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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Conclusions

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

About the author(s)

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

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

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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
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Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/index.php/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.


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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.

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[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.

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

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Il monumento. La memoria contesa: Space of Synagogues, L’viv

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Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/index.php/specials/article/2580

Chi viaggia a L’viv, transitando dall'aeroporto di Monaco di Baviera, reagirà con stupore di fronte al monitor che annuncia un volo per Lemberg, il nome asburgico con cui la città era nota fino alla caduta dell'Impero nel 1918. Volare oggi a L’viv è come prendere un aereo per Costantinopoli.

L'autore e avvocato per i diritti umani Philippe Sands evoca l’anomalo monitor dell’aeroporto di Monaco di Baviera nell'introduzione al suo libro del 2016 East West Street,[1] un’autorevole indagine che ci riporta alla storia imperiale della città. Sands coglie con esattezza le risonanze di questa apparizione del passato asburgico. Il suo libro è la storia delle vite intrecciate di tre uomini ebrei nati a Lwów tra le due guerre, quando la città era polacca. Nelle sue ricerche sulla vita del nonno Leon, Sands scoprì che anche due personalità straordinarie della storia della giurisprudenza moderna sui diritti umani avevano vissuto e studiato in città. Si trattava di Hersch Lauterpacht, l'inventore dei “crimini contro l'umanità”, e Rafael Lemkin, a cui si deve il termine “genocidio”. Entrambi hanno lasciato un’impronta significativa sullo svolgimento e sull'esito del Processo di Norimberga.

Con la precisione accurata dell’esperto legale, Sands ci consegna una cronaca straordinaria della città. Mostra che Lemberg / Lwów / L’vov fu, tra le due guerre, una città cosmopolita e moderna, terreno assai fertile per le nuove idee fino a quando il suo futuro fu travolto dalla Seconda guerra mondiale e da ciò che ne seguì. Nel settembre del 2017 Sands era a L’viv, per la presentazione della traduzione in ucraino di East West Street. In quell’occasione riuscì a trasmettere la sua passione per la città e a comunicare il suo entusiasmo, soprattutto ai giovani. A causa delle circostanze della storia, disse loro in sostanza, potreste ignorare gli uomini straordinari che nacquero qui e alcuni dei contributi della vostra città alla storia del XX secolo. Con le sue presentazioni e il suo libro, Sands stava cercando di supplire a tale dimenticanza. Quello che intendeva era: questa città ha vissuto eventi straordinari e i loro ricordi – brutti e buoni che siano – appartengono anche a voi. La traduzione del suo libro non era soltanto il resoconto di ciò che aveva scoperto, ma un invito ai lettori ucraini ad appropriarsi della storia della città.

La sua esortazione è particolarmente significativa in una città come L’viv, nella quale storia e memoria si incrociano per vie inusuali e il senso di appartenenza si carica di un bagaglio pesante. La traduzione, si tratti di un libro, di una testimonianza personale o di un'iscrizione pubblica, ha una risonanza significativa. Quando le lingue vengono eliminate, restituirle alla dimensione pubblica è operazione ancora più potente. Per essere efficaci, le traduzioni devono saldarsi al desiderio collettivo di ripristinare una memoria dimenticata, repressa o intenzionalmente soppressa. Sia il libro di Philippe Sands che il memoriale noto come Space of Synagogues a L’viv tentano di farlo, e testimoniano la volontà di re-iscrivere la presenza ebraica nel tessuto urbano della città.

Radici superficiali

La città oggi nota come L’viv (ucraino) è stata chiamata Leopoli (italiano), Lemberg (tedesco e yiddish), L’wów (polacco) e L’vov (russo). Fino al 1918 era Lemberg ed era stata la capitale della provincia della Galizia. Tra il 1918 e il 1945, la città è passata di mano in mano almeno otto volte.

Se diamo uno sguardo alla “renaming history” (storia delle rinominazioni) del sito web del Center for Urban History of East Central Europe, il nome della strada in cui si trova il Teatro dell’Opera è cambiato dieci volte tra il 1940 e oggi – da Untere Karl Ludwig Strasse in epoca asburgica a Opernstrasse, Adolf-Hitler-Ring e Prospekt Lenina, sino all'odierna Prospeckt Svobody. Le successive mappe della città, oggi consultabili con un semplice clic sul sito web, sono capitoli di una turbolenta storia di sanguinosi conflitti.

Gli ebrei di L’viv, un terzo della popolazione della città prima della Seconda guerra mondiale e una delle più grandi comunità ebraiche della Polonia, furono annientati dai nazisti. I polacchi residenti in città, che scomparvero dopo la guerra, vennero reinsediati con la forza in Polonia dopo che L’viv divenne territorio sovietico e ucraino. La popolazione ucraina costituiva una minoranza a L’viv fino al dopoguerra, quando le genti delle aree rurali circostanti cominciarono a stabilirsi in città, insieme agli sfollati dell'Ucraina orientale e della Russia, cambiandone il profilo in modo significativo. I nuovi cittadini di L’viv avevano pochi legami con il suo tessuto storico e le sue memorie.

Viaggiando nell'Europa dell’Est alla fine degli anni Novanta, la storica Anne Applebaum osservò che le persone in giro per le strade di L’viv sembravano estranee alla città. Spiccava il contrasto tra l'aspetto della popolazione e la grande città in cui abitavano. Non sono chiare le ragioni che hanno provocato le riflessioni di Applebaum. Tuttavia, qualsiasi esse fossero – gli abiti e le babushkas di cattivo gusto? l'esitazione nell’incedere dei pedoni? le file disordinate dei venditori ambulanti? –, Applebaum ha rivolto la sua attenzione su un'importante verità.

Figura 1.1 Questa immagine delle lingue di Lemberg (tedesco, polacco e yiddish) nella L’viv dei nostri giorni è puramente nostalgica. Non si tratta di un negozio di alimentari. È in realtà un negozio di fotocopie, come indicato in ucraino sopra le vetrine.

Al pari di molte altre città dell'Europa dell’Est (come ad esempio Vilnius, divenuta lituana solo alla fine della Seconda guerra mondiale), L’viv ha oggi una popolazione le cui radici urbane sono molto recenti. La loro conoscenza della città e del suo passato è inevitabilmente parziale.

L’viv plurilingue: Wittlin

L’viv ha avuto i suoi grandi cronisti, ma nessuno è stato così efficace quanto Jozef Wittlin. Scrittore e traduttore, egli ha vissuto gran parte della sua vita nella città che presto si sarebbe chiamata Lwów, prima di essere costretto a lasciare l’Europa come esule durante la Seconda guerra mondiale. My Lwów è un racconto pieno di fascino, intelligenza e nostalgia che narra le storie di quello che fu uno dei grandi centri culturali d'Europa tra le due guerre. Con l'ironia caratteristica dello scrittore dell'Europa orientale, Wittlin dà un senso alle strade poliglotte di Lwów mescolando nella sua storia lingue diverse.

Il libro di Wittlin è stato scritto in polacco e pubblicato a New York nel 1946. Le lingue presenti nella sua narrazione non sono soltanto quelle che si sarebbero potute sentire lungo i marciapiedi di Lwów: ci si sono anche il latino e il francese, le lingue dell'intellighenzia.

Des Lebens Ausgang! Exitus vitae. I was not born in Lwòw, but for a very long time I flirted with the idea that I’d spend the last Polish autumn of my life there, nodding quietly to myself. Point de reveries! (2016, 80)[2]

Ad ogni modo, grazie alla “voce” che ha aggiunto al “lessico del mio gergo nativo”, Wittlin spera che un giorno una stradina di Lwów avrà il suo nome.

Not a major thoroughfare with mansions, banks, a court, a prison, a school, a chamber of trade and commerce and a Turkish bath. God forbid! All I need is a small side street without any sewers and with just ten houses” (80).[3]

Wittlin ha effettivamente avuto successo nella vita. Era soprattutto noto per il suo romanzo contro la guerra Sale della terra, pubblicato per la prima volta in polacco nel 1936 con il titolo Sól ziemi e successivamente tradotto in quattordici lingue. Dopo averlo pubblicato in inglese nel 1939, l’autore era considerato un serio candidato per il premio Nobel. Seguendo l’esempio di Simplicissimus di Grimmelshausen e del Buon soldato Švejk di Jaroslav Hašek, Wittlin dà voce a un semplice coscritto dell'esercito di Francesco Giuseppe. In poche settimane dopo lo scoppio della Prima guerra mondiale, il cittadino analfabeta protagonista viene trasformato in un ingranaggio della macchina da guerra dell'imperatore.

Il ritratto compassionevole che Wittlin traccia di Peter Neviadomski, il cui cognome polacco significa “di origine sconosciuta”, apre una finestra sul mondo poliglotta degli Asburgo. Il romanzo è colmo di suoni e della sensibilità delle lingue del regno, una musica che è familiare e cara a Peter fino a quando non gli si rivolta contro. Peter si ritrova in una compagnia di sgangherati, composta da alcuni compaesani, anche loro arruolati, e viene sballottato da una parte all’altra dell’impero. Ogni fase del viaggio, ogni incontro con funzionari di alto grado, introduce nuove lingue. Il contadino analfabeta è tanto più sensibile a queste lingue perché non riesce a decifrare gli ordini scritti che alla fine determinano il suo destino. Pubblicato all'inizio di una nuova conflagrazione europea, il romanzo denuncia un apparato bellico che contamina con la violenza tutte le lingue ufficiali dell’impero.

Wittlin fu anche un prolifico e pluripremiato traduttore in polacco di Homer, Cervantes e molti altri classici. Era il traduttore polacco del suo buon amico Joseph Roth. Roth ha restituito il favore promuovendo la traduzione tedesca del romanzo di Wittlin.

Space of Synagogues

A causa delle molteplici stratificazioni che caratterizzano la storia di L’viv, il linguaggio diventa un importante veicolo di memoria. L'ucraino è la lingua della città odierna. Anche il russo svolge un ruolo importante, dovuto a una minoranza significativa di ucraini di lingua russa. Ma che dire delle lingue che una volta si vedevano e si ascoltavano per le strade della città e nei suoi negozi, le lingue così presenti negli scritti di Wittlin? Sulla scorta di quanto suggerito da Philippe Sands, possiamo chiederci se i ricordi di yiddish, polacco o tedesco possano essere compresi e condivisi da coloro il cui legame con il passato è semplicemente quello dell’appartenenza al tessuto urbano?

Figura 1.2 Lapidi nello Space of Synagogues. Le testimonianze su pietra sono in molte lingue e costituiscono la mappa del viaggio della memoria nelle terre dei profughi e della diaspora. I visitatori devono farsi strada tra le lastre di pietra e chinarsi per leggere le iscrizioni.

Queste lingue hanno effettivamente cominciato a farsi sentire di nuovo in città. Le conversazioni però non sono quelle dei locali, ma dei turisti che si fanno strada spostandosi da un punto di interesse simbolico all’altro. I visitatori sono diventati i portatori della memoria linguistica. Folti gruppi di chiassosi turisti polacchi visitano iconici ristoranti, palazzi e musei che celebrano la versione prebellica della città. Alcuni turisti di lingua tedesca – un po’ meno esuberanti - visitano i siti asburgici. Intanto i turisti ebrei hanno cominciato a tornare in città alla ricerca di un tragico passato.

Vi è quindi una rinnovata mescolanza di lingue, anche se resta il dubbio su quali lingue considerare autoctone e quali invece annoverare tra le lingue ospiti. In Landscapes of Guilt, Landscapes of Rescue (2018)[4] la poetessa Iryna Starovoyt esprime il suo timore rispetto alle spiegazioni dell’Olocausto presenti nei manuali scolastici, perché possono risuonare come parole distanti o “esterne”, e non come testimonianze proprie degli spazi "interni" dei quartieri e degli edifici che appartengono ancora alla L’viv di oggi. La storia del passato, la storia ebraica di L’viv, deve essere raccontata nel linguaggio di una cittadinanza condivisa piuttosto che in quella di una lontana realtà straniera, sostiene Iryna Starovoyt.

Di tutte le lingue di L’viv, lo yiddish è quella con la minor presenza pubblica. Parlata da una delle comunità più numerose di L’viv prima della guerra, questa lingua è assente dalla città, come lo è da tutto il territorio dell'Europa centrale. Un unico memoriale in yiddish, risalente al 1989 e ai momenti finali dell'era sovietica, rende omaggio allo scrittore russo di lingua yiddish Sholem Aleichem che ha trascorso un periodo di tempo in città.

Il progetto chiamato Space of Synagogues cerca di re-iscrivere la storia ebraica nel tessuto urbano. Il memoriale, inaugurato ufficialmente nel 2016, si trova in via Staroievreiska ("strada vecchia degli ebrei") vicino alla centrale Piazza Rynok. Lo Spazio esibisce le tracce di tre sinagoghe che furono distrutte nella Seconda guerra mondiale: La Sinagoga della Grande Città, la Beis Midrash e la Sinagoga della Rosa d'Oro che risale al Rinascimento (1582). La zona è stata in gran parte trascurata durante il periodo sovietico, abbandonata e dimenticata, anziché conservata. Quindi, il progetto di ripristino della zona iniziato nel 2008 ha segnato una svolta significativa nella storia della città. Il monumento è stato progettato ad arte come un giardino minimalista, che reca le tracce del passato e al contempo presenta spazi vuoti in cui l'assenza può farsi sentire con forza.

Con The Space of Synagogues, per la prima volta in Ucraina un'amministrazione cittadina ha commemorato un luogo storico ebraico in collaborazione con vari gruppi della comunità e con un impegno condiviso. In città si è svolto un dibattito e il progetto dell'architetto tedesco Franz Reschke vincitore di un premio (2010) è scaturito da un ampio dialogo con esperti internazionali di studi ebraici, storici e organizzazioni ebraiche locali. Tutto ciò è in netto contrasto con i precedenti sporadici tentativi del regime sovietico di porre placche commemorative minimaliste o di avviare iniziative commerciali come il ristorante a tema ebraico "La rosa d'oro", che offre un’imitazione della cucina ebraica e una mostra di cimeli prebellici. L'effettivo ritorno della memoria ebraica a L’viv è il risultato, invece, di uno sforzo concertato e collettivo.

Tradurre l’assenza

Al centro dello Space of Synagogues sono disposte trentanove tavolette di pietra che ricordano le pietre tombali. Alcune sono incise con immagini sgranate (sbiadite) di negozi e case di L’viv prima della guerra. Altre recano la testimonianza di ex residenti sulla loro vita a L’viv, la loro esperienza della Shoah o la vita dopo la guerra. Sono sedici citazioni che conducono i visitatori in un viaggio fisico tra le pietre – e scandiscono un viaggio emotivo nei drammi della storia raccontati dai suoi testimoni. Per osservare le immagini e leggere il testo, i visitatori sono obbligati a chinarsi, a spostarsi tra le tavolette, a compiere uno sforzo per addentrarsi nelle testimonianze. Ogni citazione è in lingua originale – tedesco, ebraico, yiddish, polacco, russo, ucraino, olandese e francese – ed è accompagnata da traduzioni in inglese, ebraico e ucraino.

Questi frammenti di linguaggio evocano eventi, ordinari e straordinari. Ricordano la vita quotidiana a L’viv prima della guerra, quando le diverse popolazioni condividevano gli spazi dei marciapiedi e dei caffè, ed evocano gli eventi della guerra e dell'Olocausto. Tre esempi sono particolarmente suggestivi per le loro risonanze traslazionali.

La testimonianza di Inka Katz è stata pubblicata per la prima volta nel libro di East West Street di Philippe Sands. Inka Katz è nipote dello studioso di diritto Hersch Lauterpacht, che ha perso i suoi genitori a causa della violenza nazista a L’viv all'inizio della guerra. Oggi vive in Francia e ha raccontato la sua storia a Philippe Sands; ricorda con queste parole lo sconvolgente omicidio dei suoi genitori:

My mother had been taken. . . I saw everything looking out of the window. I was twelve, not a child anymore. . . I saw my father running after my mother,

behind her, on the street. . . I understood it was over. . . I knew what was happening. I can still visualize the scene, my mother’s dress, her high heels. (Sands 2016a, 105)[5]

Trasmessa in francese, la lingua diasporica in cui Inka Katz fu costretta a tradursi da sopravvissuta alla guerra, sul monumento la sua testimonianza è anche in inglese, ucraino ed ebraico. Le lingue creano un circuito di trasmissione, che dalla lingua in cui si è svolto l'evento (yiddish) conduce alla nuova lingua del luogo in cui è accaduto (ucraino) e alla nuova lingua vissuta (francese) fino alle lingue della memoria internazionale (inglese, ebraico).

Recuperato al linguaggio attraverso il dialogo con Philippe Sands, un parente appena scoperto, le parole di Inka Katz entrano in un circuito di conversazione, con lingue diversamente cariche di significato. Ogni strato di traduzione porta con sé nuove informazioni, ricontestualizzando l'evento, posizionandolo a diversi gradi di distanza.

Il secondo esempio, un poema in lingua yiddish di Israel Ashendorf inciso su una lastra di pietra, non è tanto un ricordo diretto degli eventi a L’viv quanto un ritorno immaginario a una "casa" che è stata occupata da estranei. Quale sensazione più inquietante che immaginare la propria casa e trovarla occupata da persone con cui non si hanno legami e che dormono nel tuo letto, cucinano nella tua cucina? La casa in cui torna il sognatore di Ashendorf ha sul tavolo “cibo straniero” e un'icona sulla parete.

La casa sarà probabilmente la stessa / aprirò la porta / I vicini verranno / Ma dei miei parenti – nessuno / Vedrò i vecchi mobili / usati da persone nuove / Nel letto dormiranno estranei / cibo straniero sul tavolo / Quando mi avvicinerò alla finestra / Vedrò un vaso / Sulla parete ci sarà / un'icona silenziosa (trad. mia dall’inglese)

Questa memoria immaginata evoca la situazione di tutti coloro che hanno visto le loro case e i loro beni sottratti, che sono stati esclusi dal loro passato dall’irruzione di nuove storie e lingue. Il poema drammatizza la doppia ingiustizia dell'appropriazione. A essere portato via non è solo lo spazio fisico di appartenenza, ma il diritto alla memoria. Che cosa succede dei ricordi di quelli del passato che non sono più presenti per reclamare il posto? Come James Young che chiede: “How does a city ‘house’ the memory of a people no longer at ‘home there?” (2006, 8).[6]

Il progetto The Space of Synagogues risponde a questa domanda allargando la comunità di coloro che sono i detentori della memoria. Una tale comunità deve estendersi ai nuovi proprietari del luogo, che vi partecipano direttamente.

Deborah Vogel

Il frammento di poesia di Deborah Vogel illustra una storia vissuta attraverso strati di traduzione e, oggi, è ravvivata. Vogel era una studiosa e poeta modernista yiddish. Era vicina a Bruno Schulz e intratteneva con lui un intenso scambio letterario.

Figura 1.3 Tra le prime donne ebree a ottenere un dottorato in letteratura polacca, Debora Vogel fu una delle poetesse moderniste più affermate in lingua yiddish.

Fu assassinata con il marito e il figlio nel ghetto di L’viv nel 1942. Le sue parole, incise su un'altra delle lastre di pietra, sono tratte da un suo testo degli anni Trenta:

Le strade sono come il mare: / riflettono il colore del desiderio / e la difficoltà dell’attesa. (trad. mia dall’inglese)

La citazione è in yiddish, la lingua letteraria che Vogel imparò soltanto da adulta. Lo yiddish non era la sua lingua madre e nemmeno la lingua della sua adolescenza. Era nata in una famiglia ebrea di lingua polacca e, insolitamente per un ebreo in quel periodo, ottenne un dottorato in letteratura polacca. Era attiva nei circoli modernisti e, negli anni '30, fu influenzata da un poeta di lingua yiddish, imparò la lingua e continuò a pubblicare sia la prosa che la poesia in yiddish. Era particolarmente attratta dalla tecnica modernista del montaggio.

L'auto-traduzione di Vogel in yiddish testimonia di un'epoca in cui la letteratura modernista yiddish era fiorente. Negli anni Venti e Trenta del Novecento l'attività letteraria era intensa – da Varsavia, Vilnius e Berlino, a New York e Montreal. Scegliere lo yiddish come linguaggio espressivo significava intraprendere un progetto lungimirante, basato su pratiche estetiche sperimentali e sulla convinzione che la cultura ebraica, laica e diasporica era vitale.

Solo di recente Vogel viene pubblicata in inglese, poiché il suo lavoro è stato scoperto da giovani lettori in grado di leggere lo yiddish. Anastasiya Lyubas è una di questi lettori, un’ucraina che ha imparato lo yiddish e ha pubblicato alcune versioni in lingua inglese delle poesie di Vogel. Nel 2015 una prima traduzione dell'opera di Vogel in ucraino è stata curata da Yurko Prokhasko. Secondo Lyubas, questa versione ucraina ha reso un servizio eccezionale alla poesia di Vogel perché ne ha rispettato il ritmo e il suo lessico riservando una particolare attenzione alla traduzione di dispositivi stilistici come la ripetizione e il parallelismo.

La traduzione di Vogel dallo yiddish all’ucraino, dallo yiddish all'inglese, diventa un'azione analoga all'esortazione di Philippe Sands: che i giovani di L’viv assumano queste storie come proprie. È un’offerta che presuppone una responsabilità condivisa e una distanza rispettosa da un tragico passato.

"La memoria” – scrive Eva Hoffman – è una "forza morale" per gli scrittori dell'Europa orientale che hanno combattuto a lungo contro le falsificazioni del passato. Veicolo della memoria, il linguaggio porta con sé una forza morale, la possibilità di restituire verità che sono state cancellate. La memorializzazione è quindi una storia di traduzioni che si estendono, di testi che si aprono verso l'esterno, da luoghi oscuri alla possibilità della luce. Queste versioni, come nello Space of Synagogues, si iscrivono proprio sui manufatti della vita urbana – sulle lapidi, sulla superficie dei marciapiedi, sulle assi di legno delle panchine, dove drammatizzano in modo dirompente il carattere conteso dello spazio urbano e il potere del linguaggio di segnare il possesso.

Józef Wittlin ricorda le panchine del parco di Lwów:

Blackened with age and rain, coarse and cracked like the bark of medieval olive trees. Generations of penknives have etched girlfriends’ names on you . . .

Where are you today? Who, and in what language, is now carving their lovers’ initials on you? (2016, 18) [7]



Applebaum, Anne (1994/2015) Between East and West: Across the Borderlands of Europe, London, Penguin.

Hašek, Jaroslav (2018) The Good Soldier Švejk, trad. C. Parrott. New York, Harper Perennial Modern Classics.

Hoffman, Eva (2016) “Preface” in City of Lions, London, Pushkin Press: 7–12.

Krytyka (2018) http://krytyka.com/en/reviews/day-figures-mannequins

Lyubas, Anastasiya (2016) “Debora Vogel. Day Figures. Mannequins.”

Sands, Philippe (2016a) East West Street, London, Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

——— (2016b) “My Lviv” in City of Lions, London, Pushkin Press: 95-156.

Starovoyt, Iryna (2018) “Landscapes of Guilt, Landscapes of Rescue”, Granice no. 2, Jan.: 23–36.

Vogel, Debora (2018) “Poetry by Debora Vogel”, in Translation, trans A. Lyubas, http://intranslation.brooklynrail.org/yiddish/poetry-by-debora-vogel

Wittlin, Jozef (1935/1970), Salt of the Earth, trans P. De Chary, Harrisburg, Stackpole Books.

——— (2016/1946) “My Lwow”, in City of Lions, trans A. Lloyd-Jones, London, Pushkin Press: 13–87.

Young, James Edward (2006) At Memory’s Edge: After-Images of the Holocaust in Contemporary Art and Architecture, New Haven, Yale University Press.


[1] Traduzione italiana : Philippe Sands, La strada verso Est (2017), Milano : Guanda.

[2] Des Lebens Ausgang! Exitus vitae. Non sono nato a Lwòw, ma per molto tempo ho flirtato con l'idea che avrei passato l'ultimo autunno polacco della mia vita lì, annuendo dolcemente. Point de reveries! [trad. mia]

[3] “Mica un viale con ville, banche, un tribunale, una prigione, una scuola, una camera di commercio e un bagno turco. Per carità! Tutto ciò di cui ho bisogno è una viuzza senza fognature con solo dieci case”. [trad. mia]

[4] Scenari di colpa, scenari di salvezza.

[5] Mia madre è stata portata via… Ho visto tutto dalla finestra. Avevo dodici anni, non ero più una bambina… Ho visto mio padre in strada correre verso di lei… Ho capito che era finita…. Sapevo cosa stava succedendo. Riesco ancora a visualizzare la scena, la gonna di mia madre, i suoi tacchi alti. [trad. mia]

[6] "Come può la città essere il luogo di conservazione della memoria di un popolo quando quel popolo non si sente più a casa propria in quella città?" [trad. mia]

[7] Annerite dall'età e dalla pioggia, ruvide e screpolate come la corteccia degli ulivi medievali. Generazioni di coltellini vi hanno inciso i nomi delle fidanzate… Dove siete oggi? Chi, e in quale lingua, sta ora inscrivendo su di voi le iniziali dei loro amanti?

©inTRAlinea & inTRAlinea Webmaster (2021).
"Il monumento. La memoria contesa: Space of Synagogues, L’viv"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Space in Translation
Edited by: Lucia Quaquarelli, Licia Reggiani & Marc Silver
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/index.php/specials/article/2580

Dublino Digitale: Tradurre la Cybercity

By inTRAlinea Webmaster



©inTRAlinea & inTRAlinea Webmaster (2021).
"Dublino Digitale: Tradurre la Cybercity"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Space in Translation
Edited by: Lucia Quaquarelli, Licia Reggiani & Marc Silver
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/index.php/specials/article/2579

So This is Dyoublong?

Hush! Caution! Echoland!

James Joyce Finnegans Wake


Nel 1848, anno meglio conosciuto come la primavera dei popoli e delle nazioni, duemila polacchi lasciarono la Polonia occupata dai russi per combattere a fianco degli ungheresi contro i dominatori austriaci. La rivolta fallì e molti dei polacchi sconfitti andarono in esilio in Turchia, Gran Bretagna e Stati Uniti. Ignazio, un personaggio nel romanzo di Bolesław Prus, La Bambola (1890), è uno di questi insorti erranti che, più avanti negli anni, tornato a Varsavia, riflette sul suo periodo di esilio:

Qualche giorno dopo la morte di Katz varcammo la frontiera della Turchia e poi, per due anni, io che ero ormai solo, vagabondai per tutta l’Europa; in Italia, in Francia, in Germania e perfino in Inghilterra. Ma dapertutto mi tormentava la miseria e mi divorava la nostalgia per il mio paese. Talvolta avevo l’impressione di perdere il senno tra quel diluviare di parole straniere, in mezzo a quella gente diversa dalla nostra, in quelle terre diverse da quella polacca. (Prus 1959: 215)

È la classica descrizione dell'esperienza dell'emigrante presentata come rottura, disorientamento e perdita brutale. Nell'elencare ciò che aveva lasciato, Ignazio menziona subito la lingua. Teme di annegare nel "diluviare di parole straniere", mentre la sua lingua nativa è portata via dalla risacca dello spaesamento. Costretto all'esilio da circostanze politiche, Ignazio si rende conto che una translatio nello spazio significa inevitabilmente, e nel suo caso tragicamente, una translatio nella lingua. In questo saggio, voglio avanzare l’ipotesi che il paradigma scismatico dell'esperienza della lingua migrante, implicito nelle riflessioni dell'ex esiliato polacco – e cioè l'abbandono radicale della lingua madre per una o più lingue diverse – sia oggetto di una trasformazione importante nel mondo digitale contemporaneo e questa trasformazione abbia implicazioni significative sul modo in cui pensiamo la città come zona di traduzione. Per illustrare le mie osservazioni, farò riferimento alla città di Dublino, che ha visto un notevole flusso migratorio nel primo decennio del XXI secolo. Nel valutare le variazioni del paradigma, tre elementi caratterizzeranno la mia analisi intesa a valutarne i cambiamenti: comunicazione, presencing e virtualità.

Comunicazione: Castells et al. in Mobile Communication and Society: A Global Perspective (2006) affermano che è fondamentale, per ciò che comunichiamo, il modo in cui lo comunichiamo:

Poiché la comunicazione è il processo fondamentale dell'attività umana, la modificazione dei processi di comunicazione mediante l'interazione tra le strutture sociali, la pratica sociale e una nuova gamma di tecnologie di comunicazione, determina di fatto una profonda trasformazione sociale. (Castells et al 2006: 246)[1]

La Comunicazione non può essere distinta dai modi con cui avviene. Ogni volta che cambiano le tecniche per veicolare un significato, cambia il significato stesso.  In quanto forma di comunicazione, la traduzione non fa eccezione a questa regola e, come sostengo altrove, le tecnologie basate sul web hanno profondamente alterato sia la pratica che la ricezione della traduzione (Cronin 2013). Se la città è, tra le altre cose, un forum e un facilitatore della comunicazione, l'avvento negli spazi urbani di nuove forme di Information and Communications Technology (ICT) avrà un impatto sulla natura, l'ampiezza e l'intensità della comunicazione che vi ha luogo. Pertanto, qualsiasi tentativo di comprendere la natura della Migrant Communication e delle pratiche traduttive nella metropoli contemporanea deve tener conto dei cambiamenti delle tecnologie di comunicazione.

Presencing: un modo usuale di vedere i migranti è pensare a loro come nati in un luogo e aver scelto, intenzionalmente o meno, di vivere e lavorare in un altro. Il rapporto dialettico è tra presenza e assenza, presente in un luogo, assente in un altro. E tuttavia si potrebbe contestare questa opposizione e suggerire che la bipolarità di questa classificazione nasconda una forma più fluida dell'essere nel mondo contemporaneo, colta con il termine presencing. Con questo termine intendiamo forme di presenza che non implicano un effettivo spostamento spaziale o corporeo, ma che portano qualcuno o qualcosa nel raggio d’attenzione degli altri in un altro punto dello spazio e/o del tempo. Una caratteristica degna di nota delle tecnologie digitali, ad esempio, è l'uso estensivo di presencing, come la pratica diffusa di chiamare parenti lontani via Skype. Ragionando più complessivamente, possiamo concepire la traduzione stessa come una forma di presencing, un rendere presente in una lingua ciò che è stato assente da quella lingua perché inizialmente espresso o formulato in un'altra. In altre parole, ciò che la nozione di presencing mette in discussione è l'assolutismo dicotomico di presenza e assenza, suggerendo che ci sono modi di essere presenti che non sono riconducibili all’essere fisicamente o a casa o fuori casa.

Virtualità: uno degli sviluppi più importanti negli ultimi due decenni è stato il passaggio dai PC situati in postazioni di lavoro fisse, alla propagazione dell’informatica diffusa sotto forma di portatili, palmari senza fili, telefoni cellulari con connettività Internet e così via. Non sono in movimento solo gli esseri umani, ma anche le loro macchine. Come affermano i sociologi britannici Dennis e Urry, "Questo spostamento all’informatica diffusa sta portando a una svolta verso un sistema computerizzato ubiquo in cui le associazioni tra persone, luogo/spazio e tempo sono incorporate in una relazione sistemica tra una persona e il suo ambiente cinetico.” (Dennis e Urry 2007: 13). L'informatica onnipresente, a volte indicata come la "terza ondata del computer", è destinata a "superare quella del personal computer tra il 2005 e il 2020” e potrebbe vedere i computer "incorporati in muri, sedie, vestiti, interruttori della luce, automobili - in tutto” (Brown e Weiser 1996). Greenfield parla di everyware[2] in cui l'elaborazione delle informazioni è incorporata agli oggetti e alle superfici della vita quotidiana (Greenfield 2006: 18). Il probabile impatto sociale di everyware può essere paragonato all'elettricità che passa invisibile nelle pareti di ogni casa, ufficio e automobile. La transizione da postazioni di accesso fisse a una maggiore presenza di tecnologia wireless, insieme alla crescita esponenziale della capacità di Internet, significa che i sempre maggiori flussi di informazioni stanno diventando parte di un ambiente completamente saturo di informazioni.

Una conseguenza dell'emergere di questa ubiquità informatica è che la capacità computazionale si fonde con l'ambiente fisico, nelle architetture e nelle infrastrutture. Marcos Novak ha coniato il termine "transArchitettura" per indicare "un'architettura liquida trasmessa attraverso le reti di informazione globali; all'interno dello spazio fisico esiste come un doppio elettronico invisibile sovrapposto al nostro mondo materiale" (Novak 2010). Già negli anni ’90, William Mitchell aveva parlato di una "città di bit" dove l’insieme delle strutture fisiche negli spazi urbani e deli spazi elettronici e telematici sarebbe stata conosciuta come "architettura ricombinante" (Mitchell 1995: 46-105). Le città allora esistono a due livelli di realtà, il fisico e il virtuale. Quando si localizzano le esperienze dei migranti all'interno della zona di traduzione della città, questo duplice livello di realtà deve essere preso in considerazione se vogliamo comprendere appieno le molteplici modalità di abitare una città insite nel ricombinarsi del mondo fisico e di quello virtuale.

Migrazione Irlandese

L’Irlanda è un paese ben conosciuto per la migrazione ma di solito in una sola direzione, verso l'esterno. All'inizio del diciannovesimo secolo l'Irlanda aveva una popolazione di circa otto milioni di persone, ma nel 1861 la popolazione si era quasi dimezzata a 4,4 milioni, a causa dei decessi e delle malattie causate dalla Grande Carestia (1845-1848) e della consistente migrazione verso altre regioni del mondo anglofono. Nel 1961, la popolazione della Repubblica d'Irlanda era scesa a 2,8 milioni. La situazione non è cambiata molto con l'adesione dell'Irlanda all'Unione Europea nel 1973 e anche all'inizio degli anni '90 l'Irlanda è stata l'unico Stato membro dell'UE ad avere un tasso di migrazione netto in uscita (Ruhs e Quinn 2009: 1-2). Il boom economico iniziato alla fine degli anni '90 e continuato fino al drammatico crollo del settore bancario nel 2008, ha portato a un netto cambiamento nelle fortune migratorie dell'Irlanda. Per la prima volta dalle piantagioni coloniali di popolazioni stanziali nel XVII secolo, si sono visti flussi significativi di persone provenienti da altri paesi verso l’Irlanda. Nel 2007, con 14,5 migranti in arrivo ogni 1.000 abitanti, l'Irlanda aveva il più alto tasso di immigrazione netta dopo la Spagna e Cipro. Si è giunti al massimo dei flussi nel 2006 e nel 2007 con circa 100.000 migranti in arrivo ogni anno. Tuttavia, nonostante la prolungata recessione che ha accompagnato il salvataggio dell'economia irlandese da parte dell'UE/FMI, il numero complessivo di migranti è di poco diminuito. Tra il 2008 e il 2012, 172.000 migranti hanno lasciato l'Irlanda, a fronte di 140.000 nuovi ingressi (Crosbie 2013: 3). Le persone nate all'estero rappresentavano solo il 6% della popolazione nel 1991, la percentuale è salita al 10% nel 2002, al 15% nel 2006 e al 17% nel 2013 (Ruhs 2009; Crosbie 2013: 3). Accanto all'aumento del numero di migranti in Irlanda, c'è stata una notevole diversificazione linguistica fra immigranti: ora ci sono più di cento lingue parlate nell'area metropolitana di Dublino. Dei 544.357 cittadini non irlandesi che vivevano nella Repubblica nel 2013, 122.585 erano polacchi, 112.259 britannici, 36.683 lituani, 20.593 lettoni e 17.642 nigeriani (Crosbie 2013: 3). Dato il recente e drammatico cambiamento nelle dimensioni e nella natura della popolazione migrante in Irlanda, in che modo i fattori di comunicazione, presencing e virtualità hanno influito nelle esperienze delle comunità di migranti a Dublino e cosa può dirci questo impatto sulla natura contemporanea della città come zona di traduzione?


Uno dei modi più comuni di rendersi conto della presenza dei migranti nelle città è attraverso la nozione di enclave etniche (denominate in senso peggiorativo "ghetti") che costituiscono il paesaggio etnico della città. Si tratta di zone dove ci sono di solito elevate concentrazioni di particolari gruppi etnici, spesso caratterizzate dalla presenza di scuole, negozi, edifici religiosi funzionali alle diverse esigenze della comunità. La segnaletica pubblica e privata nella lingua della comunità di migranti è la prova visibile più immediata dell'esistenza della differenza. L'esempio più citato è "Chinatown" in varie città del mondo, ma in molte città, queste comunità tendono a essere associate ad aree specifiche della città (vedi Simon 2006; Simon 2012). Tuttavia, se si comincia a guardare la città considerando le forme diverse di comunicazione e la crescente incidenza della virtualità, allora il modo di concettualizzare o visualizzare il paesaggio etnico è destinato a cambiare.

Lee Komito, in uno studio dettagliato del 2011 sull'uso delle nuove tecnologie da parte di un gruppo rappresentativo di cittadini stranieri che vive in Irlanda, con sede prevalentemente a Dublino e dintorni, ha scoperto che la maggior parte dei migranti tendeva a socializzare con connazionali o altri migranti. Tuttavia, il modo in cui avveniva questa comunicazione stava cambiando, in quanto una buona parte della comunicazione avveniva tramite il telefono cellulare o gli SMS:

Ovviamente, il telefono cellulare e gli SMS sono un mezzo diffuso per coordinare la vita sociale di quasi tutti noi, ma, nel contesto dei migranti, consente alle persone che sono geograficamente disperse di incontrarsi ancora faccia a faccia. Una vita sociale così circoscritta è ciò che molti migranti hanno affermato di desiderare. Questo non era possibile prima ad un costo così favorevole; in precedenza, richiedeva la stretta vicinanza residenziale, caratteristica delle comunità enclave etniche. Ora, i telefoni cellulari consentono ai migranti di organizzare una vita sociale che può includere solo i loro connazionali, anche quando questi sono dispersi in tutta la città. (Komito 2011: 1080)

Quindi, uno degli effetti del passaggio a forme di comunicazione virtuali non è tanto l'eliminazione della comunicazione diretta, quanto piuttosto la rimozione di uno dei fattori alla base della "stretta vicinanza residenziale caratteristica delle comunità di enclave etniche". Lo studio di Komito del 2011 rileva inoltre come la comunicazione virtuale a buon mercato significa che la logistica dell'interazione non dipende più dalla prossimità spaziale; in questo modo viene indebolita la logica comunicativa della vicinanza fisica agglomerata. In un certo senso, si può sostenere che si è di fronte a un'operazione di un triplo spostamento logico, vale a dire il passaggio da una logica di disgiunzione a una logica di dispersione, il passaggio da una logica di traccia a una logica di collegamento e il passaggio da una logica della fissità a una logica di nomadismo. In altre parole, i soggetti nello studio di Komito non abitano più spazi distintivi e disgiunti cioè specifici o caratterizzanti e separati, nei paraggi, ad esempio, della comunità filippina o polacca. Ormai sono dispersi in tutta la città, ma possono rimanere in costante contatto grazie alle ICT a basso costo. A questo proposito, è il collegamento virtuale ad avere sempre più la precedenza sulla traccia fisica. Sebbene nelle città ci siano insegne e avvisi (tracce) di negozi in polacco, sono in numero estremamente ridotto rispetto all'importanza relativa della comunità polacca nella città e nel paese in generale. Infine, il passaggio dal computer fisso a quello ubiquitario, che abbiamo notato in precedenza, si manifesta nell'abbandono degli Internet cafè e dei call center (fissità), portali obbligatori della connettività negli spazi urbani, per ricorrere all’uso più diffuso di smartphone, tablet, portatili (nomadismo) come mezzo per accedere a Internet e ad altri membri di una comunità linguistica o etnica (Komito 2004). In un certo senso, ciò che sta accadendo è un graduale spostamento dei significanti dell'alterità linguistica dallo spazio fisico della città allo spazio virtuale del mondo online. Komito osserva, ad esempio, per quanto riguarda i social media, che “i siti della rete sociale erano rilevanti per la maggior parte dei migranti: il 30% degli intervistati polacchi utilizza un sito di social networking (SNS) una volta al giorno e ne utilizza un secondo 26% più volte a settimana, mentre il 37% dei filippini utilizza quotidianamente un sito di social networking e un secondo 26% più volte alla settimana” (Komito 2011: 1079).

Tra le forme di comunicazione virtuale diverse dal telefono cellulare e dai messaggi di testo utilizzati dai migranti polacchi e filippini, ci sono Skype, Instant Messaging (solitamente Yahoo Messenger), Gadu-Gadu (Instant Messaging polacco), Nasza Klasa (sito social polacco), e-mail, webcam e Facebook. In altre parole, mentre la rappresentazione per eccellenza della città come zona di traduzione o centro cosmopolita presenta un seducente collage di insegne, personaggi e vetrine di negozi diversi, è ipotizzabile che nell'era digitale ci sia un nuovo tipo di transarchitettura linguistica in cui le reti di connettività del linguaggio virtuale avvolgono gli spazi fisici della metropoli. Una delle sfide, infatti, nel visualizzare la città contemporanea, è quella di immaginare o catturare questa moltitudine di connessioni linguistiche che non sono soggette ad assetti di visibilità più convenzionali o del passato. È inoltre la natura nascosta di queste forme di associazione linguistica che non si concretizzano in tracce fisiche che può rendere meno visibile di quanto potrebbe essere il vero lavoro di traduzione del migrante. Nella prossima sezione vedremo come questa dematerializzazione della differenza linguistica abbia un impatto sulle forme di presenza che stanno riconfigurando la città come luogo di traduzione.


Dana Diminescu in "The connected migrant: an epistemological manifesto" è estremamente critica nei confronti di ciò che considera la fissazione degli studi sulla migrazione con il concetto di fissità. Diminescu considera infatti imprecisa e inutile la tendenza a stabilire rigide delimitazioni tra presenza e assenza, stanziale e nomade e tra mobilità dei migranti e mobilità sedentaria e, partendo dalle ricerche che ha condotto in Francia, sostiene che i ricercatori devono essere molto più consapevoli di come i migranti, attraverso le ICT, rinnovino continuamente il loro legame con il luogo o la comunità che hanno lasciato:

Questo legame "virtuale" - via telefono o e-mail - rende più facile di prima stare vicino alla propria famiglia, agli altri, a ciò che accade loro, a casa o altrove, e permette persino di farlo meglio. La figura paradigmatica del migrante sradicato lascia il posto a un'altra figura: ancora mal definita ma che corrisponde a quella del migrante in movimento che fa affidamento ad alleanze esterne al proprio gruppo di appartenenza senza tagliare i legami con la rete sociale di casa. (Diminescu 2008: 567)

Non solo è cambiata la dialettica tra presenza e assenza, ma si è modificata la natura stessa di "presenza":

L'idea di “presenza” è […] diventata meno fisica, meno “topologica” e più attiva e affettiva, così come l'idea di assenza è implicitamente alterata da queste pratiche di comunicazione e co-presenza. (572)

Questa nozione alterata di presenza si lega al passaggio dai modi di conversare in cui la comunicazione compensa l'assenza, principalmente centrata sullo scambio di conoscenze, a modalità connesse in cui i servizi ICT mantengono ''una forma di presenza continua nonostante la distanza'' (572). Come ha sottolineato Christian Licoppe, sempre più spesso gli utenti, quando ricorrono a forme di comunicazione digitale, "parlano di un sentimento, di un'emozione immediata, dello stato in cui ci si trova" (2004: 141). Ciò che colpisce è che queste forme di presenza connessa sono molto sensibili alle modalità di presenza remota, cambiano la loro "natura cognitiva ed emotiva secondo la ricchezza dell'interazione" (142). Più complesse sono le interazioni consentite dalle tecnologie digitali (suono, visione, testo, bi-direzionalità e contenuti generati dagli utenti del Web 2.0), maggiore è l'enfasi sulle forme di comunicazione fàtica, dove la 'presenza' emotiva è importante quanto la trasmissione di conoscenze strumentali. Queste affermazioni sono state confermate da uno studio di Carla De Tona e Andrew Whelan sull'uso di Internet e dei telefoni cellulari nelle organizzazioni di donne migranti in Irlanda. Nel loro studio, che si è basato in gran parte sull'esperienza delle donne migranti nell'area metropolitana di Dublino, hanno notato che messaggiare (SMS) era la modalità di comunicazione preferita perché favoriva la rapidità, la spontaneità e un senso di maggiore vicinanza al destinatario in tempo reale. Le espressioni di sostegno emotivo erano importanti quanto le risposte pragmatiche alle richieste di informazioni. Come sostengono De Tona e Whelan, "l'emergere di reti sociali mediate" porta a una "riconfigurazione della rottura esperienziale della migrazione" (in corsivo nel testo) e proseguono affermando:

la ri-mediazione implica che le donne migranti agiscano collettivamente per creare spazio per sé stesse nel loro nuovo paese di destinazione, per rimediare alle dislocazioni e alle fratture della traslocazione, creando uno spazio istituzionale per l'auto-rappresentazione e l’azione. (2009: 14).

Se De Tona e Whelan mettono in evidenza la logica della dispersione nell'immaginare nuove reti di solidarietà per le donne migranti negli spazi urbani, quella stessa logica, naturalmente, per il migrante “connesso” significa la possibilità di monitorare costantemente, anche se in modo approssimativo, quanto avviene nel luogo di provenienza che ha lasciato. Una maggiore ricchezza nella natura dei contenuti che possono essere comunicati (foto e altri materiali visivi sulle pagine Facebook), velocità più elevate e costi inferiori, facilitano per i migranti partiti forme di presenza ambientale o presencing che Lee Komito paragona “alle conoscenze di base che esistono nelle comunità reali, dove le persone vedono chi sta parlando con chi in un luogo di incontro del villaggio, sia esso un pub, un bar, un mercato o un ufficio postale” (Komito 2011: 1083). Quali sono le implicazioni per la traduzione di queste forme di presencing che accompagnano l'ascesa delle tecnologie digitali negli ambienti dei migranti?

In primo luogo, l’idea del migrante connesso e presencing implica contatti frequenti o continui con la sua lingua materna, sia attraverso la comunicazione virtuale con altri membri del suo gruppo linguistico sparsi per la città, sia attraverso frequenti interazioni con individui o gruppi dal suo luogo di origine. Così, piuttosto che il modello dicotomico e scismatico del ‘melting pot’ che comporta la rottura brutale con una lingua e l'assimilazione di un'altra (vedi Cronin 2006: 52-56), gli sviluppi attuali puntano a una più acuta consapevolezza del migrante della traduzione non tanto come stato quanto come processo. Ciò implica che la mutevole compressione spazio-temporale del digitale comporta un aumento notevole delle possibilità di sperimentare la posizione liminare dell’oscillazione fra due o più lingue, che diventano parte della tua vita virtuale quotidiana. La traduzione diventa sempre meno uno stato di assimilazione nel quale la lingua materna tende ad allontanarsi sia come memoria sia come esperienza, e diventa sempre più un processo in cui il migrante negli spazi reali e virtuali della città è in un costante stato di movimento o negoziazione tra lingue e culture.

In secondo luogo, presencing suggerisce che è necessaria una nozione più comprensiva di traduzione per cogliere la natura stessa della traduzione così come essa si configura oggi nella zona urbana di traduzione. Tradizionalmente, la discussione su traduzione e migrazione si è svolta nell'ambito della traduzione interlinguistica, cioè il passaggio dalla lingua del migrante alla lingua diversa ed estranea dell'ospite. Tuttavia, se assistiamo a una continua interazione linguistica tra i membri di una comunità e coloro che se ne sono andati, in che modo l'uso della lingua di coloro che se ne sono andati influenzerà la lingua di coloro che sono rimasti? Può esserci allora la possibilità che all’interno delle lingue e non solo tra due lingue ci siano processi di cambiamento, di alterazione, di mediazione che posso essere individuati meglio nella categoria della traduzione intralinguistica? Inoltre, riconsiderare il ruolo della traduzione intralinguistica nell'era digitale potrebbe aprire linee di indagine sui periodi precedenti di migrazione in cui i parlanti di una lingua specifica (ad esempio, migranti inglesi in Australia o anglofoni irlandesi in Gran Bretagna) hanno sperimentato una serie di problemi di traduzione centrati intorno alla differenza intralinguistica. Una nozione più inclusiva di traduzione aiuta anche a cogliere le diverse forme di capitale sociale che operano all’interno degli ambienti di traduzione. Robert Putnam fa una distinzione tra "bonding capital", che si concentra sul rafforzamento dell'appartenenza collettiva all'interno di un gruppo, e "bridging capital", che collega diversi gruppi (Putnam 2000). Probabilmente, quello che vediamo nelle forme di presencing che alimentano la traduzione intralinguistica, sono esempi di bonding capital, mentre le forme di traduzione interlinguistica che consentono a diversi gruppi linguistici di comunicare in città illustrano il potenziale di bridging capital.

In terzo luogo, è possibile sostenere che presencing sottolinea il ruolo della traduzione in quello che Diminescu chiama "insediamento relazionale"; con questo intende "il dispositivo sociale con il quale il migrante organizza la propria vita di mobilità" (Diminescu 2008: 571). Il modo in cui i migranti organizzano la partenza e/o il ritorno, come si orientano nello spazio, come pianificano incontri proficui, come evitano molestie, discriminazioni o peggio, fanno tutti parte dell'insediamento relazionale. Il ruolo svolto dalla traduzione nell'insediamento relazionale diventa ancora più cruciale in un periodo in cui ci sono notevoli cambiamenti nei flussi migratori. Uno di questi è l'emergere della "migrazione circolare". Piyasiri Wickramasekara, in un paper preparato per l'Ufficio internazionale del lavoro, definisce la migrazione circolare come segue:

la migrazione circolare si riferisce a ripetuti attraversamenti temporanei dei confini, dichiarati o no, solitamente per lavoro, da parte degli stessi migranti. Sebbene possa essere distinto dalla migrazione permanente (per l'insediamento) e dalla migrazione di ritorno (unico viaggio di migrazione e ritorno), ci sono tuttavia relazioni fra queste e la migrazione circolare che in alcuni casi porta alla migrazione permanente o a un ritorno definitivo. Per definizione, tutta la migrazione circolare è una migrazione temporanea. (Wickramasekara 2011: 1)

La migrazione circolare è costellata molte questioni relative ai diritti e alle condizioni dei lavoratori, alla negazione della cittadinanza e dell'integrazione, e allo sfruttamento strumentale di esseri umani vulnerabili a scopo di lucro. Tuttavia, a causa della natura mutevole dei mercati internazionali del lavoro, è certo che la migrazione temporanea della manodopera o la migrazione circolare sono in aumento (Wickramasekara 2011: 58-64) e che ‘l’integrazione intermittente' (Diminescu 2008: 571) che rinforza, ingenera maggiore pressione a favore di insediamenti relazionali appropriati. In altre parole, in mercati del lavoro sempre più dirompenti e flessibili, i migranti sono costretti a considerare la traduzione come uno stato permanente piuttosto che temporaneo.


Le città sono definite in termini di accesso. Se si sviluppano in luoghi particolari e in momenti particolari, è perché da lì puoi arrivare (a risorse) o essere raggiunto (dai commercianti). Gran parte dello sviluppo infrastrutturale delle città si preoccupa di facilitarne l'accesso via terra (strade), mare (porti) o aria (aeroporti). Tuttavia, nel corso dei secoli le città si sono anche preoccupate di bloccare l'accesso. Sono stati tirati su ponti levatoi, scavati fossati, erette mura cittadine, tutto nel tentativo di fermare o limitare l'accesso. La traduzione nel corso della sua lunga storia si è ugualmente occupata della questione dell'accesso. Un principio centrale dell'insegnamento della Riforma è stato che la Vulgata latina, essa stessa una traduzione, era diventata inaccessibile alla maggior parte dei credenti nell'Occidente cristiano e doveva essere resa nuovamente accessibile attraverso traduzioni vernacolari. Le infrastrutture e strategie di accesso, che sono alla base sia della costruzione delle città che della pratica della traduzione, devono essere ripensate nella fase del digitale. In particolare, ciò che caratterizza le nozioni di appartenenza in un'epoca di tecnologie mobili sono proprio le condizioni e le possibilità di accesso. Come sottolinea Dana Diminescu:

Che si tratti di comunicazione, informazione o accesso, questi terminali che indossiamo su noi stessi ci interconnettono, dandoci accesso a diversi servizi (trasporti, banche, traffico, monitoraggio) e a diversi spazi. Sono il supporto materiale del nostro legame con le nostre sfere di appartenenza: urbano, nazionale, bancario, sociale, familiare e così via. La portabilità delle reti di appartenenza è una caratteristica di tutte le nostre vite. Migranti o non migranti, praticamente tutti si trovano soggetti a una logica di accesso: possibilità di spostarsi, prelevare denaro dalla banca, ottenere cure mediche, entrare in casa, chiamare ecc. (Diminescu 2008: 573).

Essenziale in questa logica di accesso è il possesso dei codici che permettono di accedere al computer al lavoro o al conto bancario online o all'ingresso del condominio. Nel pensare quindi alla città come zona di traduzione virtuale dobbiamo riflettere su come la traduzione diventi parte di una specifica logica di accesso per nativi e nuovi arrivati. In che modo la traduzione facilita od ostacola l'accesso al migrante connesso? Nel considerare una risposta a questa domanda, potremmo menzionare tre elementi: traduzione interiorizzata, traduzione esternalizzata e tracciabilità.

La traduzione interiorizzata è il ripiegamento della funzione di traduzione in dispositivi o siti digitali che agiscono come una sorta di protesi del linguaggio. L'uso di dizionari o app di traduzione sui cellulari da parte dei migranti è un esempio di questa traduzione interiorizzata, ma lo sono anche la documentazione multilingue disponibile attraverso i siti web dei servizi sanitari, quelli educativi, o delle autorità per l'immigrazione. (McAreavy 2009: 1-22). Quello che la tecnologia consente in questi casi è una forma di accesso mediato alle informazioni in un ambiente specifico, ma in cui il migrante non deve reclutare attivamente o coinvolgere un agente esterno che faccia per lui le traduzioni. Per il linguista Nicholas Ostler nel suo lavoro, The Last Lingua Franca: The Rise and Fall of World Languages ​​(2011), è una traduzione interiorizzata digitalmente abilitata che offre un possibile scenario per le città del futuro come zone di traduzione linguisticamente diverse. Attingendo alle cifre per la crescita esponenziale dell'uso di Internet da parte dai non parlanti di inglese, Ostler afferma che “la tendenza a lungo termine è che gli sviluppi della tecnologia dell'informazione riducano l'inaccessibilità delle lingue del mondo per abbattere le barriere linguistiche, ma senza abolire le lingue che le creano." (Ostler 2011: 263) In questa prospettiva, la disponibilità di tecnologia digitale economica e onnipresente eliminerebbe la necessità di una lingua franca globale poiché le "frustrazioni della barriera linguistica possono essere superate senza alcun medium universale condiviso al di là del software compatibile" (261). Fondamentale per questa concezione della scomparsa di una lingua franca globale è l’acceso di tutti a un modello di traduzione automatica. Il passaggio da approcci di traduzione automatica basati su regole a una maggiore dipendenza dall'intelligenza artificiale, consentendo ai motori di inferenza di derivare le proprie regole dal contatto con grandi quantità di dati di equivalenza della traduzione e il maggiore uso dell’accoppiamento statistico, ha effettivamente significato una crescita esponenziale della traduzione automatica nella nostra epoca (Wilks 2008; Koehn 2009). Centrale, naturalmente, a qualsiasi dibattito sul futuro della traduzione interiorizzata come forma di accesso linguistico è chi ha accesso all'accesso? Ci saranno ghetti digitali di esproprio man mano che i gruppi economicamente e/o etnicamente dominanti diventeranno i guardiani della nuova Città dei Bit, sollevando i ponti levatoi digitali quando il loro status o i loro interessi saranno minacciati?

La traduzione esternalizzata è la delega della traduzione a una persona che è esterna al migrante ma le cui attività sono parzialmente o totalmente mediate dalla tecnologia. Un esempio in cui l'attività è interamente mediata dalla tecnologia è l’interprete telefonica, largamente diffusa nell'area metropolitana di Dublino, in particolare in campo medico (Zimányi 2005). Qui i telefoni cellulari, Skype o l'App Viber, vengono utilizzati dagli interpreti nella comunità per tradurre o mediare tra pazienti e operatori sanitari che non parlano la stessa lingua. Un'altra forma di traduzione esternalizzata è quella che potrebbe essere definita ‘blended’, in cui un individuo traduce oralmente mentre interagisce con un sito web. Nello studio di De Tona e Whelan sulle organizzazioni di donne migranti in Irlanda, riferiscono di forme di interazione in cui il leader migrante funge da mediatore / traduttore tra le informazioni online ("opuscolo") e i non-parlanti di inglese nelle comunità di migranti. Un leader migrante nella comunità africana nell'area di Dublino, ad esempio, avrebbe detto:

Le donne con cui ho lavorato hanno un pessimo inglese, se dai loro un volantino da leggere non funziona [...] può essere un po' pauroso se ci sono barriere linguistiche [...] A volte è solo il passaparola che funziona […] Così il passaparola funziona molto bene e l'integrazione consiste davvero solo nel fornire informazioni. (citato in De Tona e Whelan 2007: 13)

Questo "passaparola" viene spesso trasmesso dal cellulare che è un'ulteriore integrazione di una forma di traduzione esternalizzata con le ICT. La traduzione esternalizzata, come la traduzione interiorizzata, è soggetta a un'etica di accesso con domande relative a chi fa la traduzione (spesso membri della famiglia) alla forma che l'interpretazione assume (quale riservatezza c'è quando si interpreta su un cellulare utilizzando un mezzo pubblico), a chi può permettersi di pagarla (vedi Pöchhacker e Shlesinger 2007). Significativo è che il tipo di accesso offerto dalla traduzione è legato a strumenti che consentono o impediscono che la traduzione venga offerta ai potenziali utenti.

Per tracciabilità nel contesto di questo articolo si intende l'uso della traduzione e della tecnologia digitale per tracciare i movimenti, lo stato e/o le opinioni di una persona. La tracciabilità ha avuto origine nel mondo degli affari dove il software è stato progettato per misurare le merci mentre si muovevano lungo una catena di distribuzione, raccogliendo informazioni sulle merci e tenendo conto di diversi input di informazioni (consegna, trasporto, distribuzione, vendita). Nel nostro mondo contemporaneo, la tracciabilità è diventata una componente chiave nel dispiegamento di tecnologie di sicurezza nazionali e transnazionali (Cehan 2004). La tracciabilità è diventata parte integrante della logica extraterritoriale dello stato-nazione contemporaneo in cui il confine è ovunque. Vale a dire, un ufficiale dell'immigrazione o un funzionario doganale con un computer portatile e una connessione wireless è ora un posto di frontiera. La tracciabilità è legata all'accesso poiché la giustificazione sta nel poter rintracciare e quindi decidere chi ha accesso legittimo alla società e chi no. Non ha molto senso, tuttavia, rintracciare ciò che non si può capire (vedi Cronin 2013: 126-7), così la traduzione diventa parte integrante dell'apparato di sorveglianza che traccia il movimento delle persone e delle opinioni nelle città multilingue. Se in un'epoca precedente il dibattito era incentrato sull'idea di Traduzione e Identità, è forse più appropriato nella nostra era mobile e digitale parlare di Traduzione e Tracciabilità. Questa nuova configurazione coglie sia la capacità di sorveglianza della traduzione assorbita nelle nuove tecnologie sia il senso in cui un abitante nomade della città contemporanea lascia più tracce digitali (telefonate mobili, sms, messaggi di posta elettronica, chiamate Skype) che devono essere capiti e archiviati in qualsiasi tentativo di cogliere la mutevole configurazione della lingua e della cultura nelle nostre città contemporanee.

Dematerializzazione, presencing, accesso, questi sono tre parametri che stanno contribuendo a definire i nuovi tipi di zone di traduzione che stanno emergendo non solo a Dublino ma in tutto il pianeta. Come l'impiegato polacco Ignazio, dobbiamo essere sempre consapevoli di come il "diluviare di parole straniere" porti non tanto a nuovi Noè quanto a nuove Arche, nuovi vascelli di comunicazione di traduzione nei nostri mondi mutati.


Brown, John Seely and Mark Weiser (1996) The Coming Age of Calm Technology. http://www.ubiq.com/hypertext/weiser/acmfuture2endnote.htm 

Castells, Manuel, Mireia Fernández-ArdèvolJack Linchuan Qiu and Araba Sey (2006) Mobile communication and society: a global perspective, Cambridge, Mass, MIT Press.

Cehan, Ayse (2004) “Sécurité, frontières et surveillance aux États-Unis après le 11 septembre 2001”, Cultures & Conflits, no. 53: 113-145.

Cronin, Michael (2006) Translation and Identity, New York and London, Routledge.

Cronin, Michael (2013) Translation in the Digital Age, New York and London, Routledge.

Crosbie, Judith (2013) “The Growth of Intolerance”, The Irish Times, 29 June 2013.

Dennis, Kingsley and John Urry (2007) “The Digital Axis of Post-Automobility”. Department of Sociology, Lancaster University, 1-74 http://www.kingsleydennis.com/The%20Digital%20Nexus%20of%20Post-Automobility.pdf

De Tona, Carla and Andrew Whela, (2009) “Re-mediating the ruptures of migration: the use of internet and mobile phones in migrant women’s organisations in Ireland”, Translocations: Migration and Social Change, vol.5, no.1: 1-20.

Diminescu, Dana (2008) “The connected migrant: an epistemological manifesto”, Social Science Information, no. 47: 565-579.

Greenfield, Adam (2006) Everyware: The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing, Berkeley CA, New Riders.

Koehn, Philip (2009) Statistical Machine Translation, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Komito, Lee (2004) The Information Revolution and Ireland: prospects and challenges, Dublin, UCD Press.

Komito, Lee (2011) “Social Media and Migration: virtual community 2.0”, Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 62, no. 6: 1075-1086.

Licoppe, Christian (2004) “’Connected presence’: the emergence of a new repertoire for managing social relationships in a changing communication technoscape”, Environment and Planning D: Society and space, 22: 135-56.

McAreavy, Ruth (2009) “Transcending cultural differences: the role of language in migrants’ integration”, Translocations: Migration and Social Change, vol.6, no.2: 1-22.

Mitchell, William (1995) The City of Bits, London, MIT Press.

Novak, Marcus (2010) “The Meaning of Transarchitecture”.


Ostler, N. (2011) The Last Lingua Franca: The Rise and Fall of World Languages, London, Penguin.

Pöchhacker, Franz and Miriam Shlesinger (2007) (a cura di), Healthcare interpreting: discourse and interaction, Amsterdam, John Benjamins.

Prus, Bolesław (1959) La Bambola, trad. Aurora Beniamino, Milano, Edizioni Paoline.

Putnam, Robert (2000) Bowling Alone: America’s declining social capital, New York, Simon & Schuster.

Ruhs, Martin and Emma Quinn, (2009) Ireland: From Rapid Immigration to Recessionhttp://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/ireland-rapid-immigration-recession

Simon, Sherry (2006) Translating Montreal: Episodes in the life of a divided city, Montreal, McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Simon, Sherry (2012) Cities in Translation: intersections of language and memory, New York and London, Routledge.

Wickramasekara, Piyasiri (2011) Circular Migration: A Triple Win or a Dead End, Geneva, International Labour Office.

Wilks, Yorick (2008) Machine Translation: Its Scope and Limits, Berlin, Springer.

Zimányi, Krisztina (2005) Impartiality or advocacy: perceptions of the role of the community interpreter in Ireland, tesi inedita per il Master of Arts in Translation Studies, Dublin City University.


[1]Il saggio qui tradotto è stato pubblicato per la prima volta in inglese con il titolo Digital Dublin: Translating the Cybercity » nel volume curato da Sherry Simon Speaking Memory: How Translation Shapes City Life (McGill-Queen's University Press, Montréal 2016, pp. 103-116). Ringraziamo l’autore e l’editore che hanno permesso la traduzione italiana.

[2] Le traduzioni dei testi citati sono dall’inglese e sono tutte a cura del traduttore.

[3] Il termine everyware in inglese è un neologismo che richiama l'insieme dei programmi [software] e le componenti fisiche non modificabili [hardware] in un sistema di elaborazione dati, [‘ogniware’], ma anche la dislocazione ‘ovunque’ [everywhere] per omofonia.

©inTRAlinea & inTRAlinea Webmaster (2021).
"Dublino Digitale: Tradurre la Cybercity"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Space in Translation
Edited by: Lucia Quaquarelli, Licia Reggiani & Marc Silver
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/index.php/specials/article/2579

Une carte en traduction, pour quoi faire ? Le cas de Chronique des sept misères de Patrick Chamoiseau

By inTRAlinea Webmaster



©inTRAlinea & inTRAlinea Webmaster (2021).
"Une carte en traduction, pour quoi faire ? Le cas de Chronique des sept misères de Patrick Chamoiseau"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Space in Translation
Edited by: Lucia Quaquarelli, Licia Reggiani & Marc Silver
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/index.php/specials/article/2578

Comme le sens étymologique du mot le montre bien, la traduction est associée de manière immédiate et inextricable à l’élément spatial ; étant une activité liée à l’idée de ‘transport’, à travers des espaces linguistiques et culturels, la traduction est un concept intrinsèquement ‘spatialisé’. C’est précisément en s’inspirant de ce sens étymologique que Salman Rushdie a introduit sa célèbre définition de l’écrivain postcolonial en tant que ‘translated man’ : ayant été ‘mené au-delà’, ‘transporté’ à travers des frontières géographiques, linguistiques, culturelles, Rushdie se qualifie à juste titre d’‘homme traduit’ (Rushdie 1993 : 28).

En dépit de cet implicite spatial, le dialogue entre traduction et espace est relativement récent et s’inscrit dans le cadre de ce qu’on nomme le ‘spatial turn’ ou ‘tournant géographique’ (Collot 2014 : 15), issu d’une volonté de restituer une centralité à la dimension spatiale longtemps négligée dans les sciences humaines et sociales. Et pourtant, il est indéniable que la référence spatiale a souvent nourri la pensée traductive, étant la source de notions telles que celle de ‘tiers espace’ (Bhabha 1994) ou de ‘zone de traduction’ (Apter 2005), qui affichent une marque spatiale explicite (Italiano 2016 : 3).

Au sein des études de la traduction, le tournant spatial a surtout eu pour effet d’ouvrir la perspective sur les ‘géographies de la traduction’ (Italiano 2016 : 4), soulignant dès lors qu’il importe de prendre en compte la spatialité de ses pratiques pour envisager la traduction en tant qu’activité située. Ce qui, jusqu’ici, a été peu exploré, c’est le traitement traductif de l’espace, à savoir ce qui arrive à l’espace lorsqu’il est ‘transporté à travers’ (si l’on s’en tient au sens littéral) (De Bleeker 2014 : 228). En effet, les travaux consacrés à l’élément spatial ont, en général, mis en avant le traitement de la toponymie, la traduction des noms de lieu s’avérant être l’un des indices textuels opérant comme un agent révélateur du rapport à l’autre[1].

Nous souhaitons ici parcourir cette piste, en nous focalisant sur le devenir de l’espace narratif en traduction et ce, à partir du cas si inspirant de Chronique des sept misères (1986), roman de l’écrivain martiniquais Patrick Chamoiseau.

Réapproprier l’espace

Dès la publication de l’ouvrage fondateur et désormais classique des études postcoloniales The Empire Writes Back (Ashcroft, Griffiths et Tiffin 1989), la critique a souligné l’importance de l’élément spatial au sein des littératures postcoloniales. La colonisation ayant été avant tout une entreprise de conquête de l’espace, d’occupation ou domination de territoires, il n’y a rien d’étonnant à ce que le thème revienne de manière récurrente, souvent sous la forme d’une reconquête des espaces. De même que l’Histoire passe par un travail de réécriture et de révision des oublis et des mensonges de l’historiographie officielle, la géographie fait l’objet d’une lutte pour une possible réappropriation.

La dimension spatiale, sur laquelle viennent se greffer des enjeux tant identitaires que linguistiques, revêt un rôle essentiel dans la production de Chamoiseau, comme en témoigne Texaco (Molinari 2004). Épopée du peuple martiniquais, ce roman est consacré au combat mené pour la conquête de Texaco, quartier populaire situé aux abords de Fort-de-France. Lieu proprement créole, Texaco est menacé de destruction par les autorités de la ville qui le jugent insalubre et contraire à l’ordre public (Chamoiseau 1992 : 19). C’est pour empêcher que le quartier soit rasé que Marie Sophie Laborieux, l’ancêtre fondatrice du quartier, relate l’histoire de sa fondation, opposant son récit à la science de l’urbaniste chargé de ‘rénover’ le quartier, ce qui revient à le détruire. Récit de la conquête d’un espace, le roman s’articule autour d’une grande métaphore spatiale opposant le couple En-ville/périphérie duquel découle toute une série d’oppositions binaires centre/périphérie, ordre/désordre, français/créole, écrit/oral :

Au centre, une logique urbaine occidentale, alignée, ordonnée, forte comme la langue française. De l’autre, le foisonnement ouvert de la langue créole dans la logique de Texaco. […] Ici la trame géométrique d’une grammaire urbaine bien apprise, dominatrice ; par là, la couronne d’une culture-mosaïque à dévoiler. (Chamoiseau 1992 : 235)

La ville de Fort-de-France a d’ailleurs fait l’objet d’actes symboliques et ponctuels de résistance : la statue de l’impératrice Joséphine (qui aurait incité Bonaparte à rétablir l’esclavage) a été décapitée à plusieurs reprises, tandis que l’enseigne de l’‘Office Départemental du Tourisme’ a perdu quelques lettres devenant ainsi le dérisoire ‘Office mental du Tourisme’ (Loichot 2004 : 52). Une telle pratique de subversion réalisée par le découpage des lettres ressemble de près aux formes de transgression linguistique dont il est question dans le Discours Antillais d’Édouard Glissant (1981). Dans le paragraphe intitulé Créolisation, Glissant raconte comment des autocollants distribués par la sécurité routière, avec l’avertissement ‘NE ROULEZ PAS TROP PRÈS’, ont été spontanément transformés et manipulés, donnant lieu à de nombreuses variantes créolisées à partir du même procédé de déplacement, de troncation de lettres et syllabes. Mentionnons, à titre d’exemple, ‘PA ROULÉ TROP PRÉ’, ‘PAS OULE TROP PRE’ jusqu’à arriver à la tournure ‘ROULEZ PAPA’ (qui est exactement le contraire du message original) (Glissant 1981 : 476-479). Cette subversion représente, d’après Glissant, une forme de ‘contre-poétique’ permettant une réappropriation de la langue qui passe par la ‘ruse’, le ‘détournement’, la ‘dérision’ (Britton 1999 : 33).

La mise en scène de ces modes de réappropriation de l’espace est particulièrement frappante dans Chronique des sept misères. Si Texaco retrace l’histoire d’une ‘œuvre de conquête’ spatiale (Chamoiseau 1992 : 177), ce premier roman porte sur la disparition d’un espace, le marché de Fort-de-France et, par conséquent, d’un métier, celui du djobeur, qui dans le monde du marché trouve sa raison d’être. Employés par les vendeuses du marché de Fort-de-France qui leur confient la tâche de transporter leurs courses, les djobeurs sont voués à disparaître lorsque la France impose ses lois du marché, sa marchandise, ses goûts. La loi de départementalisation[2] entraine l’importation d’une grande quantité de marchandises exotiques à bon marché que les simples produits du marché ne peuvent pas concurrencer. L’univers du marché, espace de vie et de relation, se voit ainsi balayé par des impersonnels ‘non-lieux’ (au sens d’Augé), à savoir des supermarchés et hypermarchés régis par les lois de la métropole. Le roman s’achève sur le personnage de l’ethnographe – double de l’auteur – qui constate avec une tonalité mélancolique qu’‘Aujourd’hui, plus un seul djobeur dans les marchés de Fort-de-France. Plus une seule brouette. Leur mémoire a cessé d’exister’ (Chamoiseau 1986 : 243). La plus grande partie du récit est prise en charge par une autre voix, celle d’un des cinq djobeurs du marché aux légumes de Fort-de-France. C’est en tant que témoin d’une époque et d’une pratique culturelle perdues à jamais que ce narrateur collectif (il parle au nom d’un ‘nous’, le groupe de cinq djobeurs) raconte l’histoire du déclin du meilleur djobeur, Pierre Philomène Soleil (alias Pipi ‘roi de la brouette’) qui, après un passé glorieux, connaît la chute et la mort. C’est précisément grâce à une pratique spatiale que le héros se voit décerner le prestigieux titre de ‘maître-djobeur’, devenant ainsi le roi du marché.

L’un des épisodes fondamentaux du roman relate cette mémorable action spatiale dans laquelle le protagoniste s’engage pour s’adjuger le transport d’une igname gigantesque (de cent vingt-sept kilos cinq cents) et bien d’autres privilèges. Il est établi que le djobeur qui réussit à rejoindre la marchande le premier jouit du triple honneur de transporter l’igname, de gagner de l’argent et surtout de connaître la ‘gloire’ d’apparaître en photo dans le journal. C’est Pipi qui bat tous les autres djobeurs et arrive le premier. Chamoiseau célèbre sa maîtrise de l’espace dans un passage d’une grande précision et exactitude topographique[3] (De Bleeker 2014 : 232) :

Pipi prouva son audace folle, son imagination fulgurante, et, final, sa connaissance sans faille du quartier. Il longea le marché aux légumes vers la rue Isambert. Cela lui prit quatre secondes, vite rattrapées en remontant à grand allant la rue Isambert, dégagée à cette heure du samedi. Dépassant la cour Perrinon, traversant la rue Victor-Sévère, il dévala la ruelle Abbé-Lecornu absolument déserte, et déboucha sur le boulevard du Général-de-Gaulle, encombré mais large comme un nez, donc sans problème pour un maître de la brouette. Vif comme un serpent jaune, Pipi le remonta. Son dérapage contrôlé fut triomphant devant la marchande de Ducos, qui lui laissa l’igname. Ce chemin fut désormais intitulé Chimin Pipi, et nous l’utilisâmes pour les grandes occasions. (Chamoiseau 1988 : 90-91)

On ne peut manquer de noter que la trajectoire spatiale de Pipi réalise habilement une œuvre de détour (De Bleeker 2014 : 232) : elle progresse par courbes successives, déviations et revirements continuels, inspirés par la ruse et l’improvisation, s’inscrivant ainsi dans un mouvement de réappropriation de l’espace parfaitement en accord avec la ‘contre-poétique’ glissantienne et qu’on peut aisément rapprocher de la notion de ‘tactique’ développée par Michel de Certeau[4] (1980). Son geste s’ancre dans toute une tradition de résistance et d’opposition et, d’ailleurs, les techniques de survivance des djobeurs relèvent bel et bien d’un art du détour : ‘le djobeur est le petit marron par excellence’ (Burton 1997 : 167 ; Louviot 2010 : 284). C’est une manière de survivre grâce à la débrouillardise et à la ruse que les djobeurs prolongent et réactivent.

Un péritexte cartographique : un détour par la cartographie

Si nous pouvons conclure que le roman fait état d’une spatialité investie d’une valeur symbolique forte, et émane d’un horizon conceptuel bien précis, qu’il représente et visualise, il est alors tentant de nous demander si, et dans quelle mesure, cette poétique spatiale résiste à l’épreuve de la traduction. Nous nous tournons, pour ce faire, vers la traduction anglaise de Linda Coverdale publiée par la maison d’édition University of Nebraska Press avec le titre Chronicle of the Seven Sorrows (1999). Ce texte ne peut manquer de nous frapper dès les premières pages pour ce qui est de son enveloppe paratextuelle : il reproduit en exergue deux cartes géographiques – une carte de la Martinique ainsi qu’une carte de Fort-de-France qui visualise la topographie du roman (Figure 1) – dont le texte français, précisons-le dès maintenant, est dépourvu.

Pour mieux cerner la portée de cet ajout cartographique, il paraît utile d’aborder la question de la présence de la cartographie au sein des œuvres littéraires, à savoir celle des cartes littéraires[5]. Dans le cadre du ‘tournant spatial’, l’univers cartographique a connu une attention croissante au sein de la théorie et la critique littéraires, ce qui a ouvert la voie à un champ de recherche, connu sous l’appellation de ‘cartographie littéraire’[6], s’interrogeant sur les relations entre narration et carte, sur les rapports entre texte et cartographie. Qu’il s’agisse d’une présence implicite, objet d’une description in absentia, ou bien d’une présence concrète et matérielle, la carte géographique (Guglielmi, Iacoli 2013 : 14), objet charmant, au pouvoir évocateur et générateur, a depuis toujours eu sa place dans les textes littéraires[7].

La dimension cartographique, quoique fort répandue en littérature, se manifeste avec une insistance toute particulière au sein de productions postcoloniales, où les métaphores cartographiques et le motif de la carte – reproduite graphiquement ou non – deviennent un enjeu stratégique central. Pour expliquer ce foisonnement cartographique, véritable topos des littératures postcoloniales, il n’est pas inutile de remarquer que la carte a été un des instruments privilégiés des projets de conquête coloniale. Pour asseoir leur pouvoir, les puissances coloniales ont décrit, tracé, cartographié, renommé les territoires. La géographie et l’entreprise cartographique, comme l’a souligné Edward Said, sont des enjeux stratégiques dans la mainmise coloniale : ‘N’oublions pas que l’impérialisme est un acte de violence géographique, par lequel la quasi totalité de l’espace mondial est explorée, cartographiée et finalement annexée’ (Said 2000 : 320). La cartographie a servi le colonialisme, dans la mesure où le processus de ‘découverte’ est renforcé par l’élaboration des cartes (avec l’action de nommer ou de renommer les lieux), essentielle à l’appropriation à la fois réelle et symbolique de l’espace (Ashcroft, Griffiths, Tiffin 1989 : 31-32). La maîtrise du territoire, comme l’a souligné Louis-Jean Calvet (1974), passe par le ‘droit de nommer’ les lieux que s’arrogent les colonisateurs. À cet égard, ce n’est pas un hasard si le premier geste accompli par Christophe Colomb au contact de terres nouvellement découvertes soit une ‘sorte d’acte de nomination étendu’ : ‘il veut renommer les lieux en fonction de la place qu’ils occupent dans sa découverte, leur donner des noms justes ; la nomination, de plus, équivaut à une prise de possession’ (Todorov 1982 : 34).

Ce sont justement ces pratiques spatiales sur lesquelles s’est fondé le projet colonial – l’acte de cartographier et de (re)nommer (Jacobs 1996 : 19) – que les écrivains vont souvent éprouver la nécessité de détourner et resignifiér. Ainsi, comme on peut le lire dans Transit de Abdourahaman Waberi, les rues de Djibouti, baptisées par les colonisateurs lors de leur occupation avec des appellations européocentrées, sont renommées spontanément par les habitants (et non pas par les politiciens) :

Remarquez que dans toute cette partie commerciale de la ville, comme dans le reste la majorité des rues portent des noms de cités européennes comme Berne, Rome, Paris ou Berlin. Le plus étonnant c’est qu’aucun président ne les a changés, d’ailleurs personne ne se réfère à ces appellations banales, rues sans nom que le bouche-à-oreille a baptisées rue du Café, rue du Coiffeur-Hindi, rue des Pacotilleurs, et cetera. (Waberi 2003 : 123)

De même, l’objet cartographique est réinvesti à partir de patrons cartographiques alternatifs aux représentations coloniales. Il arrive que les personnages des œuvres de Patrick Chamoiseau réécrivent leur géographie en utilisant leur propre système de signes et symboles. C’est ce que fait Déborah-Nicol dans Biblique des derniers gestes sur la surface de sa mappemonde :

pour pister bien à loisir la trajectoire de meutes colonialistes et des grandes forces du Capital. Elle avait tracé dessus au crayon, à l’encre bleue ou rouge, des flèches et des ronds, carrés et points d’exclamation. À certains endroits, elle avait planté des épingles, des onglets de papier tenus par une pointe d’amidon. La mappemonde avait fini par prendre l’allure d’une boule hiéroglyphique, hérissée de pointes magiques dignes d’un autel vaudou. (Chamoiseau 2002 : 582)

Il arrive aussi que la carte ne soit pas simplement une présence thématique mais, comme c’est souvent le cas, une réalité concrète, matériellement reproduite dans le texte. C’est ce qui se passe dans Mont Plaisant (2011), roman de l’écrivain camerounais Patrice Nganang, qui porte sur une entreprise historiographique de récupération et de réécriture des archives coloniales. Une carte d’époque du Cameroun allemand est posée ici en ouverture du livre (Figure 2), pour dénoncer explicitement que la mainmise coloniale a défait la géographie, et que la colonisation est avant tout une question de cartographie[8] (Nganang in Pape-Thoma 2007 : en ligne).

Symbole de la conquête coloniale, l’enjeu cartographique devient de ce fait la cible d’une ‘contre-attaque cartographique’ (Mengozzi 2016 : 33). Dans un projet de contestation de l’autorité cartographique, l’écrivain postcolonial s’attache à mettre à nu la part d’arbitraire cachée sous la fausse neutralité des cartes. Le roman de Nuruddin Farah, significativement intitulé Maps, engage une réflexion sur la ‘vérité’ des descriptions véhiculées par les cartes (1994 : 40-41). Dans une des scènes décisives du roman, le protagoniste Askar, jeune qui a grandi dans l’Ogaden (région que se disputent l’Éthiopie et la Somalie), passionné par les cartes au point d’en avoir tapissé sa chambre, compare différentes cartes de la Somalie (Westphal 2007 : 261) : il s’aperçoit que si certaines lui apparaissent vraies et fidèles, d’autres s’avèrent en revanche fausses et injustes, et cela en raison de ses convictions politiques. Comme son oncle le lui explique, ‘il y a une vérité des cartes. L’Ogaden, en tant que terre somalie, est une vérité. Pour le cartographe éthiopien, l’Ogaden, en tant que terre somalie, est une contre vérité’ (Farah 1994 : 389). Chaque carte ne contient alors qu’une vérité partiale et partielle ; une vérité asservie à des fins idéologiques et hégémoniques, et façonnée pour légitimer des projets déterminés (Louviot 2010 : 446 ; Mengozzi 2016 : 40-41). Dans un autre passage tout aussi crucial du roman, l’oncle évoque la carte, qu’on aurait bien du mal à définir comme objective et impartiale, réalisée par un cartographe allemande : ‘Eduard Kremer, qui fut l’auteur de la carte de 1957, introduisit de nombreuses distorsions, altérant ainsi notre conception du monde et de sa taille. […] L’Afrique, dans la carte de Kremer, est plus petite que le Groenland’ (Farah 1994 : 388).

Le caractère largement arbitraire des représentations cartographiques mis en avant ici rejoint tout un courant critique qui a dévoilé leur dimension idéologique et ontologique à la fois (Harley 1988 ; Wood, Fels 1992). En questionnant une tradition longuement enracinée, faisant des cartes des supports de connaissance neutres, aux allures d’objectivité et d’impartialité, ces approches ont démontré leur caractère situé et partiel : ‘les cartes construisent – ne reproduisent pas – le monde’ (Wood, Fels 1993 : 17). Ces constructions façonnent une connaissance du monde mise au service de projets politiques, de pratiques de pouvoir (politique, militaire, religieux, colonial), faisant de la carte une forme de ‘connaissance-pouvoir’ à part entière (Harley 1989). Bien loin de représenter de simples transpositions du monde, les cartes fonctionnent comme de puissants moyens idéologiques aptes à produire des représentations déformées et à renforcer des préjugés.

L’objet cartographique, au vu de son caractère construit, intéressé et donc manipulateur, prend volontiers, dans les littératures postcoloniales, les traits d’un instrument de connaissance trompeur et peu fiable, un objet dont il vaut mieux se méfier. Les cartes deviennent dès lors déroutantes et provocatrices, des supports parfaitement inutiles réalisés plutôt pour s’y perdre que pour s’y repérer (Guglielmi, Iacoli 2013 ; Albertazzi 2012).

Contrairement à ce qui se passe dans le contexte postcolonial, où la carte est sinon mensongère du moins suspecte, la traduction anglaise de Chronique des sept misères est prête à lui accorder sa confiance et la juge parfaitement légitime de garantir sa fonction mimétique. Néanmoins, une telle intrusion n’est pas neutre : elle conduit à une reconfiguration du rapport du roman à l’élément spatial et incite à l’envisager autrement. Ce sont des imaginaires spatiaux pour le moins divergents qui sont mobilisés : alors que l’action du protagoniste refuse la ligne droite pour tracer un parcours rusé, tout en détours, la carte nous ramène dans un espace quadrillé et géométrique, ce qui semble fausser la portée de sa ‘pratique spatiale’ (de Certeau 1990). Les pratiques spatiales, comme l’écrit Michel de Certeau, s’infiltrent dans ‘le texte clair de la ville planifiée et lisible’ (de Certeau 1990 : 142), se l’approprient et en réinventent les codes. Et Pipi, par son itinéraire, parvient à faire de même : il retourne et transforme l’espace géométrique de la structure urbaine à son gré, produisant une spatialité autre, alternative à celle des géographes et des urbanistes. C’est cette manœuvre subversive qui est entièrement démentie par la représentation graphique qui plonge dans un réseau rigide, dans un espace ‘strié’, comme l’appellent Deleuze et Guattari (1980), qui méconnait toute ligne oblique, et n’envisage aucune ligne de fuite. Au vu de ce glissement si flagrant d’un espace ‘vécu’ à un espace ‘conçu’, pour nous en tenir à la terminologie proposée par Henri Lefebvre (2000), il est tout aussi légitime de se demander ce qui a pu amener à cet ajout cartographique[9].

La présence des cartes, de prime abord plutôt énigmatique, semble prendre tout son sens et se justifier pleinement dès qu’on l’envisage à la lumière de la stratégie traductive générale. Cette hypothèse posée, nous tâchons de l’explorer grâce à l’à-côté du texte, la postface de la traductrice.

Dans ce texte de la marge, où d’habitude les traducteurs profitent de l’un des rares espaces de visibilité[10] qui leur est accordé pour exposer leur travail, nous retrouvons énoncés les principes qui ont guidé la traduction. Toutefois, avant de s’exprimer explicitement sur ses choix de traduction, Linda Coverdale aborde l’un des fondements de la poétique des œuvres postcoloniales, à savoir leur opacité affichée. Celle-ci est à appréhender comme une forme de résistance par laquelle l’écrivain des langues ‘dominées’ se dérobe, sous plusieurs formes et à divers degrés, à une pleine compréhension, affirmant par là même une prise de pouvoir symbolique forte. Il n’est pas surprenant que Coverdale tienne à s’attarder sur le ‘droit à l’opacité’ (Glissant 1990 : 209) cultivé et revendiqué par Chamoiseau, puisque ce désir de laisser ici et là le texte obscur (voire inaccessible) pour le lecteur (du moins celui occidental) touche un enjeu crucial de la pratique de la traduction : cela revient à s’inscrire en faux contre son précepte d’une transparence absolue, considérée comme faisant partie des prérogatives d’une ‘bonne traduction’.

Confrontée à ce choix, la traductrice prend sans hésitation le parti de la clarté. Elle avoue ne pas avoir voulu laisser son lectorat ‘patauger dans le noir’ (‘not leaving the reader floundering in the dark’), ce qui l’a poussée à éclairer de manière plutôt systématique les points sombres. C’est ainsi que ces ‘zones d’ombre’ – que l’auteur ne souhaiterait pas qu’elles soient ‘blanchies’ en traduction (‘whited out by the rude glare of translation’) – finissent bien souvent par être éclaircies (Coverdale in Chamoiseau 1999 : 216).

Toujours dans un souci d’une plus grande compréhensibilité, le texte comporte un appendice explicatif à la fin de l’ouvrage. Sous l’appellation ‘Notes’, cet annexe ne rassemble pas moins de 71 notes, dont seule une petite part (on en dénombre 22) apparaît, sous la forme de notes en bas de page, dans le texte français. De plus, notons-le tout de suite, un certain nombre de notes de l’auteur ne remplissent pas du tout une fonction explicative, mais elles sont bien plutôt l’occasion d’offrir, sous forme de clins d’œil, des précisions tantôt ouvertement ironiques, tantôt d’ordre diégétique (Gauvin 2007 : 37-49), ce qui n’est pas le cas pour les notes du traducteur. Ces notes, rassemblées dans l’annexe à la fin de l’ouvrage, principalement d’ordre métalinguistique ou encyclopédique, visent à expliquer les expressions créoles et les référents culturels au lectorat non créolophone, auquel font défaut les compétences linguistiques et/ou culturelles (De Bleecker 2014 : 237-238).

Ces quelques mots sont suffisants pour nous donner des indices sur la manière dont le péritexte cartographique doit être abordé : tout comme les notes, les cartes répondent à une volonté évidente de clarification et de facilitation de la lecture. Détaillées et riches en références topographiques, les deux cartes permettent de mieux localiser les évènements racontés à un lecteur jugé peu familier de la géographie du récit. Elles sont finalement là pour être employées pour l’un de leurs usages : l’orientation. C’est pour s’orienter dans des territoires peu familiers ou complètement nouveaux que l’on a, d’habitude, recours aux cartes (Papotti 2012).

Or, force est de constater que ces éléments ‘désopacifiants’ du péritexte sont à double tranchant : il est à craindre qu’ils se retournent en une certaine forme d’exotisme. L’ajout du matériel documentaire (notes, glossaires, cartes, chronologies, etc.) est une démarche périlleuse qui peut assez vite déboucher sur une anthropologisation de la littérature, comme l’a pressenti Paul Bandia (2008), mettant en garde contre les excès d’une ‘traduction dense’ (Appiah 1993). De plus, il y a le risque d’exercer, plus ou moins consciemment, une forme subtile et insidieuse de ‘domination furtive’ (Chamoiseau 1997 : 18), de réactiver la violence du pouvoir colonial qui veut rendre l’autre compréhensible, assimilable et, finalement, appropriable. Chamoiseau, bien conscient des relents de colonialisme sous-jacents à ces procédés, avoue se moquer de leur obsession explicative :

Une note peut me permettre de faire un petit trait d’humour, de renverser la note habituelle plutôt de faire une explication pour un Français ou un Martiniquais. Je joue une petite dérision de tous les glossaires qui généralement accompagnent les écritures et les littératures dites particulières. Je déjoue ainsi le vieux schéma occidental. Le colonialiste a envie que l’autre lui ressemble, que l’autre soit transparent’[11]. (Chamoiseau 1997 : 43-44)

Un tabou traductif : de l’éloge de l’opacité à une traduction transparente

Un point est resté jusqu’ici en suspens, qui n’est certainement pas anodin : la question de savoir pourquoi la traduction est ‘victime’ de la transparence. Il est temps d’apporter quelques éléments de réflexion, dans le but de comprendre pourquoi l’injonction à la clarté fonctionne tant et si bien que le texte traduit va à l’encontre de la position de l’auteur en faveur de l’opacité, avec tout ce que cela comporte de revendication de la différence, de résistance et d’opposition aux principes occidentaux.

Nous mobilisons pour cela l’éclairage critique bermanien qui définit la critique d’une traduction comme ‘une analyse rigoureuse d’une traduction, de ses traits fondamentaux, du projet qui lui a donné naissance, de l’horizon dans lequel elle a surgi, de la position du traducteur’ (Berman 1995 : 13-14). Le traducteur, nous dit Berman, ne traduit pas en vase clos, à l’abri de structures et d’un contexte qui guident et conditionnent sa manière de traduire, bien au contraire. Sa pratique s’inscrit dans un ‘projet’ et dans un ‘horizon’ de traduction qui délimite (et limite) son champ de possibles. C’est pourquoi une traduction est à lire à la lumière de ce système prescriptif de mœurs, contraintes, normes (choix éditoriaux, enjeux commerciaux qui pèsent sur la circulation des biens symboliques, habitudes de réception) avec lequel se doit de négocier et composer l’acte de traduction.

Cela semble bien démontrer que si les textes traduits renoncent à afficher l’opacité c’est, bien entendu, parce que des critères tels que la lisibilité, la fluidité, la compréhensibilité sont devenus de véritables normes traductives sous la pression d’un marché éditorial qui demande des textes lisses, dont la compréhension est immédiate et intégrale, comme l’a dénoncé, entre autres, Lawrence Venuti (1995). C’est en somme parce qu’ils sont aussi, et surtout, des critères commerciaux décidant de l’acceptabilité d’une traduction et donc de sa capacité à créer des ventes qu’ils représentent des impératifs.

Notons au passage que The Chronicle of the Seven Sorrows n’est pas un cas isolé, s’insérant dans une tradition de traductions qui défendent, chacune à sa manière, un refus de l’opacité. Les traductions des romans chamoisiens antérieurement réalisées par Rose Myriam Réjouis et Val Vinokurov, n’osent pas, elles non plus, prendre le contrepied de la norme et courir le risque de rebuter le lecteur. Si dans Texaco (1997a), les deux traducteurs se mettent au travail pour corriger ou combler les traductions des passages en créole que l’auteur a (soulignons-le) volontairement choisi de traduire tantôt de manière partielle, tantôt de manière fautive, dans Solibo Magnificient (1998), toujours fidèles à l’idéal de la transparence, ils suppriment tout simplement les notes créoles. Ces ‘contre-notes’ (Gauvin 2007 : 37-49), provocatrices et dérisoires qui, déjouant les attentes, fournissent une traduction vers le créole (et non du créole), sont bel et bien mises hors jeu.  

Mais ce n’est pas tout. La tendance à effacer ou masquer la dimension créole tient aussi au fait que la traduction a un caractère puissamment inégalitaire, comme l’ont bien montré les analyses sociologiques (Casanova 2002). C’est un échange qui s’exerce entre des langues (et cultures) dotées d’un capital inégal, ce qui explique pourquoi on est plus enclin à accueillir certaines langues et cultures (celles dominantes) que d’autres (celles dominées). C’est précisément parce qu’elle se produit dans le cadre de rapports de force asymétriques qu’elle est, plus souvent qu’on ne l’admet, un lieu de tension, conflit, violence plutôt qu’un lieu pacifié qui accueille l’autre et à son étrangeté, comme le voudrait un certain discours irénique (Samoyault 2020).

La carte incarne en quelque sorte cette dimension de domination symbolique dont peut être vecteur la traduction. Placée en ouverture et, dès lors, posée comme un préalable obligé, un support à consulter avant la lecture (à la différence des notes placées à la fin du livre[12]), elle surimpose le réseau régulier fait de lignes verticales et horizontales à la trajectoire labyrinthique tracée par le maître djobeur. Une fois que la trame ordonnée, claire, normalisée (qui a son pendant linguistique dans la langue française) prend la place du parcours ouvert, imprévisible et désordonné (auquel correspond, sur le plan linguistique, le créole), c’est la poétique spatiale du roman avec tout l’imaginaire créole et ses corollaires que sont la ruse et le détour, qui se trouvent menacés. Symbole de conquête, comme le synthétise de manière particulièrement prégnante le geste cartographique de Marlow, ce doigt posé sur les espaces blancs de la carte, dans les pages de Cœur des ténèbres[13], la carte semble donc renouer avec sa longue et sinistre connivence avec une pratique de domination spatiale : elle affiche la volonté de maîtriser un espace qui déstabilise et échappe au contrôle de la logique occidentale.


Figure 1: Patrick Chamoiseau, The Chronicle of the Seven Sorrows

Figure 2 : Patrice Nganang, Mont Plaisant




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Molinari, Chiara (2004) “Reseaux spatial et linguistique : le cas de Patrick Chamoiseau”, Glottopol. Revue de sociolinguistique en ligne, no. 3 : 110-121, http://glottopol.univ-rouen.fr/numero_3.html.

Nganang, Patrice (2011) Mont Plaisant, Paris, Éditions Philippe Rey.

Ovidi, Carbonell i Cortés (2006) “Can the other speak ?”, in Metonymic (Re)creation of the Other in Translation, Raoul Granqvist (dir.), Francfort, Peter Lang : 55–74.

Pape-Thoma, Birgit (2007) “La colonisation de l’Afrique passe par l’Allemagne : ‘Mystère, viol et dépossession’. Entretien de Birgit Pape-Thoma avec Kangni Alem et Patrice Nganang”, Africine, http://africine.org/entretien/la-colonisation-de-lafrique-par-lallemagne-mystere-viol-et-depossession/6980.

Papotti, Davide (2001) “Le mappe letterarie: immagini e metafore cartografiche nella narrativa italiana” in Dall’uomo al satellite, Claudia Morando (dir.), Milano, Franco Angeli : 181–195.

---- (2012) “Il libro e la mappa. Prospettive di incontro fra cartografia e letteratura” in Piani sul mondo. Le mappe nell’immaginazione letteraria, Marina Guglielmi et Giulio Iacoli (dir.), Macerata, Quodlibet : 71–88.

Rushdie, Salman (1993) Patries imaginaires. Essais et critiques, trad. Aline Chatelin, Paris, Christian Bourgois.

Said, Edward (2000) Culture et impérialisme, trad. Paul Chemla, Paris, Fayard.

Samoyault, Tiphaine (2020) Traduction et violence, Paris, Seuil.

Tally, Robert T. (dir.) (2014) Literary Cartographies. Spatiality, Representation and Narrative, New York, Palgrave Macmillan.

Todorov, Tzvetan (1982) La conquête de l’Amérique. La question de l’Autre, Paris, Éditions du Seuil.

Venuti, Lawrence (1995) The Translator’s Invisibility, London, Routledge.

Waberi, Abdourahman (2003) Transit, Paris, Gallimard.

Westphal, Bertrand (2007) La Géocritique. Réel, fiction, espace, Paris, Minuit.

Wood, Denis, et John Fels (1992) The Power of Maps, London, Routledge.


[1] Nous renvoyons à l’analyse d’Ovidi Carbonell i Cortés concernant le traitement des toponymes (2006 : 55-74).

[2] Une note de bas de page donne les références précises à la loi, alors que le narrateur décrit, dans un passage plein d’ironie critique, l’accueil enthousiaste réservé à la loi au marché.

[3] Le roman prête dans son ensemble une grande attention à la dimension topographique de la ville. Signalons les passages suivants riches en éléments spatiaux et topographiques (noms, rues, adresses). Voir, à titre d’exemple, p. 38, 40, 45, 61, 62, 83, 92, 147, 169.

[4] Nous renvoyons à la distinction établie par Michel de Certeau entre ‘stratégie’ et ‘tactique” (1980).

[5] Comme l’a remarqué Davide Papotti, l’histoire de la présence de l’objet cartographique dans les textes littéraires reste pour l’essentiel une histoire à écrire (2012 : 81).

[6] Sur ce point, voir les ouvrages de Tally (2014) et Engberg-Pedersen (2017).

[7] À ce propos, nous renvoyons aux réflexions de Christian Jacob, qui a souligné l’ambiguïté constitutive de la carte qui combine une ‘construction rationnelle’ avec un ‘pouvoir de séduction imaginaire’ qui lui est inhérent (Jacob 1992 : 16).

[8] ‘Il ne faut pas oublier que la colonisation, tout comme l'identité d'ailleurs, sont d'abord des affaires de cartographie. Or la carte du Cameroun telle que nous la connaissons actuellement est bien de manière générale issue de tracés allemands’. (Nganang in Pape-Thoma 2007 : en ligne)

[9] Après quelques recherches, nous n’avons pas réussi à savoir plus sur la décision d’accompagner la traduction des cartes géographiques.

[10] Il est important de souligner qu’on donne très rarement la parole aux traducteurs dans les paratextes traductifs, et cela en raison d’un paradigme imposant l’‘invisibilité du traducteur’, perspective selon laquelle le traducteur devrait se cacher derrière sa traduction. Sur ces sujets, voir les réflexions de Lawrence Venuti (1995).

[11] Chronique des sept misères est un exemple assez parlant de la manière dont les ressources du péritexte prennent volontiers un caractère ludique et dérisoire chez Chamoiseau (Gauvin 2007 : 37-49).

[12] Notons que ce déplacement des notes de bas de page n’est pas sans implications sur leur mode de fonctionnement : regroupées à la fin du livre, elles sont ‘inoffensives’, en ce qu’elles ne mettent plus en péril la linéarité narrative ouvrant ces digressions auxquelles se plaît Chamoiseau.

[13] ‘Quand j’étais gamin, j’avais la passion des cartes. (…) A cette époque, il y avait pas mal d’espaces blancs sur la terre, et quand j’en apercevais un sur la carte qui avait l’air particulièrement attrayant (mais ils ont touts cet air-là !) je posais le doigt dessus et disais : ‘Quand je serais grand j’irai là’. (Conrad 2012 : 31)

©inTRAlinea & inTRAlinea Webmaster (2021).
"Une carte en traduction, pour quoi faire ? Le cas de Chronique des sept misères de Patrick Chamoiseau"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Space in Translation
Edited by: Lucia Quaquarelli, Licia Reggiani & Marc Silver
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Buenos Aires/Borges/Buenos Aires: traduzioni e destini sudamericani

By inTRAlinea Webmaster



©inTRAlinea & inTRAlinea Webmaster (2021).
"Buenos Aires/Borges/Buenos Aires: traduzioni e destini sudamericani"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Space in Translation
Edited by: Lucia Quaquarelli, Licia Reggiani & Marc Silver
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/index.php/specials/article/2577

Scrittore cosmpolita e argentino

È più che scontato dire che, tra gli scrittori del Novecento, Jorge Luis Borges ha forse più di ogni altro attribuito al testo una condizione errante e ha problematizzato l’orizzonte del leggibile. Del binomio lettura-letteratura ha fatto l’architrave della sua poetica, elevando il primo termine (nella doppia accezione di spazio della traduzione e di luogo di traduzione) a gesto fondatore previo alla letteratura stessa, perché la lettura investe la complessa relazione tra un testo originario e la possibilità di riscriverlo in modo diverso, secondo le attese di chi lo legge.

Nelle sue riflessioni critiche e nelle sue finzioni, Borges ha assegnato un ruolo centrale alla traduzione al punto da sostenere che essa non è inferiore all’originale. Di qui che la concezione borgesiana del carattere impersonale della letteratura abbia non soltanto rovesciato la logica dell’identità, ma abbia stabilito, dalla periferia dell’Occidente, un’idea della letteratura argentina in dialogo con la letteratura universale e un’idea della lettura come gesto irriverente verso qualsiasi genere di testo.

Nella percezione comune Borges è uno scrittore che ha perso la sua nazionalità di origine. Lo si apprezza (attraverso le citazioni erudite, le mitologie nordiche, il rapporto con Dante e i classici) in inscindibile rapporto con la letteratura europea. Questo mito biografico è confermato dal modo in cui “lo scrittore ai margini” (Sarlo 1995) si è appropriato della letteratura: il Chisciotte letto in inglese quando era bambino, la traduzione de Il principe felice di Oscar Wilde a nove anni, quelle di Virginia Woolf, Kafka, Faulkner, Melville… Così, però, si oscura la tensione che percorre la sua opera e non si vede come l’importanza che Borges attribuisce alla traduzione sia funzionale a un programma culturale in cui il recupero della dimensione rioplatense e della tradizione argentina serve – scrive Beatriz Sarlo – proprio a scalzare “la letteratura occidentale da una centralità incontrastata” (Sarlo 1995: 14) In particolare la traduzione è da un lato una sfida culturale, un sovvertimento di stereotipi e figure dell’immaginario nazionale condotto dai margini di Buenos Aires e, dall’altro, un originale progetto di integrazione dell’Argentina nel mondo a partire dalla modernità periferica della sua capitale. È questa tensione a mostrare quanto Borges – intellettuale cosmopolita e argentino – spazzi via gerarchie estetiche, geografiche e culturali e consideri la lettura e la traduzione come i veri gesti fondatori della letteratura argentina.

Leggere e tradurre il libro europeo

Lettura e traduzione sono i capisaldi con cui reinventare una tradizione culturale per un paese eccentrico come l’Argentina e al contempo leggere e tradurre le letterature europee a partire dalla distanza, dal margine da cui Borges raccomandava di leggere i suoi testi. Dunque, tornando alla lettura e alla traduzione, far interagire lo spazio della traduzione con il luogo della tradizione, mettendo in circolazione lingue, testi e immaginari perché, da scrittore e organizzatore di cultura, Borges vuole assemblare forme eterogenee che mai si sono incontrate e destabilizzarne l’identità, farle entrare in collisione, dare vita a una letteratura argentina e cosmopolita, decentrata, desincronizzata, con un tempo e un divenire propri.

Una lettura possibile del progetto borgesiano è quella di una “reinvenzione della tradizione” tale da riscrivere e re-inscrivere la letteratura argentina nel mondo con uno spostamento di contesto. Non è un’idea nuova. È in perfetta linea di continuità con quella degli intellettuali liberali che un secolo prima avevano identificato nel binomio traduzione-indipendenza politica e culturale l’indispensabile strumento di affermazione identitaria per una nazione che non riconosceva la Spagna come madrepatria culturale. Per i liberali argentini fondare una letteratura nazionale con i modelli europei (filosofia politica francese e romanticismo) significava una cosa sola: leggere il libro europeo per adattarlo al contesto americano. Lettura e traduzione sono operazioni complementari perché tradurre significa leggere in modo differente. Tradurre non è soltanto importare i testi dell’archivio europeo, ma implica una decontestualizzazione necessaria a creare una scena di lettura e un pubblico di cittadini istruiti per una letteratura nuova che sarà il risultato di riscritture, appropriazioni, prestiti, citazioni…

In una nazione giovane in cui si teorizza perfino la necessità di contaminare lo spagnolo peninsulare e argentinizzarlo attraverso il contatto con le lingue europee, tradurre è veicolo e sinonimo di civilizzazione. Cultura è inscrivere (riscrivere, trapiantare) il libro europeo nel contesto americano. Tradurre non è solo un trasferimento di contesto, è soprattutto autopercezione identitaria. Così può realizzarsi l’operazione di ingegneria culturale che sta all’origine dell’irriverenza letteraria degli argentini: è l’appropriazione linguistica a generare nuovi e inediti significati nel contesto di un paese periferico. Leggere (e tradurre) significa che l’Argentina esiste attraverso il testo europeo, e dunque può essere altro da ciò che è.

In una letteratura nascente l’ibridazione di generi – il Facundo di Domingo F. Sarmiento è un esempio perfetto di non-fiction, una finzione scritta come se fosse la biografia del caudillo Facundo Quiroga – si salda alla rivendicazione dell’infedeltà creativa della traduzione. Nel libro che Sarmiento pubblica quando è in esilio in Cile nel 1845, dove l’Argentina è la scena del conflitto fra “civiltà europea” e “barbarie indigena”, l’attribuzione deliberatamente fasificata dell’esergo (la frase di Diderot “On ne tue point les idées” è erroneamente attribuita a Hyppolite Fortoul e mistradotta in spagnolo “A los hombres se degüella, a las ideas, no”[1]; Sarmiento 1955: 5) e la sua ricontestualizzazione geografica apriranno la strada a un profluvio di citazioni apocrife, cioè a uno dei tratti distintivi della letteratura argentina fino a Borges e oltre[2].

Ciò che dunque configura la cultura della periferia è la riscrittura che il lettore-traduttore Sarmiento realizza con uno spostamento di contesto che dà al libro europeo la possibilità di venir letto e riscritto ai margini della modernità occidentale. Intesa come un modo di leggere ciò che si scrive altrove, la letteratura argentina nasce come tensione fra la dimensione locale e quella universale, fra traduzione interlinguistica di letterature europee e traduzione intralinguistica delle culture locali. L’appropriazione testuale del libro europeo configura il contesto di lettura e instaura una fertile relazione con il contesto di partenza.

Inscrivere la letteratura argentina in uno spazio liminale

Tornato dall’Europa nel 1923, Borges sarà l’originale interprete di una nuova e dirompente idea della letteratura argentina (e dello scrittore periferico) come zona di incroci fra la tradizione locale (la gauchesca) e le letterature europee. Con un programma artistico fondato sulla traduzione intesa come violazione della letterarietà di un testo originale, come capacità di “sradicarne i significati ricollocandoli in un nuovo orizzonte spazio-temporale” (Pauls 2016: 114–115) e con l’idea che la letteratura ha senso soltanto se si muove, mette a rischio la sua stessa identità ed estrapola dal suo contesto una finzione per inserirla in un altro contesto, Borges si fa carico della seduzione della barbarie nella cultura argentina (che Sarmiento aveva denunciato nel Facundo) e mette al centro della sua poetica quel “destino sudamericano” (Borges 2002b: 38) che sarà materia di più di un artificio letterario.

Operazione, questa, inscindibile – nella sua poesia e nei testi critici – dalla messa in scena di un io frammentato che nella metropoli sul Río de la Plata si rappresenta come un transeúnte, un “passante” il quale, assunta la marginalità come un punto di vista, sconfina nei sobborghi della città e scrive testi che sono veri e propri luoghi di transito tra originali e copie. Quasi a voler replicare, da una prospettiva obliqua, quell’operazione di riscrittura della geografia fisica e sociale dell’Argentina che, un secolo prima, Sarmiento aveva realizzato con un testo ibrido e un deliberato gesto di mistraduzione della cultura europea, Borges legge e cammina (sono operazioni complementari), e con percorsi soggettivi e arbitari traccia sulla mappa della città reale una personale e nostalgica scoperta di un luogo che sta svanendo.

Non si tratta però di una scoperta di Buenos Aires (Borges ci torna dopo nove anni di soggiorno in Europa) nel senso che egli la vede per la prima volta. Città e libro (testo originario) sono apparentati da un singolare elemento: camminare ai margini della città, in zone di transizione tra il passato e il futuro, significa leggere ciò che si vede come un ritorno, una seconda scoperta che permette di ri-vedere, di ri-pensare, di ri-leggere, come nell’atto traduttivo, un testo (la città) nel suo sdoppiamento e annullare così il privilegio di ogni condizione inaugurale liquidando ogni ambizione di originalità. Della tradizione e della traduzione bisogna violare la letterarietà, destabilizzarla, per adattarle alle attese di chi legge. Perché la traduzione più che una semplice spia di problemi artistici è per Borges “la macchina che li produce e, insieme, il modello che serve per pensarli” (Pauls 2016: 115).

È il margine il luogo in cui posizionarsi per leggere in maniera eterodossa la letteratura argentina e creare una mitologia[3]. Con la spregiudicatezza di chi conosce sei lingue, il Borges scrittore e organizzatore culturale compie la sua personale selezione della letteratura straniera configurando un pensiero enciclopedico aperto alla contaminazione: la “biblioteca infinita” organizzata secondo un sistema di vasi comunicanti fra la mistica persiana e la letteratura scandinava, le mitologie nordiche e la filosofia di Schopenauer, la gauchesca e il racconto poliziesco… In un luogo eccentrico come l’Argentina, un paese che si sente europeo ma lo è solo in parte, lo scrittore dà corpo alla sua idea di letteratura all’insegna del cosmopolitismo, rovesciando il significato convenzionale di “classico”: non un libro che contenga una verità intrinseca, ma un testo in cui l’eclisse dell’io ne assicura la circolazione illimitata, capace di dispiegare verità fuori di esso e a cui sono le mutevoli strategie di lettura ad assegnare un valore.

Rovescia dunque i termini della questione: la forza di un modello letterario sta nel rapporto con i contesti e le condizioni di ricezione che ne abilitano la trasformazione. La sua forza non sta nell’attualità ma nell’anacronismo, nella lettura fuori contesto compiuta dalla periferia. Leggere tutta la letteratura del mondo a Buenos Aires – e inscrivere la letteratura argentina in uno spazio liminare, in una zona di contatto aperta all’appropriazione del testo europeo –, è un’esperienza che va oltre la critica e muove in direzione dell’universo letterario in quanto tale, ne definisce le frontiere proprio in quanto la lettura è una pratica anteriore alla critica stessa, costituisce il suo prerequisito (Piglia 2014: 143–145).

Con l’idea che a definire il testo siano le attese di lettura, Borges legge fuori contesto anche la letteratura argentina e crea un passato e una mitologia che riscattano i valori e lo spazio della pampa e dei sobborghi della capitale. Dalla modernità periferica la macchina letteraria borgesiana reinventa l’epica gauchesca (la letteratura dell’Argentina rurale dell’Ottocento) con una libertà poetica che rifugge dai segni esteriori del colore locale. Abbandona la convenzionale rappresentazione del gaucho come simbolo di un’essenza nazionale minacciata dall’alluvione immigratoria e riscrive la tradizione criolla con trame inedite, sganciandola dalla condizione residuale della letteratura di costume, di mito antimoderno, di emblema del paesaggio rurale, di un passato cui aggrapparsi.

In polemica con chi assegna al passato la forza di un mito capace di scongiurare la frattura di un’immaginaria coesione sociale, negli scritti sul modo di leggere i classici lo scrittore argentino e cosmopolita svolge le sue riflessioni sulla traduzione come un contrappunto critico della sua produzione narrativa[4]. È l’esordio di una personale strategia della lettura nel contesto periferico che mette in discussione i giudizi di valore della critica, perché un classico è tale soltanto a partire dalla prospettiva di chi lo legge. Con il binomio lettura-letteratura (inteso, lo si è detto, come spazio della traduzione e luogo di traduzione), nel quale al primo termine si attribuisce la capacità, dalla periferia dell’Occidente, di fondare un’idea della letteratura svincolata dal linguaggio, Borges va decisamente controcorrente: a dispetto di chi considera il Martín Fierro un esempio ineguagliato di epica nazionale, Borges ritiene che la grandezza del libro non sta nel genere ma nella sua capacità di essere letto, commentato e riscritto come l’Odissea e la Bibbia… Messo giù dal piedistallo, il vertice dell’epica nazionale è posizionato in un fertile dialogo intertestuale e offre un ampio spettro di possibilità creative e di interpretazioni[5].

La traduzione come strategia di lettura fuori contesto

Ma torniamo ai classici. È nel saggio L’etica superstiziosa del lettore (Borges 2002a: 48-52) che Borges prende posizione senza peli sulla lingua: deplora lo stile inteso come un valore, stigmatizza l’enfasi e bacchetta chi apprezza la sintassi e non l’efficacia di una pagina, e conclude che la pagina perfetta è quella che più facilmente si logora. Al contrario di quel che sostiene la critica spagnola, il Don Chisciotte resiste a tutti gli artifici verbali inventati per tradurlo e vive nella cultura tedesca o scandinava ben oltre la bellezza della perfezione formale.

La riflessione sul modo in cui leggere i classici è un attacco alla sacralità immobile del testo da parte di uno scrittore che non vuole essere classificato come un ingegnoso artefice che cerca la perfezione letteraria e vive solo nella letteratura (anche se, lo sappiamo, non bisogna credere che quel che afferma polemicamente sia vero rispetto a quel che scrive). Quella di Borges è una posizione militante che viene dall’idea che la letteratura è di tutti e che anche gli scrittori mediocri hanno qualità letterarie, e si accompagna all’affermazione che, al di là del giudizio contingente, la grande letteratura in fondo è anonima. È un’idea eterodossa di letteratura che Borges pratica con la rottura dei convenzionali spazi di differenziazione tra verità e invenzione quando scrive testi di carattere autobiografico in cui mescola il linguaggio della critica alla finzione. Per il Borges lettore, scrittore e organizzatore di cultura che affida alla critica una funzione pedagogica e programmatica, che adotta un originale punto di osservazione dei classici e del ruolo della traduzione, una nuova strategia di lettura significa principalmente leggere fuori contesto, sostenere che il testo resiste all’idea di una lettura chiusa.

In questo dislocamento sta l’irriverenza borgesiana con cui affronta la questione della traduzione e rovescia la gerarchia tra testo di partenza e testo d’arrivo nel saggio Le due maniere di tradurre (1926), più tardi ampliato nel celebre Le versioni omeriche e pubblicato sul quotidiano La Prensa l’8 maggio del 1932. Qui Borges si prende gioco della “superstizione dell’inferiorità della traduzione” spiegando che la “ricchezza eterogenea e persino contraddittoria” (Borges 2002a: 102) delle versioni in lingua inglese dei poemi omerici deve attribuirsi alle diverse prospettive da cui si leggono traduzioni dell’Iliade che altro non sono “se non prospettive diverse di un fatto mobile, se non un lungo sorteggio sperimentale di omissioni e di enfasi?” (Borges 2002a: 100). Non esiste dunque un testo definitivo perché questo viene sempre ri-letto. È il lettore a cogliere la ricchezza delle versioni omeriche. La non conoscenza della lingua originale è trasformata in un vantaggio (le molte lingue di arrivo). Tale idea diacronica della lettura apre lo spazio e la tensione necessari affinché la traduzione possa irradiare il suo dinamismo nel tempo e nello spazio in cui il testo arriva nelle mani del lettore. Non c’è alcuna perdita nel passaggio dall’originale alla traduzione proprio in quanto ciò che si privilegia è il valore della differenza e della condizione di complementarietà tra un primo testo e un secondo (Waisman 2014: 73).

L’idea dell’originale come un “fatto mobile”, come un testo che viene sempre ri-letto con “le ripercussioni incalcolabili dell’elemento verbale” (Borges 2002a: 100), apre alla possibilità di pensare alla riscrittura come limes, come un confine da cui il testo è sempre pensabile in un altro modo. Se guardiamo allo scambio tra culture che sta all’origine della letteratura argentina e alla traduzione come ciò che è al contempo più e meno di una riscrittura, ne deriva che quest’ultima posiziona il lettore in quel confine tra le lingue che ci fa leggere fuori contesto. Non è soltanto una questione di ordine geografico: Borges sceglie la lateralità, il limes tra lingue, generi, forme letterarie per scrivere su Buenos Aires e rivendicare il valore della marginalità per tutta la letteratura ispanoamericana. O meglio: per tutta la letteratura laterale perché, come gli ebrei e gli irlandesi, gli ispanoamericani stanno dentro la cultura occidentale senza sentirsi legati ad essa da una speciale devozione. Dirà nella conferenza del 1951 Lo scrittore argentino e la tradizione: “Credo che noi argentini, noi sudamericani (…) possiamo trattare tutti i temi europei, trattarli senza superstizioni, con un’irriverenza che può avere, e ha già avuto, conseguenze felici” (Borges 2002a: 151). È la rivendicazione della marginalità rispetto a un “centro”, un modo per definirsi scrittore argentino allontanandosi da esso per vederlo meglio (e, da lettore, destabilizzarlo con ironia). È un modo per sostenere il carattere dinamico della traduzione in quanto essa amplia il mondo che sta dentro un testo uscendo dal recinto del linguaggio (Balderston 1993: 67)[6].

La pratica letteraria come incessante riscrittura

In un contesto periferico traduzione, critica, lettura sono anche altro: sono modi per infischiarsene della canonizzazione dei generi e smontare ogni pretesa di autenticità. La lettura può e deve essere costruzione di relazioni inattese, l’appropriazione testuale di una traduzione va ben oltre la mera tecnicalità letteraria, il compito della critica non è commentare ma riscrivere, non è parlare del testo ma nel testo. Dunque adottare un punto di vista eccentrico per leggere la filosofia come se fosse letteratura fantastica, il Bartleby di Melville come effetto del kafkiano, il Chisciotte come un testo contemporaneo il cui autore è Pierre Menard. Riflessione sulla lettura come “tecnica dell’anacronismo deliberato e delle attribuzioni erronee” (Borges 2003: 45), il celebre racconto pubblicato nella rivista Sur nel 1939 è divenuto una citazione obbligata nelle riflessioni sull’aspetto paradossale di ogni riscrittura. Si può leggere in chiave autobiografica (la tristezza di Menard nel constatare che tutto è già stato scritto e che non resti altro che “vedere nel Don Chisciotte «finale» una specie di palinsesto”; Borges 2003: 44), o si può interpretare a partire dalla tensione che innerva ogni testo scritto. Il proposito di Menard è infatti quello di scrivere un testo sintatticamente identico al Chisciotte ma prodotto dal suo ingegno: tra quello di Cervantes e quello di Pierre Menard c’è una distanza (anche temporale) la cui indeterminazione potenzia sia la scrittura (o la lettura) del testo di partenza sia la nuova scrittura (o lettura) del testo di arrivo (Molloy 1979: 133).

È il segno paradossale della riscrittura come “anacronismo deliberato” per cui il testo è situato in un nuovo spazio-tempo a renderlo proprio ed estraneo a Cervantes e a Menard. Tale indeterminazione è il luogo da cui la finzione borgesiana avverte che allo scrittore contemporaneo rimane soltanto la possibilità della ripetizione, ma è anche occasione di riscatto dal destino subalterno che colpisce Menard: il paradosso messo in scena dal racconto sta nel fatto che anacronismo e riscrittura determinano un “juego fundado en la contextualización temporal diferente de una escrittura idéntica” (Melis 2006: 133) che fa sì che Menard consapevolmente scriva il Chisciotte e inconsapevolmente scriva un altro libro. Confrontare i testi di Cervantes e Menard significa prendere atto dell’inevitabile imperfezione di una traduzione perfetta: con ironia Borges ci dice che sono vani gli sforzi di aggiornare un testo nell’illusione di aumentarne la resistenza nel tempo. Perché l’errore più grande è credere che possiamo ricostruire il mondo dell’autore e così definire il significato vero del testo.

La conseguenza di questa celebre riflessione metaletteraria è che per Borges lettura, traduzione e critica determinano uno spostamento di contesto che consiste nel leggere tutto come se fosse letteratura, come se fosse fuori posto, e la negazione di ogni pretesa di originalità porta con sé che non c’è alcun ordine gerarchico che lo scrittore periferico e la letteratura argentina debbano rispettare. L’idea borgesiana della pratica letteraria come palinsesto è esemplificata dal saggio Kafka e i suoi precursori (1951) in cui Borges riconosce la voce e i procedimenti dello scrittore praghese “in testi di diverse letterature ed epoche” (Borges 1963: 106). Cosa vuole dirci? La risposta non sta soltanto nella celebre affermazione che “ogni scrittore crea i suoi precursori” (Borges 1963: 108) perché i significati di un testo si ricombinano senza alcun ordine gerarchico, e sono soprattutto le condizioni di ricezione di uno scrittore a mettere in circolazione testi che viaggiano e si moltiplicano. Leggere in modo diverso e tradurre inteso come un’alterazione dell’ordine dei testi (traspapelar) è il modo in cui lo scrittore sudamericano si affranca da un destino subalterno e dal suo contesto periferico può appropriarsi di ogni traduzione. Alla riscrittura affida il compito di attivare il dialogo intertestuale e di agire in modo (auto)critico all’interno di un testo, ma anche di compiere una rottura rispetto al genere e alla ricezione. Perché la traduzione, oltre che luogo dove si modellano le lingue, è un atto trasformativo che consente di “scoprire significati che non ci sono” (Fabbri 2000: 190).

Scrivere nel luogo della modernità senza radici

Per chi guarda all’Europa come un modello da rielaborare, con appropriazioni e dislocamenti, da un paese senza tradizioni indigene paragonabili a quelle del mondo andino o dell’America centro-settentrionale, meta della multietnica immigrazione transoceanica e in una metropoli come Buenos Aires che nel 1910 è la più grande città dell’America latina (passa dai circa 660.000 abitanti del 1895 a quasi 3 milioni del 1914), scegliere come e cosa tradurre investe il senso più ampio della cultura e dell’alfabetizzazione. Borges rivendica la libertà creativa della lettura dalla periferia e concepisce la letteratura come uno spazio di autoriconoscimento, scrive su riviste di larga diffusione e come recensore e autore di prefazioni a testi della letteratura europea lavora sulle intersezioni tra cultura alta e bassa[7]. Da questa posizione eccentrica scrive manuali e testi di divulgazione per il grande pubblico, e sulla Revista Multicolor de los Sábados (inserto settimanale del quotidiano Crítica) propone una biblioteca dell’erudizione culturale a una metropoli multilingue dove lo spagnolo si parla con intonazione yiddish, tedesca, italiana, araba, galiziana, inglese, e dove è il mercato a determinare la circolazione della letteratura europea.

Nella città come spazio di produzione mitologica e luogo della modernità senza radici, dove l’alfabetizzazione delle masse non compete solo alla scuola ma alle case editrici, alla radio, al cinema, al teatro, al varietà, ai giornali, alle riviste letterarie, ai rotocalchi a larga diffusione, al teatro popolare, al tango, alle società di mutuo soccorso e alle forme della sociabilità, dove i processi di diffusione della cultura si estendono orizzontalmente, e il riconoscimento di opere e scrittori dipende sempre meno dal giudizio dei grandi intellettuali e sempre di più da giornali, riviste, case editrici anche legate a partiti popolari di sinistra, Borges può essere scrittore decisamente argentino nella nostalgia per i sobborghi di Buenos Aires (quelli del tango e della malavita) e al contempo liberare l’Argentina da ogni colore locale aprendo la lingua spagnola alla contaminazione del dialetto popolare e delle lingue degli immigrati. Così facendo configura uno dei paradigmi della letteratura argentina che sorge dall’incrocio tra la cultura europea e l’inflessione ripoplatense del castigliano (Sarlo 1995: 19) e si prende la libertà di riscrivere le grandi tradizioni occidentali in chiave locale rifuggendo dal determinismo spaziale e sociologico.

Contestualmente all’operazione con cui legge i classici rovesciando la gerarchia tra testo di partenza e testo d’arrivo e con il punto di vista eccentrico che consente di leggere la filosofia come se fosse letteratura fantastica, nelle sue finzioni Borges mette in scena il “destino sudamericano” (il termine sta nel Poema conjetural del 1943, poi confluito in El otro, el mismo, 1964) (Borges 2002b: 36-39) e fa del gergo della periferia la pietra angolare di una mitologia nazionale. In Uomini lottarono (uno dei due scritti di carattere narrativo della raccolta L’idioma degli argentini del 1928), una voce scandisce le fasi di un combattimento all’arma bianca in quella “zona di povertà ai margini che non era il centro, era la periferia: parola connotata più in senso dispregiativo che topografico” (Borges 2016: 111) e, strappandolo dalla seduzione della barbarie, riscatta il duello come un significante fondatore di un paese attraversato dal conflitto tra tradizioni culturali.

In stretto rapporto con la tensione tra periferia americana e tradizione occidentale e con i temi dell’eterodosso sistema borgesiano (il Sud del mondo come luogo privilegiato della produzione di letteratura, la traduzione e il contesto di lettura, lo spazio decentrato da cui leggere e riscrivere il libro europeo), è il racconto Il Sud del 1953 (Borges 2003: 154-162) che mette in scena il conflitto tra mondo americano e cultura occidentale. Il protagonista Juan Dahlman, incarna nel suo nome la duplice origine argentina ed europea di Borges. Bibliotecario e bibliofilo che legge le Mille e una notte in traduzione tedesca, Dahlman va a morire nella pampa attratto dal tragico destino del nonno materno ucciso nelle guerre contro gli indios. È nel Sud che il bibliotecario apre per l’ultima volta il libro in lingua straniera e compie un dislocamento dell’oggetto culturale per resistere alle provocazioni dei gauchos in un’osteria della pampa. La lettura fuori contesto delle Mille e una notte è l’esatto risvolto dell’anacronismo del suo gesto, una fine violenta opposta a una vita di topo di biblioteca. È un modo per dire che con l’atto della lettura Dahlman rilegge il passato per comprenderlo e dare un senso a una vita anonima nello spazio decentrato e marginale della pianura argentina. Il racconto può interpretarsi come un sogno – quello del bibliotecario nell’ospedale in cui è operato per una ferita alla testa – o come un resoconto realistico del protagonista che, dimesso dall’ospedale, viaggia nella pampa ed è ucciso in un duello. Entrambe le interpretazioni sono legittime e lasciano il lettore nell’incertezza. Sta in questo doppio destino la condizione eccentrica da cui Borges ha inventato un paradigma della lettura e della traduzione e ha lavorato la tensione della doppia origine della cultura argentina.

Dalla condizione di lateralità di Buenos Aires, luogo della modernità senza radici, limes tra le lingue del mondo, Borges sovverte le figure dell’immaginario argentino con la modalità dell’anacronismo e della lettura fuori contesto. Può farlo perché l’extraterritorialità della sua poetica poggia su un intreccio di idiomi e prestiti differenti che “fittamente intrecciati […] formano il tracciato di una mappa, un paesaggio di segni di riconoscimento unici a Borges ma anche, in un certo senso, familiari come il sonno” (Steiner 2004: 100). La sua rilettura della tradizione nazionale scaturisce dall’idea della traduzione come trasgressione di un testo originario, consolidato, come lavoro di decentramento condotto dalla periferia. A Buenos Aires – città della pluralità delle lingue e della circolazione incessante tra le lingue di una biblioteca infinita – la scrittura borgesiana si muove tra la differenza e la ripetizione con un movimento rizomatico, una tensione meticcia che mescola periferia e centro senza confonderli, e rifugge dalla semplificazione identitaria come dall’universalismo astratto. La sua idea del lettore come personaggio che attiva e destabilizza significati e interpretazioni di un testo, ci dice che non c’è ordine gerarchico che lo scrittore periferico debba rispettare e apre al valore impersonale della letteratura che, come il genere umano, è transculturale e universale.



Opere di Jorge Luis Borges

— (1963) Altre Inquisizioni, trans. F. Tentori Montalto, Milano, Feltrinelli.

— (1971) Il manoscritto di Brodie, trans. L. Bacchi Wilcock, Milano, Rizzoli

— (1997a) Storia dell’eternità, trans. G. Guadalupi, Milano, Adelphi.

— (1997b) Storia universale dell’infamia, a cura di A. Morino, trans. V. Martinetto, Milano, Adelphi.

— (1999) Il manoscritto di Brodie, a cura di A. Melis, trans. L. Lorenzini, Milano, Adelphi.

— (2002a) Discussione, a cura di A. Melis, trans. L. Lorenzini, Milano, Adelphi.

— (2002b) L’altro, lo stesso, a cura di T. Scarano, Milano, Adelphi.

— (2003) Finzioni, a cura di A. Melis, Milano, Adelphi.

— (2016) L’idioma degli argentini a cura di A. Melis, trans. L. Lorenzini, Milano, Adelphi.

Saggi critici

Balderston, Daniel (1993) Out of Context. Historical Reference and the Representation of Reality in Borges, Durham and London, Duke University Press.

Fabbri, Paolo (2000) Elogio di Babele. Traduzioni, trasposizioni, trasmutazioni, Roma, Meltemi.

Gamerro, Carlos (2016) Borges y los clásicos, Buenos Aires, Eterna Cadencia Editora.

Melis, Antonio (2006) “Pierre Menard, traductor de Borges”, Vanderbilt e-Journal of Luso-Hispanic Studies no 3: 135–141.

Molloy, Silvia (1979) Las letras de Borges y otros ensayos, Rosario, Beatriz Viterbo Editora.

— (2001) Acto de presencia. La escritura autobiográfica en Hispanoamérica, México, Fondo de Cultura Económica.

Pauls, Alan (2016) Il fattore Borges, trans. M. Nicola, Roma, Edizioni SUR.

Piglia, Ricardo (2014) “Borges como crítico”, in Crítica y ficción, Barcelona, Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial.

Sarlo, Beatriz (1995) Borges, un escritor en las orillas, Buenos Aires, Ariel.

Sarmiento, Domingo F. (1955) Facundo o civilización y barbarie en las pampas argentinas, Buenos Aires, Ediciones Peuser.

Steiner, George (2004) Dopo Babele. Aspetti del linguaggio e della traduzione, Milano, Garzanti.

Terrinoni, Enrico (2019) Oltre abita il silenzio. Tradurre la letteratura, Milano, Il Saggiatore.

Waisman, Sergio (2014) Borges e la traduzione. L’irriverenza della periferia, trans. A. Mirarchi, Salerno, Edizioni Arcoiris.


[1] “Si possono sgozzare gli uomini, non le idee”.

[2] Per Sarmiento leggere è “traducir el espíritu europeo al espíritu americano, con los cambios que el diverso teatro requería” (Molloy 2001: 38–39). Per il teorico del liberalismo argentino che coltiva l’autopercezione di sé come un uomo che esiste in funzione dei libri che legge in francese e in inglese, la traduzione non riproduce l’originale ma, obbligatoriamente, se ne allontana per adattarsi al contesto di arrivo.

[3] Nelle orillas (margine, limite, bordo, limes) Borges costruisce uno spazio immaginario che è lo specchio infedele della città moderna. Negli anni Venti del Novecento il termine designa gli ultimi lembi di una trama urbana che si sfilaccia nella pianura.

[4] Senza dimenticare che se saggi, recensioni, prefazioni, interviste, finzioni critiche sono colmi di illuminanti considerazioni sulla traduzione, si tratta sempre di un pensiero che rifugge dalla sistematicità e non vuole proporsi come una teoria della traduzione. Borges va in direzione opposta a quella di una convenzionale teoria della traduzione: le traduzioni sono il punto di partenza per le sue riflessioni sulla letteratura, l’autore, la lettura, la critica.

[5] Le molteplici rielaborazioni della figura di Martín Fierro culminano nella morte in duello del più famoso personaggio della letteratura argentina (cfr. il racconto La fine, in Borges 2003: 146–149). Così Borges entra da par suo nel palinsesto della letteratura gauchesca e reinscrive i significati simbolici e archetipici di Fierro nel sistema letterario nazionale.

[6] Scrive Enrico Terrinoni in Oltre abita il silenzio. Tradurre la letteratura che la traduzione è un trasportare “quanto pensato e detto da altri, al di qua, nella nostra mente, per poi riproporlo con nuove parole, nello spazio virtualmente infinito che si estende da essa alle menti altrui” (Terrinoni 2019: 61).

[7] Un diffuso stereotipo ha appiattito la figura di Borges su quella della rivista Sur (e viceversa), mentre in realtà Borges scrive sui più diversi mezzi di informazione e collabora a riviste culturali di larga diffusione.

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Traduzioni come mappe

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Per una grammatica dello spazio

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Danzig/Gdańsk comme espace de traduction chez Günter Grass et Stefan Chwin

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L’auberge est plutôt lointaine

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La traduzione e la lettera in psicoanalisi

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Between the lines, ou comment traduire l’Unheimlichkeit en plus d’une langue ?

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La traduzione come veredus. Il caso di Nikolaj Alekseevič Zabolockij

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Ri-creazioni di The Gadfly di Ethel Lilian Voynich tra mondo anglosassone, Europa orientale ed Estremo Oriente

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Troubled by the Translation Trope: Moving Metaphors and the Kinetic Fallacy in Translation Studies

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‘Lost in Words’: Macpherson’s Ossian, Translation, and Ballad Collection in the Eighteenth-Century Scottish Gàidhealtachd

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

By Ivan Susa (University of Bologna, Italy)

Abstract & Keywords


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


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

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

©inTRAlinea & Ivan Susa (2021).
"La letteratura italiana attraverso i modelli di ricezione nella cultura slovacca prima e dopo il 1989"
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Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/index.php/specials/article/2566


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

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

1. La ricezione della letteratura italiana nella cultura slovacca

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

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

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

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

Figura 1: Modelli di ricezione

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Polarità dei modelli di ricezione

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

Figura 2: Polarità dei modelli di ricezione

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Verso i nuovi obbiettivi

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the author(s)

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

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Changing Paradigms and Approaches in Interpreter Training: Perspectives from Central Europe

By Vorya Dastyar



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About the author(s)

I am an independent scholar of interpreting and translation, and a published author. I have more than a decade of experience in interpreter and translator training. I am also a certified legal translator a freelance interpreter. For more information, visit https://orcid.org/0000-0002-7982-1156.

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La direction d’une formation en traduction comme acte politique

By Nicolas Froeliger (Université de Paris, France)

Abstract & Keywords


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

2. De l’obsolescence de nos représentations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Pourquoi la professionnalisation ?

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

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

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

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

5. En guise de codicille

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

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

Références bibliographiques

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

About the author(s)

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

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©inTRAlinea & Nicolas Froeliger (2021).
"La direction d’une formation en traduction comme acte politique"
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The Role of Translation in the Reception of Foucault in Post-revolutionary Iran

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


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

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

©inTRAlinea & Azam Ghamkhah & Ali Khazaeefar (2021).
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1. Introduction

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

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

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

2. Foucault and the Islamic Revolution of Iran

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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






Persian Title

Title in English

Babak Ahmadi





Sakhtar va Ta’vil-e Matn

Text Structure and Textural Interpretation

Babak Ahmadi





Modernite va Andishe-e Enteqadi

Modernity and Critical Thought

Babak Ahmadi





Michel Foucault

Michel Foucault

Michel Foucault

Mani Haghighi




in yek chapaq nist

This is not a pipe 


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

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

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

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

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


Title of Topics

Number of Occurrence



Power Relations




Introducing Foucault




Islamic Revolution








Arbitrariness of signs








Death of Author




Review of Foucault’s Translations






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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Date of Publication

Persian Title

English Title of the ST

Original Title

Morteza Kalantarian




Barasi Parvande yek ghatl

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

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

Niko Sarkhosh & Afshin Jahandideh




Moraghebat va tanbih:Tavalod Zendan

Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison

Surveiller et punir:

Naissance de la prison

Bagher Parham

University of Tehran



Nazm Goftar

The Discourse on Language

L’ordre du discours 

Afshin Jahandideh



Niche, Freud, Marx

Nietzsche, Freud, Marx

Nietzsche, Freud, Marx 

Niko Sarkhosh & Afshin Jahandideh




Erade Be Danestan

The Will to Knowledge

La Volonté de savoir 


Yahya Emami

Naghsh-o Negar



Peidayesh Klinik

The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception

Naissance de la clinique – une archéologie du regard médical 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Title of theme

Number of occurance



Power Relations




Islamic Revolution




















Death of Author




New historiography




Criticism of Foucault




Discontinuity of History
















Discourse Analysis




Self-referential language









Analytical philosophy








Security studies




Introducing Foucault












Review of Foucault’s Translation




The role of Translation






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

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

Figure 4: Distribution of Topics in both periods under investigation

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Appendix 1




Persian Title

Title in English

Afshin Jahandideh & Niko Sarkhosh



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

Iran: The Spirit of Spiritless World

Afshin Jahandideh & Niko Sarkhosh



Moraghebat va tanbih:Tavalod Zendan

Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison


Afshin Jahandideh & Niko Sarkhosh



Nietzsche, Freud, Marx


Nietzsche, Freud, Marx


Afshin Jahandideh & Niko Sarkhosh



Sooje, Estila va Ghodrat

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


Afshin Jahandide & Niko Sarkhosh



Erade Be Danestan

The Will to Knowledge

Niko Sarkhosh






Afshin Jahandideh & Niko Sarkhosh



Dirine Shenashi Danesh

Archaeology of Knowledge


Afshin Jahandideh & Niko Sarkhosh



khastgah hermenutic Khod

The Hermeneutics of the Subject 


Afshin Jahadideh & Niko Sarkhosh



Naghd Chist va Parvaresh-e Khod

What is Criticism and Nurturing Self


List of works translated by Afshin Jahandideh and Niko Sarkhosh


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

[6] Le Monde, 20 Mars 1975.

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

[8] Le Monde, 10-11 September 1978

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

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

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

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

[13] Ghodrat dar Negah-e Michel Foucault

About the author(s)

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

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

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La mediación lingüística y cultural. Teorías y nuevos enfoques para el estudio de la lengua y cultura española e hispanoamericana

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

A situated project-based approach

By Gemma Andújar Moreno (Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Spain)


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

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

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1. Introduction

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

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

2. Sworn translators in the Spanish professional translation market

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

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

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

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

3. General teaching approach

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Project design

4.1. Target student profile

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

4.2. Material selection and participant roles

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

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

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

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

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

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

4.3. Training sequence

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

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

4.3.1. Competences, learning outcomes and assessment

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

Figure 1: Translator competence breakdown

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

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


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

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

Preliminary questionnaire

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

Task 1: client query

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

Client query (task 1)

1) Competences and learning outcomes:

Translator competence

• Service provision

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

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

• Personal and interpersonal

-Knowing how to plan one’s time and workload

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

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

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

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

Table 1: Summary (task 1)

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

Task 2: translator’s quotation

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

Translator’s quotation (task 2)

1) Competences and learning outcomes:

Translator competence

• Service provision

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

• Personal and interpersonal

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

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

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

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

Table 2: Summary (task 2)

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

Task 3: sworn translation

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

Sworn translation (task 3)

1) Competences and learning outcomes:

Translation competence

• Sworn translation

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

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

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

• Personal and interpersonal

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

2) Assessed textual production: sworn translation

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

Table 3: Summary (task 3)

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


Achievement indicators






-Sworn translation conventions

-Target reader

-Function of sworn translation in target culture


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

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

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

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


-Accuracy and clarity of information




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

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

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


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

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



 -Use of spelling and grammar

-Lexicon (accuracy and richness)

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

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

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

Expression is unnatural in the target language.

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


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


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


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

Coherent and cohesive text.



Table 4: Assessment rubric (task 3)

Task 4: translator’s invoice

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

Translator’s invoice (task 4)

1) Competences and learning outcomes:

Sworn translator competence

• Service provision

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

-Knowing how to bill the client and apply tax appropriately

• Personal and interpersonal

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

-Knowing how to interact professionally with clients

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

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

Table 5: Summary (task 4)

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

Task 5: authentic sworn translation assessment (optional)

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

Final self-assessment questionnaire

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

5. Conclusions

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




Project tasks

What does the ‘client’ do?

What does the ‘sworn translator’ do?

What does the teacher do?


Preliminary work


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

Organizes workshop sessions as required

Not assessed


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

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

Not assessed

Preliminary questionnaire

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

Collects and analyses student questionnaires.

Not assessed

Task 1:

client query

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

Negotiates the conditions and analyses the job’s viability.

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

Peer assessment and teacher assessment

Task 2: translator’s quotation

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

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

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

Peer assessment and teacher assessment

Task 3:

sworn translation

No intervention

Translates the text according to the sworn translation commission.

No intervention

Teacher assessment

Task 4:

sworn translation invoice

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

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

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

Peer assessment and teacher assessment

Task 5:

Sworn translation (optional)

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

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

Not assessed

Final task: self-assessment questionnaire

All students complete self-assessment questionnaire

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

Not assessed

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

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


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


Appendix 2: initial self-assessment questionnaire[11]


Name and surname:                                           Subject:                                 Academic year:


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Sworn translator: ________________________________

Client: _______________________________

Evaluator: _______________________________


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


Peer assessment [30%]

Teacher assessment












1. Overall impression [20%]

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











2. Discursive aspects [20%]

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











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

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












4. Written expression [10%]

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












Score (out of 10)




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


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


Sworn translator: ________________________________

Client (evaluator): _______________________________


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


Peer assessment


Teacher assessment [70%]











1. Overall impression [20%]

  • An image of professionalism is successfully conveyed.












2. Formal aspects [20%]

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












3. Content related to the quotation [50%]

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












4. Written expression [10%]

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












Score (out of 10)





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


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


Sworn translator: ________________________________

 Student (evaluator): _______________________________


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


Peer assessment


Teacher assessment












1. Overall impression [20%]

  • An image of professionalism is successfully conveyed.












2. Formal aspects [20%]

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












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

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












4. Written expression [10%]

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












Score (out of 10)




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

Appendix 6: Self-assessment final questionnaire

Name and surname:                                 Subject:                                 Academic year:


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the author(s)

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

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

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

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


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

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

©inTRAlinea & Sameerchand Pudaruth(1), Aneerav Sukhoo(2), Somveer Kishnah(1), Sheeba Armoogum(1), Vandanah Gooria(3), Nirmal Kumar Betchoo(4), Fadil Chady(1), Ashminee Ramoogra(1), Hiteishee Hanoomanjee(1) and Zafar Khodabocus(1) (2021).
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1. Introduction

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

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

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

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

2. Kreol Morisien

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Machine Translation

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

3.1 Rule-based Approach

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

3.2 Interlingua Approach

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

3.3 Statistical Machine Translation (SMT)

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

Fig. 1. Word alignment between English and Kreol Morisien

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

3.4 Neural Machine Translation

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

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

4. Methodology

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

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

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



Kreol Morisien

Number of sentences



Total number of words



Number of unique words



Length of the shortest sentence



Length of the longest sentence



Average number of words in a sentence



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

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

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

5. Implementation and Evaluation of Results

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

Fig. 2. Main interface of the online translation system

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

Fig. 3. Autocorrect feature

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

Fig. 4. Spelling checker

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Conclusions

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

7. Acknowledgements

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


Sample Translations

a. Kreol Morisien to English

Source Text in Kreol Morisien

Translated Text in English

So move lasante inn anpes li vwayaze.

His bad health has prevented him from the travel.

Komie sa?

How much is this?

Tom pou de retour avan de-zer trant.

Tom will be in return before two thirty.

Tom inn kokin plin larzan depi ar Mary.

Tom has fooled money from Mary.

Tom pa le pran ankor travay.

Tom doesn't want to take any more work.

Mo bien kontan sa zip la.

I like this skirt.

To panse mo bizin dir Tom?

Do you think I must say Tom?

Ziz la inn anil desizion final la. 

The judge has cancel the final decision.

Mo papa pa pou les mwa sorti avek Bill.

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

To bizin evit fer bann erer koumsa.

You must avoid making such a mistake.


b. English to Kreol Morisien

Source Text in English Morisien

Translated Text in Kreol

He studied hard in order to pass the test.

Li finn etidie dirman pou pas so test.

He was as gentle a man as ever lived.

Li ti kouma enn misie ki zame viv.

Tom ran into the house.

Tom finn sove dan lakaz.

She made the same mistake again.

Li finn fer mem erer.

I understand it's going to get hot again.

Mo konpran sa pou gagn so.

I listened to the music of birds.

Mo ti ekout lamizik so bann zwazo.

She'll be up around by this afternoon.

Nou bizin fer pre pou sa lapremidi-la.

It is a wise father that knows his own child.

Se enn bon papa ki so prop zanfan.

She had to stand in the train.

Li finn bizin deboute dan trin.

Let's stop playing tennis.

Anou aret zwe tenis.


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About the author(s)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©inTRAlinea & Sameerchand Pudaruth(1), Aneerav Sukhoo(2), Somveer Kishnah(1), Sheeba Armoogum(1), Vandanah Gooria(3), Nirmal Kumar Betchoo(4), Fadil Chady(1), Ashminee Ramoogra(1), Hiteishee Hanoomanjee(1) and Zafar Khodabocus(1) (2021).
"Morisia: A Neural Machine Translation System to Translate between Kreol Morisien and English"
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The best interest of the child in interpreter-mediated interviews

Researching children’s point of view*

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


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

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

©inTRAlinea & Amalia Amato & Gabriele Mack (2021).
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1. Children’s language rights in the EU and in Italy

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

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

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

1.2 Public service interpreting in Italy

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

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

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

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

2.1 Interpreting for very young children

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

2.2 Interpreting for migrant children and in legal settings

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

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

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

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

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

2.3 Interpreting in paediatric and mental health care settings

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

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

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

Also in the health care context, researchers insist that

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

Studies also confirm previous

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

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

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

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

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

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

3.1 Study design

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

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

3.1.1 Preliminary work

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

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

3.2 The interviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3.3 Main findings and discussion of semi-structured interviews

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

3.3.1 Feelings about the interpreter-mediated interactions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3.3.2 Perception of roles and rapport building

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

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

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

3.3.3 Seating arrangements

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

[4] All translations from Norwegian are ours.

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the author(s)

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

©inTRAlinea & Yonsuk Song (2021).
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1. Introduction

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

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

2. Translation of Direct Quotation and Framing

2.1 Direct Quotation and News Translation

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

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

2.2 Framing and Ideology in News Translation

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

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

3. Methods

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

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

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

4. Findings and Discussion

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

4.1 Framing through Topic Selection

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

Topics covered in the press conference

Number of headlines



denuclearization (CVID[1] and sanctions)



security assurances for North Korea

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



human rights in North Korea



plans for follow-up meetings



Trump’s evaluation of Kim Jong Un



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






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


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

4.2 Lexical Framing

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

Example 1

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

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

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

Example 2

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

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

Progressive:  ø

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

Example 3

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

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

Progressive:  ø

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

Example 4

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

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

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

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

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

Example 5

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

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

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

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

4.3 Narrative Framing

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

Example 6

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

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

Conservative: ø

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

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

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

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

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

Example 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4.4 Comparison with Editorials

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

Example 8

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

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

Example 9

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

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

Example 10

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

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

Example 11

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

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

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

5. Concluding Remarks

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

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

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


This work was supported by Hankuk University of Foreign Studies.


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Wu, Xiaoping (2017) "Framing, Reframing and the Transformation of Stance in News Translation: A Case Study of the Translation of News on the China–Japan Dispute", Journal of Language and Intercultural Communication 18, no. 2: 257-74.

Zanettin, Federico (2016) "The Deadliest Error: Translation, International Relations and the News Media", The Translator 22, no.3: 303-18.

Zhang, Meifang (2013) "Stance and Mediation in Transediting News Headlines as Paratexts", Perspectives: Studies in Translation Theory and Practice 21, no. 3: 396-411.


[1] Complete, Verifiable, Irreversible Denuclearization

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

About the author(s)

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

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

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"Ideology in Translation-Mediated Framing of Direct Quotations in the News: A Case Study of Trump’s Remarks at the Press Conference on the North Korea Summit"
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When Hic et Nunc is the Only Right Thing: Discussing Ethics in Translation in Light of a Personal Case

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


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

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

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

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

1. Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

2.1. Introducing the model

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2.3. Approaching translation ethics from a local angle

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

2.4. Story of the translation

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Discussing the ethics of La sovrana lettrice

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

3.1.1. The translation critic’s point

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

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

3.1.2. The translator’s point

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

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

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

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

3.1.3. Evolutions in the translation critic’s ideas

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

1) The translation critic’s point

2) The translator’s point

3) Evolutions in the translation critic’s ideas.

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

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

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

3.2.1. The translation critic’s point

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

3.2.2. The translator’s point

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

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

3.2.3. Evolutions in the translation critic’s ideas

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

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

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

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

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

3.3.1. The translation critic’s point

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

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

3.3.2. The translator’s point

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

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

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

3.3.3. Evolutions in the translation critic’s ideas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Conclusions

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

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

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

Framework of moral translation behaviour

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

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

Moral sensitivity

(ability to recognise an ethical dilemma)

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

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

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


Tick or Cross the following:

Tick or Cross the following:

Tick or Cross the following:


YES (ability to assess a translation problem)


YES (ability to visualize and evaluate multiple possible options)


YES (ability to foresee possible contradictions)






Moral judgment

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







Moral motivation

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







Moral character

(persistence in the translation action)







Table 1: Framework of moral translation behaviour

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

[7] See footnote 5.

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

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

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

About the author(s)

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

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

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

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"When Hic et Nunc is the Only Right Thing: Discussing Ethics in Translation in Light of a Personal Case"
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ELF communication and intercultural mediation

An interdisciplinary approach

By Stefania Taviano (University of Messina, Italy)


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

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

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An interdisciplinary approach to ELF

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

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

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

Accommodation strategies and translanguaging practices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Excerpt 1 is taken from a dialogue between an asylum seeker (M1), who is nineteen at the time of the interview, and the psychologist (PS). M1 has been granted asylum status and is attending the equivalent of the third year of Italian middle school. His mother tongue is Somali, but he was taught both in Somali and English at school. In this and all the following dialogues English is used as a lingua franca since IM does not speak any of the asylum seekers’ native languages, such as Somali and, in other cases, Fulani, Mandinga, or Wolof.

Taviano 2021- Excerpt 1

Here IM’s choice to translate the Italian proroga, meaning “extension”, with “the possibility to have other months”, focusing on the benefits of a longer stay in the SPRAR centre, is immediately clear to M1 and does not require further negotiation of meaning. IM, in fact, chooses to avoid the legal term and to make its temporal connotation explicit since, according to her previous experience, specialized terminology is more often than not unclear to her interlocutors. The lack of auxiliary fronting, which IM fails to recognize as a common ELF syntactical structure, contributes nevertheless to create a balanced communication.  Paralinguistic features, such as IM’s low tone of voice, her reassuring facial expressions and gaze, further testify to her “proactive role” (Todorova 2019). Like interpreters and translators in contexts of social and political injustice (Boeri and Maier, 2010; Baker 2006, 2013), IM is far from being neutral and contributes to make M1 feel at ease. Her activist strategies prove effective as individual instances of her “powerful and visible” role (Angelelli 2004:3). In this sense, in her recent study, Filmer rightly emphasizes “the impossibility of neutrality in intercultural mediation” (2019: 21).

Particularly interesting examples of asylum seekers’ translanguaging practices, negotiated and similarly adopted by IM, involve the use of Italian lexical terms, which acquire specific connotations as a result of ELF communication. As IM told me, when interviewed for the first time and asked their age, asylum seekers tend to reply by saying bambino, an Italian term meaning ‘child’, which they use as a synonym of minor. They have learned to use bambino with such a connotation in Libya and continue to use it among themselves and when communicating with Italian professional figures. Asylum seekers’ translanguaging practices are not, however, limited to the use of Italian terms with uncommon connotations. They also coin unusual collocations, such as bambino camp, used by M1 during the interview to refer to the Ahmed SPRAR centre for unaccompanied minors in Messina, and bambino finito, literally meaning “ended child”, to indicate that they are no longer minors, thus adults.

In all these cases, asylum seekers appropriate Italian terms by making them acquire new meanings and create new collocations through an inherent translation process in which ELF and Italian, more precisely a hybrid form of Italian used as a lingua franca, coexist (see Guido 2015 and Sperti 2017). Crucially, for the purpose of this analysis, IM reported that she adopts the word bambino with the ELF specific connotations negotiated with asylum seekers, together with the other collocations, to ensure successful communication. She emphasizes that she adapts and shapes not only her English, but also her Italian during ELF interactions, using this hybrid form of Italian herself whenever necessary. It becomes a two-way process whereby IM and asylum seekers influence each other’s language(s) while sharing communication strategies. 

In IM’s view, this is an inherent part of her job as an intercultural mediator. Furthermore, given the unequal nature of mediated encounters between Italian professionals, who are monolingual or, at best, speakers of an ELF variant and asylum seekers, acknowledging the latter’s multilingualism becomes particularly relevant. This involves, for instance, on a pragmatic level, understanding the importance and implications of African speakers’ phonetic traits. IM, like other Italian and Nigerian mediators I previously interviewed (Taviano 2019), pays particularly attention to these features and acknowledges that asylum seekers’ pronunciation can be influenced by African languages. This is the case of uneducated Nigerians who speak Pidgin English, a spoken lingua franca, whose pronunciation is affected by local languages.

During one of the mediated encounters I observed, when an asylum seeker was asked whether he wanted to stay in Italy, his pronunciation of the verb “to live” was misleading and thus conveyed a desire “to leave”. Thanks to IM’s awareness of the asylum seeker’s phonological patterns, and the negotiation of meaning through a further question and an overall cooperation strategy the ambiguity was clarified. This is a simple and obvious example, which is immediately solved, whereas in other cases negotiation of meaning and information can be much more complex. IM’s tendency, for instance, to paraphrase legal terms referring to asylum seekers’ status to encourage their knowledge and awareness of their rights can lead instead to a communication breakdown, as will be shown in the next section.

ELF communication breakdowns

When asylum seekers and Italian professionals, such as legal advisors, administrative personnel, and psychologists, mutually engage in the practice of ELF dialogues and interviews mediated by intercultural mediators, they do not share common repertoires of legal knowledge. For this reason, asylum seekers are constantly informed about their legal status and this is achieved through different steps. On arrival, they are identified and divided into groups according to their nationality and the first language they speak. Then, they are provided with information regarding the procedures for asylum applications, the progress of their own applications and their rights. However, there is a marked difference between what recently arrived asylum seekers hear from other asylum seekers about their legal status, which can vary considerably according to individual experiences, nationalities, and reasons for leaving their countries, and the information that psychologists and legal advisors try to convey.

Asylum seekers’ awareness is predominant to such an extent that, for instance, they constantly request electronic identity cards and permits, which they define as plastic, as the legal advisor explained during our interview. While one of its possible meanings as an English noun is credit or debit card, asylum seekers specifically use it to refer to the electronic format of Italian identity and residency documents. However, plastic acquires further individual and social significance for asylum seekers since these documents are issued only when they are granted asylum status. The fact that they repeatedly insist on requesting plastic confirms the value that asylum seekers attribute to these documents well beyond the ELF connotations of the term. Plastic represent a point of reference for them and are perceived as a marker of identity, whether they have been granted asylum status or not.

The following excerpt from an interview with a minor from Gambia (M2) shows how IM’s approach and her tendency to simplify by focusing on a single term can make communication problematic.

Taviano 2021- Excerpt 2

IM’s oversimplification of the psychologist’s question about the legal aspects of M2’s status through the term “justice” is an example of one of her accommodation strategies. It consists of selecting a term and subsequently going through a sort of trial-and-error process. Once IM has ensured that asylum seekers understand it, she continues to use it. In this particular instance, however, her strategy leads to an obvious misunderstanding, despite her following attempts to clarify that the question refers to the asylum seeker’s documents and his legal status, reinforced by her use of the ELF tag “ok”. M2 repeats his answer to confirm his willingness to abide by the law, rather than addressing the psychologist’s question regarding his rights. The mediator then adopts a different strategy by suggesting an exaggerated hypothesis to obtain a relevant answer while the psychologist continues the exchange by asking further questions.

Despite further attempts, IM and the psychologist do not succeed in obtaining the information they require and thus contribute to a communication breakdown. Their efforts to disambiguate their questions prevent mutual intelligibility and although M2 appears willing to cooperate on a pragmatic level, the sequence of questions do not have the desired effect of assessing M2’s awareness of his status as an asylum seeker. The psychologist’s position of authority inevitably affects this encounter dynamics making the communication unbalanced. This is confirmed by the fact that after M2 fails to provide the answers that PS expects, she chooses to inform him that he cannot leave Italy in English, rather than in Italian, thus overshadowing IM’s role as a mediator. It is noteworthy that, as opposed to IM, she uses a grammatically correct standard form of English in her attempt to strengthen the illocutionary force of her utterance.

As the professionals involved in this study confirmed, asylum seekers can change and adapt their stories when they feel under pressure and become aware of what their interlocutors want to hear. In other occasions, they relax if they feel that they can trust their addressee. In this case, despite the fact that M2 knows his interlocutors quite well, thus trusts them and he is not subject to particular stress (as would be the case, for instance, during interviews for asylum applications), his answers show to what extent ELF communication dynamics can be affected by status asymmetries. Guido (2015), for instance, discusses a case, among others, of a mediator who tries to disambiguate an asylum seekers’ answers in his report. The result is that he distorts the locutionary reference, thus the illocutionary force of the asylum seeker’s speech, to make narration consistent with his own interpretation. Similar issues are reported by asylum seekers after their interview with asylum commissions. When they read the commissions’ report with the help of IM and the psychologist, in some cases, they complain that it does not correspond to what they have said. However, when asked why they did not tell the commission, they confess that they were so anxious that they did not realize there was a problem at the time.

The following excerpt, taken from an interview with an asylum seeker from Sierra Leone (M4), who was a minor when he arrived in Italy and was eighteen at the time of the interview, shows similarities with the previous case. In the first part of the exchange he is asked about his plans for the future. PS and IM’s series of questions and moves aimed to stimulate M4’s answers clash with his hesitant and brief replies.  

Taviano 2021- Excerpt 3

As in the previous exchange, despite IM and the psychologist’s paraphrases and repetitive questioning, and IM’s use of the ELF tag “ok” to encourage M4’s answers, he provides very limited information while revealing his lack of knowledge on how to look for a job. In the second part of the exchange, M4 is asked about his legal status.

Taviano 2021- Excerpt 4

M4 first replies that he does not remember what his legal status is and contradicts himself immediately after by referring to the so-called two-year humanitarian protection, also known as “special cases”. He does so, however, only after the psychologist suggests the Italian term, and its duration. While these shared linguistic strategies, including code-mixing in this case, appear to be useful, M4 admits again to his lack of knowledge. His uncertainty about his rights becomes even more evident through his mistaken belief that he might need to contact a lawyer.

This exchange, like the previous one, shows that ELF communication between professionals and asylum seekers regarding their rights is unsuccessful despite shared translanguaging practices and the legal information they are constantly provided with. Indeed, it could be argued that asylum seekers do not relate to such information because ELF communication dynamics are determined by Italian professionals whose efforts and commitment to mutual intelligibility do not prove to be sufficient. IM and the other professionals attribute such communication failures to asylum seekers’ refusal of the legal information they receive due to changes in Italian migration policy and procedures, determined by succeeding governments. For instance, before the 2018 decree by the former Italian Home Minister Salvini, unaccompanied minors were automatically granted humanitarian protection, while they now have to apply for it with the risk of a possible denial.

It goes without saying that asylum seekers may have difficulties in understanding such changes and that this might confuse them, at least to a certain extent. However, the dialogues I have observed reveal a more complex interaction affected not only by asylum seekers’ arguably limited knowledge of their rights, but also, and perhaps even more so, by communication dynamics established by Italian professionals, despite IM’s emphatic attitude and her commitment to mutual intelligibility. Key issues such as power imbalances remain to be fully addressed to avoid communication breakdowns, both at the level of individual actions and strategies, and within a wider social and political context.  

Addressing power asymmetries

One first possible answer might lie in training courses addressed to all professionals (from legal aids to psychologists) interacting with asylum seekers to make them aware of the impact that ELF users’ linguacultural diversity has on mutual intelligibility and on the overall communication dynamics. This would mean calling into question predominant hierarchical relationships whereby asylum seekers’ speeches and narratives are judged on the basis of monolingual Western standards and narrative models, as previously argued. It is precisely by making Italian professionals operating in these settings aware that ELF is far from being neutral and equally accessible to everyone that these dynamics can be subverted, thus, for instance, avoiding language practices, such as simplifying strategies, particularly if they prove unhelpful.

Recognizing asylum seekers’ multilingual skillset as a resource by offering them interpreting and translation training and subsequent job opportunities, more than it is currently done, could represent a further option. It goes without saying that such a choice would go against the current legislative framework, which encourages the fragmentation of academic and professional training while systematically failing to recognize intercultural mediators’ professional role on a national level (see Amato and Garwood 2011, Katan 2015, Filmer and Federici 2018, among others). The situation is particularly alarming in Sicily due to the lack of a regional law regarding intercultural mediators and the fragmented training context, despite the region’s prominent geographical position. According to Filmer and Federici (2018), the development of too many policies regulating mediators’ tasks and profiles according to regional requirements becomes counterproductive since it prevents local authorities from optimizing training, qualifications and resources. The lack of professional recognition, coupled with extremely low funding, is a clear indication of the limited attention devoted to intercultural communication leading to the violation of a human right: “it is not an emergency to organize linguistic support for asylum seekers who are in reception centres as long as three years, it is a human right in protection of language minorities […] and a first step for better integration, as demanded by the legislative framework.” (Filmer and Federici, 2018: 248-249). Filmer’s recent study provides further evidence of the disregard for intercultural mediation by Italian authorities, local institutions and politicians, and she rightly claims that the “current immigration policy is likely to bring even more instability to the ‘interpreter’s habitus’ (Inghilleri 2005) within the already uncertain and fluid sphere of cultural mediation” (Filmer 2019:22).

It is in such an unbalanced context, clearly pursued and maintained by political networks and lobbies, that I believe it is paramount to recognize the value of asylum seekers interested in becoming professional mediators as an asset. It is precisely to discuss their familiarity with translation practices that I decided to interview two asylum seekers with mediation experience: one from Gambia (M2) and the other from Ghana (M3). A speaker of Mandinga, Fulani, Wolof, ELF, and, more recently Italian, M2 has acted as a mediator, encouraged by IM, whenever requested in the SPRAR centre hosting him, as it often occurs in refugee emergency contexts (Todorova 2019). This was a particularly challenging experience for him through a three-step process whereby he translated from Fulani into ELF, which was then translated into Italian by IM. It was also an opportunity to put into practice his multilingual skills and familiarity with translation strategies that he tends to adopt in everyday communication. For instance, when talking with Senegalese asylum seekers to Gambia, who tend to code-mix Wolof with French, if he said “bul worry” (don’t worry) in Wolof and realized that his/her interlocutor was not a Wolof speaker, he immediately translated it into English, thus showing to possess those interpersonal sensitivity and cognitive flexibility that the role of mediators requires. Like M2, M3 is also familiar with translanguaging and translation practices. He has been speaking Twi and ELF since childhood, he also speaks basic Arabic and, after studying Italian for over a year and obtaining the middle school diploma, he is now fluent in Italian. M3 has occasionally acted as a mediator from Twi into ELF in SPRAR centres and together with M2 has taken part in a project funded by the Messina Port Authority, WelcoMe/AccogliMe, which offers English-speaking and French-speaking asylum seekers the opportunity to welcome cruise ship tourists.

Asylum seekers cannot automatically ensure successful communication simply because they share common experiences, and/or linguacultural backgrounds with other displaced people, given also the variety of languages they speak. Nevertheless, as Vigo’s study shows (2015), there are remarkable differences in terms of power asymmetries and metacognitive frames adopted by non-Italian mediators compared to their Italian colleagues and this often leads to a higher percentage of efficiency in intercultural communication.  What non-Italian mediators like M2 and M3 can bring to ELF communication is their awareness as multilinguals that the powerful biological metaphors of mother tongue and native speaker are culturally constructed (Polezzi, forthcoming) and thus irrelevant, or better detrimental, to successful communication. As previously argued, asylum seekers’ entitlement to receive information about their rights and legal status in their native language or in a language they understand is a human right. Although recognizing such a right is far from being on the current political agenda in Italy, it is through single, albeit politically significant, pilot projects whereby asylum seekers are given training opportunities, for instance within the same reception centre where they are hosted, as I have shown elsewhere (Taviano 2019), that the current system can start to change through a bottom-up process.


I hope I have managed to show the fluid and hybrid nature of ELF as negotiated in mediated encounters, together with the complexity of the communication dynamics determined by Italian professionals in a position of authority. Misunderstanding and communication breakdowns examined in this paper are the result of language indifference on the part of Italian professionals who assume that they can convey legal information to asylum seekers through a supposedly neutral tool of communication without sufficiently taking into account ELF users’ linguacultural diversity. Inghilleri (2017), among others, believes that the limited language and translation resources available to displaced people confirm that quality translation provision is far from being considered a key aspect of human rights. This is why activist strategies, such as those shown here, together with others (see Olohan and Davitti 2015, Taronna 2015), are particularly relevant for the radical challenges that they oppose to widespread practices aiming to maintain the status quo. Documenting and analysing these strategies and experiments, as well as identifying and proposing new initiatives and actions, is the responsibility of researchers and scholars interested in giving their contribution to radical social and political change, as I argue elsewhere (Taviano forthcoming).

The need for further sustained and detailed study of the implications of language indifference in ELF mediated communication, as in all other cases, cannot go unnoticed. It is precisely by recognizing the importance of language diversity, multilingualism and translation practices that the interconnections between mediated ELF communication and displaced people’s rights can start to be addressed. Raising awareness of the implications of language indifference is thus vital to put language(s), ELF communication and intercultural mediation at the centre, rather than at the margins, of migration policies and legislation to limit or put an end to cases of inequality and injustice and safeguard migrants, refugees and asylum seekers’ rights.


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About the author(s)

Stefania Taviano lectures in English at the University of Messina, Italy. She is author of Translating English as a Lingua Franca (Mondadori Education, 2010), Staging Dario Fo and Franca Rame. Anglo-American Approaches to Political Theatre (Ashgate, 2005) and editor of Mediazione e Identità Culturale (Mesogea, 2008). She has written extensively on Italian modern dramatists as well as on Italian American theatre and performance art. She has translated Italian contemporary playwrights, such as Spiro Scimone, and contributed to the translation of Dario Fo and Franca Rame’s Johan Padan and the Discovery of the Americas, The Peasants’ Bible and The Story of the Tiger. Her current research areas include language phenomena resulting from globalization,particularly multilingual and translational practices in Hip Hop music; the spread of English as a Lingua Franca and its impact on translation; and the interconnections between migration, ELF communication, and intercultural mediation. She is also a professional translator and interpreter.

Stefania Taviano è ricercatrice di Lingua Inglese e Traduzione presso l'Università degli Studi di Messina. È autrice di Translating English as a Lingua Franca (Mondadori Education, 2010), Staging Dario Fo and Franca Rame. Anglo-American Approaches to Political Theatre (Ashgate, 2005) e ha curato Mediazione e Identità Culturale (Mesogea, 2008). Si è occupata di traduzione teatrale, teatro e performance art italo-americani. Ha tradotto drammaturghi italiani contemporanei, come Spiro Scimone, e ha contribuito alla traduzione di Johan Padan a la descoverta de le Americhe, La Bibbia dei villani e la Storia della tigre di Dario Fo and Franca Rame. Le sue aree di ricerca attuali comprendono i fenomeni linguistici frutto dei flussi globali di comunicazione, in particolare le pratiche multilingue e traduttive nella musica Hip Hop; la diffusione dell’inglese come lingua franca e il suo impatto sulla traduzione; e le interrelazioni tra migrazione, comunicazione in ELF e mediazione interculturale. È inoltre traduttrice e interprete professionista.

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La adquisición de conocimiento experto en el ámbito de la traducción especializada:

aplicación de nuevas tecnologías en la formación de traductores

By Carmen Álvarez-García (Universidad de Sevilla, Spain)

Abstract & Keywords


Based on theories about the basic elements in specialized translation, where understanding the source text using conceptual knowledge plays a key role, this paper introduces a reflection on the process of acquiring expert knowledge in specialized fields in order to present actions that can be implemented in specialized translation training. The paper begins with an introduction, where the essential theoretical aspects related to elements required to achieving an efficient specialized translation are shown. Then, it continues with a description of expert knowledge as a high level of competence and a review of the translation competence and its acquisition. This will provide the theoretical basis for presenting a learning project implemented in specialized translation training based on cooperative translation projects where students put new technologies currently required in the translation industry into practice, as a way to acquire thematic competence in areas of specialization. Based on theories about the basic elements in specialized translation, where understanding the source text using conceptual knowledge plays a key role, this paper introduces a reflection on the process of acquiring expert knowledge in specialized fields in order to present actions that can be implemented in specialized translation training. The paper begins with an introduction, where the essential theoretical aspects related to elements required to achieving an efficient specialized translation are shown. Then, it continues with a description of expert knowledge as a high level of competence and a review of the translation competence and its acquisition. This will provide the theoretical basis for presenting a learning project implemented in specialized translation training based on cooperative translation projects where students put new technologies currently required in the translation industry into practice, as a way to acquire thematic competence in areas of specialization.


A partir de las teorías sobre los elementos esenciales a la hora de enfrentar la realización de traducciones especializadas, donde interviene de manera decisiva la comprensión del texto origen a partir de los conocimientos conceptuales, el presente artículo presenta una reflexión sobre el mecanismo de adquisición del conocimiento experto en el campo de especialización donde se enmarque el texto a traducir, con la intención de mostrar las acciones que se pueden implementar en la formación en traducción especializada. El artículo comienza con una introducción, en la que se presentan los aspectos teóricos fundamentales relacionados con los elementos que requiere la elaboración de traducciones especializadas. A continuación, se adentra en la descripción del conocimiento experto como aquel que confiere la cualidad de competente, para continuar con la revisión de las teorías sobre la competencia traductora y su adquisición. De esta manera, sentamos las bases teóricas para presentar un proyecto docente llevado al aula de formación en traducción especializada, en el que se muestra la utilidad de introducir proyectos cooperativos de gestión de traducción que incluyen el empleo de herramientas tecnológicas demandadas en la industria de la traducción, como herramienta de ayuda a la adquisición de competencia temática en áreas de especialidad.

Keywords: Traducción especializada, conocimiento experto, competencia traductora, proyecto cooperativo, formación de traductores, specialized translation, expert knowledge, translation competence, cooperative project, translator training

©inTRAlinea & Carmen Álvarez-García (2021).
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1. Introducción

La didáctica de la traducción ha recibido especial atención en las últimas décadas. Autores como Enrique Alcaraz Varó (1994), Sonia Bravo Utrera (2001), Jean Delisle (1980), Jean-Claude Gémar (1995), Christiane Nord (1997) o Michel Sparer (2002), entre otros, han abordado esta materia con la intención de ofrecer a los profesores una pedagogía más sistemática. Dentro de este campo, si nos centramos en la didáctica de la traducción económica, observamos que existen pocos estudios, aun cuando se trata de un ámbito de especialidad que genera una gran cantidad de textos y situaciones comunicativas en las que el traductor o el intérprete tienen cabida como mediadores lingüísticos y culturales.

Existen estudios sobre la adquisición de la competencia traductora en el campo de la economía y sobre los retos de traducción que plantean los textos enmarcados en esta especialidad o sobre la terminología económica. No obstante, no es fácil encontrar aquellos que hagan referencia a técnicas traductológicas o procedimientos que se pueden emplear para enfrentar los retos.

Un punto de partida para acometer dichos análisis puede ser la idea de autores como José Francisco Pérez Berenguel (2003), para quienes la comprensión exhaustiva de los conceptos incluidos en los textos económicos, que suelen materializarse a través de los términos o fraseotérminos, es un requisito indispensable para la correcta traslación de un texto a una comunidad lingüística y cultural diferente de aquella para la que iba dirigido el texto original. De esta manera, a la hora de reflexionar sobre la formación en traducción especializada económica, debemos adentrarnos en el análisis del proceso de adquisición del conocimiento como acto resultante de una labor previa de comprensión.

A la hora de analizar la comprensión de conceptos, la terminología cobra especial importancia. Esta disciplina ha investigado la organización del pensamiento especializado en relación a su transmisión entre expertos, ya que su objeto de estudio es multidisciplinar: es simultáneamente unidad del lenguaje, elemento de cognición y vehículo de comunicación (Cabré 1999). La terminología, por tanto, organiza el conocimiento especializado, lo representa y también lo transmite, haciéndolo de manera circular, por lo que, al ser un elemento dinámico, presenta una gran diversidad expresiva y comunicativa.

Además, hay que tener en cuenta que, en el conocimiento especializado, intervienen unidades léxicas especializadas, distintas a las de otros ámbitos del saber o incluso a las del lenguaje general, que van acompañadas por otras unidades léxicas que no muestran ninguna característica especial de manera independiente, aunque, cuando van unidas a las primeras, adoptan especificidad conceptual, es decir, se resemantizan (Estopà y Valero 2002: 79).

No obstante, para realizar una traducción adecuada de un texto especializado, Pamela Faber (2010) apunta que se debe poseer una serie de destrezas que van más allá de la terminología especializada y los conocimientos de ambos idiomas, pues el hecho de ser bilingüe y experto en una materia no implica que se posean de manera innata las habilidades y destrezas cognitivas que la actividad misma de traducción requiere. El traductor que las posee, al no ser experto en una materia, debe desarrollar mecanismos que le permitan adquirir los conocimientos necesarios para enfrentarse a la traducción de un texto de especialidad. Estos mecanismos deben permitirle adquirirlos en el tiempo más breve posible, pues ningún cliente estará dispuesto a esperar mucho, teniendo en cuenta que no solo tendrá que obtener un control de la terminología de la especialidad en las dos lenguas que intervienen en la traducción, sino que, mucho más importante, tendrá que ser capaz de comprender los conceptos que subyacen en el texto origen, para poder trasladarlos adecuadamente al texto meta.

De igual manera, Natividad Gallardo San Salvador (2006) incide en la necesidad de conocer la terminología especializada del campo en cuestión para poder acceder al conocimiento especializado y para poder acometer con éxito el proceso de transferencia del conocimiento, aunque añade que la terminología necesita ir acompañada de la capacidad para transferir situaciones comunicativas.

Por tanto, existe un consenso en cuanto a la necesidad de introducir el estudio de la terminología a la hora de adquirir el conocimiento necesario para traducir en un ámbito de especialidad, la cual debe ir acompañada por otras competencias. En este sentido, en traductología, se establecen dos supuestos que sirven de base a los modelos que tratan de explicar el proceso de adquisición de conocimiento experto (Gregory Shreve 2002):

  • Los procedimientos de traducción se van adquiriendo a medida que se aprende la segunda lengua, puede decirse que de manera incidental
  • el conocimiento no estructurado, que se consigue a través de este aprendizaje incidental, puede ser estructurado para que se convierta en conocimiento especializado a través de un aprendizaje consciente y deliberado.

Por su parte, las corrientes funcionalistas de Katharina Reiss y Hans Vermeer (1984) o Justa Holz-Mänttäri (1984) defienden la idea de que el significado se ve influido de manera determinante por el contexto social y cultural, con lo que van más allá de los términos en sí, que quedan situados en un contexto que afecta al significado. Lo mismo ocurre con el conocimiento especializado, de tal manera que, a la hora de aportar el significado de un término, se ayudaría a su comprensión correcta añadiendo una explicación sobre el contexto espacial y temporal, consiguiendo así una traslación adecuada hacia la lengua meta en una traducción o interpretación.

Por tanto, para llevar a cabo la traslación de un texto enmarcado en un ámbito de especialidad, a la hora de representar los conceptos, es necesario reflexionar sobre la terminología específica del ámbito y tener en cuenta el contexto, para asegurar su correcta comprensión y aprendizaje.

2. El Conocimiento Experto

Según Robert Glaser (1986), el conocimiento experto es el que confiere la condición de competente: “[A]n expert is someone who possesses a high level of competence in a given domain which results from the interaction between knowledge structure and processing abilities, expert performance being characterized by rapid access to an organized body of conceptual knowledge” (Glaser 1986: 915).[1]

Así las cosas, ¿de qué manera puede adquirir el traductor o intérprete conocimiento experto suficiente en una materia como para elaborar una traducción de calidad? Existen distintos enfoques.

Hubert Dreyfus y Stuart Dreyfus (1986) establecieron la Teoría de la Pericia, en la que distinguieron cinco etapas en la adquisición de la condición de experto: novato, principiante, competente, eficiente y experto (novice, advanced beginner, competent, proficient y expert).

Por su parte, Juan Ignacio Pozo Municio, Carles Monereo i Font y Montserrat Castelló Badia (2001) indicaron que existen tres perspectivas sobre el aprendizaje:

  • la teoría directa, por la que las condiciones del aprendizaje se corresponden de manera unidireccional con sus resultados, de lo que se desprende que para que se dé el aprendizaje se debe producir una exposición a la realidad;
  • la teoría interpretativa, en la que la actividad de la persona interesada en el aprendizaje es vital para que se produzca, lo cual implica que, ante la misma realidad, cada persona tendrá una interpretación subjetiva que hará que el aprendizaje no sea idéntico entre distintas personas;
  • la teoría constructiva, que postula que los procesos internos son esenciales para aprender, no como una reproducción, sino como una construcción de la realidad.

De esta manera, Pozo Municio, Monereo i Font y Castelló Badia (2001) entienden el aprendizaje como un cambio conceptual que implique la reestructuración del conocimiento, bien desde una perspectiva realista o bien desde la perspectiva interpretativa o la constructiva.

Por otro lado, también resulta de interés analizar los mecanismos que se pueden utilizar para adquirir conocimiento experto, entre los que encontramos recursos que aíslan las unidades de su contexto habitual (hablamos de glosarios, diccionarios, etc.) y recursos que permiten observarlos en un entorno natural, como los corpus de textos reales que permiten encontrar concordancias. A la vista de los postulados teóricos, resulta evidente que esta segunda vía supone un mejor acercamiento al conocimiento experto, ya que la creación del conocimiento a través de las construcciones discursivas no es una cuestión estática, precisamente por la propia evolución y desarrollo de los campos especializados, en continuo avance e investigación.

En el campo de la economía, nos encontramos con este fenómeno de creación constante de conceptos nuevos, cuya asimilación se realiza principalmente a través de los textos reales, ya que ofrecen todas las relaciones posibles entre los elementos que intervienen en la comprensión del texto.

Se puede observar la experiencia realizada en el aula de traducción especializada de la Universidad de Málaga, en la que Tanagua Barceló Martínez e Isabel Jiménez Gutiérrez (2011) analizaron propuestas didácticas en las que el alumno debía enfrentarse a la traducción de estatutos de empresa, labor que requiere conocimientos lingüísticos sólidos en ambas lenguas, conocimientos de cultura general y conocimientos temáticos, terminológicos y fraseológicos del ámbito de especialidad. Los alumnos debían contextualizar los textos en cada una de las culturas intervinientes en el proceso traductor.

Tras su experiencia en el aula, las autoras afirman que la vía de acceso al conocimiento especializado más importante la aporta la terminología en contexto y el texto especializado se convierte en el elemento a partir del que se produce la adquisición de conocimiento experto, debido a que constituye el contexto en el que los términos evolucionan. Además de todo ello, se requiere una formación cultural, lingüística y léxica adecuada.

Las profesoras Barceló Martínez y Jiménez Gutiérrez (2011) constatan la necesidad de que el propio alumno debe ser quien participe de manera activa en el proceso de adquisición de conocimiento experto.

Mª Teresa Cabré (2002: 89) hace hincapié en la terminología y establece que los traductores pueden adquirir conocimientos especializados a través de los análisis textuales que tengan como finalidad la organización de la terminología, pues, teniendo en cuenta que los especialistas son los que establecen por consenso los conceptos de los términos especializados en su materia, cuando un traductor consigue identificar la estructura conceptual de un texto, adquiere competencia sobre dicha materia (Cabré 2002: 100).

Por su parte, Lieve Vangehuchten (2000) realizó un estudio sobre el uso de la estadística en las lenguas extranjeras con fines específicos, centrándose en el discurso económico-empresarial en español. Concluyó (2000: 7) que un alumno medio necesita entender entre el 95 % y el 98 % de las ocurrencias terminológicas en un texto escrito para poder comprender dicho texto en su totalidad de manera aceptable. Sin embargo, en el corpus que utilizó para su estudio, encontró que las unidades léxicas especializadas en los manuales de economía estudiados representaban el 98,22 % del corpus, superando dicho 98 % que asegura la lectura fluida.

Estudios como este, que no abundan, demuestran la importancia de realizar un análisis más detallado sobre las unidades léxicas que componen los discursos de especialidad en economía.

3. La competencia traductora

Como ya hemos comentado, el conocimiento experto es aquel que confiere la cualidad de competente (Glaser 1986), por lo que, desde una perspectiva traductológica, es conveniente abordar la cuestión de la competencia traductora.

Si bien es cierto que muchos autores hablan de manera trasversal sobre el concepto de competencia traductora, su estudio como tal es relativamente reciente, aun cuando puede ser considerado un elemento clave en la enseñanza de la traducción, pues el hecho de conocer los procesos empleados para conseguirla puede permitir el diseño de una oferta formativa más adecuada y adaptada a las necesidades de los estudiantes.

La aportación de Nord (1988) es muy relevante, ya que identifica varias destrezas: la lingüística, la cultural y la de transferencia. Por su parte, Daniel Gile (1995) no emplea el término ‘competencia’, sino que describe la translation expertise como el conjunto de habilidades relacionadas con el dominio de las lenguas de trabajo, con el dominio activo y pasivo, con el conocimiento de la temática y con la habilidad de traducir.

Centrándonos en los modelos más relevantes, debemos mencionar las aportaciones de Amparo Hurtado Albir (1996; 2016), PACTE (2000), Dorothy Kelly (2002; 2005) y del European Master’s of Translation Board (EMT 2017).

Hurtado Albir (1996: 34) se adentra en la descripción de subcompetencias y señala las siguientes: la lingüística en las dos lenguas intervinientes; la extralingüística; la de transferencia o traslatoria; la profesional o de estilo de trabajo, y la estratégica, que hace referencia a los procedimientos que emplea el traductor para resolver los problemas que surjan en el proceso traductor.

Partiendo de las subcompetencias de Hurtado Albir, el grupo PACTE (2000; 2001) ha trabajado en la clasificación, ampliando las subcompetencias y relacionándolas entre sí. Distingue seis subcompetencias imbricadas que, de manera conjunta, conforman la competencia traductora: competencia comunicativa en las dos lenguas, extralingüística, de transferencia, instrumental y profesional, psicofisiológica y estratégica (PACTE 2001: 40). En esta relación de imbricación, la competencia estratégica, afirma el grupo, es la que juega un papel central, pues regula y compensa el resto de subcompetencias, siendo la competencia de transferencia la más importante por integrar a todas las demás.

En base a la propuesta de PACTE y las propuestas previas, Kelly (2002) ofrece también una clasificación de las competencias, que igualmente se encuentran interrelacionadas y que juntas conforman una macrocompetencia, considerada competencia traductora: la comunicativa y textual en al menos dos lenguas y culturas; la cultural, que incluye conocimientos enciclopédicos, sobre valores, mitos, creencias y comportamientos, así como sus representaciones textuales; la temática, referida a los conocimientos básicos sobre los campos temáticos; la instrumental profesional, o uso de fuentes documentales de todo tipo, búsqueda de terminología y gestión de glosarios, bases de datos, etc., manejo de aplicaciones informáticas, etc; la psicofisiológica, es decir, la conciencia de ser traductor, la confianza en sí mismo, la capacidad de atención, de memoria, etc.; la interpersonal o capacidad para interrelacionarse y trabajar en equipo; y la estratégica, relacionada con la organización y realización del trabajo, con la identificación y resolución de problemas y la autoevaluación y revisión (Kelly 2002: 14).

Para finalizar, debemos mencionar al grupo de expertos de la red EMT que se encargó de diseñar el marco competencial para los traductores y la traducción en 2009, cuya rueda competencial fue actualizada en 2017, donde se distinguen los siguientes grupos de competencias: la lingüística y cultural, referida a la conciencia transcultural y sociolingüística, así como a las habilidades comunicativas; la traslativa, donde se integran la competencia estratégica, la metodológica y la temática; la tecnológica, relacionada con el uso de las herramientas y las aplicaciones tecnológicas; la personal e interpersonal, donde se incluyen la adaptabilidad y la empleabilidad; y la competencia para la prestación de servicios de traducción y lingüísticos en general, en un contexto profesional.

3.1. Adquisición de la competencia traductora

Una vez determinados los componentes de la competencia traductora, surge la cuestión de cómo alcanzarla, es decir, de cómo adquirir el conocimiento experto. El grupo PACTE (2001) considera que la adquisición se trata de un proceso dinámico y cíclico, que requiere pasar del conocimiento novato al conocimiento experto, empleando estrategias de aprendizaje y reestructurando y desarrollando de manera integrada tanto los conocimientos declarativos como los procedimentales.

Donald Kiraly (2000) defiende el enfoque por proyectos, desde una perspectiva constructivista, pues afirma que el proceso de adquisición de conocimientos no se basa en la transmisión por parte del docente al alumno, sino que es el propio alumno quien lo construye mediante sus relaciones de interacción con el mundo que le rodea, con otros alumnos y con el propio docente. Por tanto, propone una serie de principios para la formación:

  • es esencial situar el aprendizaje en el mundo real mediante experiencias auténticas;
  • siempre existirán diversas traducciones viables que podrían funcionar como traducciones aceptables;
  • el concepto de colaboración […] es clave y se da a distintos niveles, y
  • el profesor estará más presente al inicio del curso, cuando los estudiantes son más inexpertos y se irá retirando gradualmente a medida que los alumnos aumentan su experiencia. (Kiraly 2000: 65-69).

Si nos adentramos en el conocimiento experto en el ámbito económico-financiero, existe un debate en relación con la necesidad de poseer conocimientos activos o pasivos. Roberto Mayoral Asensio (2004) afirma que, si las fuentes de documentación son realmente fiables y en casos de traducción muy concretos, es posible traducir determinados conceptos de manera adecuada sin que necesariamente se dominen los conceptos empleados, es decir, aboga por la suficiencia de los conocimientos pasivos si se realiza un trabajo adecuado de documentación. Sin embargo, Gallardo San Salvador (2006) apunta que, en caso de no comprender los conceptos del texto a traducir, los traductores noveles tienen mayor dificultad a la hora de conseguir una traducción de calidad que los traductores experimentados, que son capaces de conseguir la función comunicativa del texto original en el texto de llegada aun sin comprender algunos fragmentos del primero, es decir, apuesta por la necesidad del conocimiento activo en el caso de traductores sin experiencia.

Los conceptos de «conocimiento activo» y «conocimiento pasivo» han sido estudiados de manera amplia en la investigación sobre el aprendizaje de lenguas extranjeras, donde también se les denomina conocimiento receptivo o declarativo, en referencia al pasivo, y conocimiento productivo o procedimental, en el caso del activo. Myriam Haydee Casamassima (2008: 45) señala que los expertos poseen un conocimiento procedimental organizado, sin embargo, en muchas ocasiones tendrán dificultades para expresar qué estrategias emplearon para adquirirlo. Según J. Michael O’Malley y Anna Uhl Chamot (1990), “Las investigaciones sobre estrategias de aprendizaje se basan en la afirmación de que las estrategias comienzan siendo conocimiento declarativo que puede transformarse en procedimental con la práctica y, como sucede con las habilidades cognitivas complejas, continuar a través de los estadios cognitivos, asociativos y autónomos del aprendizaje” (O’Malley y Chamot 1990: 84).

4. Proyecto de posedición para potenciar conocimientos especializados

Tras repasar los diversos postulados teóricos expuestos, podemos concluir que las traducciones en ámbitos de especialidad requieren, entre otras, la capacidad de comprensión de los conceptos especializados y configurar un conocimiento activo, cuando no se dispone de suficiente experiencia en la traducción. Para poder adquirir dicho conocimiento activo, hay que prestar especial atención a la terminología especializada del campo en cuestión y trabajarla en contexto.

Por ello, teniendo en cuenta que la competencia traductora no solo implica conocimientos lingüísticos y culturales, sino también conocimientos temáticos, habilidades tecnológicas y capacidades estratégicas, el proyecto docente que presentamos se ideó a partir de tres elementos fundamentales: el empleo de textos reales actuales que situaran al alumno en contexto real de los ámbitos de especialidad tratados; el trabajo por proyectos en el que los miembros del equipo debían trabajar de manera cooperativa, potenciando así la adquisición de la competencia traductora, siguiendo los postulados constructivistas de Kiraly (2000); y el empleo de la posedición de una traducción automática para facilitar el análisis de los textos origen y meta, necesario para la adquisición de conocimiento experto (Barceló Martínez y Jiménez Gutiérrez 2011), potenciando, a su vez, las competencias tecnológicas necesarias en la profesión.

De esta manera, el proyecto docente pretendió introducir nuevas tecnologías que facilitaran la adquisición de competencias temáticas en la formación en traducción especializada económica, jurídica y para el comercio exterior, ámbitos que no suelen contar con el interés previo por parte de los alumnos, que tampoco poseen conocimientos conceptuales elementales de materias económicas y jurídicas en la lengua materna, lo que conlleva un esfuerzo adicional para poder enfrentarse con éxito a la traducción de textos enmarcados en los ámbitos de especialidad mencionados.

El proyecto docente, por tanto, debía potenciar las competencias clave integradas en la competencia traductora, fomentando el trabajo cooperativo entre los alumnos, que debían colaborar para alcanzar el resultado final consistente en la realización de la posedición de la traducción automática, en unas condiciones de simulación de la gestión de un proyecto de traducción profesional.

El proyecto se llevó a cabo durante el curso académico 2016/2017, en la asignatura Traducción Especializada CII inglés, del último curso del Grado en Traducción e Interpretación de la Universidad Pablo de Olavide, en Sevilla (España), en cuyo programa académico se contemplaba el aprendizaje de la traducción en tres ámbitos de especialidad: económico, jurídico y de comercio exterior, con la combinación lingüística inglés-español.

El trabajo consistió en la gestión de un proyecto de traducción a partir de la posedición de una traducción especializada en el que los alumnos tuvieron que formar equipos de 5 o 6 miembros, entre los que eligieron a un gestor que coordinó las tareas del resto del equipo.

La decisión de incluir la tarea de posedición de una traducción automática parte de la descripción de los modelos sobre competencia traductora, en los que, como hemos presentado, los diversos autores coinciden en la importancia de diversas habilidades clave: la lingüística en ambos idiomas, la temática, la tecnológica y la estratégica. Centrándonos en la competencia tecnológica, nos encontramos con que la posedición ha irrumpido en el mercado de la traducción en los últimos años, como muestran las diversas investigaciones sobre la materia[2] y su incorporación progresiva en la formación de traductores, respondiendo a la necesidad de fomentar la actitud de aceptación de las nuevas tecnologías por parte de los estudiantes (Plaza Lara 2019), ya que tanto la elaboración de una traducción automática como la evaluación de su calidad a través de parámetros estandarizados y la posedición requieren el empleo de herramientas tecnológicas.

De esta manera, el diseño del proyecto partió de la necesidad de potenciar al menos los cuatro elementos clave de la competencia traductora:

  1. En relación a la competencia lingüística, hay que tener en cuenta que la asignatura se enmarca en el último curso del Grado, por lo que los alumnos han debido potenciar sus capacidades lingüísticas durante los cursos previos. No obstante, el propio ejercicio de traducción, posedición, búsqueda de información y lectura de textos en la lengua extranjera, potencia la competencia lingüística.
  2. En relación a la temática, el proyecto buscaba potenciar la adquisición de terminología especializada y conceptos propios de los ámbitos de especialidad tratados, a través de la búsqueda documental y la necesidad de corregir o editar una traducción automática.
  3. El tercer objetivo del proyecto consistió en la potenciación de las competencias tecnológicas, a través del empleo de herramientas conocidas y el aprendizaje de nuevas herramientas tecnológicas que se demandan actualmente en el sector. De las herramientas empleadas, los estudiantes conocían SDL Trados, pues habían aprendido su uso durante un cuatrimestre, si bien, se requería práctica para consolidar el aprendizaje. Además, se introdujo la evaluación de la calidad de una traducción automática para que los estudiantes adquirieran competencias en el empleo de la plataforma TAUS, de tal manera que los estudiantes no solo incorporaron nuevos conocimientos tecnológicos, sino que también se familiarizaron con parámetros de evaluación estandarizados, comprendiendo la importancia de determinados elementos a la hora de elaborar una traducción de calidad.
  4. Por último, la competencia estratégica quedaba contemplada a través del diseño de grupos de trabajo en los que la actuación de uno de los miembros afectaba al resto y al resultado final, es decir, en la necesidad de realizar trabajo cooperativo en el que no existiera la posibilidad de individualizar las tareas y en el que todos se implicaran en todas las fases. De esta manera, los estudiantes debían solventar los problemas como equipo y tomar decisiones a partir de la estrategia de equipo.

Con los cuatro objetivos en mente, se realizó un encargo de trabajo consistente en tres fases, que debía coordinar el gestor del equipo, encargado también de elaborar el informe de conclusiones a entregar junto con la traducción final:

  • La primera fase consistió en la elaboración de la traducción automática de tres textos del género periodístico, cada uno de ellos de unas 400 palabras, que incluían terminología y fraseología propia de los tres ámbitos a estudiar en la asignatura, para lo que se empleó la herramienta online de uso gratuito Google Translator Toolkit, que si bien los alumnos desconocían, no tuvieron ninguna dificultad para su empleo, ya que proporciona acceso gratuito y es muy intuitiva.
  • La segunda fase consistió en la evaluación de la calidad de la traducción automática generada, a través del empleo de los parámetros estandarizados de la plataforma online gestionada por la red mundial de datos lingüísticos para las industrias del lenguaje y la traducción TAUS/CNGL, así como en la generación del informe resumen que ofrece la propia plataforma sobre las valoraciones señaladas a partir del trabajo de documentación previo.
  • La última fase consistió en la posedición de la traducción automática, empleando como ayuda el informe de evaluación de la calidad y las fuentes de documentación registradas por los evaluadores.

Los textos con los que los equipos debieron trabajar se seleccionaron a partir de una serie de premisas, a saber: se eligieron tres textos enmarcados en el lenguaje del comercio exterior, en el jurídico y en el económico; se buscaron textos reales del ámbito periodístico, con el objetivo de adaptarlos y limitar su extensión a unas 400 palabras, reduciendo así la pérdida de cohesión intradiscursiva. Los textos finalmente elegidos fueron los siguientes: Inflation (publicado por SparkNotes, sitio web elaborado por expertos); The Basic Elements of Contracts (publicado en el sitio web jurídico jlp-law.com); y Marketing in Logistics: 4 Elements of the Market Research Phase in a Sound Digital Marketing Strategy (publicado por la compañía logística Cerasis.com).

Es conveniente mencionar que se dedicó una sesión de clase