to be prevalent in each TL unit (again, a subjective choice). In order to ensure some objectivity, a peer-review system was adopted, in which the two evaluators (present author and the MA student who was writing her dissertation on this topic) coded the texts separately, and then discussed and solved points of disagreement.

4. Analysis

Table 3 shows the number of words and the number of idea units identified in each SL speech, accompanied by the corresponding figures for the interpreted speeches and the TL subtitles produced via IRSP (henceforth, subtitles). The figures in the greyscale columns indicate the number of words, while those in white the number of idea units.


SL words

SL idea units

TL words

(Interpreter output)

TL idea units

Interpreter output

TL words


TL idea units





































Table 3: Number of words and idea units in the SL and TL texts

In all the TL versions (the interpreters’ speeches and the subtitles) the number of words is lower than in the SL speeches; the same applies to the number of idea units, which is lower in the interpreted versions and drops even more in the subtitles. However, quantitative data of this kind are not enough to determine whether the SL message was reproduced accurately or not, as interpreters and respeakers are trained to translate succinctly in order to cope with the constraints of real-time translation. The analysis that follows investigates the issue more in depth.

The analysis grid presented in §3.3 (Table 2) was applied to both sets of data. Before presenting quantitative results, let us illustrate the classification with definitions and examples. The macro-category of semantic transmission covers all those cases in which the SL idea units were successfully conveyed to the TL audience; it includes the four sub-categories of transfer, explicitation, condensation and deletion. When the content of the SL unit is fully expressed by the TL unit, this is classified as a transfer (Example 1).

SL Speaker




TL Subtitles


ok (ehm) so we don’t have a lot of time


non abbiamo molto tempo


[we don’t have much time]


non abbiamo molto tempo


[we don’t have much time]

Non abbiamo molto tempo


[we don’t have much time]


Example 1: Transfer (T)

When the TL idea unit manages to convey the same and complete meaning as the original more concisely, there is a condensation (C). In Example 2, the SL speaker announces he is going to play a short video for a demo, and both the interpreted version and the TL subtitles opt for more succinct structures to introduce the clip (Interpreter: here is a demo; Subtitle: this is a demo.).

SL Speaker




TL Subtitles


I can show you a small demonstration


ecco qui una dimostrazione


[here is a demo]


questa è una dimostrazione punto


[this is a demo full stop]

Questa è una dimostrazione.


[this is a demo.]


Example 2: Condensation (C)

If the TL idea unit makes the idea more explicit than it was in the SL, this is classified as an explicitation (E). In Example 3 the speaker is commenting the video clip of a speech recognition software at work. The interpreter makes the meaning more explicit by adding a definition of the technical term latenza (latency), namely the speech recognition delay. By contrast, in the TL subtitles there is a deletion (DEL) of a redundant item, i.e. the reference to the speech recognition software of which the audience is watching a live demo. Deletions consist in the removal of redundant items, such as repetitions or meta-comments (e.g. “as I have already said”), from the TL unit; the disappearance of such items does not affect the semantic content of the TL unit. As both interpreters and respeakers have to wrestle with time constraints, it is important for them to be able to identify redundant material that can be dispensed with.

SL Speaker




TL Subtitles


(ehm) you cannot see also the latency of the speech recogniser


non potete neanche notare la latenza il ritardo del riconoscimento del parlato


[you cannot even notice the latency the speech recognition delay]


non riuscite a vedere la latenza (...) virgola


[you cannot see the latency comma]

Non riuscite a vedere la latenza,



[you cannot see the latency,]


Example 3: Explicitation (E) and deletion (DEL)

Turning to semantic reduction, this macro-category indicates those instances in which the TL idea unit conveys less information than the original: it includes two types, decimation and omission. Unlike deletions, therefore, decimations and omissions do affect the meaning of the TL unit. A decimation (DEC) is a partial loss of information, i.e. the TL subtitles or the TL interpreted version manage to convey part of the message, but some details are missing. In Example 4 the SL speaker is talking about the influence of certain factors on the performance of the speech recognition software: “topic” as a factor is not present in the two translations and the TL users have no way to recover or infer this detail.

SL Speaker




TL Subtitles


but it depends on the topic discussed and the speakers


ma questo dipende da molti fattori anche dal- l'oratore stesso



[but this depends on many factors, including the speaker himself]


a seconda dei fattori virgola come per esempio l'oratore stesso punto


[depending on factors comma such as for example the speaker himself full stop]

a seconda dei fattori, come per esempio l'oratore stesso.


[depending on factors, such as for example the speaker himself]


Example 4: Decimation (DEC)

Unlike decimation, which allows for at least part of the semantic content to be conveyed, there is an omission when a given SL idea unit has no matching TL idea unit at all. In Example 5 the speaker is describing the creation of a user’s voice model: both the interpreter and the respeaker skipped the whole idea unit and the information was completely lost in the TL versions.

SL Speaker




TL Subtitles


it’s very fast very cheap






Example 5: omission (O)

Finally, the macro-category of semantic distortion refers to the alteration of semantic content. The most obvious example is substitution, which replaces an SL idea with a completely different idea in the TL unit. Example 6 shows that both the interpreted version and the TL subtitles replaced 100% with 20%, which results in the audience receiving factually wrong information.[10]

SL Speaker




TL Subtitles


the speech recognition accuracy is almost one hundred per cent


la quindi: l'accuratezza gli errori di accurazio- di accuratezza sono circa del venti per cento


[the therefore accura- the errors of accuracy are about twenty per cent]


l'accuratezza (…) può essere bassa virgola con un tasso di errore del venti per cento punto


[accuracy can be low comma with an error rate of twenty per cent]

l'accuratezza può essere bassa, con un tasso di errore del 20%.


[accuracy can be low, with an error rate of 20%]


Example 6: Substitution (S)

A generalisation is the inappropriate use of a hypernym or a more general phrase than the original formulation in the SL, which results in the TL unit conveying a different idea. In Example 7 the speaker is talking about the difficulty of devising an automatic punctuation tool and mentions commas as a problem in his language. The TL subtitle mentions “punctuation marks” in general and the resulting sentence implies that in Czech there are more types of punctuation marks than in other languages.

SL Speaker




TL Subtitles


because in Cz- in the Czech lin- language we have many commas in the in the sentences

quindi soprattutto nella nostra lingua abbiamo molte virgole nelle frasi



[so especially in our language we have many commas in sentences]


specialmente nella nostra lingua virgola (…) in cui abbiamo molti segni di punteggiatura punto


[especially in our language comma in which we have many punctuation marks full stop]

specialmente nella nostra lingua, in cui abbiamo molti segni di punteggiatura.


[especially in our language, in which we have many punctuation marks.]


Example 7: Generalisation (G)

The last type of semantic distortion is an addition (A), which introduces extraneous elements in the TL unit (unlike explicitation, which clarifies the meaning of the original). In Example 8 the TL subtitles convey the idea that the respeaker may resort to the keyboard to add words to the vocabulary, but the phrase come meglio crede (as he/she sees fit) adds the unwarranted nuance of “as (s)he likes best”.

SL Speaker




TL Subtitles


so the respeaker can add these words to the system just during subtitling

e quindi il respeaker può effettivamente aggiungere delle nuove parole durante la sottotitolazione




[and therefore the respeaker can actually add new words during subtitling]


il respeaker (…) può quindi <interridurre>


le parole come meglio crede tramite la tastiera punto


[the respeaker can therefore interriduce - introduce [types] the words as he sees fit via the keyboard full stop]

Il respeaker può quindi introdurre le parole come meglio crede tramite la tastiera.



[the respeaker can therefore introduce the words as he sees fit via the keyboard]


Example 8: Addition (A)

After defining and illustrating each category, let us have a look at their distribution in the TL versions of the four speeches (Table 4).


Semantic Transmission

Semantic Reduction

Semantic Distortion














































































































Table 4. Key: T= transfer; E= explicitation; C= condensation;
DEL= deletion; O= omission; DEC= decimation;
S= substitution; G= generalisation; A= addition

The data in Table 4 show that the number of transfers is much higher in the interpreted output of all four speeches, which means that, overall, the interpreters conveyed the semantic content of the original speeches more fully than the respeakers. Condensation was the second most frequent semantic transmission category in both translation modes, ranking at very similar levels (49 in the interpreted output vs. 52 in the subtitles), but with a different distribution across the four speeches. Predictably, explicitation was less frequent in both translation modes: however, in 31 cases the respeakers thought it necessary to make the subtitles more explicit than the SL idea unit, despite the time and space constraints.

Deletions (DEL) of redundant or implicit elements occurred twice as many times in the subtitles as in SI, but omissions (O) were also very frequent in the subtitles. It would seem that one of the ways in which respeakers try to cope with the complex cognitive demands of IRSP is by cutting out parts of the SL message; while sometimes this affects only redundant elements and the overall meaning is preserved (deletions), more often than not there is some information loss (omissions). Cuts were especially marked in the subtitles of the read academic paper (P2), which had very high information density, and in the translation of M1, which was delivered at a high speed (see Table 1).

Finally, turning to semantic distortions, substitution was the most frequent type in both SI and IRSP; it is worth noticing that there were more generalisations in the subtitles than in the interpreted speeches.

Figure 4 shows all of the above results in a graph and grouped by the three macro-categories, namely semantic transmission, reduction and distortion; the results related to the interpreted version and the subtitles of the same speech are placed next to each other for ease of comparison.

Figure 4: Overall results for semantic transmission,
reduction and distortion across all the TL data

Once again it can be observed that the interpreted speeches reproduced the semantic content of the four SL speeches more accurately than the subtitles: this can be seen in the higher proportion of semantic transmissions and in the lower number of semantic reductions. Moreover, while semantic transmission was the most frequent macro-category in the interpreted speeches, this was not the case in all the subtitled versions: for example, the subtitles of the impromptu conference paper (P1-Sub) featured more reduction than transmission (which equates to content loss); in addition, in the subtitled versions of the two moderators’ introductions (M1-Sub and M2-Sub) the figures for semantic transmission and reduction were similar. However, it is interesting to note that the difference between the interpreted speeches and the subtitles was not so marked in terms of factual errors; exactly the same number of semantic distortions was found in the interpreted and subtitled versions of P1 (42), while the subtitles for P2, M1 and M2 contained only a few more errors than the corresponding interpreted versions.

In relation to text type, the best results were obtained on the read conference paper (P2): in the interpreted version 74 per cent of all the SL units (175 out of 237) were conveyed to the TL audience via semantic transmission, while in the subtitles the percentage dropped to 50 per cent (119). By contrast, P1 (the impromptu conference paper) turned out to be more challenging for both interpreters and respeakers: only 42 per cent of SL units (82 out of 194) were conveyed via semantic transmission in the interpreted version and only 36 per cent (70) in the subtitles. Interpreters and respeakers produced the same number of semantic distortions (42), and semantic reduction was quite marked in both versions (82 vs. 70 in P1-Sub and P1-Int, respectively). Finally, although the short duration of the moderators’ introductions (M1 and M2) makes it difficult to draw reliable conclusions, the impromptu introduction (M1) proved more challenging than the read introduction: both semantic reductions and distortions were far more abundant in both the interpreted and subtitled versions of M1 than in M2. In this case, speed may have played a role too, as this was the fastest speech in the sub-corpus (see Table 1).

5. Discussion and conclusions

As was explained in §3.2, the first tangible result of this study has been the creation of a multimedia archive that includes the parallel data of SL speeches delivered during the Symposium and the TL data produced via SI and IRSP.

Firstly, the importance of prior preparation has been confirmed by our results, which show that both interpreters and respeakers performed better on those speeches they had had the opportunity to prepare in advance (the “read” speeches P2 and M2). This is an aspect that should be stressed in future IRSP courses and highlighted in any best practice guidelines aimed at event organisers, who must be made aware of respeaker needs; as both IRSP and interpreting are cognitively very demanding, thorough preparation is essential.

As regards the application of our categories to the data, the frequency of semantic distortions (i.e. actual translation errors) was roughly comparable in both translation modes, with substitutions emerging as the main problem and generalisations affecting the subtitles more than the interpreted output. The real difference between SI and IRSP in this setting was actually the quantity of information conveyed to the TL audience: thanks to the higher number of semantic transmissions (especially transfers) and the lower number of semantic reductions (especially omissions), the interpreted speeches rendered the SL content more fully.

Of course, our study does not attempt to explain why there were so many omissions in the TL subtitles. Some SL idea units may have been omitted because the respeaker was lagging behind too much; references to visual information in the SL slides may have been missed owing to the concurrent need to monitor the recognition output; or perhaps this trend only affects this small subset of speeches and not the whole Symposium. At the time of writing, it is impossible to say whether a more marked semantic reduction is an intrinsic feature of IRSP vis-à-vis simultaneous interpreting in live conferences; many factors are likely to play a role, including the type of live event, degree of prior preparation, the skills of the professionals involved, the technical set-up and so on. The aim of this contrastive analysis study was not to advocate for one translation mode over the other, but to identify patterns in the available data to inform future IRSP teaching and suggest potential research avenues. Indeed, another interesting result is that there were twice as many deletions in the TL subtitles than in the interpreted speeches, which means that the respeaker was relatively successful at identifying redundant items that could be eliminated. The ability to edit the text successfully is even more important in IRSP than in SI, as the extra effort required to add punctuation and produce written sentences via speech recognition increases the time lag. Therefore, trainee respeakers must learn to carry out real-time text analysis in order to identify any items that can be deleted without affecting the meaning.

Another aspect that certainly requires further investigation is the various technological set-ups for subtitle projection. In our Symposium the subtitles were projected onto the bottom of each PowerPoint slide (see §3.1), but in other settings it might be possible to use an additional screen or provide subtitles directly to users’ personal devices; the influence of different configurations on the IRSP service has not been studied yet. A related issue is the audience reception of live subtitles in a conference setting, namely how the use of different screens (position, size, and so on) can affect audience comprehension; research in related fields, such as opera surtitling, may provide useful hints. Moreover, the ergonomics of respeakers’ workstations also needs to be investigated. While a direct view of speakers and audience is considered a pre-requisite for a simultaneous interpreting service of good quality (AIIC 2011), in the case of respeaking it might be worth experimenting with an in-booth monitor displaying speakers and slides, to investigate whether such a set-up would make it easier for the respeaker to switch from the monitor to the laptop where the speech recognition software is installed. In short, there is a need for more empirical and experimental data to compare different technical configurations and their influence on the delivery of IRSP in conferences and, in due course, to produce a set of best practice guidelines. It is hoped that the present study may be a useful step in this direction.


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[1] See Romero-Fresco (2011) for an overview of respeaking practices in various countries.

[2] N stands for the overall number of words in the subtitles; E stands for “edition errors”, namely the errors made by the respeaker; and R indicates “recognition errors”, i.e. the errors made by the software when converting spoken data into written text.

[3] N stands for the overall number of words in the subtitles, T for “translation errors” (made by the respeaker) and R indicates “recognition errors” (made by the software).

[4] The results of the pilot study will be used as the basis for a full-scale SMART project (funded by the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council and starting in July 2020) involving professionals, rather than students.

[5] As students worked on the materials from home and in their own time, it is not possible to quantify the exact number of hours they spent practising IRSP.

[7] Dragon Naturally Speaking has an in-built Vocabulary. Words not included in the Vocabulary (specialised terms, neologisms, foreign words, names and so on) can be added to it and their pronunciation can be recorded by the user, to enable recognition. Moreover, it is possible to create shortcuts (“macros”) for frequently used phrases: for example, instead of dictating “the UN Security Council”, a respeaker may create a voice command such as “UNSEC”, which produces the transcription of the whole phrase.

[8] The transcripts include repetitions, self-corrections, truncated and mispronounced words, silent and filled pauses (only pauses of 2 seconds or longer were transcribed).

[9] Both the respoken text and the TL subtitles were included, as the comparison between the two can offer some insight into man-machine interaction (for example, it can help to distinguish an edition error from a recognition error caused by unclear articulation).

[10] The original speaker’s heavily accented pronunciation may have caused the error.

About the author(s)

Lecturer in English Language and Translation at UNINT in Rome. A conference interpreter by training (Trieste, English and Spanish), she taught at the universities of Hull, Bologna at Forlì and Trieste before joining UNINT in 2008. She teaches the Dialogue Interpreting (English-Italian) and Interlingual Respeaking modules on the MA in Interpreting and Translation, and the Subtitling and Audiodescription modules on the MA in Audiovisual and Multimedia Translation and Adaptation for Subtitling and Dubbing. Her research interests include Computer Assisted Interpreter Training (CAIT), corpus-based Interpreting Studies, Audiovisual Translation (dubbing, subtitling and respeaking), Legal Interpreting/Translation and Legal English. She has taken part in several international and national research projects, including: EPIC (European Parliament Interpreting Corpus) at the University of Bologna; 3 EU-funded projects on legal interpreting and translation (Building Mutual Trust, Qualitas, Understanding Justice); she created the FOOTiE (Football in Europe) corpus and coordinated the DubTalk/TVTalk project on dubbing and subtitling. She coordinates the English unit of the Eurolect Observatory and is a member of the LARIM research group on interpreting and of the GALMA observatory. She is currently International Co-investigator on the ESRC-funded Shaping Multilingual Access with Respeaking Technology project (led by the University of Surrey); she is also coordinating the “¡Sub! Localisation workflows that work” project (UNINT-Roehampton).

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

©inTRAlinea & Annalisa Sandrelli (2020).
"Interlingual respeaking and simultaneous interpreting in a conference setting: a comparison"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Technology in Interpreter Education and Practice
Edited by: Nicoletta Spinolo & Amalia Amato
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2518

Nuevas tecnologías para la transmisión de la interpretación simultánea: una revolución ya en marcha

By Nicoletta Spinolo (University of Bologna, Italy)

Abstract & Keywords


The first instances of use of a technological medium (telephone, in that case) for simultaneous interpreting date back to the 20th century (Baigorri-Jalón 2000). In the past few decades, conference interpreting in simultaneous mode was possible thanks to radio technology or, more frequently and especially for wider audiences and multiple language combinations, the infrared one, which transmits a high-quality audio signal to the audience in the conference hall, through special receivers.

With the ever growing globalization, the constant development of ICTs, the incredible speed at which international meetings and events are organized and, last but not least, the constant need of public and private institutions to reduce management times and costs on their events, new alternatives to the infrared technology are being developed, transmitting audio and video signals over the internet. Different platforms on the market offer various possible configurations.

Despite the extra stress and fatigue remote interpreting seems to cause to interpreters (Moser-Mercer 2003), this scenario appears to be the present, rather than the future of conference interpreting. For those who approach these new technologies for the first time it can be hard to find their way among a large number of different features and understand their potential. The goal of this paper is to provide an overview of the current scenario of new technologies for the transmission of simultaneous interpreting, describing their possible uses, similarities and differences.


Los primeros casos de utilización de un soporte tecnológico (en aquel caso, el telefónico) para la interpretación simultánea se remontan al siglo XX (Baigorri-Jalón 2000). Ya desde hace unas décadas, la interpretación de conferencias en modalidad simultánea es posible gracias a la tecnología radiofónica o, con más frecuencia y especialmente para un público numeroso y múltiples combinaciones lingüísticas, la tecnología infrarroja, que permite transmitir una señal audio de alta calidad al público en la sala a través de específicos dispositivos de recepción.

Con la cada vez mayor globalización, el desarrollo constante de las tecnologías de la información y comunicación, la increíble rapidez con la que se organizan reuniones y eventos internacionales y la constante necesidad de instituciones públicas y privadas de reducir tiempos y costes de gestión de sus eventos comunicativos, se están desarrollando nuevas tecnologías alternativas a la infrarroja, que transmiten señales audio y vídeo a través de internet. Las opciones de uso propuestas por las plataformas presentes en el mercado son múltiples y prevén varias configuraciones posibles.

En este contexto que, a pesar del mayor estrés y cansancio que parece causar a los intérpretes (Moser-Mercer 2003), representa cada vez menos el futuro y cada vez más el presente de la interpretación de conferencias, resulta difícil para quien se acerca por primera vez a estas nuevas tecnologías orientarse entre sus funcionalidades y entender su potencial. El objetivo de este artículo es dibujar un mapa del panorama actual de las nuevas tecnologías para la interpretación simultánea, describiendo sus posibilidades de uso, afinidades y diferencias en clave comparativa.


©inTRAlinea & Nicoletta Spinolo (2020).
"Nuevas tecnologías para la transmisión de la interpretación simultánea: una revolución ya en marcha"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Technology in Interpreter Education and Practice
Edited by: Nicoletta Spinolo & Amalia Amato
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2516

1. Introducción

El presente artículo se ha desarrollado a partir de una comunicación presentada en el congreso TechLing’17, que se celebró en Forlí en noviembre de ese mismo año.

En aquel momento, el título de la comunicación presentaba un signo de interrogación: “¿Una revolución ya en marcha?”. Hoy en día, el signo de interrogación ya no tiene motivo de existir: las nuevas tecnologías y, en particular, las tecnologías para la comunicación a distancia, en las cuales nos centraremos en este caso, han entrado definitivamente en el mundo de la interpretación de conferencias (Bowman 2014; Mas-Jones 2016; Jiménez Serrano 2019), con un ulterior reciente impulso, sobre el que aún no tenemos datos, debido a la pandemia del Covid-19.

Los eventos comunicativos virtuales, tanto de tipo dialógico (por ejemplo, reuniones entre dos o más partes por teléfono o videoconferencia, interacciones entre ciudadanos y administración), como de tipo monológico (webinarios, conferencias en streaming, etc.), han aumentado exponencialmente en épocas recientes (Spinolo y San Vicente 2018). De la misma manera, ha aumentado también la necesidad de servicios de interpretación para estos eventos.

Exactamente como la interpretación presencial, la interpretación a distancia se sitúa a lo largo de un continuum que va de la modalidad dialógica a la monológica (que típicamente se da en el marco de conferencias). La interpretación dialógica a distancia se suele llevar a cabo por teléfono o videoconferencia (Braun 2015). De esta tipología de interpretación se ha ocupado de forma extensa el reciente proyecto europeo SHIFT in Orality[1], cuyo objetivo final era desarrollar una solución pedagógica para la enseñanza de la interpretación a distancia (Amato et al. 2018), a raiz de un anterior estudio de la interacción monológica a distancia (San Vicente et al. 2018) y de la interacción bilingüe a distancia mediada por un intérprete (Russo et al. 2019). Se trata de una modalidad de interpretación ya consolidada, y de la que ya muchos estudiosos se han ocupado, analizando sus carácterísticas y desarrollando indicaciones y buenas prácticas para intérpretes y usuarios; es un ejemplo el proyecto AVIDICUS[2].  En nuestro caso, en cambio, nos ocuparemos de la interpretación monológica en situación de conferencias a distancia, describiendo sus características y modalidades, y detallando las tecnologías necesarias para su transmisión.

Como subrayan Ziegler y Gigliobianco (2018), a pesar de algunos exitosos experimentos de interpretación simultánea a distancia, como los de UNESCO en 1976 (Kurz 2000), Naciones Unidas en 1978 (Chernov 2004), en 1982 (UNESCO 1987), y en 2001 (Mouzourakis 2006), la Unión Europea en 1992 (Kurz 2000), en 2001 (European Parliament Interpretation Directorate 2001) y en 2005 (Roziner y Shlesinger 2010), la interpretación de conferencias a distancia no tuvo mucho éxito en el pasado reciente, a causa de barreras tecnológicas (insuficiente amplitud de banda y fiabilidad de conexión) y de las resistencias de algunos. Sin embargo, como evidencian los mismos autores:

In the last few years, general conditions for conference interpreting have been changing constantly not only due to globalization and altered market needs, but also due to digitalization and extremely fast developing information and communication technologies (Ziegler y Gigliobianco 2018:120).

El objetivo del presente trabajo no es ofrecer un panorama completo de las tecnologías para la transmisión y recepción de la interpretación a distancia, ya que estas cambian, se actualizan y evolucionan constantemente, sino ofrecer un mapa que pueda ser útil para orientarse entre las principales tipologías de dichas tecnologías, entender sus aplicaciones, límites y potencial.

2. Tecnologías tradicionales

Como es sabido, y como también es fácil intuir, la actividad de la interpretación existe desde hace mucho tiempo y se practica desde tiempos muy antiguos[3]. A pesar de ello, el momento fundamental para su reconocimiento como profesión se da en el siglo XX con el nacimiento y la difusión de la interpretación de conferencias (Baigorri Jalón 2000) en modalidad consecutiva, primero, y en modalidad simultánea, posteriormente. Mientras que para la primera modalidad no se necesitan soportes tecnológicos especiales (con la excepción de un micrófono, un bloc de notas y un bolígrafo), para la segunda, desarrollada fundamentalmente para ahorrar el tiempo de interpretación y permitir que se interpretara simultáneamente en más de una combinación lingüística, sí se necesita la ayuda de la tecnología.

A pesar de que el nacimiento de la interpretación simultánea se haga coincidir convencionalmente con el Juicio de Nuremberg, que se celebró en 1945-46 y se interpretó en cuatro lenguas, inglés, francés, alemán y ruso (Baigorri Jalón 2014), el primer soporte tecnológico que permite la interpretación simultánea se inventó en los años ‘20, y fue patentado en 1926 por Alan Gordon Finlay y Edward Filene, que fueron los primeros en utilizar la tecnología del teléfono para la interpretación simultánea. El sistema patentado por Filene y Finlay se utilizó esporádicamente también en ocasiones anteriores a Nuremberg como, por ejemplo, la International Labour Conference de la Sociedad de las Naciones, que se celebró en 1927 (Taylor-Bourladon 2007).

El siguiente soporte tecnológico para la interpretación simultánea fue el de la radio, que se utilizó tanto para salas de conferencias con grandes públicos, como en sistemas móviles para grupos más pequeños, gracias al llamado sistema bidule, que se empezó a utilizar a mediados del siglo XX gracias a Frank Barker y Teddy Pilley (Keiser 2004: 589). Se trataba de un sistema portátil que se podía utilizar sin cabina, con el que el intérprete simplemente empleaba un micrófono, y el público unos auriculares. Dicho sistema se sigue utilizando hoy en día, especialmente para grupos pequeños o para eventos peculiares (visitas guiadas de establecimientos, talleres, etc.), en los que el público puede necesitar desplazarse de un lugar a otro, o como alternativa a la interpretación en chuchotage cuando el grupo de destinatarios de la interpretación es demasiado amplio. Se trata de un sistema que tiene indudablemente ventajas: desde un punto de vista económico, es mucho menos caro que una cabina y desde un punto de vista práctico es versátil, fácil de utilizar, ocupa muy poco espacio y se puede utilizar en espacios pequeños. Tiene, por otra parte, algunas desventajas, entre ellas: la voz de los intérpretes puede molestar al público, ya que no se encuentran en una cabina insonorizada, la calidad del sonido para el público no suele ser comparable con la de un sistema de cabinas de infrarrojos (descrito a continuación), y las condiciones de sonido de la sala podrían en algunos casos impedir una prestación óptima por parte del intérprete, al no poder escuchar perfectamente el discurso original por no estar en una cabina insonorizada y no tener siempre cascos para escuchar el audio original. A propósito de este sistema, conocido como bidule,  infoport o tour guide system, la Asociación Internacional de Intérpretes de Conferencias (AIIC) afirma que “Simultaneous interpretation without a booth (bidule) is a practice to be avoided because of the inherent difficulty - even at best - in producing the requisite high quality of interpretation” (AIIC 2002), subrayando que solo se debería utilizar en casos especiales y en determinadas condiciones: visitas a establecimientos, grupos pequeños, reuniones breves, entre otras.

Por último, el soporte tecnológico que incluso en el momento actual, o al menos hasta la revolución provocada por la pandemia de la Covid-19, ha sido el más utilizado para la interpretación simultánea es el infrarrojo. Se trata de un sistema que se empezó a utilizar en los años ochenta del siglo XX; sus ventajas respecto a la radio son varias: en primer lugar, la calidad del sonido suele resultar excelente. En segundo lugar, no suele presentar riesgos de interferencias, ya que el sonido se recibe solo dentro de la sala. Como ilustra Ruiz Mezcua (2010:113):

Este equipo requiere la instalación de unas pantallas de luz infrarrojas llamadas “radiadores” [...]. Al ser su radiación directa, los cuerpos opacos [...] pueden obstaculizar la recepción, por lo que es necesario colocar radiadores suficientes a fin de cubrir toda la sala de manera correcta sin “zonas de sombra”. Así, el receptor tiene que estar siempre expuesto y no puede guardarse, por ejemplo, en un bolsillo.

Se trata, sin duda, del equipo más caro de los descritos a lo largo de este apartado, pero sus costes de alquiler e instalación suelen ser compensados por la elevada calidad del servicio que otorga.

Concluyendo este breve apartado de descripción de las tecnologías tradicionales, podemos ver que las tecnologías dedicadas a la interpretación han evolucionado a lo largo del siglo XX y comienzos del XXI, utilizando distintos soportes tecnológicos (el teléfono, la radio, los infrarrojos) con el objetivo, por un lado, de una buena calidad de sonido de entrada (hacia el intérprete) y salida (hacia el público) y, por otro, de ser econtrar una solución versátil y económica.

3. Nuevas tecnologías basadas en la red

3.1. Los sistemas BYOD para la interpretación simultánea

La gran revolución del siglo XXI en la tecnología de la interpretación se da gracias, por un lado, a internet y a las enormes posibilidades que ofrece y, por otro, a la difusión casi universal de tecnologías portátiles como la de los Smartphones o de las tabletas, y al advenimiento de las aplicaciones (o Apps).

¿Qué pasaría si, en lugar de utilizar las tecnologías tradicionales, utilizáramos nuestros propios dispositivos para vehicular la interpretación? Nacen así los sistemas BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) para la interpretación simultánea. El objetivo de estos sistemas es sustituir la tecnología tradicional (cabinas e infrarrojos, fundamentalmente), con motivaciones que van desde la necesidad de ahorrar, a las características de la sala que no permiten instalar cabinas, hasta la necesidad de intérpretes muy especializados en cierto par de idiomas o sobre un determinado tema, y cuyo desplazamiento resulte complejo por razones geográficas o de tiempo (Ziegler y Gigliobianco, 2018). Con estos sistemas, el público en la sala de conferencias puede seguir la interpretación utilizando su dispositivo móvil (smartphone o tableta) a través de una aplicación en la que puede seleccionar los idiomas activos para el evento al que está asistiendo y, en muchos casos, puede también seguir el trabajo a distancia desde la App (o desde su navegador, en caso de no ser la App compatible con su sistema operativo), cuando esta ofrece también la posibilidad de ver las diapositivas en pantalla y/o el ponente. Con esta modalidad, los intérpretes no trabajan a distancia, sino que se encuentran en la sede del evento, normalmente en una cabina. En este caso, los intérpretes pueden utilizar una consola tradicional (o hard console) de interpretación en el caso de que el sistema BYOD elegido sea compatible con las consolas tradicionales, o pueden utilizar un ordenador en lugar de la consola. En este segundo caso, la consola se ve sustituida por la interfaz de una plataforma virtual (o soft console), a la que se accede a través del navegador del ordenador, y cuyos controles suelen ser muy parecidos a los de una consola tradicional (con variantes entre una plataforma y otra): botón on/off del micrófono y/o silenciador de micrófono, control de volumen de entrada, selector de canales (para escuchar el original de la sala o un canal de interpretación para el relé), control para cambio de turno con el compañero de cabina.

Se trata, sin lugar a dudas, de una solución muy conveniente para los organizadores de eventos, que consiguen de esta manera reducir los precios de alquiler de los receptores de sistema infrarrojo, que suelen constituir una parte importante del presupuesto de un evento. A este ahorro, que podría, en una situación ideal, repercutir incluso en una mayor tarifa para los intérpretes, se suma la posibilidad, como se mencionaba anteriormente, de seguir la conferencia (y la interpretación) a distancia. Será necesario, en cambio, ofrecer en la sala del congreso una conexión WiFi suficientemente estable y potente y, si es preciso, potenciada a través de la instalación de varios hotspots, en caso de salas muy grandes y público numeroso, para que todos los participantes puedan conectarse.

Sin embargo, se trata también de una solución que no deja de presentar inconvenientes; el principal es un cambio en la responsabilidad de la gestión de la escucha por parte del público. Mientras que, con el tradicional sistema infrarrojo, es el técnico el que se encarga de proporcionar los receptores y asegurar su funcionamiento asistiendo a quien lo necesite, con esta modalidad la responsabilidad “técnica” se transfiere a los miembros del público, que tendrán que descargar e instalar la aplicación y asegurarse de tener suficiente batería en su dispositivo y de disponer de cascos. Se trata, sin duda, de una serie de condiciones que podría causar cierto descontento en el público; por otra parte, se podrían solucionar, al menos parcialmente, a través de algunas estrategias. Podría ser conveniente avisar con antelación (a través de un correo electrónico, o un aviso en la web del evento, por ejemplo) a los participantes en el congreso de la necesidad de descargar e instalar la aplicación, para que puedan hacerlo con antelación; de esta manera, se podría reducir al mínimo la cantidad de participantes que necesitarán ayuda para instalar la aplicación en el lugar del evento. Para obviar el problema de la batería, sería suficiente ofrecer puntos de recarga (regletas, por ejemplo) en la sala del congreso, mientras se podrían ofrecer auriculares desechables para los participantes que no dispongan de los suyos.

3.2. Las conferencias se trasladan a internet

Son cada vez más los eventos que se celebran de forma no presencial, sino remota. Cada día, son numerosas las conferencias, reuniones, presentaciones de productos, webinarios que se celebran en línea. En estos eventos virtuales, el ponente (o los ponentes) se encuentran en su despacho o en casa, delante de su ordenador, y presentan su ponencia a un público que, a su vez, se encuentra en su propio despacho o en casa, y que sigue el evento conectándose por internet.

Los softwares que permiten este tipo de conferencias son muchos, y presentan distintas características que hacen que sean más o menos adecuados para una tipología de evento u otra. En el caso de organizar una reunión de trabajo, por ejemplo, es deseable que el software o plataforma tenga algunas funciones básicas, como posibilidad de uso desde cualquier dispositivo móvil o fijo, de compartir archivos y pantalla, y de que los participantes puedan comunicarse a través de un chat, además de la llamada de grupo. Para otro tipo de eventos como, por ejemplo, la presentación de un producto, de una clase o de un webinario, sería deseable contar con otras características, además de las descritas; puede resultar útil en este caso disponer, por ejemplo, de una pizarra virtual, además de poder compartir pantalla. En el caso de eventos con más de un ponente, o si se prevén sesiones de preguntas y respuestas con el público (a través de un chat o de videoconferencia), es interesante también que la plataforma prevea un perfil de moderador del evento, que ordene y organice las preguntas y respuestas, bien controlando el chat y transmitiéndolas a los ponentes, o bien asignando los turnos de palabra en el caso de que las preguntas sean orales.

Existen además otras posibles funciones que ofrecen algunas plataformas, y que pueden resultar útiles en función del tipo de evento previsto como, por ejemplo, la posibilidad de grabar el evento (respetando las normas al respecto y pidiendo las debidas autorizaciones a los participantes), o de transmitirlo públicamente en modo broadcast (por ejemplo, a través de YouTube). Algunas organizaciones como las de gobierno, instituciones universitarias, empresas, etc. pueden necesitar también, en algunos casos, disponer de un espacio en línea para guardar archivos en común, además de tener garantías de seguridad sobre la plataforma utilizada, máxime en el caso de discutir o compartir asuntos reservados o sensibles.

3.4. Los softwares RSI

En cada vez más ocasiones, los eventos descritos más arriba (véase apartado 3.2) se celebran entre participantes que hablan lenguas diferentes, y que necesitan que su intervención sea interpretada. En el pasado, estos eventos o bien no disponían de un servicio de interpretación, o bien este se desarrollaba en modalidad consecutiva por videoconferencia.

En los últimos años, en cambio, y con cada vez más frecuencia, están surgiendo herramientas tecnológicas (apps, plataformas) que permiten la interpretación simultánea de estos eventos virtuales a través de sistemas de interpretación simultánea a distancia (Remote Simultaneous Interpreting, RSI). En este caso, y a diferencia de un sistema BYOD (véase apartado 3.1), los ponentes, el público y el intérprete no comparten espacio físico, sino virtual. La mayoría de las herramientas RSI están preparadas para cumplir con la doble función de BYOD y RSI; esto significa que la misma herramienta se puede utilizar en un evento presencial, en el que todos (ponentes, público, intérpretes) comparten el mismo espacio físico, en un evento solo virtual, en el que nadie comparte el mismo espacio físico, o en un evento híbrido, en el que, por ejemplo, los intérpretes trabajan a distancia, mientras que público y ponentes se encuentran juntos, o una parte del público está presente y otra a distancia, o también en la que los ponentes (o parte de ellos) se encuentran a distancia. La figura 1 ilustra un ejemplo de esta configuración híbrida:

Figura 1: Evento presencial y virtual, con una parte de los ponentes
y del público presentes en la sala de congresos
y una parte a distancia, y con intérpretes a distancia.

Las características de la interfaz del intérprete son las mismas descritas más arriba (ver apartado 3.1): se trata fundamentalmente de una cabina virtual, que intenta reproducir (con mayor o menor éxito, dependiendo de la herramienta utilizada) una consola de cabina tradicional. En el caso de la RSI, el espacio físico ocupado por los intérpretes se articula de dos maneras posibles: por un lado, en un centro hub y, por otro, desde casa. En el primer caso, los intérpretes trabajan desde ordenadores situados en un centro especializado preparado específicamente para la labor de RSI; esta opción tiene la ventaja de ofrecer a los intérpretes la tranquilidad de un soporte técnico siempre presente, de no cargar con la responsabilidad de eventuales fallos técnicos o de conexión, y de tener físicamente al lado al compañero de cabina, pudiendo así comunicar con ella/él de manera tradicional (señales, notas, comunicaciones orales a micrófono cerrado, organizar los cambios de turno, etc.). La desventaja de esta opción, por otra parte, es que el intérprete tendrá de cualquier forma que desplazarse hasta el centro hub. En el caso, en cambio, de que los intérpretes trabajen desde su propia vivienda u oficina, necesitarán comunicarse entre ellos, necesidad que se realiza normalmente a través de un chat de todos los intérpretes del evento, únicamente de una cabina virtual (en el caso de haber más de una) o ambas opciones. Esta solución, respecto a la del hub, tiene la desventaja de responsabilizar a los intérpretes de la calidad y gestión de su equipo (conexión, cascos, micrófono) y de que su ambiente de trabajo sea silencioso, además de la de la comunicación a distancia con los compañeros. La ventaja es que, de esta manera, se evitan los desplazamientos del intérprete, con un consiguiente abatimiento de los costes para el organizador del evento, un notable ahorro de tiempo para el intérprete y un ahorro de emisiones de CO2 para el medio ambiente.

A la interfaz del intérprete se suele añadir, en este caso, una interfaz para el ponente (control de micrófono, de audio y vídeo, visualización de chat con el público, opción de compartir pantalla y/o posibilidad de presentar diapositivas), una para el moderador (control de micrófono, de audio y vídeo, visualización de chat con el público, con el ponente y/o con los intérpretes, opción de compartir pantalla y/o posibilidad de presentar diapositivas, control de turnos de palabra) y una para el público (control de audio y vídeo, visualización de chat).

Merece una mención a parte el caso de la interpretación en lengua de signos para la que, evidentemente, se necesita transmitir el video del intérprete y no el audio y para la que en el mercado se han desarrollado herramientas específicas.

4. ¿Una nueva oportunidad?

Este desarrollo de las tecnologías en interpretación parece ser, de alguna manera, la natural evolución de la interpretación que se ve sometida al enésimo cambio por lo que concierne a las tecnologías que la posibilitan, como hemos ilustrado anteriormente (véase apartado 2).

Se trata, además, de un cambio que algunos ya habían previsto: en 2001, Bill Wood, fundador de la empresa DS-Interpretation, con ocasión de la segunda cumbre norteamericana sobre interpretación (2nd North-American Summit on Interpretation), declaró: “Interpreters will not be replaced by technology – they will be replaced by interpreters who use technology”. Y mucho antes, en 1999, Baigorri Jalón declaraba:

Si el paso de la interpretación consecutiva a la simultánea supuso la conquista del tiempo, ahora con la revolución de las telecomunicaciones estamos en condiciones de superar la dimensión del espacio [...]. Esta es una revolución en plena fase experimental... yo creo que con el tiempo se va a imponer la interpretación remota no sólo en el lugar de trabajo, sino algo más: en un momento no lejano de nuestra historia, uno podrá estar en zapatillas en su casa, interpretando desde allí, con un ordenador, una pantalla y un equipo correspondiente... estoy convencido, no digo que esto sea lo ideal ni lo mejor, ni que se vaya a conseguir una calidad perfecta, pero es el perfil del futuro (Codina 1999: online).   

Se trata, de manera evidente, de un cambio que ya estamos presenciando y al que, probablemente, resultará difícil oponerse, a pesar de algunas evidentes desventajas que presenta, y que se han descrito a lo largo de este trabajo. La aportación que la comunidad de los investigadores y profesionales de la interpretación podría ofrecer a esta nueva revolución en el mundo de la interpretación de conferencias debería ser la de liderar este cambio junto con las empresas que están desarrollando estas tecnologías, para que estas realmente creen condiciones de trabajo factibles para los intérpretes.

Sería de esperar, pues, que la investigación sobre este tema intentara seguir el frenético ritmo de los desarrollos tecnológicos, como subraya Moser-Mercer en una entrevista de 2015: “[...] learning needs to support professional practice; our learning environments thus need to incorporate digitally rich contexts when that is appropriate in the learner’s progression towards professional competence” (OEB 2015: online). 

Los aspectos que sería preciso analizar son múltiples, y requieren en la mayoría de los casos una colaboración interdisciplinar entre investigadores de la interpretación y especialistas de TICs; sería preciso, en esta línea, analizar ante todo el aspecto del impacto cognitivo de la interpretación a distancia en los profesionales (Moser-Mercer 2003) y en los usuarios (ponentes, público), tanto desde el punto de vista de la mayor carga cognitiva que conlleva, como desde el punto de vista de la fricción cognitiva provocada por la interacción con distintas interfaces de interpretación (soft consoles). Es imprescindible también estudiar los requisitos mínimos definidos en las normas ISO sobre interpretación (especialmente la ISO 2018: 2016, que define los estándares de calidad de transmisión audio y vídeo) e intentar, donde sea posible, estudiar y proponer configuraciones de trabajo óptimas para los intérpretes de ahora y de nuestro inmediato futuro. En este último aspecto trabajan, por ejemplo, Ziegler y Gigliobianco (2018), experimentando tres diferentes configuraciones para un “future workspace” del intérprete a distancia: utilizando una pantalla con función Picture in Picture (PiP), que permite visualizar dos fuentes de señal al mismo tiempo, utilizando una cámara controlada a distancia por el intérprete, o utilizando una cámara de 360 grados y gafas de realidad virtual. Finalmente, sería deseable que las instituciones académicas lideraran este cambio, no solo desde el punto de vista de la investigación, sino también de la didáctica de la interpretación, integrando estas novedosas herramientas en su equipo técnico.

Es probable que, de momento, la interpretación simultánea a distancia no sustituya completamente a la tradicional simultánea en cabina, ya que parece no adaptarse aún a eventos de larga duración para los que se necesitarían, en caso de interpretarlos a distancia, equipos de muchos intérpretes (AIIC, por ejemplo, recomienda que el intérprete a distancia no trabaje más de dos horas diarias; AIIC 2000[4]). Por otra parte, esta nueva modalidad de interpretación puede ofrecer a los profesionales de la interpretación la posibilidad de abrirse a un nuevo mercado interpretando una serie de eventos comunicativos como los virtuales que, de otra manera, quedarían probablemente sin interpretar. El uso de la interpretación a distancia, pues, puede representar una nueva oportunidad para el mundo de la interpretación de conferencias, y sería por ello deseable, como ya se ha subrayado, que los profesionales y los investigadores de la interpretación se sumen a esta ola de cambio junto con las empresas desarrolladoras de las herramientas, para ofrecer condiciones de trabajo adecuadas a los intérpretes de conferencias del presente y del futuro.

5. Interpretar a distancia: algunas buenas prácticas y conclusiones

Concluyendo, y basándonos tanto en lo ilustrado anteriormente como en los requisitos técnicos de algunas de las plataformas comerciales mencionadas más arriba, podemos extraer algunas buenas prácticas para los intérpretes simultáneos que deseen trabajar a distancia.

A este propósito, la Asociación Internacional de Intérpretes de Conferencias (AIIC) ha instituido un grupo de trabajo cuyos primeros resultados se han publicado recientemente (AIIC 2019). La situación ideal, indica la AIIC, sería que los intérpretes trabajaran desde un centro hub, situación que permite, por un lado, trabajar con un compañero de cabina presencial, y no a distancia, facilitando así la colaboración en el equipo de intérpretes y la gestión de los turnos de trabajo. Y por otro lado, trabajar desde un hub con soporte técnico ofrece mayo tranquilidad a la hora de gestionar imprevistos técnicos de todo tipo.

Por otra parte, como también indica el informe de SCIC (2019) sobre un test realizado por los intérpretes de la Comisión Europea sobre cuatro plataformas con soft console, en algunas ocasiones (como la de la actual pandemia de Covid-19) podría resultar imprescindible trabajar desde casa o desde una oficina privada.  En este caso, son varios los aspectos que es necesario tener en cuenta.

Empezando por las características del equipo, es aconsejable utilizar un ordenador con un mínimo de 8GB de RAM. Por lo que concierne a la conexión, es aconsejable utilizar una conexión ethernet (vía cable) en lugar de WiFi, por ser más estable que la inalámbrica (tanto para los intérpretes como para los ponentes). No es necesaria, en cambio, para el público que solo tendrá que recibir y no transmitir. De esta manera, deberían reducirse al mínimo los posibles problemas de conexión. Además, también por lo que concierne a la conexión, para obtener tanto una señal de entrada óptima, con una buena sincronización de audio y vídeo, como una buena señal audio de salida, las empresas proveedoras suelen pedir el requisito de una conexión de banda ancha con una velocidad de upload/download de mínimo 5 MB/s y un ping (que es el tiempo que emplean los paquetes de datos en viajar de un punto a otro y volver) de máximo 50ms[5]. También deberíamos asegurarnos de que estamos utilizando la versión más reciente del browser recomendado por la empresa proveedora. Por último, es necesario disponer de unos cascos profesionales con micrófono integrado; existen modelos con cancelación de ruido de fondo en entrada y salida, que pueden ser muy útiles para “simular” de alguna manera el aislamiento acústico de la cabina reduciendo las reverberaciones. Respecto a los cascos, resulta importante considerar los riesgos que puede acarrear un choque acústico. Se trata de un riesgo siempre presente para los intérpretes simultáneos, pero que parece ser más pronunciado en el caso de la interpretación simultánea a distancia, debido a la falta de uniformidad en la calidad de audio en entrada y a la pérdida de calidad audio debida a la presencia de más de un micrófono encendido (AIIC, 2019 y 2020).

Otra buena práctica que va más allá del equipo utilizado es, evidentemente, la de trabajar en un ambiente silencioso y tranquilo; en el caso de trabajar en casa o en una oficina compartida con otros compañeros, podría ser útil, además de cerrar la puerta, poner una nota que indique que nos encontramos en una sesión activa de interpretación a distancia para que quien quiera entrar lo haga solo en caso de absoluta necesidad y guardando silencio.

Por último, es necesario prestar la debida atención a que la responsabilidad legal de eventuales fallos técnicos no previsibles (apagones, caídas de línea imputables al proveedor, etc.) no sea de los intérpretes, que solo deberían responsabilizarse de las variables técnicas que pueden controlar, y que son las descritas más arriba.

Como se adelantaba en la introducción, la interpretación simultánea a distancia parece ser cada vez menos el pasado y cada vez más el presente – o, por lo menos, uno de los presentes – de la interpretación de conferencias; es imprescindible que las comunidades académicas, desde un punto de vista tanto de la investigación como de la didáctica, no se dejen arrollar por esta revolución ya en marcha, sino que contribuyan a su liderazgo para, por un lado, definir estándares que permitan unas condiciones de trabajo óptimas para los intérpretes y, por otro, formar tanto a sus estudiantes como a los profesionales que deseen hacerlo como formación continuada para el uso de estas nuevas herramientas.


AIIC (2000) “Code for the use of new technologies in conference interpretation”. URL http://www.staff.uni-mainz.de/fantinuo/class/files/cai/aiic_code_interpreting%20technologies.pdf (último acceso 11 de diciembre de 2018).

AIIC Technical Committee (2002) “Text on bidule”, aiic.net January 22, 2002. URL http://aiic.net/p/633 (último acceso: 11 de diciembre de 2018).

AIIC Executive Committee (2018) "AIIC Position on Distance Interpreting". aiic.net March 7, 2018.  URL http://aiic.net/p/8538 (ultimo acceso: 23 de mayo de 2019).

AIIC (2019) “Guidelines for distance interpreting (Version 1.0)”, January 11, 2019.
https://aiic.org/document/4418/AIIC%20Guidelines%20for%20Distance%20Interpreting%20(Version%201.0)%20-%20ENG.pdf (último acceso: 2 de noviembre de 2020).

AIIC Research Committee (2020) "Acoustic Shocks Research Project: Final Report",
https://aiic.org/uploaded/web/Acoustic%20Shocks%20Research%20Project.pdf (último acceso: 2 de noviembre de 2020).

Amato, Amalia, Nicoletta Spinolo y María Jesús González Rodríguez (eds.) (2018) Handbook of Remote Interpreting, Bolonia, AMSActa, URL http://amsacta.unibo.it/5955/ (último acceso: 11 de diciembre de 2018).

Baigorri Jalón, Jesús (2000) Interpretación de conferencias: el nacimiento de una profesión. De París a Nuremberg, Granada, Comares.

Baigorri Jalón, Jesús (2014) From Paris to Nuremberg: the birth of Conference Interpreting, John Benjamins, Amsterdam y Philadelphia.

Bowman, Naomi (2014) “Current trends in the high-end conference market”, GALA, https://www.gala-global.org/publications/current-trends-high-end-conference-interpreting-market (último acceso: 11 de diciembre de 2018).

Braun, Sabine (2015) “Remote Interpreting”, in Mikkelson, Holly y Renée Jourdenais (eds.) The Routledge Handbook of Interpreting, London: Routledge, 352-367.

Chernov, Ghelly V. (2004) Interference and anticipation in simultaneous interpreting: A probability-prediction model, Amsterdam/Philadelphia, John Benjamins.

Codina, Rosa (1999) “Apuntes habla con Jesús Baigorri”, Revista Apuntes, vol. 7 (2/3). URL http://www.apuntesonline.org/translation/articles/art.vol7no23.jesusbaigorri.htm (último acceso: 19 de octubre de 2018).

DG SCIC (2019) Interpreting Platforms. Consolidated test results and analysis. European Commission’s Directorate General for Interpretation (DG SCIC). July 17, 2019.

European Parliament Interpretation Directorate (2001) Report on remote interpretation test, 22-25 January 2001, Bruselas, URL http://www.europarl.europa.eu/interp/remote_interpreting/ep_report1.pdf (último acceso: 11 de diciembre de 2018).

ISO 2008: 2016 (2016) Simultaneous interpreting – quality and transmission of sound and image input – requirements. Standard. International Organization for Standardization.

Jiménez Serrano, Óscar (2019) "Foto fija de la interpretación simultánea remota al inicio del 2020", Revista Tradumàtica. Tecnologies de la Traducció, 17, 59-80.

Keiser, Walter (2004) “L’interprétation de conférence en tant que profession et les précurseurs de l’Association Internationale des Interprètes de Conférence (AIIC) 1918-1953”, Meta, 49 (3), 576-608.

Kurz, Ingrid (1985) “The Rock Tombs of the Princes of Elephantine: Earliest references to interpretation in Pharaonic Egypt”, Babel, 4 (31), 213-218. 

Kurz, Ingrid (2000) “Tagungsort Genf/Nairobi/Wien: Zu einigen Aspekten des Teledolmetschens”, in Translationswissenschaft Festschrift für Mary Snell-Hornby zum 60 Midra Kadric, Klaus Kaindl y Franz Pöchhacker (eds.), Tübingen, Stauffenburg Festschriften, 291–302.

Mas-Jones, Emma (2016) “Developments in interpreting technologies”, Multilingual, January/February 2016, 26-29. 

Moser-Mercer, Barbara (2003) “Remote interpreting: Assessment of human factors and performance parameters”, aiic.net May 19, 2003. URL http://aiic.net/p/1125 (último acceso: 19 de octubre de 2018).

Mouzourakis, Panayotis (2006) “Remote interpreting: a technical perspective on recent experiments”, Interpreting 8(1), 45–66.

OEB Global (2015) “Interview to Barbara Moser-Mercer”, URL https://oeb.global/oeb-insights/interpreting-technology/ (ultimo acceso: 19 de diciembre de 2018).

Roziner, Ilan y Miriam Shlesinger (2010) “Much ado about something remote: Stress and performance in remote interpreting”, Interpreting 12(2), 214–247.

Ruiz Mezcua, Aurora (2010) El equipo de interpretación simultánea y sus implicaciones didácticas, Universidad de Málaga, Tesis doctoral.

Russo, Mariachiara, Iglesias Fernández, Emilia, Spinolo, Nicoletta y María Jesús González Rodríguez (eds.) (en prensa) Telephone interpreting. The impact of technology on dialogue interpreting practice, Bolonia, BUP.

San Vicente, Félix, Gloria Bazzocchi y Pilar Capanaga (eds.) (2018) Oraliter: formas de la comunicación presencial y a distancia, Bolonia, BUP.

SHIFT Report 2 (2017) Remote Technologized Interpreting: main features and shifts with on-site interpreting. URL http://www.shiftinorality.eu/en/resources (último acceso: 19 de diciembre de 2018).  

Spinolo, Nicoletta y Félix San Vicente (2018). “Diventare interprete: formazione e professione”, in Garzelli, Beatrice y Elisa Ghia (eds.), Le lingue dei centri linguistici nelle sfide europee e internazionali: formazione e mercato del lavoro, Pisa, ETS Edizioni, 25 – 42.

Taylor-Bouladon, Valerie (2007) Conference Interpreting: Principles and Practice, Charleston, Booksurge Publishing.

UNESCO (1987) Management of interpretation services in the United Nations system. Report of the United Nations joint inspection unit. https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000073286 (último acceso: 19 de diciembre de 2018).

Ziegler, Klaus y Sebastiano Gigliobianco (2018) “Present? Remote? Remotely present! New technological approaches to remote simultaneous conference interpreting”, in Interpreting and technology, Claudio Fantinuoli (ed.), Berlin, Language Science Press, 119–139.


[1] Información detallada en la página web del proyecto: www.shiftinorality.eu [última consulta el 16/07/2019]

[2] Información detallada en la página web del proyecto: http://wp.videoconference-interpreting.net/ [última consulta el 16/07/2019].

[3] Una primera mención historiográfica se encuentra en las tumbas de los príncipes de Elefantina, y se remonta al año 3000 a.C. (Kurz 1985).

[4] En un documento de posición de 2018, AIIC afirma que: “AIIC, through its Task Force on Distance Interpreting, is committed to sparing no effort in developing and adopting evidence-based working conditions that provide for both quality of interpretation and interpreter wellbeing, through the systematic and methodical testing of Distance Interpreting modalities in real work environments.”

[5] Existen en línea herramientas gratuitas para medir estos parámetros, como www.speedtest.net.

About the author(s)

Nicoletta Spinolo is research fellow and junior lecturer at the Department of Interpreting and Translation (DIT) of Bologna University where she teaches interpreting between Spanish and Italian and is a member of GRIINT (Gruppo di Ricerca Interdisciplinare sull’Interpretazione) and of the MC2Lab (Laboratory for Multilectal Mediated Communication and Cognition). Her main research interests include: management of figurative language in interpreting, interpreter training, remote dialogue and conference interpreting, cognitive friction in remote interpreting.

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

©inTRAlinea & Nicoletta Spinolo (2020).
"Nuevas tecnologías para la transmisión de la interpretación simultánea: una revolución ya en marcha"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Technology in Interpreter Education and Practice
Edited by: Nicoletta Spinolo & Amalia Amato
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2516

Using speechmaking and consecutive interpreting as tools to help students develop writing and public speaking skills: a hybrid teaching methodology based on mind mapping

By Sílvia Araújo & Ana Correia (University of Minho, Portugal)


The digital age plays a key role in learning, helping to discover new ways of acquiring, building and disseminating knowledge. One of the most attractive features of this new digitally-oriented learning lies in the fact that students are actively involved in their learning process. In this paper, we discuss the methodology of a teaching experiment, conducted with third-year students of the undergraduate programme in Applied Languages at the University of Minho (Braga, Portugal), which explored the benefits of hybrid learning through the implementation of a collaborative digital environment. 

Keywords: mind mapping, consecutive interpreting, multimodality, hybrid learning

©inTRAlinea & Sílvia Araújo & Ana Correia (2020).
"Using speechmaking and consecutive interpreting as tools to help students develop writing and public speaking skills: a hybrid teaching methodology based on mind mapping"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Technology in Interpreter Education and Practice
Edited by: Nicoletta Spinolo & Amalia Amato
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2515

1. Hybrid learning and multimodality

Information and communication technologies have invaded our daily lives. Among the youth, it is particularly in leisure and communication activities that their immersion in the digital world becomes most visible (Endrizzi, 2012). Therefore, we believe it is important to find innovative pedagogical methods that prompt students to fully exploit the educational potential of digital resources (Knoerr, 2005). We have tried to meet the evolutionary demands of the digital generation by developing a hybrid teaching method that involves a combination of face-to-face and online learning (Nissen, 2007). Specifically, three reasons have led to the idea of implementing a teaching plan for a hybrid interpreting course:

  1. meeting the institutional demand for the diversification of online learning modes;
  2. offering a more flexible interpreting course in terms of time and space in order to deal with challenges such as the high number of students and the reduced number of class hours; and
  3. creating and testing new training methods in the field of interpreting considering the above-mentioned challenges.

The implementation of this hybrid teaching method entails profound changes that bring to the fore the concept of multimodality. Multimodal competence has to do with the ability to read and communicate by efficiently combining linguistic, visual and sound modes using different mediums. As mentioned by Lebrun and Lacelle (2012), this competence involves simultaneous use of at least two mediums (for example, image and text). The ability to read and communicate so-called multi-texts holds an important place within the pool of relevant skills for 21st‑century adults as it requires cognitive, emotional, pragmatic, semiotic and textual skills (Danielsson and Selander, 2016; Legros and Maître de Pembroke, 2001).

Although in the present paper we have chosen to focus on hybrid learning and multimodality, the concepts of student-centred learning, stepwise learning, computer-assisted instruction and peer learning (Fong et al. 2008) also play a part in the teaching experiment herewith described. The methodology we have devised for the consecutive interpreting course considers students as active stakeholders in their own learning. It is a gradual process, with increasing levels of difficulty of the speeches to be interpreted and moving from intralingual to interlingual interpreting exercises. Digital technologies also play an important role as students are asked to complete some tasks using their computers or smartphones as well as specific software programmes (for mind mapping and video recording). Finally, this methodology is mainly conducted in a digital environment where the students can access all contents produced by their peers, fostering collaboration among them.  

2. Mind mapping

In this section, we propose not only to introduce the concept of mind mapping, but also to demonstrate its relevance for consecutive interpreting teaching.

2.1. Concept definition

Mind mapping is a creative and yet logical technique for organising information, which allows us to group together and communicate ideas in a visual way, both in spoken and written mediums. This technique has been traced back to the 3rd century BC when Greek philosopher Porphyry of Tyre created a tree-shaped diagram to classify Aristotle’s categories. While mind mapping has been around for centuries, it was not until the 1960s and 1970s that it gained widespread popularity due to the development of semantic networks and to the contribution of British psychologist Tony Buzan (1974).

Mind maps are hierarchical diagrams where a central concept branches out into several nodes and subnodes. These nodes and subnodes (which can be equated with topics and subtopics) may be represented by words, images or symbols, and they are connected to each other by lines or arrows. Different shapes and colours can be used to enhance the readability of mind maps, helping the reader to visualise more effectively that, for instance, certain concepts are grouped together or that one concept is hierarchically superior to another. A schematic representation of a mind map is displayed in figure 1.  

Figure 1. Visual representation of mind mapping

This figure illustrates the prototypical radiant structure of the mind map, which is based on a given concept or idea placed at the centre of the map. All the nodes on the map are then connected by lines, which may be coloured differently as in the image above. In order to build a mind map, one can simply use paper and pencil or enlist the help of dedicated software. There are several web-based and user-friendly tools for creating mind maps, such as Popplet[1] and Coggle[2]. Owing to their versatility, mind maps can be employed in the field of education as a means to enhance the learning process, boosting memory and visual perception (Aisami, 2015; Arthur, 2012). In this paper we are interested in the technique of mind mapping as a pedagogical tool to teach consecutive interpreting.

2.2. Mind mapping and consecutive interpreting

As mentioned above, mind mapping is a technique used for organising information. According to Jukes, McCain and Crockett (2010: 31), more than 60 per cent of students today are visual or visual kinaesthetic learners, which shows the relevance of mind maps for education (Caro Dambreville, 2014). The pictorial aspect of mind mapping has already drawn the attention of interpreting scholars (Gillies, 2014; Ilg and Lambert, 1996; Ondřeková, 2013; Torres Díaz, 1997).  

In the context of interpreting, a mind map can be described as a visual representation of a speech typically transferred onto a single page. Gillies (2014) claims that ‘creating a mind map requires an understanding and analysis of the incoming speech, and it is this that is so useful to interpreters.’ (p. 21). Not only is mind mapping a useful analytical exercise, but it can be regarded as a form of note-taking, which is an important skill to boost memory in consecutive interpreting. Ilg and Lambert refer to mind mapping as ‘patterned note-taking’ (1996: 86) and portray it as an alternative to linear up-down, left right patterns of note-taking. According to these authors, the radiant structure of mind maps accommodates the non-linear cognitive processes of speech comprehension and may therefore enhance recall. Furthermore, this patterned form of note-taking requires listeners to make sense of incoming chunks of information and of how they fit together to create a coherent whole. As a result, it imposes a highly active role on listeners during the speech comprehension process (ibid.: 87-88).  

As stated by Ilg and Lambert, ‘learners (…) should first get a feeling for the gist of paragraphs and sentences before worrying about words and phrases. They should learn to read the road map before looking for the footpaths in the countryside’ (1996: 79). Additionally, consecutive interpreting trainees must understand what a speech is and how it is organised. They must further be able to grasp the content of a speech, and due to time and memory constraints imposed by consecutive interpreting, it is essential that this process be as smooth and as swift as possible. Bearing this in consideration, the purpose of mind mapping is to help students identify the main and secondary topics using a limited amount of words or even symbols or images. Due to the visual nature of mind maps, students become aware that a speech is based on a central topic, which ramifies into main and secondary subtopics. The lines on the map help students to perceive the relations between the topic and subtopics, and they often use numbers on the subtopics to create a hermeneutical path that can be grasped with a quick glance at the map. If they can assimilate this structure, students should be able not only to create and deliver a speech, but also to interpret a given speech as they will have grasped the source speech more easily. 

Torres Díaz (1997) reports using mind maps in her consecutive interpreting courses as a technique for note-taking. Based on her teaching experience, the act of sketching and drawing fosters the development of mnemonic and analytical skills, and the use of keywords to represent the ideas conveyed by the speaker places greater emphasis on meaning over words, which leaves more time to focus on processing the incoming speech, including its paralinguistic features, such as the speaker’s body language. The author further claims that mind mapping ‘contributed to the development of their [the students’] public speaking techniques forcing them to use their own words when delivering the speech’ (ibid.: 215). Despite its potential as a teaching tool, mind mapping is nevertheless faced with certain limitations as a technique for note-taking. According to Gillies (2014), for the purposes of consecutive interpreting, mind mapping is best suited to speech analysis rather than note-taking. In fact, not all speeches are equally amenable to mind mapping. Jones explains that ‘a speech may be so abstract that no amount of effort will produce a visualization of the notion expressed’ (1998: 35). Besides this, mind maps should fit into one page, and some speeches develop in unexpected ways that sometimes make it difficult to confine all the relevant information to that limited space. Moreover, mind mapping might not work for everyone. As a matter of fact, some students involved in our teaching experiment struggled with mind mapping and therefore preferred to rely on linear note‑taking, as did the subjects involved in Ondřeková’s study (2013).

For her master’s project, Ondřeková (2013) proposed to assess the impact of mind mapping as a technique not only for note-taking but also for the preparatory stage of consecutive interpreting assignments. Her sample comprised ten students, considered novice interpreters (although not complete beginners) who attended introductory consecutive interpreting seminars. At an initial stage, the subjects were asked to draw a mind map to prepare a speech for an upcoming consecutive interpreting seminar and, subsequently, to fill in a questionnaire during the following seminar regarding their perceptions on the use of mind mapping. According to the findings of this study, students do acknowledge the relevance of mind mapping as a preparation tool but not as a note-taking technique, which they dismissed as cumbersome and distracting. These results contradict those concisely reported in Torres Díaz’s paper (1997). However, Ondřeková (2013) suggests that the students’ negative views on mind mapping for note-taking may be due to the lack of practice and to the fact that they had already developed their own style of note-taking before experimenting with mind maps.

In our study, mind mapping served a twofold purpose: to improve speech comprehension and production and to provide students with a simple and intuitive tool to help them take notes instead of falling into the temptation of ‘transcribing’ the source speech word-by-word. Furthermore, the combination of mind mapping and consecutive interpreting resulted from the characteristics of the course and the students in question. On the one hand, the Interpreting Principles course is not an interpreting course per se, but rather an introduction to interpreting where some practical training in consecutive is provided. It is an undergraduate course, part of the Applied Languages Degree at the University of Minho. On the other hand, students attending the course are familiar with (written) translation rather than interpreting, and only few of them consider pursuing interpreting as a career. We therefore wanted to use this course not only to introduce interpreting, but also to equip students with skills that they could transfer to other areas of their professional lives (such as, for example, public speaking, speech comprehension and organisation of thought).

3. Pedagogical contextualisation

In this section, we provide the relevant information regarding the academic context and pedagogical techniques involved in the methodology designed for teaching consecutive interpreting.

3.1. Degree and course unit

At the University of Minho (Gualtar Campus, Braga, Portugal), we conducted a teaching experiment with the students from the Bachelor’s degree in Applied Languages attending the course unit of Interpreting Principles. This course is taught at the third year of the undergraduate programme. The BA curriculum mostly focuses on translation but in the final year it offers students a theoretical and practical overview of interpreting in its different modes, with a special focus on consecutive interpreting.

This initiative took place for the first time during the 2014-15 academic year and has been repeated every year since, with slight modifications. For the present study, we will refer to 2016-17. The course comprised a total of 45 hours throughout a semester and was taught once a week in a three-hour class. It was divided into three modules, as illustrated below:

Module I (15h)

•History of interpreting

•Interpreting vs. translation

•Interpreting modes

•The work of the interpreter

Module II (15h)

•Mind mapping

•Training in consecutive interpreting (intralingual)

Module III (15h)

•Training in consecutive interpreting (interlingual)

Table 1. Modules taught in Interpreting Principles

Module I is theoretical, and Modules II and III are practice-oriented. Five classes (that is, a total of 15 hours) were allotted to each module. After monitoring the students’ opinions, we understood that they find the second and third modules more interesting. For that reason, in the future we will consider the option of rearranging the distribution of classes amongst the modules to cater for the students’ needs. Regarding the language combination, it should be noted that most students (90% = 44) were native Portuguese speakers who had English as their B language. In total, the class comprised 54 students, which exceeds the ideal number of students in an interpreting classroom. Therefore, it was necessary to devise an effective way of allowing every student to have their work duly assessed.  

3.2. Hybrid teaching platform

In order to assist the management of the students’ and the teacher’s work, we created a wiki page using the Wikispaces platform. This platform is out of service as of July 2018 but there are others, such as PBworks[3] and Wikidot[4]. The wiki included all the relevant information concerning the learning goals and outcomes of the course, the assignments as well as the modes of assessment. Below is a screenshot of the homepage, where the teacher posted all the relevant information and contents of the course (figure 2).   

Figure 2. Homepage  

Figure 3. E-portfolio - student presentation

Each student had their own personal wiki page, all of which were listed on the right-hand column of the homepage. The students’ personal pages are called e-portfolios. They not only contain personal information on the students but also serve as a repository of the work they completed during the semester. On their e-portfolios, the students put together a visual presentation of themselves, indicating their name, hobbies, areas of interest, intended master’s degree, working languages and other personal information they wished to provide. This helped the teacher get a general sense of the students’ disposition towards interpreting (figure 3).

Most of the work for this course was developed by the students remotely. However, all their work, whether done in class or not, was kept on their e-portfolios to avoid losing any material (figure 4).  

Figure 4. E-portfolio - student assignments in chronological order

The students were encouraged to incorporate other digital tools into their e-portfolios, thus enhancing the functions of the platform. For example, to organise chronologically all the interpreting exercises done in and out of class, they created a virtual mural (as can be seen in figure 4) using Padlet[5], which combines the map and the corresponding recording in mp3 or mp4, making them accessible from a single location.

Wikis are fully collaborative platforms, which means that all contents placed in a wiki are accessible to all its members. They further provide students with different ways to interact among them and with the teacher (for example, chat and forum). This concept of open platform improves teamwork through horizontal (student-student) rather than vertical communication (student-teacher), as part of a student-centred approach where students actively learn with each other (peer learning). The wiki further allows users to see which page was edited most and which one had the highest number of views. The latter features help to set a role model among peers. After the first few assignments were posted on the e-portfolios, students implicitly arrived at a consensus regarding the best speeches and/or interpretations. This aspect added a sense of healthy competition to the course, ultimately serving as a source of motivation and encouragement to strive towards improved results. All these features mimic the functioning of social media networks, which have a constant presence in the lifestyles of young people nowadays. This aspect has proved relevant to engage students in the learning process.

3.3. Mind mapping technique

The mind mapping technique was taught in the first class of Module II, after the theoretical module. Students must first decide on the theme, which should be located at the centre of the mind map. The map presents three hierarchical levels: topic(s) (level 1), subtopic(s) (level 2) and examples to illustrate each subtopic (level 3). Colours and shapes may be used to assign levels to the various ideas contained in the map. For example, in figure 5, the topics are surrounded by circles, subtopics by rectangles and examples by rhombuses:

Figure 5. Mind map with shapes  

Figure 6. Mind map with colours

In figure 6, colours, rather than shapes, are used to indicate the hierarchical levels. The topics are written in green, the subtopics in purple, and the examples in pink. In addition to the use of colours and/or shapes, students were advised to use arrows to connect the various ideas in the map. In some cases (see figure 5), they took the liberty of adding numbers to each box to help them further organise the speech into chronological segments. Intuitively, they followed a clockwise order in the layout of the ideas, that is, the beginning of the speech is located on the right part of the map, which then progresses to the left as the speech unfolds (Régnard, 2010). Although we provided a basis for mind mapping, each student was given leeway to adapt the technique.

When introducing mind mapping to students, it is essential to explain how the radiant structure of the mind map translates into writing. The topics represent sections in the text, and the subtopics are the paragraphs of each of those sections. Albeit simple, this explanation helped students understand what a paragraph is and how paragraphs are related between them through connectors, forming a cohesive and coherent text. This visual layout is first applied to writing and subsequently to speaking. As mentioned above, software programmes are available for mind mapping. Nevertheless, when technological means are unavailable or undesirable, it is also possible to build mind maps by simply using paper and pencil. As a case in point, this lesson on mind mapping was conducted in a regular classroom, without the use of computers.  

4. From speechmaking to consecutive interpreting training: overview of the methodology

The methodology we propose involves two main stages: speechmaking and consecutive interpreting training. In both modules of the course, students are first encouraged to develop their speechmaking skills, and only then do they move to consecutive interpreting training. Specifically, students begin by preparing speeches using the mind mapping technique, and subsequently those speeches are interpreted by fellow classmates, also relying on mind maps for note-taking. This work plan is implemented in groups of three and can be conducted in or out of class. A detailed summary of all the tasks is provided in the following figure:

Figure 7. Overview of the methodology

Speechmaking corresponds to T1-4 A/B and T1-3 A/B in Modules II and III, respectively. In Module II A, students begin by choosing a topic of their preference and undertaking documentary research. Subsequently, they build a mind map to assist them in preparing the speech. Based on the mind map, they then render the speech both in writing and orally in Portuguese. Alternatively (Module II B), rather than having the students devise their own speech, the teacher is responsible for providing a speech in Portuguese. Next, the students build the corresponding mind map while listening to the speech, which, as in the previous step, is first rendered in writing and then orally, also in Portuguese. Option A was used for out-of-class practice, whereas option B was best suited to the classes. Module III includes the same tasks as Module II, the only differences being that the students are now asked to deliver their speech in a foreign language (English, French or Spanish), and they immediately proceed to the spoken rendering, without going through the written rendering. In both Modules, the spoken renderings (T4 in Module II A/B and T3 in Module III A/B) provide the point of departure for the consecutive interpreting training.  

After speechmaking, consecutive interpreting training ensues, which corresponds to T5-7 A/B and T4-6 A/B in Modules II and III, respectively. At this stage, rounds of interpreting exercises are conducted in groups of three students. Student 1 delivers a speech in Portuguese (Module II) or in a foreign language (Module III), student 2 interprets it into Portuguese (the interpretation is always into Portuguese irrespective of the module), and student 3 is responsible for listening and assessing. The choice between option A and B does not apply to the second stage of the methodology as it refers exclusively to speechmaking. Finally, it should be highlighted that both speechmaking and consecutive interpreting training were implemented in and out of class, in both modules.

The figure above illustrates the central role of mind mapping as an intermediate stage between the preparation and the production stages of speech delivery. It is important to invest in the pre-production stages (documentary research and mind mapping) since the skills required are not a given – not even in the students’ native language. Furthermore, this methodology is closely related to the concept of stepwise learning, mentioned in the introduction, ensuring an effective assimilation of the various skills. Specifically, the stepwise approach is reflected in the gradual move from intralingual to interlingual exercises and the elimination of the written rendering from Module II to Module III, always progressing from speechmaking to consecutive interpreting training, whether working in or out of class.

5. Implementation: group work management  

The main challenge behind this methodology lay in its implementation, owing to the number of students and the fact that only one teacher was responsible for each Module of the course. Given such conditions, the students were divided into groups of three, as mentioned above, where one student played the speaker role, another played the interpreter, and yet another the listener.  

Figure 8. Student roles

This rotational framework applies to in-class and out-of-class training, with the difference that when students are working remotely the ‘listener’ role does not exist due to logistical limitations. In the future we plan to use videoconferencing to allow students to work together in real time from different locations, with all three participants involved (speaker, interpreter and listener), similarly to in-class practice. The videoconference sessions will be recorded using free web-based screen-recording software such as Screencast-O-Matic[6], so that the teacher can subsequently have access to the students’ output.

5.1. Working in class

A virtual mural was published in the wiki in order to manage the distribution of work among the students of each group:

Figure 9. Virtual mural with the work distribution per group

The first column was managed by the teacher, who posted three speeches a week, either in Portuguese, during Module II, or in a foreign language, during Module III. The teacher had to ensure that the level of difficulty was suited to this group of students (beginner). This homogeneity could be achieved by using dedicated resources such as the EU Speech Repository[7].  

A column was then created for each group of three students and included a link to a Google Drive folder previously created for each group. Each folder was further divided into three subfolders, one for each student in the group. As shown in figure 4 above, the students published the links to their assignments (not the folders) in their e-portfolios.

When working in class, each student in each group chose one of three speeches posted by the teacher[8]. They listened to the speech on their smartphones[9] and produced their own renditions in the same language.[10] The latter were then taken as source speeches to be interpreted by the other group members. Let us consider group 1 as an example:

  • Student 1 chose the speech on blogging. She listened to it, made the mind map and delivered it in the same language, while the other two students played the roles of listener and interpreter;
    Student 1=speaker[11] – Student 3=interpreter[12] – Student 2=listener
  • Student 2 chose the speech on Brussels lifestyle. She listened to it, made the mind map and delivered it in the same language, while the other two students played the roles of listener and interpreter;
    Student 2=speaker[13] – Student 1=interpreter[14] – Student 3=listener
  • Student 3 chose the speech on music and interpreting. He listened to it, made the mind map and delivered it in the same language, while the other two students played the roles of listener and interpreter;
    Student 3=speaker[15] – Student 2=interpreter[16] – Student 1=listener

The speaker first listened to the speech s/he chose from the mural, made the corresponding mind map and only then delivered it. The same applied to the interpreter student, who had to listen to the student speaker’s speech, make the mind map and only then produce his/her interpretation. The topics of the speeches were eclectic and in some cases of a technical nature. For this reason, whenever deemed necessary, the speaker provided the interpreter with a glossary with the terms s/he considered more difficult[17]. The glossary was monolingual in Module II and bilingual (EN-PT) in Module III. The speaker further provided the listener with the mind map of his/her speech so that the latter could take note of possible omissions and distortions incurred by the interpreter. This tripartite approach allowed for twofold assessment: not only did the listener and the speaker assess the performance of the interpreter, but the interpreter and the listener could also assess the performance of the speaker. The speeches delivered by each student (both source and target[18]) were recorded in class with smartphones (hence mp3) and uploaded along with the mind map to the respective drive folders accessible from the mural.

The division of the class presented two main advantages: (1) it ensured that the students were permanently engaged in the class activities, effectively using their smartphones for pedagogical purposes[19], and (2) for each interpreting exercise, we were able to have two students (speaker and listener) commenting on the performance of the interpreter, and two students (interpreter and listener) commenting on the performance of the speaker based on an assessment grid provided by the teacher. This allowed students to receive instant feedback on their performance, often in the form of positive reinforcement (peer to peer), helping students overcome some initial shyness (Chiang, 2010). It further contributed to downsizing the teacher’s assessment duties without compromising the quality of teaching.

5.2. Working out of class

When working remotely, the same procedures applied, except for some minor changes in the speechmaking tasks. Firstly, students were required to create their own speeches rather than choosing one of the speeches provided by the teacher on the virtual mural. Secondly, instead of audio recording their performances, they were required to video record themselves and upload the video recording to their drive (accessible from the mural).

As for consecutive training, the same groups of three were valid for in-class and out-of-class training, but only the speaker and interpreter roles applied in the latter case, as explained in the beginning of this section. Just as in class, the speaker delivered a speech either in Portuguese (Module II) or in a foreign language (Module III), whereas the interpreter always interpreted into Portuguese. As illustrated in figure 10 below, student 1 delivered his/her own speech, student 2 interpreted the speech delivered by student 1, student 3 interpreted the speech delivered by student 2, and finally student 1 interpreted the speech delivered by student 3:  

Figure 10. Workflow of out-of-class interpreting exercises

Aiming for a proper implementation of this method at a distance, it was crucial that students completed their assignments on time since they depended on each other to receive their source speeches. For instance, student 1 needs to prepare a speech for student 2 to interpret, who in turn must record and upload his/her delivery for student 3 to interpret. Any delay from student 1 will necessarily interrupt the workflow.

Mind mapping was required for both the delivery of source speeches and the rendition of the target speeches (that is, the interpretations). However, mind maps were not uploaded until all students in the group had delivered their source and target speeches. Some students chose to create the mind map with dedicated software whereas others preferred the pencil-and-paper approach. Concerning the recordings, students were encouraged to record their speeches (original and interpreted) in mp4 format so that a clearer notion could be achieved as to whether they were delivering the source and target speech using exclusively the mind map and not reading from a script. Those who chose audio recording (mp3) lost two points in the final classification of their performance. Students used different kinds of devices for their recordings, particularly smartphones and laptops.

Figures 11. Mind maps and corresponding speeches

For the video recording, some students used the online video platform Knovio[20], which allows simultaneous visualisation of the speaker and/or of the mind map. As displayed in figure 12 below, the button at the top right-hand corner of the screen allows the user to decide whether they want to see the video (left scroll), the map (right scroll) or both (middle).  

Figure 12. Mind map and corresponding speech using Knovio

Visual contact constitutes an important element of consecutive interpreting (Poyatos, 2012), and videos have proved relevant as they are very much in line with today’s digital culture, where young people are used to seeing themselves and others and, most importantly, to being seen by others. As previously mentioned, the students’ recordings are posted on the e-portfolios, thus becoming accessible to all wiki members. In fact, the curiosity generated by the possibility of viewing others’ e‑portfolios increased not only class attendance rates but also the students’ commitment to the interpreting exercises, both in and out of class (Mailles-Viard Metz and Albernhe-Giordan, 2010).

6. Assessment of the students’ work

As a result of the methodology hitherto described, the students produced a significant amount of work. It would most certainly be unmanageable for one teacher to grade all assignments. One of the advantages of working in groups lay precisely in the fact that students themselves could take an active role in assessing the performances of their group peers. In fact, this reflective stage of the process helped them gain awareness of their own strengths and weaknesses, which ultimately contributed to improving their performance. While in class students received instant feedback from their peers, when working out of class this was not the case. To assist students in their assessments, the teacher provided a grid which featured some basic elements of (consecutive) interpreting:






Coherence of the speech and faithfulness to the source.  

__ /10



Grammatical correction, lexical adjustment and proper register.

__ /10




Prosody, fluency, eye contact and posture.

__ /10



Table 2. Assessment grid

The parameters listed in the assessment grid above concern the verbal and nonverbal dimensions of communication. While we are aware that more comprehensive and exhaustive grids are available for assessing (consecutive) interpreting performances (for instance, Gile, 1995; Ibrahim and El-Esery, 2014; Lee, 2008; Postigo Pinazo, 2008; Riccardi, 2002), we deliberately opted for a simple grid, on the grounds that: (1) our students are not interpreting students and it is in their best interest to focus on core skills that they transfer to other areas of their lives and (2) we did not want to overburden them with a complex assessment since their workload was already extensive. The teacher had access to every assignment of each student as well as to the assessment grids, and the final grades were based on these two main elements.  

7. Student feedback  

At the end of the course, we designed a small questionnaire to gauge the students’ thoughts and attitudes towards mind mapping. Out of the 23 students who took the questionnaire, 19 claimed they had never used mind maps. Those who had did it to summarise contents and study for school tests. Twenty-one students stated that mind mapping helped them to prepare and deliver their speeches more effectively during the course. The reasons stated by the students in support of this answer can be summarised as follows:  

  • Mind mapping helps to organise ideas and to structure the speech, because it allows you to order the main items in a text and shows the connections between the different ideas;
  • Mind mapping helps to circumscribe the most important information in a text and to improve your thoughts, hence the speech;
  • Mind mapping helps to organise the main ideas of the source speech, functioning as a kind of ‘translation memory’.

Even though most students (95%) claimed they used mind mapping throughout the course to help them deliver their source and target speeches, five students reported struggling with mind mapping for the following reasons:  

  • It is difficult to connect certain subtopics;
  • It is very difficult to compress a lot of information in few words, while making sure the interpreted speech contains the same ideas as the original;
  • Mind mapping makes you focus more on the form rather than content, which causes you to miss a lot of information.

We further aim to design a second questionnaire in order to gain a more in-depth knowledge of the students’ perceptions regarding the hybrid learning experiment, particularly as far as the contents, organisation and management of the course are concerned.  

8. Conclusion

In this paper, we described a mind mapping-based methodology to help students develop public speaking and consecutive interpreting skills. The concept of mind mapping was easily grasped by the students, and they soon began using mind maps as a technique for note-taking. Keeping in mind that our students are not interpreting students – but rather third-year undergraduates in Applied Languages –, we aimed primarily at equipping them with knowledge and techniques that allowed them not only to understand and memorise speeches in a more efficient way, but also to express themselves more accurately and skilfully in writing and orally.  

The nature of the tasks completed by the students as part of this methodology was quite diverse (documentary research, mind mapping, text writing, delivering and reproducing, recording themselves), introducing them to a wide array of digital tools. As a corollary of this diversity, students developed their multimodal literacy skills in terms of reception and production (Lacelle, Boutin and Lebrun, 2017). In fact, as mentioned by many students during classes, this outcome reflected positively in other areas of their lives, and they regretted that this course should be taught only at the third and final year of their degree.  

With regard to mind mapping, the students’ positive feedback prompted the development of a software application which helps planning text writing through mind mapping. planTEXT is the result of a collaboration between the Institute for Arts and Humanities and the Electronic Engineering Department of the University of Minho. It is more than a mind mapping software in that it combines different views that guide the user through all the stages of the writing process, from planning, to the actual writing and final revision (Lopes, Castro and Araújo, 2018). A prototype of this software programme has already been used in some courses at the University of Minho, and the results obtained hitherto have been encouraging.  


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[1] Available at http://popplet.com/.

[2] Available at https://coggle.it/.

[5] Available at https://padlet.com/.

[8] We remind the reader that the speechmaking stage in class required the teacher to provide a speech (see figure 7).

[9] When the interpreting exercise was done in class, students used headphones.

[10] Please note that we are dealing with Module III here (see top left-hand corner of figure 9), which means that the speeches provided by the teacher were in a foreign language (English, Spanish or French). This was the only opportunity that students had to produce speech in a language other than their native one. Another mural was created for Module II, dedicated to intralingual training, where the teacher posted speeches in Portuguese.

[11] Recording available at goo.gl/6zJZ9H.

[12] Recording available at goo.gl/q4qJcL.

[13] Recording available at goo.gl/8x9GC2.

[14] Recording available at goo.gl/D9NbNi.

[15] Recording available at goo.gl/FR89CB.

[16] Recording available at goo.gl/PnQV6c.

[17] The use of glossaries also applied to out-of-class consecutive interpreting exercises (see 5.2.).

[18] In each group, each student had to produce at least one source speech and one target speech (that is, interpretation).

[19] In the first years, the interpreting exercises were conducted in class, where each student had to interpret a speech for the rest of their peers. After listening to three or four interpretations, most of them became bored and used their smartphones as a means of distraction.  

About the author(s)

Sílvia Araújo concluded her PhD in Language Sciences / Romance Linguistics in 2008 at the University of Minho / Université Paris 7 - Denis Diderot. She is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Romance Studies of the University of Minho. Her main research interests are corpus linguistics, technologies applied to languages and digital humanities. Related to these areas, she has coordinated projects funded by FCT (Perfide, PortLinguE) and the Support Program for Innovation and Development of Teaching and Learning, IDEA-UMinho (Active and Collaborative Learning Scenarios with Digital Tools). Since 2008, she has conducted accredited training sessions on the pedagogical integration of technologies at different levels of education (basic, secondary and higher education). She is a member of the Steering Committee of the Master’s Degree in Translation and Multilingual Communication, Director of the Master’s Degree in Digital Humanities since February 2020, as well as the Coordinator of the Digital Humanities Research Group of the Center for Humanistic Studies of the University of Minho. She is the director of digital humanities journal H2D, co-editor of French studies journal Myriades, member of the editorial board of psychology journal PSIQUE, and of the scientific committee of the journal of letters Polissema. Furthermore, she coordinates the techLING annual international conference, devoted to the application of technology to languages and linguistics, which will reach its fifth edition in 2020.

Ana Correia holds an undergraduate degree in Applied Foreign Languages from the University of Minho (2006). From 2010 to 2013 she worked as a research assistant for the corpus compilation project “Per-Fide - Portuguese in parallel with six languages: Español, Russian, Français, Italiano, Deutsch, English” (ref. no. PTDC/CLE-LLI/108948/2008), jointly developed by the Institute of Arts and Humanities and the Computer Science Department of the University of Minho. Currently, she is a PhD student in Language Sciences, speciality of Applied Linguistics, at the same university. She has received a grant from the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology to conduct her PhD project, which is a corpus-based study dealing with pronominal anaphora in simultaneous interpreting (Portuguese and English).

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

©inTRAlinea & Sílvia Araújo & Ana Correia (2020).
"Using speechmaking and consecutive interpreting as tools to help students develop writing and public speaking skills: a hybrid teaching methodology based on mind mapping"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Technology in Interpreter Education and Practice
Edited by: Nicoletta Spinolo & Amalia Amato
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2515

La interpretación a distancia y su formación: la experiencia de la Shift Summer School y cómo crear la ‘virtualidad necesaria’ en el aula

By María Jesús González Rodríguez (University of Bologna, Italy)

Abstract & Keywords


The purpose of this paper is to present suggestions on space arrangements with a view to maximise the potential of technological equipment in a classroom for remote interpreter training. This proposal is based on the experience of the SHIFT Summer School of Remote Interpreting, held in Forlì (DIT, University of Bologna) in June 2018 as part of the SHIFT in Orality Erasmus+ project. For this purpose, the basic conditions and pre-requisites needed to create the ‘necessary virtuality’ for this kind of training are presented. When organising a classroom for remote interpreter training, the following questions arise: how to (re)create distance communication and present it to the group of trainees in a way that is as participatory and collaborative as possible between teachers and students? How to set up a classroom that seeks to alternate lecture-style teaching, preparatory activities, interpretation practice and discussion of feedback with the whole group?

In order to achieve these goals, and make sure that a single space virtually becomes 'different communicative spaces', ICTs are crucial as they already are part and parcel of the professional practice of remote interpreting. It is for this reason that we will focus here on the presentation of the equipment and tools used as well as on the distribution of space during the Shift Summer School.


En el presente artículo se recogen reflexiones sobre cómo concebir el espacio y seleccionar los instrumentos tecnológicos adecuados en un aula destinada a la formación de interpretación a distancia, partiendo de la experiencia recabada en el curso intensivo SHIFT Summer School of Remote Interpreting, que tuvo lugar en junio de 2018 en el Departamento de Interpretación y Traducción (DIT) del Campus de Forlì de la Universidad de Bolonia  como parte integrante del proyecto Erasmus+ SHIFT in Orality. Con este fin, presentamos las condiciones y elementos que se consideraron fundamentales a la hora de idear la ‘virtualidad necesaria’ para impartir clases de interpretación telefónica e interpretación por videoconferencia: cómo (re)crear una ‘situación comunicativa a distancia’ en un aula lo más participativa posible entre docentes y estudiantes, en la que se busca conjugar la didáctica frontal, actividades preparatorias, prácticas de interpretación, y análisis y evaluación de todo lo realizado en ella.

Para alcanzar dichos objetivos y conseguir que un único espacio se convierta virtualmente en ‘distintos espacios comunicativos’, las TIC se revelan determinantes, como efectivamente lo son ya en el ejercicio profesional del intérprete a distancia. Es por ello que en esta ocasión y a modo de ejemplo, nos concentramos en la presentación del equipamiento, la instrumentación y la distribución de los espacios del aula de la escuela de verano Shift Summer School en función de los objetivos didácticos de este curso de interpretación a distancia.

Keywords: remote interpreter training, ICT tools, telephone interpreting, videoconference interpreting, formación para intérpretes a distancia, instrumentación TIC, interpretación telefónica, interpretación por videoconferencia

©inTRAlinea & María Jesús González Rodríguez (2020).
"La interpretación a distancia y su formación: la experiencia de la Shift Summer School y cómo crear la ‘virtualidad necesaria’ en el aula"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Technology in Interpreter Education and Practice
Edited by: Nicoletta Spinolo & Amalia Amato
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2514


La (r)evolución de las TIC ha comportado, entre otras cosas, un vertiginoso aumento a nivel internacional de la demanda de intérpretes a distancia en el ámbito del ejercicio profesional de la interpretación. Como consecuencia, la investigación académica se ha dedicado cada vez más al estudio de este campo, de la mano de Braun, Kohn y Mikasa (1999), Wadensjö (1999), Braun y Kohn (2001), Mouzourakis (2006), Kelly (2008), Moser-Mercer (2005, 2011), o Torres Díaz (2014), entre otros muchos. En pocos años, el sector de la investigación ahonda sobre la complejidad y la especificidad de la interpretación a distancia (Rosenberg 2007; Cruz y Dann 2009; Ozolins 2011; Braun 2015; Napier, Skinner y Braun 2018) y comienza a subrayar la necesidad imperativa de identificar pautas de formación específica para esta nueva dimensión de la interpretación profesional; una formación que, hasta el momento, brilla por su ausencia en la oferta de planes de estudio universitarios, presentando una exigua presencia con formato de breves seminarios, talleres o similares: “[…]Otro motivo por el que consideramos que es preciso profundizar en la investigación en esta área es la falta de formación para interpretación telefónica en los actuales Grados en Traducción e Interpretación.” (Pozo Triviño y Campillo Rey 2016: 74).

De la profesión consolidada se debe ir aún a la formación reglada, y como puente entre ambas se erige la investigación que, en su afán por subsanar ese vacío, ha gestado ya numerosos proyectos dedicados específicamente a lo descrito en estas líneas (formación para interpretación telefónica y por videoconferencia), como por ejemplo el proyecto AVIDICUS –incluyendo módulos de formación ya en AVIDICUS 1 (2008-11), y más en particular en AVIDICUS 2 (2011-13) y AVIDICUS 3 (2014-16)–[1] o el proyecto SHIFT in Orality (2015-18) –SHaping the Interpreters of the Future and of Today–, financiado por la Comisión Europea en el ámbito de la Key Action 2: Strategic Partnership in Higher Education;[2] este último será precisamente el marco de la Shift Summer School, un curso intensivo de interpretación telefónica e interpretación por videoconferencia[3] del que, a modo de propuesta, daremos detallada cuenta de los principales aspectos tecnológicos y la concepción de espacios virtuales para poder trabajar ‘a distancia’ en una misma aula.

Aportaciones a la formación en interpretación a distancia

Como apuntábamos anteriormente, las líneas de investigación sobre interpretación telefónica (IT) e interpretación por videoconferencias (IVC) se han ampliado notablemente, abarcando desde el estudio de corte descriptivo y valoración (Gracia-García 2002), o de contextualización (Fernández Pérez 2018), hasta manuales de orientación sobre la profesión (Kelly 2008), análisis de la interacción a distancia mediada (Wadensjö 1999; Moser-Mercer 2005, 2011), y demás estudios desde diferentes perspectivas, como el análisis conversacional (Rivas Carmona 2018), o las competencias en comunicación intercultural (Huertas Abril 2018; González Rodríguez 2017: 212-17). Además, contamos con numerosos e importantes trabajos dedicados al análisis de la interacción a distancia monolingüe con directa repercusión en el avance de los estudios sobre interpretación telefónica, como el notable volumen de Thüne y Leonardi (2003), entre otros.

Por lo que respecta al tema de la formación para la IT y la IVC encontramos ya numerosas aportaciones, como Iglesias Fernández y Quelet (2018), Hlavac (2013: 47), Cruz y Dann (2009: 3), Torres Díaz (2014: 415) y otros estudiosos. Con Pozo Triviño y Campillo Rey (2016) nos adentramos en la formación impartida por empresas especializadas en servicios de IT y nos ofrecen un análisis de algunos cursos impartidos a sus propios intérpretes, así como talleres y seminarios organizados por ellas a petición de algunas universidades españolas. Por su parte, Fernández Pérez (2015) presenta propuestas de actividades didácticas para IT, y González Rodríguez y Spinolo (2015) nos describen un curso de IT para mediadores/intérpretes en ejercicio, además de detallar otro de carácter intensivo para estudiantes de máster en interpretación (2017). En resumen, son grandes los avances realizados, por lo que tal vez ha llegado la hora en la que “las universidades tienen que dar respuesta a las necesidades de formación [de futuros intérpretes] que muchas veces únicamente tienen contacto con la interpretación de conferencia” (García Luque 2009: 27).

Formación en interpretación a distancia

En la última década ha habido loables intentos de colmar el vacío de formación en interpretación a distancia, con ofertas propuestas fundamentalmente por agencias de traducción e interpretación, asociaciones profesionales del sector, centros de formación privados o empresas proveedoras de servicios de interpretación a distancia (ID), en forma de  seminarios, talleres, o módulos integrados en cursos de breve duración.[4] En estos años las universidades han ido recogiendo poco a poco el testigo de la formación en ID, inicialmente organizando talleres y seminarios sobre el tema con empresas del sector –a veces con la participación docente de profesores de interpretación, como el caso de la Universidad de Bolonia–,[5]  llegando hasta nuestros días, en los que la interpretación a distancia comienza a figurar en los contenidos de asignaturas de máster o posgrado de interpretación.[6] En este contexto, es de rigor mencionar la significativa aportación de la Universidad de Surrey,[7] pionera sin duda en investigación y formación en este sector, participando además en los proyectos de investigación europeos más importantes en materia. Se trata siempre de buenas perspectivas, aunque aún estamos lejos de asistir a la implantación generalizada de la ID en los planes de estudio de grado o posgrado.

Formación en la Shift Summer School

Dedicamos un breve apartado a este curso intensivo de interpretación a distancia (IT, IVC) por ser el marco del aula, objeto de este estudio. Este experimento formativo, del que se da detallada cuenta en Spinolo y González Rodríguez (forthcoming), se presentaba como una de las fases más importantes del proyecto Shift in Orality mencionado anteriormente, por dos motivos:

A) porque era el escenario de pruebas del cuadro teórico-metodológico ShiftIntellectual Output 1 y 2 (Shift Group, 2017a, 2017b)–, con la puesta en práctica de los materiales didácticos –Intellectual Output 5– y los contenidos del manual Handbook of remote interpreting (Amato, Spinolo y González Rodríguez, 2018) –Intellectual Output 4– y,

B) porque representaba la esencia y la finalidad última del proyecto: crear soluciones pedagógicas y cubrir, al menos en parte, el vacío de formación específica ya mencionado.

Los métodos y la modalidad de enseñanza, así como la estructura de los contenidos, temas y actividades, fueron concebidos por todos los miembros del proyecto Shift a través de varios momentos de discusión y debate durante las reuniones del proyecto, y se basaron en la estructura diseñada en los resultados del proyecto: el manual y los materiales didácticos anteriormente citados. El marco teórico y los tipos de actividad propuestos se fundamentaban en la experiencia previa de los miembros del proyecto Shift en la enseñanza de la interpretación a distancia –más específicamente, la interpretación telefónica en la Universidad de Bolonia y la videoconferencia en la Universidad de Surrey.[8]

Una de las particularidades de este curso reside en la ‘docencia dual’: consideramos requisito fundamental la disponibilidad de, al menos, dos docentes en el aula con una sólida experiencia formativa y profesional (González Rodríguez y Spinolo 2017: 246-247); en el caso de esta experiencia piloto, nos pareció muy interesante aprovechar el gran recurso de la diversidad –tanto idiomática como profesional– de los miembros del proyecto para que profesionales de las empresas (Dualia SL y Veasyt SrL) y docentes de las cuatro universidades socias (Bolonia, Granada, Surrey y Pablo de Olavide de Sevilla) trabajaran conjuntamente y se alternasen en el aula y, de camino, cubrir los pares de idiomas de trabajo –inglés/español, italiano/español e italiano/inglés.[9] Además, el aula con ‘docencia dual’ para interpretación a distancia debe ser concebida con al menos tres ‘espacios distantes’, y esta será la segunda característica particular de este curso: la comunicación a distancia creada virtualmente.

El aula de interpretación y las tecnologías

El uso de las tecnologías en el aula resulta prácticamente imprescindible; hoy en día son ya innumerables los ejemplos de formación que se encuentran disponibles en la red (internet), y buena parte de la oferta universitaria ha transferido su actividad formativa, en parte o completamente, a la dimensión on line: aulas virtuales, universidad telemática, plataformas digitales (e-learning), MOOC (o cursos abiertos y masivos en línea), por citar algunos, forman parte de nuestra cotidianidad.

Observando el panorama de formación para intérpretes a distancia, hemos hallado numerosos ejemplos de oferta on line,[10] mencionando algunos de ellos en líneas anteriores. Otra propuesta corre a cargo de Jaime Pérez (2018) y su presentación del curso Voze’s On line Telephone Interpretation Training, de la empresa Voze,[11] destinado a poner a prueba e iniciar a los intérpretes interesados en trabajar con ellos; describe la estructura del curso, contenidos, actividades didácticas y sistema de evaluación, sin entrar en detalles sobre instrumentación o equipamiento tecnológico ni su uso didáctico. Por lo general, cualquier tipología de formación on line suele incluir una descripción, más o menos detallada, tanto de los contenidos como de los instrumentos y recursos tecnológicos utilizados en el mismo. En realidad, en el caso de la enseñanza presencial, la literatura existente sobre formación en interpretación a distancia ofrece muy pocos ejemplos de descripción del aula desde un punto de vista espacial y tecnológico (González Rodríguez y Spinolo 2017: 248) en función de la didáctica perseguida, y para colmar ese vacío se dedican los siguientes epígrafes al objeto en cuestión.

El aula de la Shift Summer School

La proyectación, el diseño y distribución de los espacios de nuestra aula para formación de intérpretes a distancia fue imaginada a tenor de los métodos, la modalidad de enseñanza (docencia dual), la estructura de los contenidos, temas y actividades, pero principalmente se analizó con sumo cuidado la cuestión de la comunicación a distancia y la necesidad de recrearla virtualmente. Inicialmente, y por experiencias precedentes, se consideró la posibilidad de utilizar dos o tres espacios físicamente separados (3 aulas) para cada clase, (por ejemplo, clase de IT en ámbito sanitario inglés/italiano); esta necesidad derivaba de la cuestión ‘tipo de llamada’ (tanto en IT como en IVC) o situación comunicativa (Spinolo 2018: 73-75; González Rodríguez y Spinolo 2017: 248-257):

  • ‘Llamada a dos’ (two-point call): interlocutores comparten espacio, con el intérprete en línea.
  • ‘Llamada a tres’ (three-point call): ni interlocutores ni intérprete comparten espacio.

La opción de multiplicar los espacios podría ser factible para un pequeño grupo de participantes con un par de idiomas de trabajo, o en caso de varios idiomas implicados alternar los consecuentes pares en las actividades, pero esta solución implicaría continuos traslados tanto de docentes como de participantes, fragmentación de los tiempos de clase, tiempos de ubicación, conexión, desconexión, etc. Además, en un curso de carácter intensivo como el nuestro (lunes-sábado, de 9.00 a 13.00 y de 14.00 a 18.00 horas), con 3 pares de idiomas activados simultáneamente, 18 docentes y 24 estudiantes, era menester pensar en un único espacio, una sola aula, y crear en ella distintos espacios virtuales, de forma que se pudieran impartir las clases inglés/español, español/italiano, italiano/inglés simultáneamente en solo 3 aulas, y no en 9, como hubiera sucedido con la primera hipótesis, con la que además se aumentaba el riesgo de un mal funcionamiento o fallo de algún instrumento, o no contar con las condiciones de trabajo lo más similares e idóneas posibles en todos los ambientes elegidos.

Desde un principio se reflexionó detenidamente junto con el personal técnico sobre cómo adaptar la didáctica de IT/IVC a los espacios a disposición en el Departamento de Interpretación y Traducción (DIT) de la Universidad de Bolonia, habilitados para interpretación de conferencia (IC, con cabinas), bilateral (IB, con proyector), o lengua, traducción o terminología (algunas con proyector, otras con ordenadores individuales y proyectores).[12] El objetivo principal e indispensable era recrear para las clases prácticas de IT e IVC situaciones reales, con los intérpretes “físicamente separados y alejados” de la interacción en modalidad ‘llamada a 2’ o ‘llamada a 3’.

La decisión de la distribución de espacios en última instancia fue la siguiente: para las clases plenarias introductorias sobre cuadro teórico-metodológico IT/IVC se utilizaron aulas con ordenadores individuales y proyector,[13] como también para el breve seminario de terminología IT/IVC[14] y últimas sesiones para evaluación; para la clase de higiene vocal, un aula con proyector, mientras que para las clases prácticas de IT e IVC se decide utilizar tres de los laboratorios de IC.

Cada uno de los laboratorios IC del DIT cuentan con una sala central para el trabajo de grupo –con ordenadores y acceso al audio cabina, audio ordenador, además del audio natural de sala– y 8 cabinas biplaza acristaladas, insonorizadas, equipadas con ordenador y consola audio. Para conseguir la división física completa del espacio, se cubrieron los cristales anulando la visibilidad de 3 de las 8 cabinas disponibles, adaptándolas también para input/output IVC (ordenador) e input/output IT (consolas, sustitutas del teléfono).[15]

Figura 1: Localización y aulas del curso[16]

El aislamiento audio/sonoro era ya perfecto en cabina por su insonorización, por lo que estudiantes y docentes se encontrarían en una situación muy similar a la real (‘en otro lugar’), teniendo efectivamente un input/output audiovisual por ordenador en cabina, y un input/output solo audio por auriculares con micrófono a través del hardware y del sistema software operativo en el DITLab: Sanako.[17] Con esta solución, se conseguían además varios beneficios importantes:

  • obtener calidad audio y video en la sala de laboratorio para que el grupo siga perfectamente los roleplays IT/IVC (con 2 o 3 cabinas funcionando),
  • obtener calidad audio y video en las cabinas desde donde trabajan docentes y estudiantes en los roleplays,
  • realizar grabaciones de todas las sesiones IT/IVC en todos los laboratorios,
  • permitir al personal técnico organizar las comunicaciones audio/video entre las cabinas implicadas, pero con el grupo en sala sin outputs; de esta forma la grabación obtenida era de calidad, limpia de ruidos en sala,[18]
  • recrear los problemas y/o dificultades habituales de la comunicación audio/video que suelen surgir en la práctica de IT/IVC por parte de los mismos docentes.[19]

La gestión y grabación de los materiales audio se realizaba a través de Sanako, mencionado anteriormente; los files obtenidos se enviaban automáticamente a carpetas organizadas por laboratorios, temas, par de lenguas y docentes implicados. Para la comunicación video se utilizó Skype con creación de cuentas para cada cabina implicada de los tres laboratorios, evitando así pérdidas de tiempo en conexiones y desconexiones de cada estudiante/docente participante con su propio nombre de usuario y contraseña; con el programa OBS Studio se procedía a la grabación de cada una de las sesiones video, que quedaba automáticamente archivada en carpetas organizadas de forma similar a las descritas para los audios. Para facilitar el trabajo en el aula se distribuyeron hojas de instrucciones para sesión de IT o de IVC en inglés e italiano:

Figura 2: Hojas de instrucciones

En estas clases estaban previstas tres fases: una primera, en la sala de laboratorio con todos los participantes, dedicada a la contextualización del tema −guiada por ambos docentes en dos idiomas para activar los ejercicios preparatorios (al menos dos por roleplay, disponibles en los monitores de dicha sala a través de la plataforma moodle del curso)−; una segunda fase, en la que se pasaba a las prácticas en cabina (roleplays IT o IVC) seguidas desde la sala por el resto de los participantes  (en cada sesión estaban previstos dos o tres  roleplays en sus dos formatos − ‘llamada a 2’ y ‘llamada a 3’),[20] y una última fase al finalizar la clase en la que se procedía a la evaluación final comentada de las prácticas realizadas.[21]


La experiencia del curso piloto de la Shift Summer School demuestra hasta qué punto es importante el aspecto espacial y tecnológico para que un recorrido formativo en IT/IVC tenga éxito; en los cursos on line ‘puros’ o en las plataformas virtuales sin docencia presencial es muy difícil conseguir un ritmo intensivo de trabajo (los accesos a las actividades y momentos de tutorías los suele decidir el participante), y con el formato de conexión de grupo en tiempo real numerosas actividades preparatorias o los mismos roleplays se ejecutarían en cierto modo de forma ‘diseminada’, viéndose así bastante mermada la modalidad de trabajo colaborativo en sala. Además, todos los participantes sin excepción deben contar con un sólido bagaje de los instrumentos tecnológicos y del software utilizado, de lo contrario sufriría nuestra didáctica y los resultados y la evaluación del curso podrían verse afectados.

Nuestra conclusión al respecto, es que lo ideal sería contar con espacios comunes presenciales en los que se pueda recrear la virtualidad necesaria de la comunicación a distancia descrita en el presente trabajo; en consecuencia, y teniendo en cuenta los resultados obtenidos con este tipo de aula, consideramos que, aun contando con un curso debidamente estructurado, con contenidos y materiales excelentes, con docentes expertos y con participantes perfectamente seleccionados, no tendríamos la garantía suficiente de alcanzar nuestros objetivos formativos si no prestamos una cuidada atención al aula IT/IVC y a sus aspectos espaciales y tecnológicos.

La modalidad de docencia dual favorece en gran medida la didáctica en el aula de interpretación a distancia. Si se dispone de espacios en los que los interlocutores IT/IVC estén efectivamente separados del intérprete, la gestión del roleplay tendrá más probabilidades de éxito si la dejamos en manos de docentes de interpretación y/o profesionales en interpretación, con un buen equipo de asistencia técnica permanente durante el desarrollo del curso. Además, conjugando docentes y expertos que dominen distintos pares de lenguas en un curso multilingüe (tres o más idiomas), se conseguiría un ulterior elemento enriquecedor: el efecto del “usuario puro”, en el que algunos de los docentes no dominan uno de los idiomas implicados en las actividades a realizar. En estos casos, las repercusiones de la comunicación a distancia y las necesidades de los interlocutores resultan claras y nítidas para los participantes del curso y puede incluso favorecer y aumentar su implicación en las prácticas de IT/IVC.[22]

En definitiva, el aula equipada e implementada para la recreación virtual de la comunicación a distancia en la que se imparte docencia dual nos parece una propuesta factible y satisfactoria para instar a las universidades a emprender el camino de la formación especializada en interpretación a distancia.


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Huertas Abril, Cristina (2018) "Developing intercultural communicative competence: an essential skill for telephonic interpretation", in Approaches to telephone interpretation: research, innovation, teaching and transference, Aurora Ruiz Mezcua (ed), Berna, Peter Lang: 129-150.

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Jaime Pérez, Adriana (2018) “Designing and Implementing an Online Training Programme for Telephone Interpreters”, in Approaches to telephone interpretation: research, innovation, teaching and transference, Aurora Ruiz Mezcua (ed), Berna, Peter Lang: 33-50.

Kelly, Nathaly (2008) Telephone Interpreting: A Comprehensive Guide to the Profession, Lowell, Trafford Publishing.

Moser-Mercer, Barbara (2005) “Remote interpreting: issues of multi-sensory integration in a multilingual task”, Meta, nº. 50 (2): 727-738.

-----  (2011) “Remote Interpreting”, in A Handbook of Translation Studies, Yves Gambier, Luc van Doorslaer (eds), Amsterdam-Philadelphia, John Benjamins: 131-134.

Mouzourakis, Panayotis (2006) “Remote interpreting: a technical perspective on recent experiments”, Interpreting, nº. 8 (1): 45-66.

Napier, Jemina, Robert Skinner y Sabine Braun (2018), Here Or There: Research on Interpreting Via Video Link, Washington D.C., Gallaudet University Press, Project MUSE.

Ozolins, Uldis (2011) “Telephone interpreting: Understanding practice and identifying research needs”, Translation & Interpreting, . 3, 1: 33-47.

Rivas Carmona, María del Mar (2018) "Conversation analysis as a methodologic tool in the training and study of telephone interpreting" ", in Approaches to telephone interpretation: research, innovation, teaching and transference, Aurora Ruiz Mezcua (ed), Berna, Peter Lang: 107-128

Rosenberg, Brett Allen (2007): “A data driven analysis of telephone interpreting”, in The Critical Link 4: Professionalisation of interpreting in the community. Selected papers from the 4th International Conference on Interpreting in Legal, Health and Social Service Settings, Stockholm, Sweden, 20-23 May 2004, Cecilia Wadensjö, Birgitta Englund Dimitrova y Anna Lena Nilsson (eds), Vol. 70, Amsterdam, John Benjamins Publishing: 65–76.

Spinolo, Nicoletta y María Jesús González Rodríguez (forthcoming), “Testing out training RI material: the experience of a multilingual Summer School with trainee interpreters” in The Interpreter and Translator Trainer ITT Special Issue. Remote Interpreting: Professional Performance and Training Implications, Mariachiara Russo, Sabine Braun y Emilia Iglesias Fernández (eds), Manchester, St. Jerome Publishing.

Spinolo, Nicoletta (2018) “Traditional face-to-face vs telephone-mediated communication – with an interpreter” in Handbook of Remote Interpreting - Shift in Orality, Amalia Amato, Nicoletta Spinolo y María Jesús González Rodríguez (eds), University of Bologna, AMSActa: 72–75, URL: http://amsacta.unibo.it/5955/ (accessed 15 January 2019).

Thüne, Eva-Maria, y Simona Leonardi (eds) (2003) Telefonare in diverse lingue: organizzazione sequenziale, routine e rituali in telefonate di servizio, di emergenza e fatiche, Milano, Franco Angeli.

Torres Díaz, María Gracia (2014) "La interpretación telefónica. El intérprete como coordinador: estudio de unas interacciones telefónicas", Mutatis Mutandis nº. 7.2: 401–417.

Wadensjö, Cecilia (1999) “Telephone interpreting and the synchronisation of talk in social interaction”, The Translator, Special Issue. Dialogue Interpreting, nº. 5 (2), 247-264. URL: https://www.stjerome.co.uk/tsa/abstract/121/Telephone interpreting and the synchronisation of talk in social interaction (accessed 15 August 2017).


[2] Para mayor información: https://www.shiftinorality.eu/es.

[3] Dejamos a un lado la interpretación a distancia para interpretación de conferencias a la que se dedica Nicoletta Spinolo en este mismo número. 

[6] En estos enlaces se puede observar la integración de breves módulos de interpretación a distancia dentro de asignaturas, troncales o no, del Máster en Interpretación de Conferencias de la Universidad de Bolonia (https://www.unibo.it/it/didattica/insegnamenti/insegnamento/2018/433343) o de la Universidad de la Laguna, Tenerife (https://drive.google.com/file/d/1S18OJYGvl1TJkKAyIqczii1DhWMxreHI/view).   

[7] Presentación de su Máster en Interpretación dando protagonismo y cabida a la interpretación a distancia (https://www.surrey.ac.uk/postgraduate/interpreting-ma-2019).

[8] Véase también González Rodríguez y Spinolo 2015; González Rodríguez y Spinolo 2017.

[9] El aula de ‘docencia dual’ es también una de las características principales del aula de interpretación bilateral (presencial) en la Universidad de Bolonia, así como en los talleres y cursos de interpretación remota experimentados precedentemente (González Rodríguez y Spinolo 2015).

[11] Diseñado por la misma empresa de servicios de interpretación telefónica, Voze (https://voze.es/).

[12] En las aulas para traducción y terminología la colocación de los estudiantes es de ubicación fija, mientras que las aulas para IB no lo son.

[13] Para estas clases, algunos estudiantes del máster de interpretación de conferencias asistieron a los participantes interesados con un servicio de interpretación simultánea (sistema ‘infoport’ o bidule) en las tres lenguas de trabajo (en/es/it), como horas destinadas a las prácticas curriculares obligatorias.

[14] El módulo sobre terminología fue adaptado a las necesidades de los intérpretes a distancia, incluyendo tareas en las que el intérprete conoce de antemano el tema específico de la interacción, pero también asignaciones de "último minuto", para las cuales el intérprete puede aprovechar un recurso terminológico general y menos específico que se utilizará durante la interacción. Entre los instrumentos específicos, utilizaron BootCat (en este caso, https://bootcat.dipintra.it/), AntConc (https://www.laurenceanthony.net/software/antconc/), y seleccionaron y organizaron los resultados finales en formato Excel y/o bases de datos terminológicas (Multiterm de SDL).

[15] Las cinco cabinas restantes, activas aunque no operativas en las prácticas, quedaban a disposición de docentes del curso que desearan asistir a otras clases, o de las observadoras externas para así facilitarles las labores de evaluación de la didáctica.

[16] Fotógrafo Claudio Turci, fuente: www.shiftinorality.eu

[18] Las cabinas activadas e implicadas en las prácticas se veían y se oían (IVC) o se oían (IT) entre sí, sin conexión alguna con la sala del laboratorio.

[19] Dificultades de audio (volumen, ruido ambiental, solapamiento de voces, pérdida intermitente de audio cubriendo momentáneamente el docente el micrófono –problemas de cobertura–, entre otras) como dificultades de video (encuadre parcial de las partes, pérdida momentánea de imagen, bloqueo de video, etc.).

[20] Al término de cada actividad se realizaba un breve análisis de dificultades en común.

[21] Autoevaluación y evaluación de grupo. Para ulterior información sobre estas fases, Spinolo y González Rodríguez (forthcoming).

[22] Para mayores detalles sobre este curso y ulteriores consideraciones encaminadas hacia las buenas prácticas para la formación de IT/IVC, remitimos a Spinolo y González Rodríguez (forthcoming).

About the author(s)

She graduated from the University of Granada (Spain) in interpreting and translation. Since 1990 she has been working as a professional interpreter and translator in Spain, Germany and Italy.
Since 1995 she has been working at the School of Foreign Languages and Literatures, Interpreting and Traslation of the University of Bologna (Italy), where she has taught courses in the fields of Spanish linguistics and Spanish-Italian interpreting and translation in business settings. In 2007 she was appointed research fellow for the department of Interdisciplinary Studies in Translation, Language and Culture (SITLEC, University of Bologna), where she teaches liaison interpreting between Italian and Spanish.

Research field

Initially, her main research field was the analysis of major translating processes in the field of technology, with a special focus on specialized terminology and software text translation in the mechanization and management of industrial processes. She also carried out research concerning the didactics of translation, and the analysis of cultural backgrounds in texts of a variety of genres -tourist brochures, manuals, catalogues, exhibition leaflets, and advertising. Her work follows the lines of pragmalinguistics, cultural anthropology, verbal and non-verbal communication, psycholinguistics, and sociolinguistics. She is planning to open new lines in her research in the near future, focusing on some aspects of oral communicative processes (both verbal and non-verbal) in the didactics of interpreting.
Finally, a further field of research she is working on concerns dialogue interpreting, especially in the field of public services and, within this discipline, telephone interpreting and interpreting of wiretapped conversations.

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

©inTRAlinea & María Jesús González Rodríguez (2020).
"La interpretación a distancia y su formación: la experiencia de la Shift Summer School y cómo crear la ‘virtualidad necesaria’ en el aula"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Technology in Interpreter Education and Practice
Edited by: Nicoletta Spinolo & Amalia Amato
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2514

The use of CAI tools in interpreter training: where are we now and where do we go from here?

By Bianca Prandi (Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, Germany)


After a slow start, Computer-Assisted Interpreting (CAI) is receiving growing attention from practitioners and researchers alike. While research on CAI tools is still somewhat limited, a few studies have tried to shed some light on aspects such as the tools’ usability and their impact on interpreting quality in terms of terminological performance, mainly focusing on their use in the booth. The fact that many of these studies were conducted as part of BA or MA theses shows a certain interest among trainee interpreters. The new generation of interpreters is certainly more technology-savvy than their older colleagues; personal computers, tablets or other kinds of technological tools have become a staple in the interpreting booth. The prerequisites for the introduction of CAI tools in the curriculum of trainee interpreters are there, but how have training programmes reacted to these new terminology management solutions for interpreters? To answer this question, in this paper we present the results of a survey conducted among 25 interpreter-training institutions. The survey shows that, while technology applied to interpreting is present in all programmes object of the survey, only some universities have integrated CAI tools in their curriculum. Overall, despite the growing interest in this emerging field, there is still some confusion and lack of information among trainers. With the aim of providing an example of how to introduce CAI tools to students, this paper briefly describes how some universities have included these solutions in their training and presents a pilot study conducted at the University of Mainz/Germersheim (Germany), which involved trainee interpreters as test subjects.

Keywords: computer-assisted interpreting, simultaneous interpreting, interpreter training, terminology management

©inTRAlinea & Bianca Prandi (2020).
"The use of CAI tools in interpreter training: where are we now and where do we go from here?"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Technology in Interpreter Education and Practice
Edited by: Nicoletta Spinolo & Amalia Amato
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2512

1. Introduction

ICTs applied to interpreting have been playing an increasingly relevant role not only in the profession, but also in interpreter training. As shown by Berber-Irabien’s survey of ICTs in interpreting (2010), which addressed both the professional and the educational fields, the most relevant technologies in interpreter training are setting-oriented solutions such as technologies for remote interpreting, videoconferencing and remote simultaneous interpreting (RSI), and computer-assisted interpreter training (CAIT). The latter involve e-learning platforms, online resources for interpreter training (such as ORCIT[1] and Interpreter Training Resources[2]), online speech databases like Speechpool[3] and the DG SCIC Speech Repository[4], video corpora like ELISA (Braun 2006) and the Backbone corpus (Kohn 2012), software programmes such as BlackBox (Sandrelli 2007) and SCICrec, and even virtual reality environments such as IVY (Chmiel et al. 2012; Tymczyńska et al. 2013).[5] These solutions provide the infrastructure for blended or distance learning and complement traditional, in-class training by providing additional material for self-study and additional tools for instructor, peer and self-assessment.

The relevance of setting-oriented technologies and CAIT for interpreter training is reflected in research, with a focus on the integration of the above-mentioned technologies in the interpretation curriculum (Braun et al. 2012; Kajzer-Wietrzny and Tymczyńska 2014; Fantinuoli and Prandi 2018) or on the development and use of CAIT in interpreter training (Merlini 1996; Sandrelli 2007, 2015; Sandrelli and de Manuel Jerez 2007; Ko 2006, 2008; Chmiel et al. 2012; Tymczyńska et al. 2013). Additionally, Orlando (2010, 2015, 2016) explored the use of digital pen technology for process-based assessment in note-taking training for consecutive interpreting.

A third, emerging area of technologies applied to interpreting can be identified in computer-assisted interpreting (CAI), which is gaining popularity among professional interpreters and is receiving increased attention in interpreting research. While very broad in its scope, Berber-Irabien’s survey did not reveal the current state of CAI inclusion in interpreter training, which can be easily explained by the relatively recent introduction of this technology. To our knowledge, no contribution can be identified in the body of interpreting research on the inclusion of CAI tools in interpreter training. With the aim of gaining a first understanding of how interpreter-training courses have responded to the emergence of computer-assisted interpreting, we carried out a survey involving 25 interpreter-training institutions.[6] In this paper, we discuss the current state of research on CAI tools and we present the results of the survey. We provide selected examples of the integration of CAI tools in interpreter training that we believe can provide inspiration for further development of interpreter training courses in this direction. As an example of how to introduce CAI to trainee interpreters, we present the training phase of a process- and product-based study on CAI tools. Finally, we conclude by discussing the results of the survey and addressing future work in the field of computer-assisted interpreting research.

2. State of the art: CAI tools

Computer-assisted interpreting (CAI) tools are software solutions developed specifically to suit the needs of interpreters in terms of terminology and knowledge management. In their most advanced form, they represent an interpreter’s workstation that supports each phase of the interpreter’s workflow, especially conference preparation, but also the peri-process, in-process and post-process operations (Kalina 2005) necessary to ensure efficient management of the terminological resources and a high-quality interpretation in language for special purposes (LSP) conferences.

Although not as numerous as computer-assisted translation (CAT) tools, there is a growing array of CAI tools available on the market for interpreters to choose from. Some examples[7] are Flashterm[8], Glossarmanager[9], Glossary Assistant[10], Interplex[11], InterpretBank (Fantinuoli 2012)[12], Interpreter’s Help[13], Intragloss[14] and Terminus[15].

Some recent publications present an overview of these solutions (Costa et al. 2014a; Rütten 2017) and provide a set of criteria for their evaluation (Costa et al. 2014b; Will 2015). Fantinuoli (2018) takes a different approach and classifies CAI tools into first-generation and second-generation tools. While first-generation CAI tools only provide  a more systematic way of organizing terminological resources than traditional tabular glossaries[16], second-generation CAI tools offer a much wider range of functionalities, drawing from computational linguistics and providing solutions such as automatic terminology extraction from preparation documents, support for the memorisation of specialised terminology and access to terminological databases not only before and after the interpreting task, but also in real time, during interpreting itself.

If they can be considered the equivalent to what CAT tools are for translators, CAI tools have not enjoyed the same level of integration in the workflow of professional interpreters, who still tend to use more rudimentary and non-interpreter-specific solutions, as shown by several surveys (Valentini 2002; Berber 2008; Berber-Irabien 2010; Bilgen 2009; Projektgruppe KoDoTools des Sprachen & Dolmetscher Instituts München 2007; Corpas Pastor and May Fern 2016). The main reason for this may be that such tools are more often than not met with scepticism (Drechsel 2013b) or are simply unknown to most professional interpreters. Some practitioners perceive them as somewhat “unnatural” to the very same act of interpreting (Donovan 2006) and potentially distracting (Tripepi Winteringham 2010) during simultaneous interpreting (SI).

Despite these points of criticism, which mainly concern the in-process phase, CAI tools have received heightened attention in most recent years, as testified by the increasing number of workshops and webinars offered on the topic by professional associations (e.g. by the ITI[17], AITI[18], AIIC[19], VKD[20]). This is an encouraging sign for the further diffusion of such tools, which have the potential of making preparation more efficient, reducing the time spent on it. The author’s experience as a CAI trainer showed that the functions pertaining to the pre-process phase, such as terminology extraction and memorization, are generally judged positively by expert interpreters. The speed of the look-up functions provided by some tools is also appreciated. Additionally, terminology systematization, glossary export and import in various formats, and solutions for collaborative work are all perceived as useful innovations when compared to traditional, non-interpreter-specific solutions.

As for any tool, much depends on the user’s individual preferences. Trainers would do well to raise awareness on the inherent limitations and issues of CAI tools, while pointing out their usefulness for the professional practice and their potentially positive impact on interpreting quality - at least in terms of terminological accuracy. To this aim, we recommend following a constructivist approach with the active involvement of trainees, who should be given the chance to test and compare the different tools and features. Fantinuoli and Prandi (2018) provide guidelines for CAI use in interpreter training and suggest practical activities and resources for trainers[21].

Interpreting research has supported CAI tools developers by defining theoretical models that describe the ideal structure and functionalities of a CAI tool. Rütten (2004, 2007) offers a comprehensive theoretical model of CAI tools, while Will (2007) and Fantinuoli (2006) provide models of terminology work conducted by interpreters. Recently, Fantinuoli (2017) developed a prototype for the integration of Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) into CAI tools, thus paving the way for the third generation of CAI.

Another type of investigation on CAI tools can be identified in several BA, MA and PhD theses, which have dealt with various aspects of this technology. Some of them analyse the usefulness of CAI tools for conference preparation, comparing them with more traditional solutions and evaluating their main features (see for example De Merulis 2013; Gacek 2015). Others take an empirical approach and investigate their impact on the terminological quality of interpreters’ performance (Biagini 2015; Prandi 2015a, 2015b). In particular, Prandi explores the reception of CAI tools by trainee interpreters, providing a qualitative evaluation of their usage in the booth and highlighting the need for practical experience in addition to theoretical instruction on the topic. Her research also highlights the potential risk for students of relying too heavily on such tools, a risk which should be taken into account and addressed by trainers. In his study, drawing on Prandi’s methodology, Biagini focuses on a quantitative analysis of the terminological quality of the interpreted text comparing the use of a paper glossary and the CAI tool InterpretBank. It is the first attempt at collecting quantitative data to provide an empirical basis for the ongoing discussion on such tools and it suggests that CAI tools may provide an advantage in terms of terminological quality when compared to paper glossaries. In her study, Xu (2015) found that computer-assisted terminology extraction - a feature present, for instance, in the CAI tools InterpretBank and Interpreter’s Help - can improve conference preparation, increase terminological accuracy and reduce omissions. Even though these studies, with the exception of Xu’s, have a preliminary character and are limited in scope, they all seem to indicate that CAI tools can have a positive effect on the quality of terminology in the interpreter’s delivery and that the tools are well received among students. A doctoral study underway at the University of Mainz/Germersheim (Prandi 2017, 2018) aims at expanding the analysis by exploring the effects of CAI tools not only on the terminological quality of an interpreter’s rendition, but also on cognitive load during SI with CAI, an aspect which has not yet been addressed in CAI research.

While more research in this field is certainly needed, these studies already provide good grounds for the inclusion of CAI tools in the interpreting curriculum, especially since they have the potential to help interpreters address the fast-paced changes occurring in the profession (Donovan 2006).

3. Where are we now? A survey on CAI tools in interpreter training

The goal of the survey is to explore the current landscape of the diffusion of CAI tools in conference interpreter training at university level and to gain a better understanding of the factors influencing their inclusion in curricula. The questionnaire (see Annex 1) is based on the survey conducted by Berber-Irabien (2010), but has a narrower scope, as it focuses only on process-oriented CAI tools as a subset of technologies applied to interpreting and only on the educational setting.

3.1. Sample

The survey was administered via Google Forms between October and December 2017 and sent to the participants via email. The institutions to be contacted were selected on the basis of the CIUTI member list[22], which provides the contact information either of the dean of the institute or of the head of the interpreting department, or both. Whenever the persons contacted specified that they were not experts in the field or not directly responsible for the inclusion of technologies in the curriculum, we either contacted the person they suggested or asked for their contact details, to make sure that the respondents had the necessary knowledge of interpreting technologies. In order to reach a higher number of interpreter trainers, the survey was also posted on the Facebook Group “Interpreter Technology Group”[23], a forum which holds in-depth discussions on the topic of technologies applied to interpreting.

Figure 1: training institutions per country

Of the 85 interpreter training institutions contacted, 25 questionnaires were returned from 15 countries. The graph above (Figure 1) shows the distribution of the institutes per country. The most represented countries are Belgium, Germany, Italy, Austria and Spain. Overall, the sample is quite representative of the European landscape. The only non-European country is Lebanon. All institutions offer a master’s degree in Conference Interpreting.

3.2. Results

All respondents taking part in the survey reported including technologies for interpreting in their curricula. The following technologies were listed in the question concerning the inclusion of technologies in the curriculum: remote interpreting, videoconferencing, telephone interpreting, computer-assisted interpreter training tools, computer-assisted interpreting tools, online terminological databases and dictionaries, and search engines.

We also wanted to verify whether universities included technologies in a specific subject, and if not, how they included them in the curriculum. More than half of the sample (15 institutions) reports dedicating a specific subject to technologies for interpreting.


Number of responses

Percentage of responses







Table 1: Are technologies addressed in a specific subject?

The other 10 training institutions include technologies in the curriculum especially focusing on videoconferencing and remote interpreting, for example in the context of virtual classes with other institutions or with the EU. Some provide a general introduction to the topic. One institution reports using “speech databases for practice, sourcing terminology, using recordings and transcriptions (digital pen) for analysis etc.”. Another university adopts SCIC-Rec “for supervised self-training”, while in another institution a short seminar on technologies is offered within the course “Professional contexts and interpreting resources”. One institution also lists preparation tools as one of the technologies included in the curriculum.

As for CAI tools, more than half of the sample (13 institutes out of 25) includes them in the curriculum. In this regard, it should be noted that two affirmative answers had to be reclassified as negative, since from other questions it emerged that the respondents included technologies applied to interpreting, but not CAI tools. This is very interesting, as it suggests a certain degree of confusion around the concept of computer-assisted interpreting tool.


Number of responses

Percentage of responses







Table 2: Are computer-assisted interpreting (CAI) tools part of the curriculum?

In both cases, the respondents were asked to motivate their answers. As for the reasons for which these institutions do not include CAI tools in their curriculum, some common themes emerge from the responses collected.[24] Two respondents pointed to the trainers’ expertise as a decisive factor for the integration of CAI in the curriculum. In one case, there is “a lack of lecturers able to teach them”. In the other, the inclusion of CAI in training is left to the trainer’s personal initiative. This is not surprising and ties in with what emerges from surveys on the use of CAI tools by professional interpreters, since most trainers are also practitioners (see Section 2). Another reason that we expected to see mentioned was the difficulty of altering the curriculum to officially include CAI training. This was mentioned by one respondent, which indicated that curricula were shaped before such tools were widespread. Two respondents indicated that, while “related” technology or CAT tools were included in training, CAI was not. One other institution stated that they had not considered including CAI tools. This might point to a lack of interest in CAI but could also (if interpreted optimistically) be seen as a starting point for their future inclusion. A rather surprising claim was made by one institution, which stated that CAI tools are “too recent”. The first CAI tool prototype was created by Christoph Stoll in 1993, while the first publications on terminology management systems for interpreters can be dated back to the early 2000s. Given the current speed of technological development, a technology that first emerged 27 years ago can hardly be defined as “too recent”. It is possible that the respondent was actually thinking of other technologies when providing this answer. This also seems to be the case for 2 more responses which point to a lack of financial and infrastructural resources and “technical issues” as reasons for the exclusion of CAI. While budgeting issues are certainly plausible, the only infrastructure needed for working with CAI is a PC or a laptop and (for some functions and some tools) an internet connection, as well as a technician for the necessary maintenance, all things usually available at universities. It would certainly be interesting to explore this further with the institution in question, but we suspect this is another case of confusion on the actual definition of CAI.

When CAI tools are included in the curriculum, lessons usually include both a theoretical presentation and practice sessions. Three institutions report focusing on the practice sessions. This is confirmed by the question aimed at finding out whether students learn how to use the tools or whether they are just informed of their existence (Table 3). Apart from one institution where students are only informed of the existence of these tools and are provided with a short demo, students learn how to use the tools, even though, in one case, instructors focus mostly on theory and only little practice is offered.


Number of responses (n=13)

Percentage of responses

They learn how to use the tools



Mainly theoretical lesson with some practice



Informed and demo



It depends, some are taught, some are demonstrated or cited



Table 3: Are students taught how to use the tools, or are they just informed of their existence?

The most interesting question in the survey is perhaps the one that concerns the CAI tools presented to trainee interpreters. As shown by the table below, InterpretBank is the tool students are most often introduced to, followed by Interplex and Interpreter’s Help. Other tools presented to students include, in descending order of popularity, Terminus, Flashterm.eu, Glossary Assistant, Intragloss, LookUp and Glossarmanager.

Figure 2: Which CAI tools are presented to trainee interpreters? [n = 13]

InterpretBank is actively used by students in all the universities that include it in the curriculum. The same can be said for Terminus, LookUp, Glossary Assistant and Glossarmanager. Interplex, Interpreter’s Help, Flashterm and Intragloss are also often used actively by students and only in rare cases are they solely presented in theory (Figure 3). The respondents also mentioned additional tools that are indeed technologies that can be or are usually applied to interpreting, but which are not CAI tools. Some examples are SDL MultiTerm, CrossTerm, online databases and corpora, corpus creation and analysis tools, but also videoconferencing software (Zoom, Polycom, Adobe Connect).

Figure 3: Do students actively learn how to use the CAI tools, or do they just learn of their existence?

In 7 cases out of 13, 50% or more of the teaching hours on interpreting technologies are dedicated to CAI. In 2 cases, only CAI tools are taught. In 4 cases out of 13, one third of teaching hours on technologies for interpreters is dedicated to CAI, while in the remaining 2, CAI plays a marginal role (around 17%). The differences in the number of hours allocated to CAI can be explained with the personal preferences of the individual trainers, the ease of adapting the curriculum to newer technologies, the inclusion of CAI in regular interpreting classes, the preference given to setting-oriented technologies (such as those for remote interpreting), which are more present in the public debate about technological changes in the profession.

In the institutions where CAI tools are part of the curriculum, students use these tools and are encouraged to do so also during regular conference interpreting classes in eight cases out of 13 (Table 4). In three cases, students use CAI tools even though they are not explicitly encouraged to do so, in one case they are not encouraged to use them, and in one instance they do not use them even though they are encouraged to do so.


Number of responses (n=13)

Percentage of responses

Yes, and they are encouraged to do so



Yes, but they are not explicitly encouraged to do so



No, even though they are encouraged to do so



No, and they are not encouraged to do so



Table 4: Do students use CAI tools when practicing conference interpreting in the classroom?

The last set of questions aimed at finding out what the future prospects of the institutions involved in the survey are when it comes to CAI tools. Seven institutions out of 25 are planning to expand their curriculum to include CAI tools, by including a course on the subject, by increasing booth practice and teaching hours, or by “implementing high-performance strategies” as well as “validating empirical findings” on the topic. In one case, remote interpreting was also mentioned. Fourteen universities out of 25 state that they may expand or change the way CAI tools are included in their curriculum, and list teaching hours as well as financial and technical resources as critical factors in this decision, but also indicate they have different priorities, and that the evolution of market demands also plays a role. One university is thinking of including more activities on CAI tools, another one underlines that the curriculum needs to be changed in order to accommodate for such integration.

Four institutions do not plan to include CAI tools in their curriculum in the near future nor to change the way CAI tools are included in their curriculum. These respondents either believe they already cover the subject sufficiently (2 cases out of 4), or do not have an interest in these tools (1), or do not provide an explanation (1). We also asked the respondents to indicate whether any research project on this subject was being carried out at their institution. While 11 universities answered yes, five of them described research projects that have to do with technology applied to interpreting, but not involving CAI tools specifically, such as remote interpreting, telephone interpreting, real-time subtitling with speech recognition, or the preparation of multimedia material to be used to teach conference interpreting. Two institutions indicated that research was underway but did not provide more detailed information. This means that, in our sample, six institutions at best are actually conducting research on computer-assisted interpreting tools. Five out of six state that trainee interpreters are involved in these projects. Five respondents had no information on the matter and nine institutions stated that they are not conducting research in this area.

4. Where do we go from here?

CAI tools can be included in interpreter training in many ways, and some institutions already do this by integrating activities with CAI in regular interpreting classes, even though they do not offer a course specifically dedicated to CAI tools. This is very promising and can represent a good solution in those situations where the curriculum cannot be changed in order to make room for a new course dedicated only to interpreting technologies (and in particular to process-oriented technologies). After all, even though a stand-alone module can certainly prove beneficial, as it allows instructors and trainees to explore the topic in detail, technologies should ideally be integrated in regular interpreting classes, at least after trainees have developed a sound interpreting technique, for example in the last semester of their studies (Fantinuoli and Prandi 2018). This would ensure that students are equipped with the necessary interpreting “toolkit” (Drechsel 2013a) to keep up with the current interpreting market.

Among the survey respondents, some interpreter training institutions stand out for the way they have included CAI tools in their interpreting curriculum. In this section, we will select and describe the four most relevant examples of the inclusion of CAI in interpreter training through a course specifically dedicated to computer-assisted interpreting (4.1), hoping this will provide some inspiration to those institutions wishing to include such tools in their curriculum.[25] Moreover, institutions which provide a specific module on CAI tools also seem to include students in research projects on such tools. In 4.2 we will therefore describe a training course on CAI tools which is part of a pilot study conducted at the University of Mainz/Germersheim (Prandi 2017, 2018).

4.1. Selected examples from the survey

The University of Bologna (Italy) offers a master’s degree in conference interpreting at its Department of Interpreting and Translation, at Forlì campus. Within the programme, a course on “Methods and technologies for interpretation” is offered. It is a compulsory 40-hour course for all trainee interpreters, 25 hours of which are dedicated to CAI tools. The CAI tools presented to students are InterpretBank, Interplex and Interpreter’s Help. In Forlì, interpreting students also learn how to use SDL MultiTerm for conference preparation. During the course, students receive theoretical instruction but also have the opportunity to practice using these tools for conference preparation and in the booth. InterpretBank is also used and tested during events organised at the university, such as conferences or seminars. At the time of the survey, there was no research project specifically dedicated to CAI tools, but a study was underway on ASR for live subtitling, a technology also presented during the course.

The University of Heidelberg in Germany also offers its interpreting students a specific course dedicated to CAI tools. Eight of the ten hours of the course are devoted to CAI tools. Trainee interpreters are introduced to the following tools: InterpretBank, Interplex, Intragloss, LookUp, Interpreter’s Help and Flashterm. The tools are used during workshops and are considered part of the workflow of interpreting for a technical conference. There is currently a study underway about the empirical quantification of high-performance strategies - including CAI - and the automation of the interpreter’s workflow.

The University of Innsbruck (Austria) and the University of Mainz/Germersheim offer a course on CAI tools taught by the same lecturer, which is why we present them together. The courses offered in Innsbruck and Germersheim are both 22 hours long. The teaching hours dedicated to CAI are respectively six and eight. Students are introduced to InterpretBank, Interplex, Intragloss (only in Innsbruck) and Interpreter’s Help. Both courses combine theory and practice. The focus of the theoretical part is on the goals of CAI and on the features of interpretation during LSP conferences. Trainees then have the opportunity to practice interpreting with the support of InterpretBank in the booth. At the time of the survey, there was no study underway at the University of Innsbruck with a specific focus on CAI tools. In Germersheim, apart from the study currently being conducted by Prandi (2017, 2018), there is another project dedicated to the usability of a glossary for community interpreting in application forms.

4.2. Research as a way of bridging the gap: a pilot study on CAI tools in SI

The research project underway at the University of Mainz/Germersheim (Prandi 2017, 2018) combines process-oriented and product-oriented methods - in particular eye tracking, keylogging and the analysis of the terminology used by the test-subjects. It compares SI performance with the support of traditional glossaries, second-generation CAI tools and a prototype of what we could define as a third-generation CAI tool (with integrated ASR). The study aims at investigating how CAI tools influence the terminological quality of interpreters’ renditions and cognitive load during SI. Before taking part in data collection, the students participating in the study as test-subjects undergo training on the use of CAI tools in the booth during SI. For the purpose of this paper, we will focus on the training offered during a pilot study aimed at testing the research methodology and the experimental set-up in preparation for the main phase of the experiment. We will highlight the potential benefits of the training and describe the changes implemented in the main study. For further information on the results of this pilot study, the reader can refer to Prandi (2018).

The training took place between April and June 2017 at the University of Mainz/Germersheim. Seven students of the master’s degree in Conference Interpreting took part in the training (3 German natives and 4 Italian natives). Participation in the study was voluntary and the participants did not receive any form of compensation. One Italian native was then excluded from data collection because she had only received two semesters of training in SI up to that point, while the other test-subjects had received at least 3 semesters of training.

The participants took part in a preliminary meeting, which covered the basics of terminology management for interpreters and focused on the CAI tool InterpretBank, also used during the practice sessions and data collection. The one-hour workshop allowed the students to gain a first understanding of the goals of CAI tool usage. The students were provided with an overview of the tools currently available on the market and had the opportunity to ask questions and clarify any doubts. Over the following weeks, the students took part in 5 practice sessions. During each session, they interpreted three short speeches of around 10 to 12 minutes each, on a variety of topics ranging from biology to medicine, from English into their mother tongue. The students interpreted each speech with the support of a different tool. They could look up terminology in a glossary prepared with Microsoft Word, a glossary prepared with Microsoft Excel, and a glossary accessible with InterpretBank. Before the practice sessions, the trainer indicated which tool they were supposed to work with and prepared the glossaries, so that all students worked with the same material and equal time was dedicated to each tool. During the sessions, whenever a technical problem arose, the students could discuss it with the trainer in order to clear any doubts and solve potential issues before data collection. After the last practice session, the students took part in a test to check their proficiency in the use of the tools. The test included a series of tasks to be performed with the three tools (e.g. identifying and activating a certain function, selecting options, looking up terminology). Their laptop screen was recorded with the screen-casting software Active Presenter[26] and the recordings were then reviewed to verify whether the tasks had been correctly carried out. All the students passed the test and were therefore deemed ready for data collection.

A first observation of the data collected during the pilot study and recent advances in the field of CAI tools led us to replace one of the traditional glossaries with a glossary accessible with a CAI tool with integrated ASR. This change was implemented in the main study, where a PDF glossary was used as an example of traditional glossary in lieu of the Word and Excel glossaries. A further opportunity for training that was implemented in the main study and that could prove a valuable alternative for some trainers is offering the training remotely, for example as a self-paced Moodle course. In the main study, the students took part in an introductory webinar covering the same topics as the in-person workshop and were able to communicate with the trainer whenever needed, but this allowed them to individually pace their practice sessions. Additional benefits could be the possibility to adjust their training to their level of proficiency, as some students may already know how to use CAI tools or require different amounts of practice.

The inclusion of students in research projects on CAI could provide benefits both to trainees and to trainers. When extra hours cannot be added to the official curriculum, research projects on CAI can represent an additional opportunity to offer students a theoretical and practical introduction to new tools for conference preparation outside of the regular interpreting classroom. Such projects can represent the first direct experience of their use in the booth, which requires some time getting accustomed to. For the scope of our study we focused on InterpretBank, but it would certainly be interesting for students to experiment with different tools. Another opportunity would be involving students also in the preparation of the terminological resources, an activity which we believe would have a positive effect on the optimisation of their conference preparation strategies and also on their interpreting strategies in the setting of an LSP conference where they have access to their terminological resources. Finally, the extra effort required when using these tools would also be a way for students to test their capacity distribution and to work on attention allocation.

5. Conclusions and future work

In this paper, we presented the results of a survey aimed at drawing a picture of the inclusion of CAI tools in interpreter training. After describing the current state of research on CAI tools, which has mainly focused on their evaluation and on analysing their impact on terminological quality in SI, we discussed why there is a case for their inclusion in interpreter training.

What emerged from the survey is a multifaceted picture of the inclusion of CAI tools in curricula. The number of responses received and the fact that half of the responding institutions already include CAI in interpreter training is certainly a sign that training is starting to take account of this technology. In the survey, we did not provide a definition of CAI tools because we wanted to understand whether trainers were conversant with these new technologies for interpreting. When answering the survey, some respondents interpreted CAI as a synonym for ICT applied to interpreting, in particular of setting-oriented technologies such as remote interpreting and videoconferencing. This may point to a lack of information among conference interpreting trainers, probably due to the novel nature of these tools. Another reason might be a lack of interest, which could be explained by the fact that experienced interpreters usually already have their own terminology management system and therefore do not update their knowledge in this field or try out new tools or systems. Interest is however growing, as shown by the relatively high number of institutions represented in the survey, by the increasing number of studies on the topic, and by the desire to expand curricula so as to include CAI tools in training. On the basis of the survey, at present, InterpretBank is by far the most widely used CAI tool in interpreter training, but the variety of CAI tools presented to trainee interpreters is also a piece of good news.

A potential obstacle to the introduction of CAI tools in interpreter training is a lack of material and financial resources, but also of adequate preparation among instructors. For this reason, we believe that, especially where resources are limited and where the curriculum cannot be changed, research projects on CAI tools can represent a good way to top up official training, helping students improve their preparation strategies.

Our survey is quite representative of the European landscape, but further research is needed to expand this observation on a global scale. It would certainly be interesting to conduct this survey again in a few years, in order to carry out a diachronic analysis of the response of training institutions to the emergence of new computer-assisted interpreting tools on the market. Similarly, it would be useful to check whether students who have received training in CAI benefit from it also in their professional life, especially in terms of terminology management. Such analysis could shed new light on how CAI tools influence the work of professional interpreters and would certainly be beneficial in designing an interpreting curriculum that reflects professional practice and promotes an open, impartial and data-driven discussion on the role of process-oriented technologies for the interpreting profession.


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[5] For a detailed description of CAIT, see Kajzer-Wietrzny and Tymczyńska (2014).

[6] Fantinuoli and Prandi (2018) also briefly report on the survey in question (in that publication, the number of questionnaires collected is wrongly reported as 24). The present paper provides an in-depth description and discussion of the survey results.

[7] See Rütten (2013) for a summary table of terminology tools for interpreters.

[16] Compiled, for instance, with word-processing or spreadsheet software.

[17] Institute of Translation and Interpreting

[18] Associazione Italiana Traduttori e Interpreti

[19] Association internationale des interprètes de conférence

[20] Verband der Konferenzdolmetscher im BDÜ e.V.

[24] Only 8 out of 12 respondents motivated their answers. Two institutions had given an affirmative answer, while the other two respondents did not state any clear motivation.

[25] For a detailed proposal of a module dedicated to technologies in the interpreting classroom, see Fantinuoli and Prandi (2018).

About the author(s)

Bianca Prandi is a research associate at the University of Mainz (Germersheim campus), where until March 2021 she will collaborate on the research project on machine interpreting M.INT. She holds an MA in Interpreting from the University of Bologna/Forlì and is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Mainz/Germersheim. Her research focuses on the impact of computer-assisted interpreting (CAI) tools on terminological quality and cognitive processes in simultaneous interpreting. Her research interests include technology applied to interpreting, terminology management for interpreters, and cognition. She regularly provides training on CAI.

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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 multilingualism in Hip Hop music and citizen journalism, the spread of English as a Lingua Franca and its impact on translation, language and translation pedagogy. 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 la scrittura multilingue nella musica Hip Hop e il citizen journalism, la diffusione dell’inglese come lingua franca e il suo impatto sulla traduzione, la glottodidattica e la pedagogia della traduzione. È inoltre traduttrice e interprete professionista.

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The Cultural Ecology of Translation - IATIS 7th International Conference

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Languages & the Media 2020 (new dates)

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Translation Quality Assessment

By Luisa Bentivogli (Fondazione Bruno Kessler, Italy)



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About the author(s)

Luisa Bentivogli received a “Laurea” Degree in Philosophy of Language from the University of Bologna in 1999. Since then she has been
working as a researcher at Fondazione Bruno Kessler (FBK), currently in the “Machine Translation” (MT) Research Unit. From 2008 to
2013 she was assigned to the Centre for the Evaluation of Language and Communication Technologies (CELCT), first as a research
manager with the role of coordinating the activities of the Centre, then as Director of the Centre.

Her research interests include evaluation of human language technologies, translation technologies for translators, multilingual corpus
creation and annotation, crowdsourcing for natural language processing, computational lexicography in a multilingual environment,
contrastive linguistics.

Over the years, she has been involved in several international and national projects, as well as in job orders from private companies
and public institutions. She co-authored more than 70 scientific publications and serves as reviewer for journals, conferences and
workshops. She regularly supervises internship, master, and PhD students. She has been involved in the organisation of different tasks
in several evaluation campaigns (e.g. IWSLT, RTE, SemEval, EVALITA) and other international events addressed to both the scientific
community and translators (MT Marathon 2014, School of Advanced Technologies for Translators - SATT - 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019).

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

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Der Kummer von Belgien (Hugo Claus)

Konstruktion und Dekonstruktion von Images in deutscher Literaturübersetzung

By Anja van de Pol-Tegge (Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), Belgium)

Abstract & Keywords


Literary translations often seem to be reinterpreted due to certain cultural images of the translator, editor or other relevant decision makers. This case study therefore goes beyond the level of the text and illustrates the influence of the target culture on translation products. In two different German translations of the masterpiece by Belgian author Hugo Claus, underlying stereotypes are traced back through context and intertext.


Literaturübersetzungen scheinen oftmals neuinterpretiert zu werden aufgrund bestimmter kultureller Vorstellungen des Übersetzers, Lektors oder anderer relevanter Entscheidungsträger. Diese Fallstudie geht daher über die Ebene des Textes hinaus und verdeutlicht den Einfluss der Zielkultur auf das Übersetzungsprodukt. In zwei verschiedenen deutschen Übersetzungen des Meisterwerks des belgischen Autors Hugo Claus werden zugrundeliegende Stereotypen anhand von Kontext und Intertext zurückverfolgt.

Keywords: imagology, translation strategy, multilingualism, ethics in translation

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1. Einführung

Literaturübersetzungen werden für den deutschen Buchmarkt Jahr für Jahr in großer Zahl produziert. Ein kurzer Blick in die Buchhandlungen genügt, um sich einen Eindruck vom quantitativen Ausmaß zu verschaffen. Allein im Jahr 2017 wurden laut Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels rund 10.000 neue Titel ins Deutsche übertragen und veröffentlicht.[1] Die Leser betrachten es bei dieser Internationalisierung von Literatur in der Regel als selbstverständlich, dass sich aus jedem Original ohne Weiteres eine gleichwertige Übersetzung ergibt, was jedoch eine grundlegend falsche Annahme ist: Übersetzung findet immer in einem sozialen Raum statt (vgl. Wolf 2010), sodass am Übersetzungsprozess Beteiligte, wie Übersetzer, Lektor aber auch andere relevante Entscheidungsträger, unvermeidlich Einfluss auf das Produkt nehmen und entsprechend etwaige Vorurteile oder stereotype Vorstellungen bezüglich der Ausgangskultur einbringen, wobei auch kommerzielle Interessen ausschlaggebend sein können. Hierbei spielen vor allem traditionelle und nationale Bilder eine Rolle, sodass Literaturübersetzungen oftmals einen einseitigen oder unvollständigen Eindruck von der Ausgangskultur geben, die einem Text zugrunde liegt.

Insbesondere Literatur aus einem mehrsprachigen Land, wie beispielsweise Belgien, stellt für die Übersetzung eine Herausforderung dar, da sie nicht der traditionellen Vorstellung von Nationalliteratur im Sinne von Einsprachigkeit entspricht. In Anbetracht der zunehmenden Abgrenzung frankophoner und flämischer Kultur in Belgien auf allen Ebenen der Gesellschaft, die seit den 1980er-Jahren auch institutionell abgebildet ist, erscheint es geboten, von „Literaturen in Belgien“ zu sprechen und zwar sowohl in französischer als auch in niederländischer Sprache statt von „belgischer Literatur“ (vgl. De Geest & Meylaerts 2004). Der sich aus Mehrsprachigkeit und Einsprachigkeit ergebende Widerspruch macht deutlich, dass gute Literaturübersetzung eine umfassende Kenntnis der komplexen politischen, sozialen und kulturellen Strukturen der jeweiligen Ausgangskultur erfordert. Darüber hinaus kann sich auch die Erwartungshaltung des Lesepublikums in der Zielkultur ganz erheblich von derjenigen der Ausgangskultur unterscheiden. Aus dieser Problematik ergeben sich eine Reihe wichtiger Fragen: Inwieweit wird Literatur aus Belgien bei der Übersetzung ins Deutsche fehlinterpretiert? Wird in Übersetzungen sogar mit Absicht vom Originaltext abgewichen, um die Erwartungen des Zielpublikums zu erfüllen?

Gerade der Titel eines Romans wird im Zieltext oftmals geändert und kann somit bereits Hinweise auf bestimmte klischeehafte Bilder geben, die dem Übersetzungsprozesses zugrunde liegen. Ein Paradebeispiel hierfür liefern die beiden deutschen Übersetzungen des 1983 erschienen Romans Het verdriet van België, dem Meisterwerk des niederländischsprachigen belgischen Erfolgsautors Hugo Claus (1929-2008). Das komplexe autobiographisch geprägte Werk entspricht einer Familienchronik, die aus der Perspektive von Louis Seynaeve, einem sehr klug beobachtenden flämischen Jungen, beschrieben wird. Das Buch schildert die gesellschaftliche Situation in Belgien in den Jahren 1939 bis 1947. Schauplätze der Handlung sind eine katholische Klosterschule und die enge Gemeinschaft einer flämischen Provinzstadt. Das Werk ist einerseits ein Bildungsroman in Bezug auf seinen schriftstellerisch begabten Protagonisten und andererseits ein Schlüsselroman über die flämische Mittelschicht im betrachteten Zeitraum. Während es Louis gelingt, religiöse und soziale Zwänge zu überwinden und seiner Berufung als Autor zu folgen, verstrickt sich seine Familie immer mehr in die Kollaboration während des Zweiten Weltkriegs. Das Werk wurde erstmalig 1986 unter dem Titel Der Kummer von Flandern (Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart, 1986, 664 Seiten, in einer Übersetzung von Johannes Piron) auf Deutsch publiziert. 2008 wurde eine neue deutsche Übersetzung herausgegeben, die dem Original folgt und den Titel Der Kummer von Belgien (Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart, 2016 [2008], 821 Seiten, in einer Übersetzung von Waltraud Hüsmert)[2] verwendet. Es ist offensichtlich, dass den beiden Übersetzungen jeweils sehr unterschiedliche Strategien zugrunde liegen, die es zur Beantwortung der o.a. Fragen im Rahmen dieser Fallstudie zu untersuchen gilt. Hierfür wird auf das programmatische Modell der Imagologie (Dyserinck 1991; Beller & Leerssen 2007; van Doorslaer, Flynn & Leerssen 2016) zurückgegriffen, um den Einfluss der Zielkultur auf die Übersetzungen zu erfassen. 

2. Kontext und Intertext

Ein Text, der übersetzt wird, verlässt gezwungenermaßen seinen ursprünglichen Kontext und wird gewissermaßen ganz auf sich allein gestellt in einen anderen Kontext hineinkatapultiert. „Le fait que les textes circulent sans leur contexte“ führt daher unausweichlich zu Fehlinterpretationen (Bourdieu 2002: 4). Entsprechend nimmt der Verfasser eines Textes, der vielleicht eine Autorität im eigenen Land darstellt, diese kulturelle Stellung nicht automatisch mit in die Zielkultur, sondern kann sich dort eventuell mit einem Status weitgehender Unbekanntheit konfrontiert sehen. Dies gilt auch für den innovativen Hugo Claus, der in Belgien eine Art nationales Symbol der Literatur darstellt und als Kandidat für den Nobelpreis gehandelt wurde, im deutschen Sprachraum bis Mitte der 1980er-Jahre hingegen nur einen relativ geringen Bekanntheitsgrad genoss (vgl. Van Uffelen 1993: 452).

Was für den Autoren von Het verdriet van België im neuen Kontext gilt, trifft ebenfalls auf die Thematik des Werks zu. Das Buch ist im Grunde ein Spiegelbild der komplexen soziolinguistischen und historischen Realität in Belgien, trifft jedoch in den 1980er-Jahren im deutschen Sprachraum auf ein Publikum, dem diese Hintergründe zum großen Teil sehr fremd sind. Der Zielkultur fällt es schwer, mit dem Thema Mehrsprachigkeit umzugehen und sich in die Sprachenproblematik in Belgien hineinzudenken. Gerade in Deutschland als Ursprungsland des „Herder-Effekts“[3] (Casanova 1999: 156) ist die Vorstellung von einer auf Einsprachigkeit basierenden Kultur tief verankert, sodass Abweichungen hiervon als eher sonderbar wahrgenommen werden. Das Konzept „Belgien“, also eines mehrsprachigen Nationalstaats, ist vor diesem Hintergrund grundsätzlich schlecht vermittelbar. Das Konzept „Flandern“ hingegen entspricht eher den Erwartungen des Zielpublikums und bedient in Deutschland zudem ein historisch gewachsenes Image.

Die junge belgische Nation, die nach ihrer Gründung 1830 auf der Suche nach einer eigenen kulturellen Identität war, bemühte sich im 19. Jahrhundert insbesondere um eine Abgrenzung zu Frankreich und betonte daher ganz bewusst neben der romanischen ihre germanische kulturelle Komponente (vgl. Verschaffel 2007: 112). Dieses „auto-image“ wurde vor allem in der belgischen Literatur abgebildet, beispielsweise in den historischen Romanen von Hendrik Conscience (1812-1883) und insbesondere in seinem berühmten Buch De leeuw van Vlaanderen (Der Löwe von Flandern). Die deutschen Übersetzungen dieser Werke erfuhren während der Zeit der Romantik einen immensen Erfolg und trugen so zu einem „hetero-image“ bei, das Belgien eher mit Flandern assoziiert. Auch die auf Französisch schreibenden belgischen Symbolisten – beispielsweise der Nobelpreisträger Maurice Maeterlinck (1862-1949) ‒ betonten das flämische Element in ihrem Werk (vgl. Klinkenberg 1981: 43).

Im 20. Jahrhundert avancierten Felix Timmermans (1886-1947) und Stijn Streuvels (1871-1962) zu erfolgreichen flämischen Autoren in deutscher Übersetzung (vgl. de Vin 1987: 35-7; 45f.). Werke traditioneller flämischer Autoren wurden von den Nationalsozialisten systematisch für Propagandazwecke instrumentalisiert. Auch nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg blieben deutsche Leser naturalistischer flämischer Literatur treu (Van Uffelen 1993: 405ff.), die weiterhin aktiv durch den deutschen Übersetzer Georg Hermanowski (1918-1993) bis Ende der 1960er-Jahre vermittelt wurde (Van Uffelen 1993: 416ff.). Insgesamt betrachtet verfestigte sich beim deutschen Lesepublikum ein nachhaltiges und positiv besetztes, allerdings auch eher provinzielles „hetero-image“ von „Flandern“.

Vor diesem Hintergrund konnten innovative belgische Autoren niederländischer Sprache wie Hugo Claus erst relativ spät in Deutschland auf sich aufmerksam machen und blieben dort bis in die 1980er-Jahre weithin unbekannte Größen (vgl. Van Uffelen 1993: 449). Insgesamt befand sich die Übersetzung niederländischsprachiger Werke ins Deutsche zwischen 1970 und 1980 mit lediglich 35 übersetzten Titeln an einem Tiefpunkt (Salverda 1985: 21). Dies erklärt die Motivation des deutschen Verlags, das traditionelle und auf dem deutschen Buchmarkt in der Vergangenheit erfolgreiche Image von „Flandern“ in der Übersetzung von 1986 zu aktivieren:

Schließlich wurde auch auf die alte deutsche Zuneigung zu Flandern angespielt, indem das Buch nicht, wie es dem niederländischen Titel entsprochen hätte, den Titel Der Kummer von Belgien erhielt, sondern werbewirksamer zum Kummer von Flandern umgetauft wurde. (Van Uffelen 1993: 451)

Mit dem Titel Der Kummer von Flandern wurde der dem Publikum wenig bekannte Autor Claus mit einem vertrauten Image verknüpft, um die Absatzmöglichkeiten auf dem deutschen Buchmarkt zu steigern. Mit dem Image „Flandern“ konnte zudem der oben beschriebenen Erwartungshaltung des deutschen Publikums entsprochen und im Titel eine Deckungsgleichheit von Gesellschaft, Sprache und Literatur im Sinne einer traditionellen Vorstellung von Nationalliteratur hergestellt werden. Hierzu ist auch anzumerken, dass Belgien als nationaler Kulturraum auf dem internationalen Buchmarkt allgemein in keiner Weise in Erscheinung tritt und entsprechend eine Vermarktung des Konzepts „Belgien“ für Verlage grundsätzlich schwierig ist.

Im Jahre 2008, zur Zeit des Erscheinens der deutschen Neuübersetzung von Het verdriet van België, ergab sich für den Text wiederum ein neuer Kontext. Seit Gründung der Niederländischen Sprachunion (Nederlandse Taalunie) im Jahre 1980 war insbesondere die Übersetzung junger niederländischsprachiger Autoren ins Deutsche gefördert worden, wobei diese allgemein eine positive Rezeption erfahren hatten. Insbesondere auch die Gründung des Flämischen Literaturfonds (Vlaams Fonds voor de Letterkunde) im Jahre 2000 trug dazu bei, dass flämische Autoren auf dem deutschen Buchmarkt wesentlich stärker präsent waren. Dies führte dazu, dass sich das deutsche Publikum insgesamt erheblich aufgeschlossener für moderne niederländischsprachige Literatur zeigte und entsprechend auch weniger Berührungsängste mit dem Autoren Hugo Claus hatte. Traditionelle und als nicht mehr zeitgemäß wahrgenommene flämische Autoren spielten auf dem deutschen Buchmarkt inzwischen nur noch eine sehr untergeordnete Rolle, sodass sich über Intertexte der Literaturübersetzung beim deutschen Leser allgemein ein neues, allerdings nicht klar umrissenes Bild von Flandern entwickelt hatte.

Politische und wirtschaftliche Entwicklungen hatten 2008 ebenfalls zu einer Veränderung des Kontextes beigetragen. So hatte beispielsweise die enge Zusammenarbeit von Staaten innerhalb der Europäischen Union zu einer größeren Sichtbarkeit Belgiens geführt. Europäisierung und Globalisierung hatten insgesamt das Interesse an anderen Kulturen und damit auch an sprachlicher Diversität erhöht. In der Folge war allgemein von einer größeren Bereitschaft des deutschen Publikums auszugehen, sich mit Problematiken mehrsprachiger Staaten auseinanderzusetzen, wobei das Wissen über Belgien jedoch vage blieb. Auch nach dem Umbau Belgiens in einen Föderalstaat seit den 1970er-Jahren und zahlreichen damit verbundenen Verfassungsreformen erscheinen die Konzepte „Belgien“ und „Flandern“ für das deutsche Publikum bis heute widersprüchlich und erklärungsbedürftig (vgl. Bischoff, Jahr, Mrowka & Thiel 2018: 7-10).

Es ist davon auszugehen, dass das deutsche Zielpublikum im Jahre 2008 an näheren Informationen zu Belgien bzw. Flandern interessiert war, um die gesellschaftlichen Strukturen des Nachbarlands und Partners in Europa besser verstehen zu können, weshalb eine Neuübersetzung überhaupt wohl notwendig wurde. Eine weitere nicht zu unterschätzende Rahmenbedingung des neuen Kontextes bestand auch darin, dass die Neuübersetzung massiv mit Mitteln des Flämischen Literaturfonds gefördert wurde, wodurch Verlag und Übersetzer auch stärker an die Ausgangskultur gebunden und damit quasi verpflichtet wurden, den zugrunde liegenden Strukturen in Belgien sorgfältig nachzuspüren. Im Rahmen der Frankfurter Buchmesse 2016, auf der Flandern und die Niederlande mit dem Motto „Dies ist, was wir teilen“ nach 1993 zum zweiten Mal gemeinsam als Ehrengast auftraten, wurde die Übersetzung von 2008 mit einer veränderten Ausstattung des Buches neu präsentiert. Hierdurch stellte sich wiederum ein verwirrender kultureller Kontext dar, der beim Zielpublikum in Bezug auf den EU-Partner Belgien und seine Rolle in der „niederländischen Literatur“[4] eventuell aber auch Neugierde erzeugte.

3. Der Kummer im Wandel der Zeit

Aufgrund seines stark autobiographischen Charakters stellt Het verdriet van België ein wichtiges Zeitdokument dar, das allgemein als eine Aufzeichnung authentischer Beobachtungen und Erfahrungen des Autors Hugo Claus während des betrachteten Zeitraums verstanden werden muss. Claus hielt insbesondere Erlebnisse mit seiner Familie in Tagebüchern fest (vgl. Wildemeersch 2018), auf die er für sein Meisterwerk wahrscheinlich in hohem Maße zurückgriff. Der Protagonist Louis fungiert im Roman somit stellvertretend für Claus als Zeitzeuge, der zwar aus einer subjektiven Perspektive heraus erzählt, dessen Bericht aber dennoch repräsentative Aussagekraft für Belgien besitzt.


Durch die der ersten Übersetzung zugrunde liegenden Entscheidung, den Titel in Der Kummer von Flandern zu ändern, wird von Beginn an die Perspektive des Lesers von Belgien auf Flandern verengt, was noch weiter dadurch verstärkt wird, dass der Originaltitel Het verdriet van België im Roman als eine Art Motto fungiert und dem Leser an vielen Stellen wiederbegegnet. Durch die Verknüpfung der Schlüsselbegriffe „verdriet“ und „België“ wird ein durchgängiges Bedeutungsgewebe geschaffen, das bereits im Inhaltsverzeichnis des Buchs (Tabelle 1) zum Ausdruck kommt:

Original (1983)


Übersetzung 1986

Übersetzung 2016 [2008]

Deel I: Het verdriet

Erster Teil: Der Kummer

Erster Teil: DER KUMMER

Deel II: van België

Zweiter Teil: Von Flandern

Zweiter Teil: VON BELGIEN

Tabelle 1: Inhaltsverzeichnis

Die Änderung des Titels in der ersten Übersetzung erzeugt somit auch ein neues Bedeutungsgewebe für das ganze Buch. Die Ersetzung von „Belgien“ durch „Flandern“ führt dazu, dass wesentliche Themen des Romans wie Besatzung und Kollaboration, die in ihrem Ausmaß tatsächlich das ganze Land betrafen, nur mit der nördlichen Hälfte Belgiens in Bezug gebracht werden und hierdurch eine andere Dimension erhalten. Während das NS-Regime den „germanischen Brüdern“ in Flandern wie im Buch beschrieben mit Wohlwollen begegnete, hatten die „romanischen Wallonen“ im Süden schwere Repressionen zu erleiden (vgl. Denis & Klinkenberg 2005: 195). Die Fokussierung auf Flandern in der ersten Übersetzung verhindert jedoch, dass die Gesamtsituation der Besatzung in Belgien beim Leser ins Bewusstsein rückt. Auch der Tatbestand der Kollaboration wird hierdurch verharmlost, da vor allem der Verrat an den Landsleuten im Süden Belgiens verdrängt wird. Ebenfalls wird auf diese Weise ausgeblendet, dass auch in der Wallonie einzelne Gruppierungen mit den Nationalsozialisten kollaborierten.

Die folgenden Textpassagen machen deutlich, wie notorisch der neue Titel Der Kummer von Flandern im Gesamttext der ersten Übersetzung als Motto umgesetzt wird (siehe Tabelle 2). In den meisten Fällen ist dies möglich, ohne beim Leser sprachliche Irritationen oder direkte Unstimmigkeiten im Sinnzusammenhang zu erzeugen:

Original 1983

(S. 225)

Übersetzung 1986

(S. 214)

Übersetzung 2016 [2008]

(S. 248)

Het was schreien of kletsen geven in die tijd, en in die tijd kon ik niet schreien, het was lijk dat ik al het verdriet van België over mij liet komen.

Damals konnte ich einfach nicht weinen, und es war so, als müßte ich den ganzen Kummer von Flandern tragen.

Damals musste ich entweder weinen oder meine Kinder schlagen, und weinen konnte ich in der Zeit nicht, es war so, als hätte ich den ganzen Kummer von Belgien auf mich genommen.

 (S. 650)

(S. 608)

(S. 739)

’Want hier is toch alleen maar verdriet te verwachten,’ zei zij.

‘Het verdriet van België,’ zei Papa.

„Hier ist doch nur Kummer zu erwarten“, sagte sie.

„Der ganze Kummer von Flandern“, sagte Papa.

„Hier erwartet uns doch nur Kummer“, sagte sie.

„Der Kummer von Belgien“, sagte Papa.

Tabelle 2: Leitmotiv im Text.1

Vor allem in Textstellen am Ende des Romans offenbart sich jedoch, wie widersprüchlich und unangemessen diese Übersetzung tatsächlich ist (Tabelle 3):

Original 1983

(S. 698)

Übersetzung 1986

(S. 649f.)

Übersetzung 2016 [2008]

(S. 794f.)

Het verdriet, door Louis Seynaeve, las de man met een basstem alsof hij een luisterspel aankondigde in de radio.


‘Het is een goed onderwerp. Het Belgische volk moet de feiten leren. Van de bron zelf.’

Der Kummer, von Louis Seynaeve, las der Mann mit einer Baßstimme, als kündigte er ein Hörspiel im Radio an.


„Das ist ein wichtiges Thema. Das belgische Volk muß die Tatsachen kennenlernen. Aus erster Quelle.“

Der Kummer, von Louis Seynaeve, las der Mann mit einer Bassstimme als kündigte er ein Hörspiel im Radio an.


„Ein wichtiges Thema. Das belgische Volk muss die Tatsachen erfahren. Aus erster Hand.“

Tabelle 3: Leitmotiv im Text.2

Die beiden Schlüsselbegriffe „verdriet“ und „België“ werden in dieser Passage erneut miteinander kombiniert, allerdings nicht direkt in einem Ausdruck, sondern im Rahmen eines Dialogs. Diesmal verzichtet die erste deutsche Übersetzung darauf, „belgisch“ durch „flämisch“ zu ersetzen, da durch den Sinnzusammenhang offensichtlich ist, dass nur das gesamte belgische Volk gemeint sein kann. Hierdurch wird jedoch die Kohäsion des Textes erheblich gestört angesichts des ansonsten allgemeinen Übergangs zu „Der Kummer von Flandern“. Dies wird insbesondere auch in der folgenden Textstelle (Tabelle 4) deutlich:

Original 1983

(S. 699)

Übersetzung 1986

(S. 651)

Übersetzung 2016 [2008]

(S. 796)

Het verdriet, dat is een goeie titel. Aan de andere kant… Mankeert er iets aan. Het is… het is… zo kaal. Iedereen heeft verdriet. Waarom noemt ge het niet Verdriet om het Vaderland. […]’

[…] ‘Of gewoon simpelweg Het verdriet van België. Twee doffe e’s en twee ie’s. In het Engels: The sorrow of Belgium. […]’


Der Kummer, das ist ein guter Titel. Andererseits… Es fehlt da etwas. Es klingt … es klingt … ein bißchen nichtssagend. Jeder hat Kummer. Warum nennen Sie es nicht Der Kummer um mein Vaterland. […]“

[…] Oder einfach, ganz schlicht. Der Kummer von Flandern. Auf englisch: The Sorrow of Belgium. […]”


Der Kummer, das ist ein guter Titel. Andererseits … irgendwas fehlt. Es ist … es ist … so kahl. Jeder Mensch hat Kummer. Warum nennen Sie es nicht Kummer ums Vaterland. […]“


„Oder schlicht und einfach Der Kummer von Belgien. Auf Englisch: The sorrow of Belgium. […]”


Tabelle 4: Leitmotiv im Text.3

Im Original werden die Begriffe „verdriet“ und „België“ (=„vaderland“) eindeutig miteinander verknüpft, was vom Autoren durch Hinzufügen der englischen Übersetzung „The sorrow of Belgium“ nochmals ausdrücklich betont wird. In der ersten Übersetzung wird „België“ wieder notorisch durch „Flandern“ ersetzt; die Kombination von „Der Kummer von Flandern“ mit „The Sorrow of Belgium“ erscheint jedoch sehr eigenartig und ergibt keinen Sinn. Es zeigt sich hier, dass der Übersetzer für die Übertragung aus dem Niederländischen ins Deutsche einer vorgegebenen Strategie folgt, sich beim Englischen hieran aber offensichtlich nicht gebunden fühlt.

Insgesamt wird „Flandern“ (in der ersten Übersetzung das eigentliche „Vaterland“ der Flamen) durch die Kombination mit „Kummer“ in eine Opferrolle gebracht. Die flämische Bevölkerung wird in einer Art permanenter Leidenssituation dargestellt, aus der es sich zu befreien gilt. Im Sinne eines als legitim betrachteten flämischen Nationalismus werden in der ersten Übersetzung auch die folgenden Textpassagen (Tabelle 5) radikal uminterpretiert:

Original 1983

(S. 102)

Übersetzung 1986

(S. 95)

Übersetzung 2016 [2008]

(S. 109)

“[…] Mijnheer Seynaeve, maar gij zijt meer een katholieke flamingant.”

‚[…] Herr Seynaeve, aber Sie sind mehr ein katholischer Flame.‘

‚[…] Mijnheer Seynaeve, aber Sie sind mehr ein katholischer Flamingant.‘

(S. 603)

(S. 564)

(S. 684)

Hij zei: Een hele hoop Flaminganten zijn nog niet in het gevang.

[…] er sagte, eine Menge Flamen säßen noch im Gefängnis.

Er hat gesagt: Ein ganzer Haufen Flaminganten sind noch nicht im Gefängnis.

Tabelle 5: Flaminganten.1

„Flaminganten“, also Mitglieder der Flämischen Bewegung, die im Ersten und Zweiten Weltkrieg zu einem Großteil mit der deutschen Besatzungsmacht kollaborierten, werden in der ersten Übersetzung zu unbescholtenen Flamen umgedeutet. Der Tatbestand der Kollaboration wird auf diese Weise einfach negiert. Im zweiten Beispiel werden Täter sogar bewusst zu Opfern gemacht, indem dem Leser der Eindruck vermittelt wird, flämische Bürger „säßen noch“ zu Unrecht im Gefängnis, während es im Original jedoch die kollaborierenden „Flaminganten“ sind, die „noch nicht“ im Gefängnis sind. Auch im folgenden Beispiel wird in der ersten Übersetzung „Flamingantismus“ verleugnet, indem eine ganze Textpassage (siehe Tabelle 6) weggelassen wird.

Original (1983)

(S. 699)

Übersetzung 1986

(S. 651)

Übersetzung 2016 [2008]

(S. 796)

 ‘Levet Scone,’ zei Louis.

‘Uitgesloten. Dat is veel te flamingantisch. Het is werkelijk het moment niet voor iets middeleeuws. Gersaint van Koekelare, onze voorzitter, zou het niet eens willen inkijken. Niet dat hij de andere manuscripten inkijkt. Maar iets dat in de verste verte naar flaminganterie riekt, daar zou hij blindelings tegenstemmen. Niet dat hij dat anders zo goed ziet. Maar zijn stem kan in geval van een draw voor dubbel tellen.’

















 „Levet Scone“, sagte Louis.

„Ausgeschlossen. Viel zu flamingantisch. Das ist jetzt wirklich nicht der Zeitpunkt für so etwas Mittelalterliches. Gersaint van Koekelare, unser Chefredakteur, würde nicht mal reinblicken. Nicht, dass er in die anderen Manuskripte reinblickt. Aber wenn etwas auch nur im Entferntesten nach Flamingantismus riecht, würde er ohne nachzudenken dagegen stimmen. Nicht, dass er sonst besonders viel nachdenkt. Aber seine Stimme kann bei einem Unentschieden den Ausschlag geben.“

Tabelle 6: Flaminganten.2

Nation und Sprache

Schließlich sind in der deutschen Übersetzung auch stereotype Vorstellungen von einer Nation mit einer eigenen Nationalsprache abgebildet (Tabelle 7):

Original 1983

(S. 26)

Übersetzung 1986

(S. 23)

Übersetzung 2016 [2008]

(S. 26)

Peter heeft een diploma van onderwijzer; jarenlang stond hij erop schoon Vlaams te spreken in alle omstandigheden […].

Der Pate hat ein Lehrerdiplom; jahrelang bestand er darauf, unter allen Umständen Hochflämisch zu sprechen […].

Er [der Pate] besitzt ein Lehrerdiplom; jahrelang bestand er darauf, in allen Lebenslagen Hochflämisch zu sprechen […].

Tabelle 7: „Hochflämisch“

In dieser Textpassage verwenden beide Übersetzungen „Hochflämisch“ als Äquivalent für „schoon Vlaams“. Flämisch existiert jedoch nicht als eine eigene Standardsprache, sondern setzt sich aus einer Reihe von Dialekten zusammen. „Schoon Vlaams“ ist daher als eine Form von Zwischensprache zu verstehen, die weitgehend von französischen Worten bereinigt ist und dem Standardniederländischen nahekommt. Beide Übersetzer entscheiden sich jedoch für eine Übersetzung in Analogie zu „Hochdeutsch“ und bringen damit Flandern mit einer eigenen Standardsprache in Verbindung. In der ersten Übersetzung werden auf diese Weise bewusst traditionelle Vorstellungen des Zielpublikums im Sinne des verwendeten Images bedient, in der zweiten Übersetzung ist diese Fehlinterpretation eventuell auf unvollständiges Wissen des Übersetzers zurückzuführen, wobei offensichtlich auch stereotype Vorstellungen einen Einfluss haben.

Wesentliche Unterschiede zwischen den beiden Übersetzungen lassen sich vor allem anhand der Umsetzung des mehrsprachigen Charakters des Originals beobachten. Claus spielt im Roman mit einer Art Hierarchie der Sprachen, in der das Flämische in seinen verschiedensten Ausprägungen - von Dialektniveau über die Zwischensprache „schoon Vlaams“ bis zur niederländischen Standardsprache in wiederum unterschiedlichen Registern und Stilen - der Prestigesprache Französisch gegenübersteht, die wiederum mit vielen Lehnwörtern insbesondere in den westflämischen Dialekt Eingang gefunden hat (vgl. Eickmans & van Doorslaer 1992: 362). Im zweiten Teil des Romans kommt zusätzlich Deutsch, die Sprache der Besatzungsmacht, ins Spiel. Es entstehen so unterschiedliche Formen der Sprachkombination.[5]

Bourgeoises Französisch

Claus verzichtet im Roman zumeist auf eine Kennzeichnung des Französischen durch Kursivschrift, wodurch er der latenten Dominanz des Französischen im Alltag der Flamen Ausdruck verleiht. In beiden Übersetzungen werden französische Begriffe im Allgemeinen für den Leser durch Kursivschrift manifest gemacht, wodurch die Vorgehensweise in beiden Übersetzungen auf den ersten Blick gleich erscheint (siehe Tabelle 8):

Original 1983

(S. 195)

Übersetzung 1986

(S. 184)

Übersetzung 2016 [2008]

(S. 213)

‘[…] Waarom doet Armand zo lelijk tegen mij, nu dat ik hem zijn goesting heb laten doen bij mij?’

‘Violette, je t’en prie devant le garçon…’

‘De garçon,’ zei Louis geeuwend.

„[…]  Warum ist er so häßlich zu mir, wo ich ihm doch zu Willen gewesen bin?“

Violette, je t’en prie devant le garçon…

Le garçon“, sagte Louis gähnend. 

„[…] Warum ist Armand jetzt so schäbig zu mir, wo ich ihm doch alles erlaubt habe, was er von mir wollte?“

Violette, je t’en prie devant le garçon…

Le garçon“, sagte Louis gähnend.

Tabelle 8: Sprachwechsel mit bourgeoisem Französisch

Französisch im westflämischen Dialekt

Für den Umgang mit französischen Lehnworten im westflämischen Dialekt, der Alltagssprache, lassen sich jedoch für beide Übersetzungen ganz erhebliche Unterschiede im Text beobachten:

Original 1983

(S. 505)

Übersetzung 1986

(S. 475)

Übersetzung 2016 [2008]

(S. 570)

‘Ah, wat zou ik willen dat er een van die Brusselse kiekefretters een tricolore drapeau uitstak, ge zoudt wat zien, onze mannen zullen niet in toom te houden zijn. […]’


‚Gott, wie sehr wünschte ich mir, daß einer dieser Brüsseler kiekefretter ein tricolore drapeau heraushängen würde, du würdest was erleben, unsere Mannen wären nicht zu zügeln. […]‘

„Ha, heute soll mal einer von diesen Brüsseler Hühnerfressern die belgische Trikolore aushängen, was meinst du, was dann los ist. Dann sind unsere Leute nicht zu halten. […]“

Tabelle 9: Sprachmischung im westflämischen Dialekt.1

Im obigen Beispiel (Tabelle 9) entsteht in der Übersetzung von 1986 eine Textstelle, die den mehrsprachigen Charakter der Alltagssprache aufgreift. Es scheint dem Übersetzer dabei nicht so sehr darauf anzukommen, ob das Zielpublikum alles richtig versteht. Vielmehr geht es wohl darum, dem Text mehr Authentizität zu verleihen und die Besonderheiten des flämischen Dialekts für den Leser erlebbar zu machen. Gleichzeitig wird auf diese Weise die Prestigesprache Französisch als eine Art Joch dargestellt, die die Volkssprache und den Alltag der Flamen in allen Lebensbereic