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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)

Abstract & Keywords

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"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Translating 18th and 19th Century European Travel Writing
Edited by: Susan Pickford & Alison E. Martin
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Permanent URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/1967

1. Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Translation as a Double Disjuncture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Conclusions

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


Cfp: Extranslation In Theory And Practice: Representation Of Turkish Culture Through Translation

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Dragoman Journal of Translation Studies

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Traductologie et géopolitique

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Multilingualism at the cinema and on stage: A translation perspective

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Censorship, Indirect Translations and Non-Translations.

By Alessandra Calvani (Università di Urbino)


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Translation, Adaptation and Transformation: una lettura

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New Horizons in Translation Technology

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Primo Convegno Internazionale su “Traduzione e Interpretariato: Nuove Voci sul Mercato” (TINVOM)

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Translation Pedagogy - a New Sub-Discipline of Translation Studies

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inTRAlinea Special Issue: Challenges in Translation Pedagogy
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Exploring seminal ideas that contribute to the development of a given field of knowledge should be the top priority for every researcher whose intention is to inquire into that field, particularly if it is new and unexplored. Labelling the present volume ‘Challenges in Translation Pedagogy’ highlights the need for such an exploration because translation in its educational dimension constitutes a relatively new sub-field within the discipline of Translation Studies (TS). Of course, arguments about the age of a discipline and the period of time that would mark its maturity could continue endlessly; however, in the case of Translation Pedagogy, the last two decades of the 20th century may be taken as its approximate beginning, with leading journals on translator training appearing within a comparable time period. Thus, with an awareness of this recent great expansion of translation teaching methodologies, materials, curricula and activities, it is definitely worthwhile studying translation through various investigations into how it is taught.

It should to be noted that Translation Pedagogy has undergone recent paradigm shifts, in that it has moved from conventional transmissionist teacher-centred approaches to experiential and professionally-oriented learning models. Epistemological changes within this rather unnoticed and barely appreciated sub-discipline of TS are marked by terminological alterations: teaching translation as a subject within the scope of foreign language skills acquisition has given way to more technically-oriented translator training, which, in turn, has expanded into the wider area of translator education, and still more recently, translation pedagogy, which incorporates practical methods of teaching translation as a humanistic subject, the use of technology in translator training and also the philosophical and psychological underpinnings of translation as an academic subject. Translator education institutions proliferate, and there is a definite need for an improvement in the teaching methods, and hence a growth of research into the pedagogy.

Such great methodological challenges for contemporary translator educators result from the specifics of translation per se, but are also the outcome of the sensitive nature of translation which reacts dynamically to all kinds of civilizational changes, as well as changes in educational patterns and translation services.

The topics that draw the attention of contemporary translator educators, among others, include the following: the competencies of professional translator trainees and trainers (profiles of trainees and trainers); the specific demands of specialisation in teaching (e.g. AVT, translation of legal, medical and other specialised types of texts, community interpreting, etc.); teaching curricula and courses (curricula in response to market demands, course content, pedagogical progression, directionality in teaching, translation assessment); methodologies for teaching translation and the professionalisation of translator education.

The purpose of the present volume is to consolidate Translation Pedagogy, as well as provide information regarding the directions of recent research within it. The diverse subjects covered by the articles may inspire the reader to further investigate particular pedagogical and didactic phenomena. What is presented in the volume is state-of-the-art research by scholars within the areas of translator education and methodology for translator training. Although the use of English as a lingua franca in translation discourse is generally acknowledged, Polish is also admitted in the volume as a metalanguage in which the research is reported, so as not to confine international discussion within the boundaries of one language.

The volume is divided into four sections:

Part 1: Courses and Curricula
Part 2: Translator Competences
Part 3: Theoretical and Methodological Approaches to Translator Education
Part 4: Professionalisation and Qualifications Frameworks.

Authors of the articles in those particular sections come from diverse language backgrounds and different educational traditions.

The opening part (Part 1) includes five texts. The first paper by Joanna Albin and Elżbieta Gajewska analyses specialised translation training in French, Spanish and Italian within translation curricula of the largest universities in Poland. In the second article, Marta Chodkiewicz discusses the challenges posed by an elementary course in translating general texts, in which the functionalist approach is implemented. Her study also treats the issue of assessment, information mining and communication with the client in such a course. The third article in the section by Slavká Janigová sums up the differences and common features of legal English courses conducted at the Law Faculty of P.J.Šafárik University Košice, Slovakia, in contrast to teaching legal English translation students at the Faculty of Arts of the same university. The article by Daniel Sax deals with the problem of Polish-English L2 translation, offering some descriptive, corpus-driven, as well as prescriptive recommendations. Giovanna Scocchera’s text is a discussion on, basically non-existent, literary revisers’ training, which relies on a conducted survey on the revision of editorial/literary translations in Italy.

Part two is dedicated to the studies on the multicomponential translator competence. It encompasses four articles by Leonid Chernovaty, Wolfgang Lörscher, Iwona Sikora and Kateryna Skyba. In the first one, the Author argues for the knowledge of the translation process as the translator trainer’s competence component and provides the research results concerning the natural translation capacity (TC), degree of the Russian-English lexical interrelations in the bilingual child’s brain and strategies of translation and their dependence on the directionality. In Wolfgang Lörscher’s study, the concept of competence is linked with bilingualism, and the questions that are posed in it are of validity for the description and improvement of bilingual translation processes and also for a theory of the development of translation competence. In the subsequent paper, Iwona Sikora attempts to demonstrate that acquiring technological competence is a must for general translation courses students if they are to meet the standards of the contemporary translation market. She approaches the issue of technological training in the curricula of Polish institutions and offers some teaching suggestions. In the final text in this part, Kateryna Skyba presents the results of an inquiry into various translators’ professional competence definitions and classifications.

Part three examines and explores theoretical and methodological approaches to translator education with an array of articles representing diverse epistemological standpoints. There are seven texts here, and the section opens with an investigation into Stanley Fish’s anti-essentialist reader-response theory, which relies on social constructivism and American neo-pragmatism. Piotr Czajka shows in it that Fish’s theoretical observations may constitute a consistent philosophical framework for teaching translation. Data-Bukowska’s article demonstrates how collaboration can be useful in the beginner translators’ education and presents a research procedure called the Choice Network Analysis. Monika Jazowy-Jarmuł’s paper constitutes an attempt to establish whether Contrastive Grammar offers relevant feedback with regard to the formal and semantic adequacy in translation. The Author highlights the importance of pragmalinguistic analysis, which is illustrated with examples from works of famous Swedish writers and their Polish translations. The next paper by Marta Kajzer-Wietrzny and Maria Tymczyńska focuses on Computer Assisted Interpreter Training (CAIT) solutions in support of learning and teaching experience. The section continues with an article by an author whose seminal writings on translation pedagogy are to be noted. Don Kiraly in his article, puts forward a claim to establish a dialogue between translation education and educational epistemology in order to enhance pedagogical approaches. To start this dialogue, the Author provides a brief overview of three major epistemological trends: empirico-rationalism, constructivism, and emergentism. The next article written by Paulina Pietrzak focuses on the issue of giving feedback in translation education, and it presents, arguably the most learning-conducive method of evaluation for translation students by advocating a purposeful approach to group work and possible ways of engaging students in group feedback exchange. Section three closes with an article by Elżbieta Tabakowska, an inluential Polish scholar, who debates on Langacker’s cognitive linguistics theory as a theoretical framework for translation pedagogy.

Three articles by Joanna Dybiec-Gajer, Anna Kuznik and one co-authored by Betül Parlak and Cüneyt Bildik form a thematic whole centred on the issues of professionalisation and qualifications frameworks and constitute Part four of this volume. The first paper discusses professionalisation and its models in the context of translation, as well as certification programmes and their categorization with the goal of considering the impact of certification on translator education in the Polish system. Anna Kuznik argues for translation activity to be a paradigmatic universal, post-industrial, knowledge-based and innovative service. Betül Parlak and Cüneyt Bildik investigate Turkish implementation of the qualifications frameworks proposed by the Bologna process and the European Commission.

Studying the recent theoretical and methodological trends in teaching translation presented in this issue will, hopefully, assist in building research repository in Translation Pedagogy. By providing such a broad thematic scope of topics, which offer different perspectives on the studied phenomena, ‘Challenges in Translation Pedagogy’ aspires to make a significant contribution to TS.

Fantascienza italiana

By Diana Bianchi (University of Perugia, Italy)


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Teaching Specialised Translation at Polish Universities

By Joanna Albin & Elżbieta Gajewska (Pedagogical University of Cracow)

Abstract & Keywords

The translation of specialised texts constitutes an integral part of the translation profession. This paper analyses the presence of Languages for Special Purposes and Specialised Translation Training in French, Spanish and Italian within the curricula of the largest universities of Poland. However, the term specialised seems to be used intuitively and inconsistently across the data. Curricula were, therefore, analysed to detect the implicit conceptualisation of specialisation. Moreover, the content was classified within such categories as training in general translation, LSP, basic areas of knowledge and translation for different specialised fields. The conclusion is that the education available in Poland still contains certain deficiencies with regard to well thought-out and consistent planning in Translator Training, although several curricula contain valuable approaches, such as timing: initially LSP, then translation in the same field. Generally speaking, curricula content echoes market demands, with most institutions offering economic and legal translation as the main specialty.

Keywords: curriculum design, LSP training, specialised translation, translator training

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Background and aim of the study

Nowadays, in view of the demographic situation, which is causing a decrease in student numbers at pedagogical faculties in Poland, translation training is gaining popularity in Philology Departments. Another increasingly successful course is Applied Linguistics, including Languages for Special Purposes. The result of a convergence of both these courses is specialised translation training, a relatively new component in teaching curricula at Polish universities.

This research aimed to collect data concerning the Polish educational market from the perspective of specialised translation training. Although there are numerous curricula that include specialised translation, this term is ambiguous, as there are also courses entitled legal translation, medical translation, i.e. courses dedicated to training in the translation of professional texts. Our purpose was to determine how specialised translation is conceptualised by the academic staff responsible for curriculum design. Thus, before we look more closely at the curricula of the Polish universities offering translator training, we will review the existing definitions of specialised communication and specialised translation. Then we will conduct a curriculum analysis, as we think that the teaching content can reveal a lot about the different methodologies employed in specialised translation training.

In part 1, we consider two alternative approaches to specialised communication: theoretical Linguistics and teaching methodology, which we will try to relate to specialised translation theory and practice. This will be a good starting point for an analysis of teaching curricula focused on specialised translation teaching, on which we comment in part 2.

1. What is the object of specialised translation?

The phrase specialised translation is commonly used, but its meaning is not entirely clear. If we assume that a ‘German translator’ translates German language, and ‘legal translation’ applies to legal texts, then specialised translation should apply to specialised texts or languages.

Let us consider how the problem of specialised communication is approached in linguistics and Foreign Language Teaching (FLT) methodology.

1.1. Linguistic analysis of specialised aspects of communication

When we look back at the history of Linguistics, it appears that it used to investigate epistemological problems related to the concept of languages (i.e. specialised languages/sublanguages, Languages for Specific Purposes).

In the beginning, specialised communication was studied from the perspective of style. Firth’s category of register was also used (Léon 2007), and later developed by Halliday (Halliday, McIntosh and Strevens 1964). Contemporary Linguistics prefers the term discourse, which is analysed differently in various academic schools. Thus, English language studies focus on genre (Trimble 1985; Swales 1990; 2004; Bhatia 1993), whereas the German school emphasizes text (Kalverkämper 1983).

An additional problem is to verify the status of these terms (discourse, genre and text) in the context of general language. There are two alternative approaches to specialised communication: as a specific lexicon (terminology), or as an independent, separate language. For example, Hoffman (1979: 16) states that LSPs are types of language with proper rules and components, as in the case of sociolects or dialects.

The most common definitions are comprehensive pragmatic definitions, which view LSP as communication in a particular context or in professional situations. According to Gómez de Enterría y Sánchez (2009: 21), the actualisation of an LSP depends on the specific context of communication in which professionals or language users act. This lexical approach makes the distinction between lexicon and vocabulary, which belong to the classical categories of langue and parole, respectively (Saussure 1986). Research on words in context (Pecman 2007; Tutin 2007) show that specialised terminology is not defined in abstracto, but by means of its use in a specific context. This explains the polysemy of terms used in several disciplines. Thus, we should perhaps reject the conception of a lexicon belonging to a certain discipline, and promote the idea of a vocabulary functioning within a discourse (Vincente García 2009). According to this conception, the term LSP (Language for Special Purposes) should definitely be used in the plural.

There is an example that refers to these different theories in the curriculum designed by the Ateneum High School of Gdansk:

The graduate of this speciality receives instruction in basic translation skills in Italian, taking courses of general and specialised translation. The student takes courses aimed at improving general linguistic skills and specialised languages in the range of specialized vocabulary [authors’ emphasis] of different areas. The student knows and is able to use different styles and registers [authors’ emphasis][1].

Additionally, Italian Philology includes ‘lexical areas’ into the teaching content of the specialisation ‘translation and interpreting of specialised terminologies’ at the University of Łódź.

Since ‘general language’ has not yet been defined convincingly (Frandsen 1998: 19), the criteria used to distinguish it from languages for special purposes (discourses, texts) are also not clear. Many definitions were established in relation to users, applying methodologies provided by Sociolinguistics and Dialectology, which brought about terms such as jargon or technolect. An alternative criterion was the area of knowledge, leading to the concept of professional languages. However, neither of these criteria is relevant. Firstly, there is no strict division between areas of knowledge, the proof of which would be the existence of different typologies in business language. Secondly, professionals may use language not only to exchange highly specialised content among themselves, but they may also communicate with each other in informal situations, albeit related to a professional context (small talk or business dinners), or to communicate with lay people (conversations with users, clients, when communication is adapted to a non-specialist level) (Gajewska and Sowa, in press).

The most prolific concept, used in both didactic and translation practice, is that of area of knowledge or profession, i.e. the horizontal criterion (Kocourek 1982: 26). This division is based on usage rather than on well-defined theoretical categories. Several authors reject this idea (Kocourek 1982: 26-28; Eurin Balmet and Henao de Legge 1992: 57; Lerat 1995: 19; Lewandowski 2002) since it produces vague terms named umbrella terms (Frendo 2005: 7; see also Rakotobe-Darricades: 1992; Mamet: 1997, Ćwiklińska and Szadyko: 2005; Daniushina: 2010), such as the popular ‘business language’. An alternative approach treats language as a compound of layers, ranging from research language to popularisation language. This vertical (stylistic) division of language is based on ‘an interesting, but not totally proper metaphor’ (Kocourek 1982: 28), in which the vertical and horizontal axes cross at a certain point. Thus, the language of an area of knowledge has different levels of abstraction, from more or less general language, accessible to lay people, to jargon comprehensible only to specialists. Several scholars tried to approach this indistinct relation between general and specialised language by defining levels of specialisation (see, among others, trattazione specialistica – descrizione specifica – descrizione generica in Freddi 1988; especialización – semidivulgación – divulgación in Cabré 1993; scientific exposition – scientific instruction – scientific journalism in Widdowson 1979b). Although it exceeds the scope of this paper to mention all the grades of specialisation, it is still worth mentioning that the vertical classification of language has been relatively successful as the basis for the creation of a General Theory of LSP.

Thus, we conclude that multiple conceptions have converged in the research on LSP. The inconsistency of terminology, however, does not make a discussion easy. Due to the lack of relevant criteria to delimit the object of the research, it is rather difficult to state what ‘specialised’ actually means.

The functionalist and stylistic theory of the Prague School, particularly influential in English and German Linguistics, contributed to scientific and specialised styles being treated as a uniform system, which can be analysed in contrast to general language. This, on the other hand, blurred the differences between particular LSPs (Dickel 2007). In spite of these efforts, linguists have failed to create a consistent theory of LSP. The only definitions which seem sustainable are those based on context and usage, i.e. those of a pragmatic type. They point to the existence of many LSPs rather than one monolithic LSP.

1.2. Teaching specialised aspects of communication

Just as in the case of linguistics, reaching universal agreement on teaching methodologies proved impossible in spite of all the efforts. For example, attempts to create lexicons of ‘basic vocabulary’ or ‘general professional vocabulary’, using a global-structure method were judged to be ineffective (see Vocabulaire Général d’Orientation Scientifique, Phal 1971, Français Fondamental, Gougenheim and Michéa 1956)[2]. The didactics of LSP dealt with the aforementioned difficulties by abandoning all interest in definitions. ‘Specialised language’ is defined pragmatically, meaning that LSP is an operative, useful concept, seeking to satisfy the communicative needs of a target group.

This being so, the didactics of LSP focuses on teaching methodologies rather than on trying to precisely define the LSPs. A needs analysis procedure allows for an adjustment in the course content to the students’ communicative needs. Paradoxically enough, the popularity of needs analysis puts in doubt the idea of specialised teaching as a particular methodology: should not every course, even those for children or adolescents, satisfy the students’ needs?

In FLT ‘specialised’ is normally identified with ‘professional’ and applies to commonly used concepts such as ‘business language’, ‘legal language’ etc.

At this point we can state that neither Linguistics, nor FLT methodology, provide an appropriate theory or definition of specialised language. Thus, by no longer attempting to define the object of its research, didactics makes methodology its trademark. Operative methodologies of teaching particular LSPs have been created. Summing up, in foreign language didactics, the term ‘specialised’ is associated usually with professional communication teaching in different professional areas: Business English, Français du secrétariat, and so on.

1.3. Specialised translation in Translation Studies

In Translation Studies (TS), the problem of categorisation is even more acute than in Linguistics and LSP theory and teaching.

What are the premises underlying the concept of specialised translation? In the Polish context, it seems to apply to non-literary texts. This is consistent with the idea we find in the editorial of the Journal of Specialised Translation which states:

In today's academic and professional environment, the growth of specialised translation has resulted in the development of a significant area in Translation Studies. JoSTrans aims to create a forum for translators and researchers in specialised translation, to disseminate information, exchange ideas and to provide a dedicated publication outlet for research in specialised, non-literary translation. http://www.jostrans.org/about.php (accessed 15 September 2013)

On the other hand, literary texts are also highly specific, and they require particular skills to be translated successfully. If we consider specific skills a valid criterion, should conference interpreting or court translation also be considered specialised translation? What is the relation of specialised translation with the translation of user-oriented texts[3], another term found in the bibliography? To what extent can we identify specialised translation with the translation of professional texts?

As we mentioned before, translation is a particular kind of communication, implying a code change. According to Mayoral Asensio (2007) all the terms borrowed from other disciplines should be treated with a certain reservation, as they were conceived for intralingual communication. Moreover, terms and divisions commonly applied in linguistics are arbitrary and subjective. Which of the objects included in a class is prototypic for this class? Who is entitled to decide this? Also, the same specialised text may be perceived as highly specialised by a lay person or quite acceptable by a person whose knowledge in a given field is considerable. Finally, in TS, in addition to analysing specialisation according to the field of knowledge and the grade of specialisation, other terms are also applied. ‘If the criterion is the medium, we speak about translation and interpreting. If the criterion is the situation in which translating is developed, we can speak about audiovisual translation, official translation, court interpreting, translation for publishing companies, etc.’ (Asensio 2007).

However deficient these classifications might be, they are operatively present in translation practice. The most commonly accepted are the terms based on the field of knowledge or genre. ‘Specialised translation and its corollaries – general translation, scientific translation, technical translation, legal translation, medical translation, and so on – are well established denominations in our field, according to which many professional aspects have been organised: professional fees and standing, calls for employment, courses and degrees, academic events, etc.’ (idem). A recent study by Albin (2014), designed on the basis of these terms, confirmed that they are not only recognised by translators but are also fully operative. Again, a pragmatic, operative approach seems to satisfy the professionals, but not the theorists. Thus, the question is: how does the didactics of translation deal with this problem? To what extent is it influenced by a practical approach, based on needs analysis, employability and operational criteria, or by the theorists’ indecisiveness?

Our aim for this study is thus to verify what a student should expect when he or she enrols in a course entitled specialised translation.

2. Specialised translation teaching

2.1. Data and methodology

High quality translator training is offered at Polish universities such as: the Faculty of Applied Linguistics (Warsaw), specialised translation and conference interpreting training in Poznan (UAM) and the UNESCO Chair for Translation Studies and Intercultural Communication in Cracow. They have a long tradition, enjoy a good reputation and, last but not least, enrol candidates with high grades.

However, the majority of FLT and most translation training takes place in philological faculties. This seems to be the result of a decreasing demand for teachers (which used to be the default vocational profile in philology departments). Also, nowadays students seem to prefer well defined professional courses to a more general humanistic education.

In this study, the authors’ professional interests and linguistic competences motivated the choice of curricula from French, Spanish and Italian philology departments as the data source. Moreover, teaching these languages, in relative terms less popular than English or German, requires specific planning. Candidates often start with an intermediate or even zero level of linguistic competence, so the curricula should attempt to compensate for these deficiencies. The starting point is usually A1, reaching C1 within 3 years. Some universities even plan an extra year for zero level students. The MA level intends to start from C1 or C2 and postgraduate studies, B2 or higher. It is another question whether they are able to check the candidates’ competence before admission.

Apart from the philology departments at universities, foreign languages were also taught at Foreign Language Teacher Training Colleges (NKJO) until 2012. These schools were created to supply the necessary teachers of languages other than Russian, when the latter was no longer compulsory at schools.

Our methodology consisted in analysing the curricula available online. The list of schools offering translator training was determined from the data provided by educational websites such as studia.net, uczelnie.info, uczelnie.studentnews.pl and angielski.host.sk. The limitation of this procedure is that public data do not contain all the useful details, such as the type (theoretical or practical) or the duration of the course. Still, the data is sufficient to pinpoint certain trends which should, without doubt, be explored further in future research.

We checked the curricula for the presence of the following:

  • a separate translation profile (T) or translation courses within other profiles (for example, a lecture on the theory of translation within a pedagogical specialty: TC);
  • an explicit description of the content of the translation courses, especially specialised translation courses;
  • training in LSPs (business, law, etc.) and corresponding fields of knowledge.

2. Results

Table 1 presents the overall situation of translation training at Polish universities. The numbers in parentheses refer to the number of universities offering translation training at the BA, MA or postgraduate levels. These differ from the overall number of universities, since each university may offer several specialties at one level or offer translation training at several levels.


  Spanish Philology Departments
(30 universities)
French Philology Departments
(20 universities)
Italian Philology Departments
(18 universities)
T (complete translation profile) 16 15 10
13 7 7 7 10 9 8 3 4
TC (a single translation course) 10 2 6
no translation training 4 3 2

Table 1. Translation training at Polish universities

The results confirm that translation training is quite popular at Polish universities. Usually universities offer several specialties at varying levels, one or more of which are specialties in translation and/or interpreting. The data also reveals that Foreign Language Teacher Training Colleges (NKJO) usually remain faithful to their pedagogical vocation and thus translation studies are rare. Universities which have a long tradition of philological studies and offer both BA and MA courses are quite cautious with regard to translation training. They usually offer it as late as at the MA or postgraduate level. On the contrary, universities offering only BA courses organise translation training even for students who start with zero linguistic competence. They seem to be more confident regarding the students’ capacity to achieve the necessary professional skills in a short time.

As for specialised translation, data analysis confirms, in the first place, that universities offer courses labelled as ‘specialised’ (Table 2). Thus, specialised translation exists, at least, as a term.


  Spanish Philology Departments (30 universities) French Philology Departments (20 universities) Italian Philology Departments (18 universities)
Translation courses 27 26 15
Specialised translation / translation of specialised texts[4] 12 7 6
Translation of user-oriented texts[5] 6 10 2
none 9 9 7

Table 2. Specialised translation training

Moreover, ‘specialised’ seems to refer to translation and not interpreting. This can be observed most clearly in the many courses where translation and interpreting are offered. Thus, the criterion regarding the field of knowledge refers especially to written texts, in which the key issue seems to be the register or the genre. On the other hand, oral discourse is much less amenable to genre conventions. Interpreting is perceived as a translational medium, focusing on the methodology of message transfer (consecutive, simultaneous, etc.)

When analysing the curricula, we faced a difficulty resulting from terminological inconsistency. ‘Specialised’ is employed as the diploma description, or, less frequently, as the specialty description. The reference to translation training usually appears, if ever, in the name of a specialty. This is due to the official classification of careers by the Polish Ministry of Science and Higher Education, which does not include translation and interpreting. Another problem is posed by the fact that translation training appears at different levels of the curriculum structure: specialty, profile, specialisation, module, optional course, etc.

An additional difficulty in making an overview of the Polish educational system is the existence of parallel terminology, for example, for translation: tłumaczeniowa, przekładoznawcza, translatoryczna. This also applies with respect to the names of the departments. For example, Spanish Philology can be labeled as: filologia hiszpańska, filologia iberyjska, iberystyka or język hiszpański.

Still, our main concern is with the content of such courses or specialties. The available documentation is often incomplete or the description of the courses lacks precision. As an example, we can consider the curriculum available at the University of Silesia:

Specialty: Spanish language. Course name: Specialised translation. Course description: Properties of the Spanish Language for Special Purposes. Lexical and stylistic level. Legal, economic and court vocabulary. Practical application of the vocabulary and structures studied to the translation of Spanish and Polish texts.[6]

Thus, specialised translation can be seen either as 1) an umbrella term, a general term to describe different types of translation or 2) a term describing the methodology common to different types of specialised translation. In the first case the denomination of the course should be understood as a label for the whole programme, containing an introduction to different types of translation. Thus, it may be a conglomerate of independent methodologies, with texts from different professional areas being a common characteristic. This confirms our hypothesis, in which we related specialised translation to professional texts.

Another example curriculum is that from the Higher School of Philology in Wroclaw (WSF Wrocław). In this case the module offers ‘Practical training in translation’ consisting of 96 hours of study.

The aim of this module is to introduce students to the terminology and phraseology of the specialised sublanguage. During the course students will analyse and translate texts from different fields of knowledge. Particular attention will be paid to using correct and adequate linguistic expression.  Students will learn to revise critically their own translations and evaluate them. Thanks to practical exercises, students will improve their linguistic skills, and enrich their terminological background in scientific, technical, medical and literary areas.

Introduction to economics
Translation of economic and financial texts
Translation of scientific and technical texts
Translation of medical and pharmaceutical texts
Translation of texts from the areas of arts, media and literature.[7]

The module includes courses in translating different professional texts. In its description, however, we found ‘terminology and phraseology of the specialised sublanguage’. Similarly to the previous example, LSP is treated as one monolithic concept. It is identified with terminology (in the first example, it was vocabulary, which is not quite the same concept) and phraseology (the category is narrower than style).

This is contrary to the results of the theoretical reflection on LSPs. The present state of investigation seems to deny the existence of one universal language (style, register, discourse) for special purposes, as well as of one universal general language. Still, there seems to be an idea behind the curriculum design that is based on a general concept of ‘Spanish for Special Purposes’. Namely, this is the concept of a possible general method for the translation of specialised texts, applicable to the translation of texts from various or even all fields. Does such a method exist? Is it viable? From a pragmatic point of view, different texts, discourses or genres used in a particular area have many characteristics in common. Possibly translation methodology is able to find operative strategies for processing them. Still, since our study has a descriptive and exploratory character, we do not intend to resolve this question or to formulate any recommendations. Further research would be necessary to reflect upon this possibility. The question whether a universal translation method for specialised texts exists or not will remain unanswered for now.

As for the fields of knowledge in which STT is offered, the most popular are business, law, technology, and administration (see Table 3). These have quite a long tradition in the Polish educational system. STT in these areas was obviously stimulated by the demands of the market and although medical translation is hardly ever taught, finance and banking appear occasionally in the content of the curricula. IT appears, surprisingly enough, combined with the media.


  Spanish Philology Departments
(30 universities)
French Philology Departments
(20 universities)
Italian Philology Departments
(18 universities)
economics/business 9 10 6
legal 13 8 6
technical 7 9 4
and technical
scientific technical
2 4 3
administration 1 3 2
medical 3 - 2
tourism 1 - 2
politics 1 1 -

Table 3. LSPs in which translation training is offered.

A problem related to specialised translation is that of specialised linguistic competence, both in the foreign and the native language. Table 4 shows the linguistic training available in the LPSs and the number of universities that offer additional training in the LSP and in the specific field of knowledge.


  Spanish Philology Departments (30 universities) French Philology Departments (20 universities) Italian Philology Departments (18 universities)
Different LSPs 11 13 10
Courses providing knowledge in a field (introduction to law, economy, etc.) 4 7 6

Table 4. LSPs training vs. field of knowledge basic training

To translate efficiently, it is essential to know the discourse conventions and the terminology of a given LSP.  In the case of the languages we discuss here, which are taught at universities from zero or a relatively low level, this problem is particularly acute. Still, universities do seem to be aware of the problem when designing their curricula. Examples of a well thought-out curriculum are, to our view, Spanish and Italian Philology curricula at the Pedagogical University of Cracow (at the BA level) in which a course in one particular LSP (tourism, economy, administration and law) is followed, one semester later, by a course on translation in that field of knowledge.

Another problem is that of poor native language competence, which sometimes prevents students from becoming successful translators. Courses aimed at developing this competence are rarely included in the curricula, or are usually limited to ‘stylistics of the Polish language’. It should be noted, however, that courses developing knowledge in a given field also contribute to an improvement in linguistic skills. As we stated before (Table 3), the two areas most frequently offered in the curricula are law and economics. For philology students, this certainly constitutes a Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) training.

As for the importance of knowledge within a field for linguistic training, LSP researchers have discussed it thoroughly since the 1980s. An important result of this debate, from our perspective, is the conclusion concerning the role of experts and their cooperation with LSP teachers. In translation didactics too, an expert is an important source of knowledge in specialised domains, to which translators can and should resort.  

Ewer (1983), one of the pioneers of teaching English for Science and Technology, argued that it is necessary for a teacher to have at least a lay-person’s competence in a particular field of knowledge. In the same volume of The ESP Journal, Abbot (1983) questioned rhetorically how many areas a teacher should master, or how many sleepless nights it would cost to achieve an understanding of just two such areas. According to Hutchinson and Waters (1984: 163), a teacher should display a positive attitude towards the ESP content, have a basic knowledge in the field and be aware of the limits of his or her own competence. In practice, they believe, this implies the capacity to ask pertinent questions about the topic. These recommendations seem reasonable for LSP teaching, especially when the students themselves are experts in their field of knowledge. Indeed, Genre Analysis applied to specialised texts suggests cooperation with an expert (Bhatia 1993, Askehave and Swales 2000; Swales 2004, Mourlhon-Dallies 2008).

Translation is often perceived as a solitary, reflexive and purely cognitive activity. Translation problems belong to the translator’s professional workbench and must not be revealed to the public, for reasons of prestige, until successfully solved (Albin 2014). To ensure a quality of the highest standard, a translator must meet the requirements of multicomponential competence models, which include extralinguistic or thematic competence (PACTE 2003, Kelly 2002). Still, concerns about the possibility of acquiring expertise in several, or even one, field of knowledge should be highlighted, and not only in the case of LSP teachers and learners. It is even more acute in the case of translators, taking into account the additional factor of time constraints (Faber 2010). However, Faber also argues that the acquisition of the necessary knowledge actually happens, if the translator is competent, during the process of translation. Moreover, several authors recommend enhancing the cognitive capacity of translators by means of pertinent terminological resources (Faber idem), integration into communities of knowledge to learn with and from experts (Kiraly 2000) and developing self-efficacy and self-management skills (Albin 2014).

3. Conclusions

To sum up, we can say that in the Polish context specialised translation is a relatively new term, coming to replace the former translation of user-oriented texts. It is to be found in most Philology departments, including those at BA level, except for the Foreign Language Teacher Training Colleges, with linguistic training often starting from zero level. Along with Computer Assisted Translation, specialised translation is nowadays a fashionable trend. The courses are offered much more frequently than those of literary translation. This means that what is on offer has changed in the last 20 years, as previously translators complained about the lack of STT in philology departments and too much time was being dedicated to literary translation (Albin 2014).

Our analysis leads to the conclusion that the term specialised translation is used quite imprecisely, almost intuitively, according to a colloquial understanding of specialisation. Still, it is used to describe a reality that is developing and diversifying rapidly. Professional communication and translation is necessary in numerous domains across the globalised world. Some areas are new, but these will grow and will probably occupy an important place in our lives. We are sure this change will come soon, stimulated by the demand for high quality courses. Thus, research and didactics should accompany these trends, revising their terminology and methodologies. Students expect clearly defined vocational training profiles and are more and more active in their learning. This means that the content of translational courses needs to be clearly stated and should be linked to the main career goals.


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Translation Process Understanding as a Component of Translator Trainers’ Professional Competence

By Leonid Chernovaty (V.N.Karazin Kharkiv National University, Ukraine)

Abstract & Keywords

The article argues for the knowledge of the translation process as the translator trainer’s competence component, and provides the research results concerning the natural translation capacity (TC), degree of the two lexicons interrelations in the bilingual child’s brain, strategies of translation and their dependence on the directionality, factors that stimulate the TC development at an early age.

Keywords: compound bilingualism, directionality, translation strategies, translator trainer competence, bilingual lexicons

©inTRAlinea & Leonid Chernovaty (2014).
"Translation Process Understanding as a Component of Translator Trainers’ Professional Competence"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Challenges in Translation Pedagogy
Edited by: Maria Piotrowska & Sergiy Tyupa
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Permanent URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2108

1. The Background

Training future translators/interpreters, like any other teaching, constitutes a certain psychological process which the translator trainer tries to control. To ensure a corresponding quality of that process, the translator trainer should have a general idea of its essence. Thus the translator trainer’s professional competence has to include, among other competencies, the knowledge concerning the principal features of the translation/interpreting process. To this end it seems reasonable to introduce into the curriculum the discipline ‘University-level Translator Training Methodology’, which, in turn, should incorporate a separate section devoted to the psychological and psycholinguistic features of the said process. The section should draw on the available and relevant data of psychological and psycholinguistic research.

Among the possible candidates to be included into the mentioned section there seem to be the data concerning the development of the natural capacity for translation in early bilingualism, as well as the strategies chosen by young bilinguals in decision-making concerning the translation problems solution. Such data (compared with the similar information relating to future translators/interpreters) may be taken into account in the development of teaching procedures with the purpose of acquiring those strategies.

The processes underlying the translation/interpreting activity seem to have been underresearched. As Treffers-Daller (1998) remarks, the psycholinguistic aspects of language codes switching have received much less attention than their syntactic counterparts. As a result, even relatively contemporary analyses may be based on the experiments conducted quite a long time ago. For example, one of such studies (Harris and Sherwood 1978) used the data (Leopold 1939; Ronjat 1913) collected decades and decades before. The picture has not radically changed in the last fifteen years with the exception of the works by Wolfgang Lörscher (cf. Lörscher 1992; 2005) mostly dealing with adults.

The paper will focus on the original research to provide more information on the problem. A detailed description of the employed procedure will be given, the results will be presented, discussed and interpreted and the relevant conclusions will be offered.  

2. The Aims of the Research

Those were to establish the: 1) existence of a natural capacity for translation; 2) degree of independence of the two language systems in the early bilingual’s brain in the process of translation; 3) translation strategies used at an early age; 4) dependence of the said strategies upon the directionality of translation; 5) possibility of translation capacity’s successful development at an early age; 6) factors that stimulate the inclination to develop the natural translation capacity and which go beyond those necessary for the acquisition of languages themselves.

3. The Experimental Research

3.1. The Participants of the Experiment

Those included the subject, a bilingual (Russian and English) male child, 43 months of age, simultaneously acquiring English (communication with mother, as well as other adults and his English-speaking peers, including in the nursery schools’ groups, during his trips to England and the USA; watching English-language cartoons; listening to English-language books read to the child by his mother) and Russian (communication with other members of the family and beyond); the subject’s mother (speaks both Russian and English fluently, communicates with his son in English); the subject’s father, grandfather and grandmother (do not speak English and communicate with the subject in Russian).

3.2. The Materials of the Experiment

Those were the stories or fairy tales that corresponded to the subject’s stage of development and included Little Red Riding Hood, Bunny Hooper Who Did Not Like Cleaning Up and A Big Helper (in English), as well as Three Little Piglets and An Animated Hat (in Russian). 

3.3. The Experimental Procedure

The subject, within a game-with-adults format, interpreted children's fairy-tales and stories from English into Russian and vice versa in three series and 11 sessions (maximum one session a day), from 5 to 32 minutes each. In the first series (five sessions) the subject’s father, grandfather or grandmother presented (read) to mother the source text in Russian in short fragments after which the reader paused and the subject interpreted them into English. In the second series (four sessions) the subject’s mother read to father, grandfather or grandmother the source text in English and the subject interpreted into Russian. In both of the first series the subject had already heard the source texts at least once, while in the third series (two sessions) the source text in Russian was completely new to him.

The duration of each session varied according to the subject’s physical and psychological conditions. In the first series it ranged from 6 minutes 6 seconds in session four to 9 minutes 33 seconds in session five; in the second series – from 5 minutes 8 seconds in session nine to 31 minutes 48 seconds in session six, and in the third series – from 6 minutes 36 seconds in session ten to 9 minutes 8 seconds in session 11. The average duration of sessions in the second series (15 minutes 30 seconds) was almost twice longer compared to the first one (7 minutes 57 seconds) which can be explained by the gradual development of the subject’s translation capacity. In the third series it fell back to the level (7 minutes 50 seconds) comparable to the first series, which probably happened due to the subject’s higher stress because of translating the previously unknown source text. However, in the last series both the translation fluency and its output considerably increased (see further).

The subject’s translations were recorded and then transcribed and analyzed. During the recording and after it the adults refrained from commenting on the subject’s choice of strategies to avoid the undesirable side effects. If the adult did not understand the subject’s translation, he or she would simply ask the subject to repeat, as it happens in the real-life translation situations. To maintain the subject’s motivation, the adults would later replay the recordings admiring the quality of the translation. During such replays the subject often found the words he had failed to recollect during the actual recording. The results of the subject’s translation analysis are presented below.  

3.4. The Observed Tendencies

3.4.1. Lexical Level Problems in Code Switching

Though there is little doubt as far as the existence of the natural translation capacity is concerned, its realization requires a certain period of adaptation. Undoubtedly possessing two separate mental lexicons and a common semantic basis for the two languages, the subject did not always manage to switch from one lexicon to the other. It may be explained by the failure to realize the necessity to do so or by the absence of practice, but whatever the reason, it resulted in the subject’s remaining within the source-language lexicon instead of switching over to the target-language one. It was especially characteristic of the initial sessions (see the fragment of series one, session one below (M – mother, F – father, S - subject).       

F: Но вот лето закончилось

(Now summer was over)

S (translates): лето закончилось

(Summer was over)

М: How do you say it in English?


S (translates): зима закончилась

(Winter was over)

М: Тhat’s in Russian, sweetie pie. How do you say it in English?

S (translates): лето закончилось

(Summer was over)

М: Can you say it in English?

S (translates): Summer no more

Similar phenomena were registered in translating from English into Russian (see the fragment of series two, session six below; * in the subject’s interim grammar the morpheme did is used to mark the Past simple forms on the regular basis, such cases are observed in the first language acquisition as well – see Ingram 1992).

М: One morning the Little Red Riding Hood asked her mother if she could go and visit her grandmother.

S (translates):  Один раз Маленькая Красная Шапочка спросила у ее мамы:   ‘Can I go and visit my grandma?’

М: Then she saw frogs.

S: Then she did* see лягушки (frogs). Code Mixture

Judging by the subject’s translation strategies, it may be assumed that his two lexicons are not completely differentiated which results in the stimulation of the brain area where the more frequently used element is stored. It resulted in the simultaneous usage of the elements of two lexicons within the same sentence (see the examples below).

F: Пошел искать палки и за два дня тук-тук построил себе дом (He went to look for some sticks and in two days he knock-knock and built his house)

S (translates): In two... днейз (days)… days he тук-тук (knock-knock)… knock-knock и (and) already made his house.


F: А поросенок побежал прятаться в деревянный домик своего брата (And the piglet ran to hide at his brother’s wooden house)

S (translates):  And he did run to his... я думаю... брат (…I think… brother ) Avoidance

On the other hand, in some cases the use of the wrong lexicon may be explained by the simple absence (in one of the lexicons) of lexical items to mark the corresponding notions. This assumption is corroborated by cases of avoidance, when the subject declined translating, indicating his unwillingness to do so (see the examples below).  

F: нагнулся, хотел поднять шляпу… (He bent down and wanted to pick up the hat)

М: How do you say: наклонился (bent down)?

S (translates): wanted to... наклонился  (bent down)

S (explains): наклонился я не буду говорить (I won’t say наклонился)

F: к шляпе подошел… (He came up to the hat)

S (explains): I’m not gonna say подошел (came up)

Thus it may be assumed that some of the elements of the early bilingual’s common notional base lack their markers in one of the two lexicons. When the subject needed to render the meaning of such notions within an incomplete lexicon, he resorted to various strategies, among which the avoidance (see the examples above) was the most frequent one. Other strategies included narrowing down the word meaning, generalization and the use of semantically distant words. Narrowing down the word meaning

In narrowing down the word meaning the subject used the part instead of the whole, for instance, one component of the picnic basket (cucumbers) instead of the whole basket  (see the examples below).  

М: She sat down the picnic basket. She put it away for a second…

S: Огурчики она убрала… (She took the cucumbers away) Generalisation

In other cases the subject applied generalization, that is the use of the whole instead of the part, for instance, meal for breakfast or lunch, or food for cereal

 М: After breakfast, Jake, – said Mother.

S: После еды, – мама сказала (After the meal, mother said).

М: After that the Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother had  lunch.

S: У них была еда (They had some meal)


М: Jake ate a bowl of cereal.

S: Он чуть-чуть скушал еды (He had some food) Usage of semantically distant words

Sometimes to solve the problem related to the lack of the necessary elements in one of the lexicons the subject used semantically distant words of the target language which had a very general relation to the meaning of the source language words: tunnel for chimney, to lie for to fool,  good  for happy, orderly for careful  (see the examples below).

F: Там он увидел (печную) трубу  (He saw a chimney there)

S: Did see there a big tunnel.

F: Уставший волк решил обхитрить поросят (The tired wolf decided to fool the piglets)

S: He did get tired. He wanted to lie to piglets.

F: А довольные поросята танцевали у себя во дворе и пели песенку (And the happy piglets were dancing in their yard and singing a song)

S: Only the good little piglets did be in the house, did dance and did sing a song.

M: Do not worry mommy, I’ll be careful.

S: Ничего, мама. Я буду аккуратным (Do not worry mommy, I’ll be orderly) Descriptive translation

Rare cases of descriptive translation were observed as well to compensate for the missing words (see the examples below).

М: in the kitchen

S: в комнате, где еду готовят (in the room where food is prepared)

М: sticky, stinky juice…

S: липкие… и не пахнули очень хорошо (sticky … and did not smell very good)

Sometimes the subject made an effort to apply the descriptive translation in combination with transcoding the unknown word attempting to explain the neologism created by him as is shown below.

F: Второй поросенок был менее ленивый (The second piglet was not so lazy)

S: «The other one did be... Not good like the other one. Не ленивый такой (Not so lenivyi (lazy) as the other one). Lenivyi means that he didn’t want build a house. Use of non-suitable words

At times the subject used non-existing words invented by him as in the example below.

F: И увидел соломенный домик самого ленивого поросенка (And he saw the straw house of the laziest piglet)

S: Did see his hay house. The lie piglet.

F: Подул второй раз. Подул третий (He blew the second time. He blew the third)

S: He did blow another time. Did blow the nother time.

In other cases the words that evidently did not fit the context were applied which can be explained by their misunderstanding or the subject’s fatigue (see the examples below).

М: Jake ate three cheese crackers.

S: Четыре умывальника (Four washstands)

М: ‘I want to help’, said Jake. But I just get in the way.

S: Я вообще-то хотел помочь, но я захожу (I actually wanted to help but I am getting in)

М: Those are just little problems.

S: Просто маленькие наказания (Just little punishments)

3.4.2. Syntactic Level Compression

Since the subject could not read and had to retain the source text fragment in his memory to process it, he naturally applied compression on a wide scale. It was especially characteristic of the initial sessions. For instance, in session two (series one) the target text size is twice smaller than that of the source text. Some sentences were compressed by means of simplification of their structure, use of pronouns instead of nouns and deleting additional information as in the examples below (the source text deleted fragments are shown in italics in the left column). In spite of the compression the main information of the source text was preserved in the target text (see the examples below) which proves that the subject’s translation of those fragments is primarily sense-oriented rather than sign-oriented.

F: закричал волк и со всей силы  дунул на домик (the wolf shouted and blew at the house with all his might)

S: He did blow. On the house.

F: Счастливый волк и не заметил, как поросенок убежал (The happy wolf did not notice the piglet run away).

S: Didn’t see how he run away. The piglet.

F: Но поросенок не остановился. А забежал в деревянный домик своего братика (But the piglet did not stop and ran into his brother’s wooden house)

S: But he didn’t even stop. Did go in his brother’s house.

F: Наступила осень и три поросенка поняли, что прошли веселые времена и нужно поработать (Autumn came and the three little piglets realized that the merry times were over and they had to work)

S: Three little piglets did know that they already need to work.

F: Потому что зимой можно остаться без домика и потому что зимой будет холодно без домика (Because you may turn without a house in winter and because it will be cold in winter without a house)

S: Because when it’s gonna be winter, you need a house.

F: Но он же будет такой  непрочный, легкий (But it would be so fragile, light)

S: Not strong.

M: So the Little Red Riding Hood was enjoying the warm summer day.

S: У нее был хороший день (She was having a good day) Calquing

In spite of the subject’s primarily sense-oriented strategy, cases of calquing were registered as early as in session two (series one) (see the examples below). 

F: Они стали думать: «Какой же дом им построить?» (They started thinking, What kind of house shall we build?)

S: They think, Which house do we need to do?

F: Я хочу построить дом из соломы (I want to build a straw house)

S: I want to build my house out of hay.

In the later sessions the ratio of calquing grew up which may be related to the increase of the subject’s verbal memory capacity and the development of its general translation capacity (see the examples below).

F: Он сказал: «Так дома не строят!» (He said, Houses aren’t built this way)

S: He did say: You don’t build a house like that.

F: Но самое главное, чтобы он защитил от волка (But the main thing is that it should protect against the wolf).

S: The really best thing that he... did protect from the wolf.

F: Сначала построю дом, а потом пойду играть (First I’ll build the house, and then I’ll go and play)

S:  First I’m gonna build the house and then I’m gonna go and play.

М: But when the Little Red Riding Hood noticed some pretty flowers in the forest, she forgot what she promised to her mother.

S: Когда она увидела очень хорошие цветочки… внутри леса… она забыла, что мама ей сказала (When she saw very beautiful flowers… in the forest…, she forgot what her mother had told her )

In some cases the calquing was circumstantial as the subject lacked certain functional equivalents in one of his two lexicons so he had to rely on the word-for word translation.

F: И как дунул! (Suddenly he burst into blowing )

S: And like did blow!

F: И вдруг как закричит! (Suddenly he burst into shouting)

S: And then if how is gonna yell.

F: Шляпа как подпрыгнет! (All of a sudden the hat jumped up)

S: The hat how did jump!.

F: He ran towards the house as fast as he could.

S: И потом он побежал быстро, как он смог (And then he ran as fast as he could)

F: He grabbed the wolf and he made him spit out the grandmother and the Little Red Riding Hood.

S: Он поймал волка… и сделал потом, чтобы он выплюнул Красную Шапочку и бабушку (He caught the wolf… and made him spit out the grandmother and the Little Red Riding Hood) Sentence structure changes

The subject applied various strategies related to the structure of the target text sentence structure. In particular, he applied sentence splitting simultaneously with compression and words deletion (in the examples below the deleted elements are italicized).

F: And after that the Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother had lunch together and a long chat.

S: У них была еда. Они разговаривали долго-долго (They had a meal. They were talking for a long time)


F: Голодный волк стоял под дверью и все слышал (The hungry wolf was standing by the door and heard everything)

Д: He did stay by the door and really hungry. And did hear everything

М: Then he put on a special cap for sleeping and got into the grandmother’s bed.

S: Потом он одел такую шапочку, чтоб для спания. Он зашел в бабушкину кровать (Then he put on a special cap to sleep in. He came into the grandmother’s bed)

The subject also made one sentence in the target text instead of two or more in the source text in combination with the techniques mentioned in the previous examples.

  F: Надо построить такой домик, чтобы в нем не был страшен ни дождь, ни ветер. Третий поросенок сказал: У меня будет такой домик, что в нем не будет страшен ни дождь, ни ветер, ни снег. У меня будет такой домик (I have to build a house resistible to rain and wind. The third piglet said, I’ll have a house that would protect me against the rain and wind and snow. I’ll have such house)

S: You need to build a house like that ...not wind, not rain, not snow... not snow, not wind… not rain, not snow.

F: Проходили дни и поросенок понемногу строил дом. День за днем мудрый поросенок камешек за камешком строил свой дом (The days went by and the piglet kept building his house little by little. Day by day and stone by stone the wise piglet built his house)

S: He did build his house quietly, one stone, then another stone. Permutation

Permutation was also widely used:

F: Но домик из палочек не понравился третьему поросенку (But the house made of sticks was disliked by the third piglet)

S: But the other one didn’t like his house.

F: Его ветром унесет (It may be gone with the wind)

S: Wind can blow and it can go far away.

М: He looked through grandmother’s clothes and put something on… so he looks like the grandmother.

S: Он посмотрел в бабушкин… одежда… и одел одежду, лег на кровать… чтобы он смотрелся, как бабушка (He looked into grandma’s clothes… and put them on, went to bed… to look like grandma) Word addition and contextual substitution

Examples of word additions are presented below. They are evidence of the sense-level processing.

М: A hunter, who was chopping woods nearby, heard the cry.

S: …резал деревья, он услышал, что Красная Шапочка кричала: «Помогите! Помогите! (He was cutting the trees and heard the Little Red Riding Hood shouting ‘Help! Help!’)

Contextual substitutions, which are also proofs of the sense-level processing, were observed on a regular basis (see the examples below).

 F: А там его ждал перепуганный брат (And his scared brother was waiting for him there)

S: And there stayed his scary brother.

F: Их старший брат все видел из окошка своего кирпичного дом (Their elder brother saw everything from the window of his stone house).

S: Their older brother did see everything from his stone window.

F: А поросята уже не дрожали от страха (And the piglets were not trembling with fear any more)

S: And the piglets didn’t be scared.

М: The wolf let himself in.

S: Волк зашел в дом (The wolf got into the house)

М: The wolf came to the grandma’s house faster than the Little Red Riding Hood.

S: Побыстрее дорожке… быстрее, чем Красная Шапочка» (Along the faster path… faster that the Little Red Riding Hood)

М: And he knocked lightly on the door.

S: И он стучал в дверь… чуть-чуть постучал (And he knocked on the door… lightly knocked)

М: Good girl, you have learned an important  lesson.

S: Хорошая девочка, ты научила, что больше нельзя делать (Good girl! You have learned what should not be done) Transformations

Those are additional proofs of the source text sense-level processing. Sometimes the said processing changed the structure of the entire sentence.

F: Волк удивился, потому что дом оказался более крепким (The wolf was surprised that the house turned out to be stronger)

S: He think, Why I can’t blow this house away?

F: Но все зря (But all in vain)

S: Nothing. But everything is here.

М: The wolf, in the meantime, took a shortcut.

S: Другую дорожку сделал. Побыстрее дорожку (Made another path. A faster path)

М: The wolf felt very happy and satisfied in his belly.

S: Волк был очень… ему понравилось. Не хотел больше кушать.

Antonymic translation, another proof of the source text sense-level processing, was registered as well. 

Б: Домик стоял (The house stood)

Д: The house didn’t fall down.

М: Then her mother said to her: Remember, go straight to grandma’s house.

Д: Ее мама сказала: «Не забудь. Иди вперед до бабушкин дом» (Her mother said, Don’t forget. Go ahead to gandma’s house) Adjusting the target text to the addressee’s possible lack of knowledge

Surprisingly enough there were registered cases when the subject attempted to apply a rather advanced translation principle of adjusting the target text to the structure of the addressee’s background knowledge. For instance: 

  М: What are you doing out here, little girl?, – the wolf asked in a very friendly voice.

S: Что ты делаешь, маленькая девочка?», – сказал волк хорошим голосом (What are you doing, little girl?», – the wolf asked in a good voice) (explains: А вообще-то он был плохой, потом он бабушку скушал) (Actually he was not that good, he ate up grandma later on)

3.5. Translation capacity development dynamics

The observations and measurements carried out throughout the experiment allow to assume the conducted sessions had a favourable teaching effect upon the development of the subject’s natural translation capacity. To check out this assumption some calculations were done and their results are presented in Table 3.5.1.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
time 7’59” 7’53” 8’13” 6’06” 9’33” 31’48” 20’21” 10’36” 5’08” 6’36” 9’08”
STS 241 480 644 630 851 3148 2928 1837 932 801 1366
TTS 248 261 650 597 1047 2536 2165 1155 547 843 1251

Table 3.5.1.  Temporal and quantitative parameters of the subject’s translation by sessions.

Legend: time – the session duration in minutes (‘) and seconds (“); STS – the source text size (in the amount of characters); TTS – the target text size (in the amount of characters)

The quantitative measures of the translation were the source text size (STS) processed by the subject and the target text size (TTS) produced by him. As it follows from Table 3.5.1, the said sizes definitely increase from session to session, however their objective dynamics is not clear enough as the sessions durations were characterized by substantial variations – from 6 minutes 6 seconds in session four до 31 minutes 48 seconds in session six. It means the duration of session six exceeds that of session four more than fivefold. The ratio of the STS in the mentioned sessions is also 1:5; however, the same ratio for the TTS constitutes only  1:4.25. Thus, if we balance the time parameter in the said sessions (by dividing the quantitative parameter in session six into five), the source text sizes processed by the subject in the two sessions would be the same (630 and 629,6 characters respectively) while the TTS produced in session four would be even larger (597 and 507,2 characters correspondently).

To make the comparison more objective, the figures presented in Table 3.5.1 were converted into more balanced parameters – the STS processed by the subject and the TTS produced by him per minute in each of the sessions. The results of the calculations are shown in Figure 3.5.1. 

Figure 3.5.1. Quantitative parameters of the subject’s translation
(amount of characters of the source text processed by the subject
and the target text size produced by him per minute) by sessions

Legend: STS – the source text size (in the amount of characters);
TTS – the target text size (in the amount of characters)

The data presented in Fig. 3.5.1 convincingly prove a favourable effect on the rapid development of the subject’s natural translation capacity by the conducted sessions which became a catalyst of this process. While the STS processed by the subject in the first session amounted to meagre 30 characters per minute and the TTS produced by the subject – to 31 characters per minute, in the final session those parameters increased almost fivefold (149.6 characters) and 4.4 times (137 characters) respectively. It is worth paying attention to the steady increase of the STS and TTS parameters from session to session which could be regarded as a proof of certain regularity.

Another obvious feature is the variation in the correlation of STS and TTS parameters depending upon the directionality of translation. In translating from Russian into English (sessions 1–5 and 10–11) this correlation is almost always balanced, that is the STS and TTS parameters are almost equal.  The exception is session 2 where the TTS parameter amounted only to 41 per cent of that of STS. However, that could be explained by accidental side effects – a considerable part of STS is taken by the explanation of the straw house characteristics. Father had to paraphrase the source text several times (Он же будет непрочный, некрепкий дом, не сильный. Его же ветром может развалить. Сдуть ветром. Ветер может подуть на него – It would be a flimsy, rather weak house, not strong. It may be ruined by the wind. Blown off by the wind. The wind may blow at it) before the subject offered his translation (Not strong. Wind can blow and it can go far away). As is evident, the TTS in this case is considerably smaller than STS. In other sessions the picture was rather uniform – compare the TTS /STS ratio in other sessions with the same directionality: session one — 103 per cent, session three — 101 per cent, session four— 95 per cent, session five — 123 per cent, session ten — 105 per cent, session eleven — 92 per cent.  The relative uniformity may be explained by the fact that while translating from a more frequently used language (Russian) into a less frequently used one (English) the subject gave preference to calquing (to be on the safe side) mostly preserving the ST structure in the TT. It resulted in the approximately similar STS and TTS parameters.

In translating from a less frequently used language (English) into a more frequently used one (Russian) the picture was considerably different. As it follows from Figure 3.5.1, there is a progressive decrease of the TTS parameter in sessions six to nine – compare the TTS/STS ratio in those sessions: session six — 81 per cent, session seven — 74 per cent, session eight— 63 per cent, session nine — 59 per cent. The simplest explanation may be the subject’s choice of sense-oriented strategy together with the application of compression, deletion of excessive ST elements and transformations (see for details above). It is worth mentioning that the decrease in the application of calquing did not have a negative impact upon retaining the ST sense in the TT – it was at least the same as in translating from Russian into English.

The most logical way to explain the dependence of the choice of translation strategy on the directionality seems to relate it to the difference in the experience of the two language usage. In spite of the regular communication with his mother and other individuals (see above for details), the overall experience in the Russian language use is probably wider, the corresponding lexicon – more developed, and the overall capabilities to render the meaning of the English ST are less limited allowing a greater degree of freedom in this process. On the other hand, the less structured English lexicon, while meeting the requirements of everyday communication, may not always provide enough freedom in rendering the ST sense, forcing the subject to rely upon ST structural schemes to a greater degree.

Finally, the subject’s attitude to translation had changed throughout the experiment. While at the initial stages he got tired very quickly refusing to go on translating, both the sessions duration and the STS/TTS parameters increased in the final sessions. Besides, on the completion of the experiment, the subject sometimes volunteered for playing ‘the interpreter game’ or teaching English to his peers asking them, “Let me teach you English. Which word would you like to know?”

4. Conclusions

In spite of the obvious limitations (impact of individual differences characteristic of the one-subject experiments, failure to balance the duration of sessions both according to their temporal and directionality features related to accidental factors, which are always present in research involving very young children, and some other aspects) the experiment allowed to suggest a number of assumptions that require additional research.

1. It seems reasonable to assume the existence of a natural capacity for translation that can be successfully developed even at an early age. The mentioned capacity is probably based on certain innate universal principles, as the subject, lacking any training whatsoever, applied the strategies and techniques described in Translation Studies. In particular, the subject, at the intuitive level, used strategies of both literal and interpretive translation, as well as applied the majority of the known translation techniques.

2. In most general terms the subject’s translation was typically based on the use of ‘counterpart’ elements he was looking for in each of the two parts of his bilingual mental lexicon. At the beginning of the experiment, in case a problem arose, he would use a word from the source language lexicon in the target text, but at the later stages mostly elements from the target language lexicon were used, words with the meanings closest to the ones he needed, even though such closeness might be quite arbitrary. There have been cases of transcribing or transliterating words from the source language lexicon to use them in the target language. This phenomenon was sometimes accompanied by explanation (in the target language) of the neologism created by the subject. On other occasions the subject resorted to contextual substitutions, antonymic and descriptive translation.

3. Grammar and lexical transformations have been registered on a regular basis, in particular, splitting complex sentences into clauses and integrating several clauses into a single sentence; narrowing and expanding the meaning of the words; addition and removal of words, as well as their transposition and parts of speech conversion. There is evidence of the subject’s intuitive attempts, even at this stage of development, to take into account the addressee’s possible problems in the target text interpretation by providing additional explanation to it.

4. In translating from the more frequently used language (Russian) into the less used one (English) there seems to be a tendency for a wider application of literal translation, which is probably related to the unequal lexical and grammar mechanisms development in the two languages. That might force the subject to rely more heavily on the source text structure when translating into English. This assumption seems to be supported by the fact that in translating from the less used language (English) into the more frequently used one (Russian) the impact of the source text structure visibly lessened and the subject resorted to the interpretive translation as a prevailing model with a wider use of grammar and lexical transformations.

5. The research results provide ground to believe in a substantial educational effect of the conducted sessions of translation. They seem to have stimulated the rapid development of the subject’s natural translation capacity. Throughout the experiment the sizes of the source and target texts translated by the subject were steadily increasing having exceeded fivefold in the final session the initial level in the first session. That gives a safe ground to assume a clear interdependence between the two factors.

6. The research confirmed the existence of factors that, on the one hand, stimulate the inclination to develop the natural translation capacity, and on the other – go beyond those necessary for the acquisition of languages themselves. Those factors, as follows from the numerous data accumulated in our experiment, may include the ability to transfer meanings from one language to another, a single notional base independent of languages, as well as a bilingual mental lexicon. The undeniable pleasure the subject derived from translation deserves to be included into the list of the above mentioned factors as well.

7. The implications for translator training, in addition to those given above (see Section 1), amount to at least two assumptions. First, the subject’s application of the majority of the known translation techniques gives ground to believe that the corresponding mental action algorithms have been present in his mind since his birth, and therefore those techniques might not need excessive attention in translator training as students will use them all the same. One may assume the generalization of the said techniques may be enough thus limiting theoretical explanations and commentaries in the classroom and providing more time for developing practical translation skills. Second, as it is known (cf. Lörscher 1992; 2005), bilingual children’s and professionals’ translation is based on the sense-oriented strategy which is the aim of any translator training. However, irrespective of the languages, adult bilinguals’ and future translators’ performance is predominantly sign-oriented (literal). The subject in this research showed signs of shifting from a predominantly sense-oriented towards a mixed strategy with a tendency of increasing the share of literal translation and calquing. The continuation of similar research with more subjects and longer observation period might provide valuable data for understanding the reasons and dynamics of the adults’ transition to the sign-oriented translation, as well as for introducing the necessary innovations into the translator training methodology to contribute to the students’ strategies transformation into predominantly sense-oriented ones.


Harris, Brian and Sherwood, Bianca (1978) “Translation as an Innate Skill” in Language, Interpretation and Communication, David Gerver and H. Wallace Sinaiko (eds), New York and London, Plenum: 155–70.

Ingram, David (1992) First Language Acquisition, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 

Leopold, Werner (1939) Speech Development of a Bilingual Child: A Linguists Record, Evanston, Northwestern University Press.

Lörscher, Wolfgang (1992) “Process-oriented research into translation and implications for translation teaching”, TTR: Traduction, Terminologie, Redaction  5, no.1: 145–61.     

Lörscher, Wolfgang (2005) “The Translation Process: Methods and Problems of its Investigation”, Meta 50, no.2: 597–608.

Ronjat, Jules (1913) Le development du language observe chez un enfant bilingue, Paris: Champion.

Treffers-Daller, Jeanine (1998) “The IC model and code-switching” in Bilingualism: Language and Cognition 1, Issue 2: 98–110.


I would like to thank the participants of the experiment: the subject’s mother (Kate Luniova), his father (Yuriy Maliar), grandmother (Svitlana Luniova), grandfather (Mykola Luniov) and the subject himself (Senia Luniov) without whose heroic efforts this experiment and the article itself would have been impossible.

Addressing the Challenges of Designing a General Translation Course for Undergraduate Students

By Marta Chodkiewicz (Maria Curie-Sklodowska University, Poland)

Abstract & Keywords

Introductory courses in translation can have a powerful impact on students’ initial translation competence, which will continue to develop as a result of further training and experience. In my article I discuss how I have faced the challenges in designing such a course for second-year students of Applied Linguistics in Poland. I first address the issue of selecting and introducing translation theories, since if students are to deliver high‑quality translation products, they need to adopt a functionalist approach towards translation and use appropriate strategies based on the analysis of the given translation situation. Some information concerning relevant extra-textual factors may need to be elicited from clients, whom students need to be able to communicate with; to give the students an opportunity to practise this skill, the course is organised so as to simulate working with the client. I also focus on text selection, arguing for setting the bar high from the outset and selecting texts of various types which require a certain amount of cultural or other background knowledge, and thus make it necessary for students to carry out research. Fostering basic research skills is another important issue, considering the fact that several studies show that translation novices tend to rely exclusively, and rather uncritically, on bilingual dictionaries. The final challenge in the discussed course design is assessment: my main concern is bringing it close to real-life conditions. To close the article, I briefly present the results of a survey in which 48 students evaluated the above-mentioned aspects of the course in terms of how important they might be for their future jobs, and how well they had been implemented in the course.

Keywords: assessment, functionalist approaches, course design, translation competence, translator training

©inTRAlinea & Marta Chodkiewicz (2014).
"Addressing the Challenges of Designing a General Translation Course for Undergraduate Students"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Challenges in Translation Pedagogy
Edited by: Maria Piotrowska & Sergiy Tyupa
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Permanent URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2107

1. Introduction

In recent years, a number of multi-componential models of translation competence have been proposed. Some of them have been criticised for their reliance on a positivist epistemology, which, as argued by Kiraly (2013), cannot adequately account for the complexity of translation competence, and for the fact that they are ‘flat and static from a pedagogical perspective’ (Kiraly 2013: 202). Valid as these critical remarks are, the models can still be useful for translator educators as they point to, at least, some of the knowledge and skills whose development should be fostered in translation courses. One of the most influential models, which was used as a starting point for designing the course discussed in this article, is the PACTE model (2003). This model is based on studies of communicative competence and expert knowledge, relevant research in other disciplines, earlier models of translation competence and its acquisition, as well as empirical research into written translation (PACTE 2003: 44–7), and was revised according to the results of empirical studies since its first version was developed in 1998 (see PACTE 2000). Numerous elements of this model have been incorporated into other models, in particular, the model of translation competence by Göpferich (2009) and the cognitive model of ‘translator’s competence’ by Alves and Gonçalves (2007). Other well-known multi-componential models of translation competence include the model of ‘translator competence’ by Kiraly (2006) and the so-called ‘EMT reference framework for the competences applied to language professions and translation’ (EMT group 2009). The latter model defines the competences which are to be acquired by students in degree programmes that belong to a network of EU-approved programmes of second-cycle studies.

The PACTE group (2005: 611) identified three sub-competences, which they argue are acquired by translators, but not necessarily by other multilinguals, and thus can be considered ‘translation-specific’. These competences or some of their elements are also represented, albeit in different ways, in the other models of translation competence mentioned above. The design of the course in question is mainly based on these three competences as conceptualised by PACTE, although elements of other models which were found particularly relevant were also taken into consideration.

The first competence related specifically to translation identified by the PACTE group is the ‘knowledge about translation sub‑competence’ which consists mainly of declarative knowledge (PACTE 2003: 59) and includes ‘knowledge of the principles that guide translation (processes, methods and procedures, etc.) and the profession (types of translation briefs, users, etc.)’ (PACTE 2005: 610). One aspect of professional translation hinted at by PACTE and emphasised to a greater extent in the EMT model (2009) is knowing how to communicate with the client. This aspect is part of the ‘interpersonal dimension’ of the ‘translation service provision competence’ that lies in the centre of the EMT model (2009) and merges some of the features of  PACTE’s ‘knowledge about translation’ and ‘strategic’ sub‑competences. One of the aims of such communication may be to ‘clarify the requirements [...] and purposes of the client, recipients of the translation and other stakeholders’ (EMT 2009: 4).

The second component of the PACTE model that translators need to develop is the ‘instrumental sub‑competence’. It primarily involves procedural knowledge related to the use of various reference materials and tools, including electronic ones, which assist the translator in research and translation (PACTE 2003: 59; 2005: 610). The EMT model (2009) comprises two competences which have similar features, namely the ‘information-mining competence’ and ‘technological competence’. It is worth noting that emphasis is laid on the ‘effective’ use of sources of information and being able to approach them in a ‘critical’ way (EMT 2009: 6).

The third translation-specific competence, the ‘strategic sub-competence’, is at the heart of the PACTE model and is responsible for planning, executing and evaluating the translation project (PACTE 2003: 59). These processes involve using knowledge related to the translation situation in order to produce a text which is in line with the client’s requirements and the translation situation, a skill which is part of the ‘production dimension’ of the ‘translation service provision competence’ in the EMT model (2009: 5). It is also emphasised that this sub-competence activates the other sub-competences, compensates for deficiencies, as well as diagnoses and solves translation problems (PACTE 2005: 610). It should be added that according to PACTE’s (2011) findings, expert translators’ ‘strategic’ and ‘knowledge about translation’ competences are underpinned by a dynamic (functionalist), rather than a literal approach towards translation.

The PACTE model (2003) comprises two other sub-competences which are not possessed exclusively by translators, but are shared by bilinguals and foreign language teachers as well, and thus are not considered ‘translation-specific’, namely the ‘bilingual sub-competence’ and ‘extra-linguistic sub‑competence’. The model also includes ‘psychophysiological components’, which consist of ‘cognitive and behavioural aspects’ and ‘psychomotor mechanisms’ (PACTE 2005: 610).

As for translation competence acquisition, or ‘emergence’ (Kiraly 2013), the PACTE group (2000: 103–4) state that not only do novices need to acquire the sub-competences they lack and restructure existing ones in this process, but the interaction between particular sub-competences, guided by the ‘strategic sub-competence’, also needs to be improved. This view is echoed in the models of ‘narrow-band’ (novice) and ‘broadband’ (expert) translators developed by Alves and Gonçalves (2007: 50–2). These two models additionally depict novices’ ‘specific translator’s competence’ that is responsible for translating source text units into target text units as isolated from meta-cognition and self-awareness, which accounts for the fact that they have little control over the translation process. Along the same lines, Kiraly’s (2013: 207–9) three-dimensional models of ‘incipient translator proficiency’ and ‘instantiated competence in an expert translator’s translatory moment’ show a substantial difference in the number and complexity of the links between particular sub-competences in novice and expert translators (see also Kiraly’s 2013 ‘model of the emergence of translator competence’).

2.  Course context and goals

The course whose design is presented in this article is a course in general translation called ‘translating general texts’ and it is offered to students pursuing a BA programme in Applied Linguistics who specialise in translation. It is one-term long and is taken by students in the second year, which is when they start their classes in translation. Apart from this class, the students also take a sight translation class, a CAT tools class, and a lecture in translation theory. In their third year they move on to specialised translation, strategies and techniques of audiovisual or literary translation and consecutive interpreting. Due to the introductory nature of the course and its short duration, it was decided that it would be designed with a view to providing the students with basic and immediately useful knowledge and skills in translation, which would continue to develop as a result of classroom and professional experience they would gain in the future.

In order to set the goals of the course, I focused on fostering the development of the key competences specific for translation and stimulating their interaction. Taking into account the insights provided by the studies of translation competence and its acquisition presented in the Introduction, the overarching aim of the course is for the students to learn how to proceed strategically while translating, and to simultaneously:

  • adopt a functional approach towards translation;
  • use information sources critically and effectively;
  • communicate with the client in an appropriate way when necessary.

The course is designed in such a way that the entire ‘bundle’ of competences (see Kiraly 2013) is trained in most of the tasks, which should help foster their interaction. This means that most frequently the students translate texts which require making strategic decisions, the key to which is functionalism. In order to provide successful translations they also often have to communicate with the client to obtain the information they need and to use appropriate information sources. The tasks are specifically designed for the purposes of the course and either simulate real-life translation tasks, or mirror real tasks that were completed by professional translators, thus they are ‘authentic or near-authentic’ (Risku 2010: 101). There are also sessions when special attention is paid to particular sub-competences; however, this is always done in the context of one or several translation assignments. Emphasis is laid on promoting flexibility in making use of any schemes and concepts which the students may develop while dealing with particular translation tasks, and on stimulating the students’ ‘interaction with the present situation or context’ (Risku 2010: 100).

3.  Selected aspects of course design: discussion

In the following sections I present the key aspects of course design related to the course goals. I discuss the way these aspects have been incorporated in the course and the rationale behind particular decisions regarding their implementation. I occasionally refer to the results of a survey (see Chodkiewicz 2014) which was conducted in order to investigate the students’ perceptions of the course. The survey, whose results are summarised in Section 4 of the article, provided substantial feedback and led me to introduce some modifications in the course.          

3.1. Functional translation theories

The primary aim of the course is for the students to develop their strategic sub-competence, which is responsible, among others, for proceeding strategically when translating. Strategic behaviour in a particular translation task is marked by the awareness of ‘the criteria that a specific target text (TT) section has to fulfil in order to be an adequate correspondent for the respective ST unit’ and thus can be seen as ‘the opposite of guessing’ (Göpferich 2011: 8). If a translation is to be successful, that is useful in a particular situation, the translator’s behaviour needs to be underpinned by a dynamic or functionalist approach, which is oriented towards sense, the function of the text and the needs of target-text recipients, rather than by a literal approach to translation (PACTE 2011: 39). It can be expected that the students will exhibit the latter approach at the beginning of the course, since, as many studies have shown (Göpferich 2010; Jääskeläinen 1993; Jääskeläinen and Tirkkonen-Condit 1991; Kussmaul 1995; and Lörscher 1992), novices often have a sign-oriented and non-strategic approach towards translation. Apart from trying to predict the students’ preconceptions about translation based on the results of research, I also make some observations regarding their initial approach towards translation during group and whole-class discussions of Savory’s (1957: 49) contrasting pairs of statements concerning translation, which are held in the introductory session, and during the first sessions before the functionalist approach is introduced, when the students try to explain the decisions they made in a particular task, or, as is often the case, are unable to explain them.

There are several translation theories which embody the functionalist approach to translation. However, as I have found in my teaching career, some students are poorly motivated to expand their knowledge about translation theories, especially when they are not made aware of their practical implications. Considering this fact and the practical and introductory nature of the course, I decided to include a minimum amount of theory in the course and introduce it in a ‘contextualised’ way (Colina 2003: 64–5). As far as selecting translation theories is concerned, I refer to two theories within the functionalist paradigm which provide a solid framework for making strategic decisions and are relatively easily applicable in a pedagogical setting (see Colina 2003), namely Nord’s (1997) translation brief and Reiss’s (1971/2000, 1977/1989) typology of text types. In order to encourage students to make use of these theories, I not only demonstrate their usefulness in several different translation tasks; it is equally important to show the students the consequences of operating on insufficient information concerning the translation situation, and proceeding in a non-strategic, sign-oriented way.

If one assumes that at the beginning of the course most students are likely to exhibit a literal approach towards translation, and by the end of the course a shift to a more functionalist approach is to occur, then within that time some sort of conceptual change needs to take place. One of the ways of inducing conceptual change is creating cognitive conflict, or a state of disequilibrium (for a review of the terms used to denote this concept see Lee and Kwon 2011: 3), which can be done among others by using anomalous data (Limón 2001: 358; for an extensive discussion on using cognitive conflict to foster the development of translation competence see Bergen 2009). This is done during one of the first sessions in the course by putting the students in a situation where they need to make decisions regarding several translation problems, including an anomaly concerning a time reference in one of the texts. If they approach the problems in a non-strategic way, then they are merely able to offer several different solutions, but do not know how to make a decision. The only option they have at this point is guessing, or, at best, making not very well informed guesses, which they are not confident about. The aim of this experience is to make them feel ‘dissatisfaction with [their] existing concepts’ (Posner et al. 1982: 214), which is one of the prerequisites for conceptual change. Students are expected to realise that if they are to make a rational choice, they need to adopt a certain strategy for dealing with the text and they require a framework for doing that, which the theories representing the functionalist approach provide.

The terms ‘framework’ and ‘approach’ are particularly pertinent since, as stated by Hönig and Kussmaul (quoted in Hönig 1998: 10, emphasis in the original), ‘translation theory [...] must provide support for decision-making strategies but it cannot and must not establish rules in lieu of decision-making’. Explicit rules are to serve as scaffolding for novices, which can later be replaced with more flexible behaviour, and ultimately with relying on ‘reflexive, theory and experience-based intuition’ (Risku 1998, quoted in Risku 2010: 103). After the students have been faced with this situation, they are more open to discussing the selected theories. As mentioned above, the theories are immediately put into practice, which allows the students to see that they are useful for solving concrete translation problems. If students realise the benefits of adopting a functional approach compared to using their existing approach, they are likely to perceive this new approach as ‘initially plausible’, which  increases the chances that they will indeed accept and adopt it (Posner et al. 1982: 214).  In the survey regarding the course (see Chodkiewicz 2014), several students indeed acknowledged the usefulness of these theories, in particular for choosing a suitable approach towards the translation task.  

During the session in which functionalist approaches are introduced, students are also made aware to what extent a brief is necessary in various situations. Being able to identify one’s information needs has an impact on communicating with the client (this aspect is discussed in detail in Section 3.2). An explicit brief is absolutely crucial when certain elements of the translation situation are subject to radical change, such as the function of the text, motivation for its production/reception or medium over which it is to be transmitted. The brief may, however, be redundant when dealing with conventional assignments (Nord 1997: 31) or with texts from returning clients (Vermeer 1989/2000: 229), and when the relevant information, including the purpose of the text and its addressees, can be deduced from the translation situation with reasonable certainty (Vermeer 1989/2000: 229).

3.2. Communicating with the client

According to the functional approach, the key to making decisions when translating may lie in considering extra-textual factors or other factors which cannot be deduced from the translation situation (in particular the reader and place of target text publication/reception, which usually change). If the information that the translator has received is insufficient for providing a successful, functional translation, he or she may need to elicit more information from the client. Once the students have faced difficulties in solving translation problems and become acquainted with functional approaches, as described in Section 3.1, special attention is paid to communicating with the client. The need to cooperate with the client is very likely to be a new concept for the students, similarly as the need to consider the translation situation when translating instead of producing translations, as it were, ‘in a vacuum’. This means that conceptual change needs to take place in this respect as well, and for this reason this component of translation competence is emphasised and trained in the course.

In order to provide the students with several opportunities to practise this skill, as well as to encourage autonomy, the instructor acts as the client when distributing translation assignments, which – to further emphasise the fact that this is a simulation of a real life situation – are called ‘translation jobs’. The practical issue in course design was how to organise such communication from a technical point of view. At first, a discussion forum on a Moodle-based platform was used for in-class assignments and individual communication was utilised for the final assignment. However, the discussion forum was criticised by several students (see Chodkiewicz 2014) who pointed out that it only involved a small number of people, which is a natural consequence of having one forum for three dozen students, but some students also admitted that they did not ask questions because they were afraid of being mocked. It was impossible for the instructor to communicate with the students individually during each assignment, but a compromise between using a forum and individual communication was found, which was using group e-mails for communicating during classroom assignments. The groups usually have about a dozen students each, so it was expected that the number of persons asking questions would increase and the fear of asking questions would be reduced. At the same time individual communication has been retained for the final assignment, and also for a mock assignment which has been introduced, in order to keep it closer to real-life conditions and give the students further opportunity to practise their skills, including communicating with the client.

Although the students’ communication with the client or lack thereof is not graded in the final assignment, it is often commented upon in class. The exchanges with the client are discussed mainly in terms of the information the students asked for, whether it was relevant for a given translation assignment or not, and the language they used to ask questions.

3.3. Information mining and using tools

In most of the sessions, the students and the instructor quote sources to support their decisions and comment on these sources, mainly on their reliability and usefulness in a particular translation situation. However, there is one session specifically devoted to using online sources of information and tools in translation and compiling glossaries aimed at developing the students’ ‘instrumental sub-competence’, which the students have rated particularly high (see Chodkiewicz 2014). This class is structured in such a way that the students receive a list of typical translation problems. They need to solve the problems at home and keep a record of the sources they used, as well as the results of their searches so as to be able to present them in class. The students are explicitly asked to try to avoid using bilingual dictionaries, since, as multiple studies have shown, novices tend to rely predominantly and rather uncritically on these sources (Barbosa and Neiva 2003; Faber 1998; Krings 1986; Kussmaul 1995; and Ronowicz et al. 2005).

During the session the sources the students used to solve the translation problems are discussed, with a focus on whether or not they were reliable and useful in a particular case. The translation problems serve as an opportunity for the instructor to introduce several sources, most of which are new to the students, and demonstrate how they can help solve typical translation problems. The sources some students already use include monolingual dictionaries, which usually provide more accurate information as to the meaning, register, tone  and use of certain words than most bilingual dictionaries. Information concerning word usage can also be found in collocations dictionaries and corpora consisting of naturally occurring texts written by native speakers of a given language. During the session the students learn how to use the basic functions of the British National Corpus and the Corpus of Contemporary American English. They are also shown how to make searches in the National Corpus of Polish and Eur-Lex, a multilingual corpus  consisting of EU legal acts. Another useful method presented in this session which helps restrict the results to pages that are more likely to have been written by native speakers and are more reliable is filtering search results by country or site. The students are additionally acquainted with webpages dedicated to correctness in Polish, and with the concordance program Ant-Conc, which can be used, among others, to prepare for translating longer texts and to compile glossaries. Preparing glossaries is briefly discussed, in particular the way they are applied (personal use by translators, assuring consistency of terminology in large projects, etc.) and the basic principles of creating definitions.

3.4.  Assessment method

Apart from having multiple opportunities to discuss their translation solutions with the instructor, and the other students as the whole class, and in groups, the participants of the course can have their written translations assessed by the teacher twice throughout the term. There is an optional mock assignment, as requested by the students in the survey (see Chodkiewicz 2014), whose purpose is formative; it is to help students become aware of their strengths and areas for improvement, and prepare them for the final translation assignment. The aim of the final translation assignment is not only summative but also formative, since apart from receiving grades, the students are also given extensive feedback. They are obliged to consult their work after it has been graded and revise it, as described in detail in Section 3.5. In the final assignment a range of different texts, both in English and in Polish, similar to those in class in terms of text type and/or topic are assigned randomly among the students.

The students are allowed to complete both assignments at home. The main advantage of such a form of assessment is that it is close to the real working conditions of professional translators, since the students are able to use all available resources. In addition, they can practise skills such as communicating with the client (they do so individually, as mentioned in Section 3.2) and time management. However, this form of assessment also has a major disadvantage, which is the high risk of cheating, although this risk is partially reduced by the wide variety of texts distributed. It is also worth mentioning that, arguably, when it comes to real-life working conditions, it is not unusual for translators to consult other people, such as experts in a certain field, or to work in teams.

3.5. Assessment criteria and feedback

As emphasised by Colina (2009: 239), ‘quality in translation is a multi-faceted reality, and [...] a general comprehensive approach to evaluation may need to address multiple components quality simultaneously’. Since in this course it is assumed that strategic behaviour based on functionalism is a prerequisite for producing successful translations, the main assessment criterion is whether a translation is functional or not. Other criteria which are applied are adapted from the ones used by the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (2014). The first three criteria are related to preserving the meaning of the source text, and these are accurate transfer of content, omissions and additions. Omissions and additions as such are not considered problematic, as long as they are justified and are part of a strategy which is appropriate in a particular translation. The remaining criteria concern the adequacy of the target text and they include the following: appropriate terminology, appropriate register/style, consistency, grammar/syntax, spelling, punctuation, layout and coherence. It is generally assumed that the source text should either be mirrored or improved in the target text in terms of these categories. The instructor additionally uses the designation ‘sense’, when the TT reader may have problems with understanding the translation. Out of all the criteria, problems related to text function, transfer of content and sense are considered the most severe. The idea to use ITI criteria and symbols to represent them in assessing work done in translation courses was first presented to me by Beata Kaźmierczak (personal communication, 2010), course tutor at the University of Surrey and ITI examiner.

As far as feedback is concerned, some developments have been introduced in order to make the final assessment more formative and foster the development of the skills in revising one’s work and justifying one’s translation decisions, which are part of the ‘production dimension’ of the ‘translation service provision competence’ in the EMT model (2009: 5). There are now two separate occasions on which the students work with their assessed translations. First, they receive their translations with written feedback, but mainly in the form of symbols, without suggestions as to how to make amendments. Then the students spend one session reviewing their work, during which they are allowed to use electronic resources. When dealing with a section which has been marked as problematic by the instructor, they can either revise it or justify their decision, quoting sources to support it if necessary. The second option is particularly relevant when it comes to problems with text function, for instance, related to judging the expectations of the readers. The students may be able to prove that a decision which the instructor found unsuitable in a given translation situation, is in fact, plausible. If considerable improvements are made, the grade for the translation may be increased. In the second session devoted to their work, the students have an opportunity to receive feedback on their corrections, as well as being able to compare their translation against the best translations of their text submitted by other students.

3.6. Text difficulty

In this course ‘general texts’ are understood as consumer-oriented or pragmatic texts, which, as opposed to ‘specialised texts’, do not require substantial knowledge in a given subject area and its terminology to be comprehended and translated. However, as already mentioned, the course is deliberately designed to include texts which were highly challenging (and the students are made aware of this fact at the beginning of the course), which has two major benefits. First of all, this makes it possible for the students to develop their translation competence consistently with the goals of the course, as they come across several translation problems which require making strategic decisions, need to conduct a fair amount of research and usually have to contact the client. Secondly, as has been mentioned, the students have an opportunity to deal with ‘authentic or near-authentic’ texts (Risku 2010: 101).

In general, text difficulty was rated as appropriate by the students and both of these benefits were noticed and appreciated, but the students admitted they needed help in dealing with some of the most difficult texts (see Chodkiewicz 2014). Thus support with comprehension before translating some of them has been provided.

3.7.  Text types

During the course the students have an opportunity to work with a wide range of common text types. This helps raise their awareness of text functions (as listed by Reiss 1971/2000 and 1977/1989), which are frequently combined in the so-called ‘mixed text types’, and makes it possible for the students to learn to adopt appropriate strategies to make the target text fulfil its function. Most of the texts are primarily informative and concern different topics. These are, for instance, a website document on using NHS services, a leaflet for employees on working time, an interview with a nutritionist or a PowerPoint presentation on the Polish Teachers’ Association. Texts which are mainly operative include a TV commercial and a leaflet with instructions on how to make emergency calls. Expressive texts as such are not included in the course, but some of the texts have expressive elements. The PP presentation and TV commercial (multi-media texts, another text type mentioned by Reiss 1971/2000) pose additional challenges connected with the constraints of the channels via which the message is to reach the receivers. The text that is used to introduce the theories by Reiss (1971/2000 and 1977/1989) and Nord (1997) is a newspaper article on a black civil rights leader. This is a mixed text: it is primarily informative, but it has an operative function as well, as its purpose is not only to inform but also to entertain readers, to which end expressive elements, such as puns, are used.

4.  Summary of survey results: students’ perception of the course

In February 2013 a survey was conducted among 48 students who had completed the course. Some of the modifications based on its results have been presented in the sections above. The students were to rate the usefulness of particular aspects of the course in their future job and the effectiveness of their implementation on a Likert scale (from 1 to 5). A comment section was additionally provided for each question about each aspect, as well as an additional section for miscellaneous comments.

Aspect Usefulness  in future job Effectiveness of implementation
Mean SD Mean SD
1. Functionalist approaches (theories and using them in practice) 4.24 0.77 3.99 0.75
2. Practising working with a client 4.57 0.78 4.28 0.88
Communicating with the client using the discussion forum for classroom 4.44 0.9 4.09 0.95
Communicating with  the client individually during the final translation assignment 4.69 0.66 4.46 0.8
3. Developing one’s research skills 4.75 0.57 4.23 0.95
4. Being able to do the final translation assignment at home (and form of assessment in general) 4.6 0.57 4.08 0.82
5. Assessment (marking the final assignment) 4.48 0.71 4.38 0.67
6. Translating texts representing different text types 4.75 0.57 4.49 0.66
7. Translating texts of appropriately high difficulty 4.6 0.64 4.3 0.87
All in bold 4.57 0.66 4.25 0.8

Table 1. Survey results: mean values for Likert scale scores
and standard deviations (adopted from Chodkiewicz 2014: 222)

As shown in Table 1, in general, the aspects of the course mentioned in the survey were seen as highly useful in a potential future job as a professional translator (mean = 4.57), and as having been implemented effectively in the course (mean = 4.25). The aspects which were rated as the most useful pertained to skills in doing research and using tools, to the wide variety of text types (both with a mean score = 4.75), and to individual communication with the client during the final translation assignment (mean = 4.69). The last two aspects were also rated high in terms of their implementation (mean = 4.49 and 4.46, respectively), along with marking in the final assignment (mean = 4.38). As mentioned in Sections 3.2 and 3.4 dedicated to working with the client (using the discussion forum) and the form of assessment, the students made some critical remarks about these aspects, which were reflected in the relatively low scores for implementation (mean = 4.09 and 4.08, respectively). The aspect which was rated the lowest of all, both in terms of its usefulness in the future job (mean = 4.24) and the effectiveness of its implementation (mean = 3.99) were functionalist translation theories and using them in practice. Although the ratings for this aspect were quite high when considered independently, and this was reflected in the positive comments made by the students (see Section 3.1), some students still saw their usefulness as limited and felt that they had not been addressed frequently enough during the course, which is why functional approaches are now referred to more explicitly and systematically throughout the course.

5.  Conclusion

The course described in this article seeks to help students develop three basic components of translation competence, which can be found in several influential models, namely making decisions based on a dynamic approach towards translation, using information resources in an effective and critical way, and communicating with the client in order to obtain information necessary to provide a successful translation. Authentic and challenging tasks are to encourage the students to use all three components in an integrated way, adopting a strategic approach towards translation. The knowledge and skills developed by the students during the course are to be further improved, extended and applied in a flexible way depending on a given situation which they may encounter in their translation classes, internships or professional practice. 

The survey which was conducted in order to investigate the students’ perception of the course showed that the focal aspects of course design were generally rated high in terms of their potential usefulness in the job of a translator and the effectiveness of their implementation in the course. Based on the students’ ratings and comments, some modifications have been introduced in course design, with a view to increasing student participation by providing more opportunities for individual assessment and communication with the client. Efforts have also been made to draw more attention to putting translation theory into practice and make it possible for the students to practise their skills in revision and justifying their translation decisions. In the future, the course will be extended to two terms, opening avenues for introducing process-based training and activities that encourage more metacognitive reflection.


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Antyesencjalizm Stanleya Fisha, jako podstawa dydaktyki przekładu

By Piotr Czajka (University of Wrocław, Poland)

Abstract & Keywords


Stanley Fish’s anti-essentialist reader-response theory, which relies on social constructivism and American neo-pragmatism, is usually seen as a theory of the reception of literary texts. However, as demonstrated by Fish himself, the concepts of interpretive communities and strategies, which are fundamental to this theory, may be used to explain how any object acquires meaning in the eyes of individuals. Therefore, one could ask a question of how to view the process of translation from the perspective of Fish’s theory. This paper presents an answer to this question; it also shows that Fish’s theoretical observations may constitute a consistent philosophical framework for teaching translation in the way that develops in students the ability to produce creative but conscientious translations as well as the responsibility for the effects of their own work.


Antyesencjalistyczna i przejmująca niektóre postulaty konstruktywizmu społecznego oraz amerykańskiego neopragmatyzmu koncepcja rezonansu czytelniczego (reader-response theory) autorstwa Stanleya Fisha bywa najczęściej postrzegana jako należąca do obszaru teoretycznych rozważań nad funkcjonowaniem dzieła literackiego, choć składające się na nią pojęcia schematów i wspólnot interpretacyjnych znajdują także zastosowanie – jak dowodzi tego sam Fish – w analizie procesu nadawania znaczeń wszystkim obiektom i zdarzeniom w świecie człowieka. Można by wobec tego zadać sobie pytanie o to, jakie światło teoria Fisha rzuca na zjawisko przekładu. Niniejszy referat będzie stanowił próbę udzielenia odpowiedzi na powyższe pytanie, ale nie tylko: odpowiedź ta będzie tłem dla rozważenia kwestii, w jakim stopniu i z jakim skutkiem tezy postawione przez Fisha mogą stanowić filozoficzne podstawy organizujące dydaktykę przekładu. Pokazane zostanie, że w oparciu o pojęcia wspólnoty interpretacyjnej i schematu interpretacyjnego można zaproponować zainteresowanym tłumaczeniem konkretną charakterystykę procesu przekładu (jego celu i poszczególnych jego składników), a także roli, jaką w procesie przekładu odgrywają źródła o charakterze metajęzykowym (słowniki, leksykony, gramatyki, itp.) oraz praca własna tłumacza w zakresie poznawania i przewidywania sposobów funkcjonowania tekstów w otaczającej je rzeczywistości komunikacyjnej. W charakterystyce tej tłumacz będzie jawił się jako kompetentny, choć nie zawsze nieomylny, mediator pomiędzy wydarzeniami komunikacyjnymi zachodzącymi w różnorodnych wspólnotach interpretacyjnych formujących się w ramach odrębnych języków i kultur, a sama ta charakterystyka uznana zostanie za możliwą podstawę konstruowania efektywnego procesu nauczania sztuki przekładu, który z jednej strony charakteryzuje się wewnętrzną intelektualną spójnością, a z drugiej zaś – rozwija w uczących się indywidualną kreatywność opartą na rzetelnym poznaniu rzeczywistych praktyk komunikacyjnych oraz odpowiedzialność za efekty ich własnej pracy tłumaczeniowej.

Keywords: Antyesencjalizm, Stanley Fish, interpretacja, dydaktyka przekładu, anti-essentialism, interpretation, translator training

©inTRAlinea & Piotr Czajka (2014).
"Antyesencjalizm Stanleya Fisha, jako podstawa dydaktyki przekładu"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Challenges in Translation Pedagogy
Edited by: Maria Piotrowska & Sergiy Tyupa
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Permanent URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2106

„Lubię czytać Stanleya Fisha. W jego tekstach inteligencja idzie w parze z ironią, umiejętność przeprowadzenia ścisłych rozumowań filozoficznych z literackim talentem opowiadania. Nawet jeśli ich główne idee wydają się dziś czasem oczywiste, to sposób ich przedstawiania wciąż pozostaje olśniewający”– tak pisze Andrzej Szahaj (2007: 13), filozof. A czy Stanleya Fisha polubić mógłby ktoś, kto zajmuje się dydaktyką przekładu? Odpowiedź na to odrobinę żartobliwie sformułowane pytanie wymagać będzie już całkiem poważnego zastanowienia się nad tym, jak w proponowanym przez Fisha języku teoretycznym zbudować opis procesu tłumaczenia oraz w jaki sposób opis ten mógłby być wykorzystany, jako punkt odniesienia w praktycznym nauczaniu przekładu.

Wydaje się zatem, że należałoby zacząć od krótkiego i pobieżnego z konieczności przedstawienia kilku kluczowych założeń antyesencjalizmu Fisha[1]. Niewątpliwie w centrum jego rozważań znajduje się pojęcie interpretacji, rozumianej jako nadawanie przez jednostkę sensu tekstom, z którymi się styka (Fish 2007: 91). Fishowska interpretacja nie jest jednak „sztuką objaśniania”, niejako dodatkowego objaśniania znaczeń, które w tekście zawarte są obiektywnie; interpretacja jest konstruowaniem, czyli całkowitym tworzeniem postrzeganego tekstu (Fish 2007: 86). Wydawać by się mogło, że jest to prosta droga do skrajnego subiektywizmu, lecz przed subiektywizmem właśnie Fish (2007: 91) broni się dowodząc, że środki do tworzenia interpretacji, czyli strategie interpretacyjne „mają charakter skonwencjonalizowany i społeczny”. A więc „owo ‘ja’ wykonujące wysiłek interpretacyjny […] jest pewnym ‘ja’ społecznym, a nie izolowaną jednostką” (Fish 2007: 91). Takie postawienie sprawy – pisze dalej Fish (2007: 92) – równa się uświadomieniu sobie fałszu opozycji obiektywności i subiektywności, ponieważ żadna z nich nie istnieje w stanie czystym”. W sferze znaczeń tekstów opozycji tej także należałoby się pozbyć: znaczenia te „nie będą […] obiektywne, ponieważ zawsze pozostaną raczej produktem pewnego punktu widzenia niż prostym ‘odczytywaniem’; nie będą również subiektywne, ponieważ punkt widzenia zawsze będzie społeczny czy też instytucjonalny” (Fish 2007: 96). Jeśli zatem jednostkami interpretującymi tekst kierują „te same zasady interpretacyjne, to wtedy zgoda pomiędzy nimi będzie zapewniona”, jednakże źródłem tej zgody „nie będzie jakiś tekst wymuszający pewien sposób odczytania, ale pewien sposób postrzegania, w wyniku którego dla tych, którzy podzielają go, wyłania się ten sam tekst” (Fish 2007: 97–8).

Jakie byłyby więc skutki przeniesienia myśli Fisha na grunt refleksji o tłumaczeniu? W kontekście wspomnianych powyżej koncepcji tłumacz jawiłby się, jako osoba zorientowana w strategiach interpretacyjnych w różnych językach; osoba świadoma tego, w jaki sposób konkretne środki językowe, a co za tym idzie także i teksty, mogą być „czytane” w odmiennych, choć często współistniejących, grupach odbiorców kierujących się danymi zbitkami strategii interpretacyjnych; osoba potrafiąca konstruować paralelizmy pomiędzy sytuacją komunikacyjną, w której funkcjonuje tekst oryginału, a sytuacją komunikacyjną wywołaną pojawieniem się tekstu przekładu.

Konsekwencją takiego ujęcia tłumaczenia byłoby odrzucenie tych teorii przekładu, które opierają się na założeniu o możliwości odkrycia jakiejś istoty tekstu, czegoś, co świadczyłoby o niezmiennej tożsamości tekstu, jego stabilności. Jak bowiem powiedziano, według Fisha taka istota po prostu nie istnieje. Jej złudzeniem może być funkcjonowanie niepodważanych, ale nie niepodważalnych, interpretacji i odczytań, a niepodważanie to jest wynikiem szeroko rozumianych zachowań o charakterze politycznym, albo może wynikać po prostu z tego, że w danej chwili nikt nie ma innego pomysłu na odczytanie danego tekstu lub nie jest w stanie go przeforsować i uzyskać dla niego jakiejkolwiek akceptacji (por. Fish 2007a). Nie znaczy to jednak, że innych, nowych i uznanych odczytań nie będzie. Z tego punktu widzenia wszelkie koncepcje obiecujące dotarcie do jakiejś obiektywnej, niezmiennej, trzonowej „prawdy” o tekście, którą należy przełożyć, a interpretacje pozostawić odbiorcom, nie bronią się[2]. Wynikałoby z tego, że takie koncepcje, jak na przykład dominanta semantyczna (Barańczak 1992), czy baza kognitywna (Hejwowski 2004) okazują się także tylko czytaniami, interpretacjami ubranymi w retorykę obiektywizmu. Jeśli spojrzy się na wywody teoretyków przekładu, którzy bronią jakiejkolwiek teorii istnienia czegoś obiektywnego w tekście (np. Barańczak 1992), to w zasadzie ich argumenty można sprowadzić do wykazywania paralelizmów w recepcji oryginału i przekładu popartych erudycją i …właśnie znajomością strategii interpretacyjnych. Myśląc w kategoriach antyesencjalizmu Fisha, tłumacz powinien więc porzucić nadzieję na to, że kiedykolwiek, tak raz a dobrze i na zawsze, zdoła ustalić znaczenie oryginału. Zawsze będzie to znaczenie przygodne (lub wiele takich znaczeń) wyczytane przez strategie interpretacyjne i nie ma od tego ucieczki, czyli – jak powiedziałby Fish (2007a: 119) – „interpretation is the only game in town”. Konsekwentnie należałoby zatem stwierdzić, że tłumacz nie będzie także w stanie przygotować tekstu tłumaczenia, który miałby ustalone znaczenie. Tekst tłumaczenia, jak każdy inny tekst, podlegać będzie różnym, czasem wykluczającym się wzajemnie czytaniom przez odbiorców uwikłanych w ich własne strategie interpretacyjne.

Czy takie ujęcie przekładu byłoby jedynie rozwinięciem, uzupełnieniem, a może nawet tylko parafrazą innych znanych koncepcji tłumaczenia: skoposu (Reiss i Vermeer 1984), przekładu funkcjonalnego (Nord 2009), czy teorii polisystemów (Even-Zohar 1990)? W koncepcjach tych także przecież uwypukla się dynamikę funkcjonowania tekstów oryginału i przekładu w kręgach odbiorców, ich tymczasowość i kulturowe uwarunkowanie, a przez to płynność ich znaczenia. Na przykład Christiane Nord (2009: 176), przedstawicielka opartego na teorii skoposu funkcjonalnego podejścia do tłumaczenia, pisze, że „tekst nie ma funkcji, lecz otrzymuje pewną funkcję w konkretnej sytuacji odbioru”; zwolennicy zaś teorii polisystemów, jak zauważa Edwin Gentzler (1993: 107), wyraźnie podkreślają historyczną zmienność konwencji literackich i norm społecznych, które wpływają na sposoby czytania tekstów. Należy tu jednak zauważyć, że powyższe koncepcje przekładu, owszem, rozpuszczają istotę tekstu i zwracają uwagę na zmienność jego odczytań, ale, gdy się im dokładniej przyjrzeć, to można odnieść wrażenie, iż obiecują przy tym możliwość zajęcia stanowiska niezaangażowanego obserwatora-profesjonalisty, który nie musi upierać się przy jednej interpretacji tekstu: ze swego neutralnego miejsca widzi różnorodność interpretacji oraz po prostu stara się ją uwzględnić i wykorzystać podczas tłumaczenia[3]. Ale czy odnalezienie takiego neutralnego miejsca jest w ogóle możliwe?

W rozważaniach Theo Hermansa dotyczących problemu rozumienia w procesie przekładu odnajdujemy inspirowane hermeneutyką Hansa-Georga Gadamera (1993) spostrzeżenie, że rozumienie jest „zależne od przedsądów i samorozumienia pochodzącego z kontekstu kulturowego i tradycji”, zależne od wszystkiego, „co każdy, jako dziecko swoich czasów bierze za oczywistość”, co oznacza, że jest ono konsekwencją „przyjęcia określonego punktu widzenia, którego nikt sam nie może w pełni ocenić” (Hermans 2009: 312). Jeśli więc obserwacja wielu odczytań tekstu jest swego rodzaju rozumieniem współistnienia tych wielu odczytań – a nie ma chyba powodu twierdzić, że tak nie jest – to wynika z tego, że nawet na poziomie obserwatora różnorodność tę jesteśmy w stanie widzieć tylko i wyłącznie nieobiektywnie, z jakiegoś punktu widzenia.

Wydaje się, że z antyesencjalizmu Fisha wyciągnąć można podobne wnioski dotyczące możliwości, a raczej niemożliwości, neutralnego obserwowania przez tłumacza zróżnicowanych interpretacji tekstu. Tłumacz jawi się po prostu jako kolejny odbiorca tekstu oryginału, którego „profesjonalizm” może oczywiście polegać na tym, że śledzi funkcjonowanie tekstu w komunikacji, przyjmuje do wiadomości wielowymiarowość tego funkcjonowania, stara się przewidzieć równie złożone oddziaływanie tekstu przekładu oraz umie wskazać na paralelizmy w funkcjonowaniu oryginału i przekładu. Robi jednak to wszystko pracując tylko i wyłącznie ze swoim własnym rozumieniem tekstu (składać się na nie mogą jego własne rozumienia rozumień innych odbiorców tekstu) oraz ze swoimi własnymi przewidywaniami co do oddziaływania tekstu przekładu, a rozumienie to i przewidywania te zawsze uwikłane będą w strategie kształtujące działania interpretacyjne tłumacza, choć nie zawsze będzie on w pełni tego uwikłania świadomy. Obietnica znalezienia miejsca, z którego niejako „obiektywnie” widać byłoby różnorodność i płynność tekstu oryginału oraz przekładu wydaje się więc niemożliwa do spełnienia. Znów zatem można powtórzyć za Fishem (2007a: 119): „interpretation is the only game in town”. Nie da się gry po prostu obserwować. Obserwacja jawi się także, jako gra w interpretację – interpretację wielu interpretacji, które przecież także są tekstami. Tłumacz więc nie pracuje z tekstami mającymi jakieś obiektywne, istotowe, cechy, ale z własnymi rozumieniami tych tekstów powstającymi pod wpływem strategii interpretacyjnych, w ramach których przyszło mu tu i teraz funkcjonować, co oznacza, że twardy grunt obiektywnego obserwatora różnorodności osuwa się spod nóg.

Cóż więc powiedzieć uczącym się przekładu? Sytuacja wydaje się beznadziejna: wszystko można z tekstu wyczytać lub do niego wczytać, a pozycja niezaangażowanego obserwatora interpretacji wydaje się niedostępna. Jak w sytuacji tak skrajnego wydawałoby się relatywizmu może poradzić sobie tłumacz, który „uwierzy” Fishowi? W relatywizmie tym jednak chodzi, nie tyle o relatywizm prawdy, co o prawdę o relacjach[4]. W tym konkretnym przypadku byłyby to relacje pomiędzy tekstem, a funkcjonującymi wśród odbiorców tekstu strategiami interpretacyjnymi oraz relacje pomiędzy punktem widzenia samego tłumacza a punktami widzenia reprezentowanymi przez inne osoby tłumaczące ten sam tekst lub przynajmniej wypowiadające się na temat tego tekstu i jego przekładu. Niedookreśloność i dynamika tych dwóch typów relacji będzie zapewne zawsze wywoływać w umyśle tłumacza intelektualne napięcia, które trudno chyba całkowicie usunąć – można jednak starać się je złagodzić.

Jak więc uporać się z problemem uzależnienia znaczenia tekstu od strategii interpretacyjnych? Wyjściem mogłoby tu być konstruowanie takiego znaczenia oryginału, które tłumacz będzie potrafił uzasadnić strategiami interpretacyjnymi panującymi w kulturze języka oryginału. Może się zdarzyć, że dostrzeże wielość czytań w rzeczywistości komunikacyjnej oryginału (wśród nich opinię samego autora, jeśli jest w ogóle dostępna) i panujące wokół nich kontrowersje. W takiej sytuacji nie musi jednak za wszelka cenę dążyć do wypracowania czytania jednego i spójnego. Mając świadomość kontrowersji może postawić sobie za zadanie zainicjowanie podobnych kontrowersji w języku przekładu i uwolnić się w ten sposób od obowiązku odnalezienia obiektywnej prawdy o tekście, którą byłby zobligowany przełożyć. Poszukiwanie jej dla kogoś dociekliwego nigdy się nie skończy; kto zaś przekona się do jakiejkolwiek „obiektywnej” prawdy o tekście, temu trudno będzie pogodzić się z potencjalną wielością czytań, za którymi opowiadać się będą różne grupy odbiorców kierujących się różnymi przygodnymi zbitkami strategii interpretacyjnych.

Sam proces przekładu można opisać podobnie: tłumacz tworzy przekład dla odbiorców także będących pod wpływem konkretnych układów strategii interpretacyjnych i, patrząc na swój tekst przekładu, próbuje przewidzieć, czyli po prostu wyobrazić sobie jego przyszłe odczytanie. Dąży do tego, by posługując się znajomością strategii z języka oryginału i języka docelowego być w stanie uzasadnić swoje wybory przez wykazanie paralelizmu pomiędzy czytaniem/czytaniami oryginału i przewidywanym odbiorem przekładu. Pamięta tłumacz przy tym, że nie zawsze wprowadza do kultury języka docelowego coś zupełnie nowego. Wśród użytkowników języka docelowego mogą być już jakieś oczekiwania dotyczące tekstu przekładu, mogą być wcześniejsze przekłady, mogą być wcześniejsze przekłady tekstów uznawanych za podobne – a to wszystko może mieć wpływ na strategie interpretacyjne, według których czytany będzie przygotowywany przez tłumacza przekład.

Czy tłumacz ma szansę dotrzeć do wszystkich czytań w oryginale i przewidzieć wszystkie czytania w przekładzie? Pewnie nie, ale może kierować się tu prostą zasadą: im więcej się dowie i przewidzi tym lepiej, czyli tym łatwiej będzie mu obronić efekt swej pracy, jako rzetelny i odpowiedzialny. Trudniej będzie obronić, jako jedyny prawdziwy.

W tym miejscu pojawić się może często stawiane przez uczących się przekładu pytanie o to, czy słowniki, leksykony i gramatyki nie dają nam „prawdy” o znaczeniu tekstu. Otóż niezupełnie. Są one raczej tworami statystycznymi, opartymi na uogólnieniach, a proces tłumaczenia zachodzi na poziomie konkretnych sytuacji komunikacyjnych. Źródła metajęzykowe mogą więc jedynie podpowiadać i sugerować wybory tłumaczeniowe na zasadzie prawdopodobieństwa, ale ostateczne rozstrzygnięcie należy do tłumacza i jeśli jego decyzje będą szwankować na poziomie rzeczywistego funkcjonowania komunikacyjnego, to przed zarzutami nie wybroni się zrzucając odpowiedzialność na słownik. Tłumacz więc nie przekłada z języka A na język B na podstawie abstrakcyjnych paralelizmów pomiędzy językami traktowanymi jako abstrakcyjne systemy (jak to jest w słownikach i gramatykach); raczej widzi komunikacyjne „promieniowanie” tekstu w oryginale i próbuje stworzyć tekst o takim promieniowaniu w języku docelowym, które opisać może, jako podobne pod jak największą liczba względów, będąc przy tym świadomy, że reprezentuje pewien – swój własny i przygodny – punkt widzenia.

Jak pomóc adeptom sztuki przekładu w konstruowaniu znaczeń i przewidywaniu interpretacji? Warto zwrócić ich uwagę na wspomniane już wyżej funkcjonalne podejście do przekładu. Jak już powiedziano, nie w pełni zgadza się ono z koncepcją tłumaczenia wywiedzioną z antyesencjalizmu Fisha, jednak same czysto praktyczne wskazówki, na których opiera się przekład funkcjonalny mogą z powodzeniem stanowić uzupełnienie tej koncepcji. Krótko mówiąc, w przekładzie funkcjonalnym tekst i jego przekład widziane są, jako wypadkowe oddziałujących na siebie trendów interpretacyjnych i potrzeb komunikacyjnych funkcjonujących w odpowiednich obszarach kultury języka przekładu i oryginału, a poszczególnych wyborów tłumaczeniowych dokonuje się na podstawie skrupulatnej analizy tych trendów i potrzeb (por. Nord 2009). Właśnie takie wybory tłumaczeniowe przedstawiać można, jako możliwe do uzasadnienia efekty pracy ze znaczeniami konstruowanymi według strategii interpretacyjnych, które rzeczywiście działają wśród odbiorców przekładu i oryginału.

Jak w takim razie uporać się z napięciami wynikającymi z poczucia, że nawet najdokładniejsze i najrzetelniejsze rozważania o funkcjonowaniu jakiegokolwiek tekstu oryginału i jego przekładu pozostaną zawsze tylko dziełem naszym i pozostaną uwikłane w działanie strategii interpretacyjnych, które w danej chwili rządzą naszym pojmowaniem tekstów? Wydaje się, że problem ten rozwiązać może nie tyle konkretne działanie, co przyjęcie pewnej postawy wobec wyników opisanej wyżej własnej pracy z sensami oryginału i przekładu. Postawą tą mogłaby być na przykład postawa rortiańskiego liberalnego ironisty.

Opisywana przez Richarda Rorty’ego postawa liberalnego ironisty jest w zasadzie pewną postawą etyczną. Znajdujący się w jej nazwie człon „ironista” oznacza kogoś, kto w pełni akceptuje przygodność, a przez to także i nietrwałość, swej własnej jaźni (Rorty 2009: 123) oraz, co za tym idzie, swojego sposobu widzenia i opisywania świata. Ironista nie wierzy, że ma dostęp do „neutralnego i uniwersalnego słownika” (Rorty 2009: 122) umożliwiającego dotarcie do rzeczywistego stanu rzeczy; nie wierzy również, że skonstruowanie takiego słownika jest w ogóle możliwe (por. Rorty 2009: 124). Z kolei liberalność ironisty polega na tym, że zaznajamia się ze sposobami widzenia i opisywania świata reprezentowanymi przez innych, ale nie tylko po to, aby wzbogacić samego siebie – także po to, by praktykować ludzką solidarność poprzez unikanie upokorzenia innych osób (Rorty 2009: 149).

Przyjęcie postawy liberalnego ironisty w obszarze tłumaczeń mogłoby zatem, przynajmniej z dwóch powodów, umożliwić takie praktykowanie przekładu, w którym wspomniane wyżej napięcia byłyby znacznie zredukowane. Po pierwsze, tłumacz z postawą liberalnego ironisty w pełni akceptuje przygodność własnych interpretacji oraz rozwiązań tłumaczeniowych – w języku Fisha oznaczałoby to, że akceptuje fakt, iż zarówno odczytując tekst oryginalny, jak i przewidując recepcje przekładu, stosuje się (bo nie ma innej możliwości) do historycznie uwarunkowanych strategii interpretacyjnych. Po drugie, postawa liberalnego ironisty pozwala tłumaczowi szanować efekty pracy innych tłumaczy, co tworzy dobrą atmosferę do dyskusji, w których na równych prawach traktowani są wszyscy jej uczestnicy. W dyskusjach takich liberalny ironista formułuje wyjaśnienia i komentarze na podstawie własnej wiedzy i erudycji, unika forsowania swoich rozwiązań tłumaczeniowych w oparciu o przewagę władzy oraz zachowuje pokorę wobec bogactwa i niedomknięcia praktyk komunikacyjnych.

Dla dydaktyka przekładu, przyjęcie wszystkich powyższych uwag, jako filozoficznego fundamentu refleksji nad procesem tłumaczenia oznacza konieczność skonstruowania odpowiadającego im procesu edukacyjnego. W procesie tym raczej nie byłoby miejsca na przedstawianie ustalonych (przede wszystkim przez teoretyków przekładu) paralelizmów pomiędzy językami oraz technik rozwiązywania poszczególnych typów problemów tłumaczeniowych, co często bywa uzupełniane ćwiczeniami typu „proszę przetłumaczyć zdanie/akapit z przerabianym problemem”. Zbudowany w ten sposób kurs przekładu może bowiem wzmagać przekonanie uczących się, że tłumaczony tekst należy – według jakiegoś „profesjonalnego” schematu – rozłożyć na konkretne przypadki typowych problemów, a potem uporać się z nimi za pomocą jednej z opisanych w źródłach teoretycznych technik. Przekonanie to może z kolei doprowadzić do tego, że uczestnicy takiego kursu będą w swej praktyce tłumaczeniowej zwracać większą uwagę na teoretyczne reguły przekładu niż na konkretne układy strategii interpretacyjnych, według których doszło lub dojdzie do czytania oryginału i przekładu. Możliwe także, iż powstanie w nich wrażenie domknięcia rozumień konkretnych wypowiedzi językowych oraz domknięcia paralelizmów pomiędzy konkretnymi wypowiedziami w dwóch językach, co spowoduje, że nie będą wyczuleni na ewolucję praktyk komunikacyjnych.

Wydaje się zatem, że w ramach kursu opartego na antyesencjalizmie Fisha należałoby pracować nad przekładaniem realnych tekstów (lub przynajmniej fragmentów takich tekstów), kłaść nacisk na funkcjonowanie oryginału i tłumaczenia, jako konkretnych wydarzeń komunikacyjnych i przedstawiać je jako mozaiki komunikacyjnych przygodności charakteryzujących się historyczną stabilnością o natężeniu mniejszym (np. teksty literackie) lub większym (np. teksty naukowe). Łączy się z tym konieczność przekonania uczących się, że warto wyjść poza opracowane przez teoretyków modele i uporządkowania i szukać twórczych rozwiązań problemów tłumaczeniowych poprzez uważną obserwację komunikacji w obydwu językach (dziś niebywale ułatwia to Internet), a także w kontaktach – niekoniecznie formalnych[5] – z kompetentnymi uczestnikami komunikacji w tych jej obszarach, z którymi związane są teksty oryginału i przekładu.

Wyzwaniem dla nauczyciela byłoby więc odnalezienie takich tekstów, które mogłyby zostać wybrane, jako zadania tłumaczeniowe. Teksty te powinny spełniać przynajmniej dwa warunki. Po pierwsze, jak już powiedziano, powinny być realne, pochodzić z konkretnych sytuacji komunikacyjnych i po drugie, powinny mieć w uniwersum komunikacyjnym języka docelowego jakieś miejsce (lub miejsca) potencjalnego funkcjonowania. Tylko w takiej sytuacji będzie można dyskutować o przekładzie w kategoriach rzeczywistych strategii interpretacyjnych i poszukiwać w nich paralelizmów między wydarzeniami komunikacyjnymi w obydwu językach. Wtedy będzie można nawet o problemach uznanych przez teoretyków za typowe dla styku dwóch danych języków mówić w odniesieniu do rzeczywistych przypadków ich występowania i praktykować ich przekład, a nie uciekać się do prostego wyboru z listy możliwości. W takiej sytuacji uczący się nie tylko zobaczą, co można zrobić z jakimś typowym problemem (czyli repertuar możliwości), ale od razu będą przyzwyczajać się do myśli, że rozwiązanie tych problemów zawsze powinno być umotywowane komunikacyjnym funkcjonowaniem konkretnego tekstu i jego tłumaczenia, a nie uogólnionymi regułami przekładu[6].

Pociąga to za sobą kolejne wyzwania dla nauczyciela. Organizując kurs przekładu inspirowany założeniami antyesencjalizmu sam nauczyciel nie może „schować” się za obiektywnymi metodami, które jedynie przekazuje innym, mniej doświadczonym. Sam nauczyciel musi orientować się w strategiach interpretacyjnych w obu językach, musi być wyczulony na subtelności interpretacyjne i wykazać się erudycją, która jest niezbędnym warunkiem szybkiego reagowania na propozycje uczących się – weryfikowania tych propozycji, sugerowania ich zmiany lub choćby zasygnalizowania konieczności sprawdzenia tych propozycji w relacji do rzeczywistych praktyk komunikacyjnych.

W tym momencie można już spróbować odpowiedzieć na postawione na początku pytanie o to, czy dydaktyk przekładu mógłby „polubić” antyesencjalizm Fisha: jeżeli gotowy jest zaakceptować opisane powyżej konsekwencje antyesencjalistycznego myślenia o przekładzie, to tak. Mógłby wtedy spodziewać się, że na kilka sposobów wpłynie to korzystnie na cały proces edukacyjny oraz jego efekty.

Po pierwsze, teoria Fisha pomoże uczącym się znacznie poszerzyć ich refleksję o tłumaczeniu, gdyż stanowi wprowadzenie do hermeneutycznych koncepcji przekładu oraz do postmodernistycznej filozofii rozumienia i interpretacji. Po drugie, rozpatrywanie przekładu w kategoriach strategii interpretacyjnych równie dobrze sprawdzi się w pracy nad tekstami zarówno literackimi, jak i specjalistycznymi, dzięki czemu podczas całego kursu może panować spójna intelektualna atmosfera, bez względu na to, jakie teksty – z wyboru lub z konieczności – będą przedmiotem zainteresowania na poszczególnych zajęciach. Po trzecie, antyesencjalistyczne ujęcie procesu przekładu raczej zachęca do poszukiwania rozumień i uzasadnień tych rozumień niż podsuwa takie metody ich odnajdywania, które miałyby odciążyć tłumacza pod względem odpowiedzialności za wybory tłumaczeniowe. Dzięki temu uczący się mogą uniknąć pokusy uznania tłumaczenia za wyspecjalizowaną działalność autonomiczną rządzącą się tylko swoimi idiosynkratycznymi regułami, które należy po prostu opanować i stosować się do nich. Tłumacz, który by takiej pokusie uległ, może przestać szukać kontaktu z rzeczywistością komunikacyjną i dokonywać jej refleksyjnego oglądu, a skutki takiej postawy mogą być, a nawet bywają, nie tylko komiczne, ale i niebezpieczne. Innymi słowy: ujęcie to daje adeptom sztuki przekładu poczucie wolności od ograniczeń wynikających ze źródeł metajęzykowych i ustaleń teoretyków przekładu, ale – coś za coś – uświadamia im, że za wybory tłumaczeniowe odpowiada sam tłumacz, a jest to często odpowiedzialność za wizerunek autora oryginału w oczach odbiorców przekładu i – przynajmniej częściowo – za skutki oddziaływania tłumaczenia na odbiorców przekładu.


Barańczak, Stanisław (1992) Ocalone w tłumaczeniu. Szkice o warsztacie tłumacza poezji z dołączeniem małej antologii przekładów, Poznań, a5.

Bińczyk, Ewa (2007) Obraz, który nas zniewala. Współczesne ujęcia języka wobec esencjalizmu i problemu referencji, Kraków, Universitas.

Deleuze, Gilles i Félix Guattari (2000) Co to jest filozofia?, przeł. P. Pieniążek, Gdańsk, słowo-obraz-terytoria.

Even-Zohar, Itamar (1990) „Polysystem Studies”, Poetics Today no. 11:1.

Fish, Stanley (1980) Is There a Text In His Class? The Authority of Interpretative Communities, Cambridge MA, Harvard University Press.

---- (1989) Doing What Comes Naturally. Change, Rhetoric and the Practice of Theory in Literary and Legal Studies, Durham and London, Duke University Press.

---- (2007) „Jak rozpoznać wiersz, gdy się go widzi” przeł. A. Grzeliński w Stanley Fish Interpretacja, retoryka, polityka. Eseje wybrane, Andrzej Szahaj (red.), Kraków, Universitas: 81–98.

---- (2007a) „Co czyni interpretację możliwą do przyjęcia?” przeł. A. Szahaj w Stanley Fish Interpretacja, retoryka, polityka. Eseje wybrane, Andrzej Szahaj (red.), Kraków, Universitas: 99–119.

Gadamer, Hans-Georg (1993) Prawda i metoda. Zarys hermeneutyki filozoficznej, przeł. B. Baran, Kraków, Inter Esse.

Gentzler, Edwin (1993) Contemporary Translation Theories, London, Routledge.

Hejwowski, Krzysztof (2004) Kognitywno-komunikacyjna teoria przekładu, Warszawa, PWN.

Hermans, Theo (2009) „Przekład, zadrażnienie i rezonans”, przeł. M. Heydel w Współczesne teorie przekładu. Antologia, Piotr Bukowski i Magda Heydel (red.), Kraków, Wydawnictwo Znak: 297–315.

Illich, Ivan (2010) Odszkolnić społeczeństwo, przeł. Ł. Mojsak, Warszawa, Fundacja Bęc Zmiana.

Nord, Christiane (2009) „Wprowadzenie do tłumaczenia funkcjonalnego” przeł. K. Jaśtal w Współczesne teorie przekładu. Antologia, Piotr Bukowski i Magda Heydel (red.), Kraków, Wydawnictwo Znak: 175–91.

Reiss, Katharine i Hans J. Vermeer (1984) Grundlegung einer allgemeinen Translationstheorie, Tübingen, Max Niemeyer Verlag.

Rorty, Richard (1999) Obiektywność, relatywizm i prawda. Pisma filozoficzne. Tom I, przeł. J. Margański, Warszawa, Fundacja Aletheia.

---- (2009) Przygodność, ironia i solidarność, przeł. J. Popowski, Warszawa, Wydawnictwo W.A.B.

Szahaj, Andrzej (2007) „Zniewalająca moc kultury” w Stanley Fish Interpretacja, retoryka, polityka. Eseje wybrane, Andrzej Szahaj (red.), Kraków, Universitas: 13–28.


[1] Szersze omówienie przedstawianych tu koncepcji odnaleźć można oczywiście w pracach samego Fisha (1980; 1989). W literaturze polskojęzycznej na uwagę zasługuje książka Ewy Bińczyk (2007), w której rozważania Fisha pokazane są w kontekście myśli Richarda Rorty’ego, Josefa Mitterera, Ludwiga Wittgensteina i Bruna Latoura.

[2] O problemach z oddzieleniem obiektywnej warstwy znaczenia tekstów od ich interpretacji pisze także Rorty (1999: 119-39).

[3] Na takie dążenia do zobiektywizowania oglądu różnorodności znaczeń tekstu w teorii skoposu i polisystemów zwraca uwagę Gentzler (1993: 72 i 123).

[4] Spostrzeżenie to inspirowane jest następująca myślą Gilles’a Deleuze’a i Félixa Guattariego (2000: 144): „Naukowy perspektywizm bądź relatywizm nigdy nie dotyczy podmiotu, nie tworzy żadnej względności prawdy, lecz – przeciwnie – prawdę tego, co względne”.

[5] O roli nieformalnych sposobów zdobywania wiedzy i umiejętności pisze na przykład Ivan Illich (2010).

[6] Przykładem ilustrującym tę myśl mogą być zajęcia, które autor wielokrotnie realizował jako jedne z pierwszych w ramach kursów praktycznego przekładu. Treścią tych zajęć było poszukiwanie technik przekładu obcych elementów kulturowych w tekście napisanym przez studenta rozpoczynającego naukę na jednym z renomowanych uniwersytetów amerykańskich. Student ten, będący osobą bardzo religijną, opisywał poważny konflikt moralny, którego doświadczył, gdy został zmuszony przez uczelniane przepisy do tego, by wprowadzić się do akademika, gdzie, jego zdaniem, panowała zbyt duża swoboda seksualna. W jego tekście, który stał się w USA znany wśród osób zaangażowanych w krytykę uniwersyteckiej praktyki zobowiązywania studentów pierwszego i drugiego roku do zamieszkania na kampusie, znajdowały się elementy leksykalne odnoszące się do amerykańskiej kultury i obyczajowości studenckiej, takie jak na przykład „freshman” i „sophomore”. W początkowej fazie zajęć studenci zastanawiali się, która z wyróżnionych przez teoretyków przekładu technik tłumaczenia tego typu elementów leksykalnych będzie odpowiednia w przekładzie omawianego tekstu na – jak to sami studenci określali – „po prostu język polski”. Na tym etapie nie zdołali dojść do żadnych rezultatów, które sami byliby w stanie zaakceptować. Ich myślenie stopniowo zmieniało się, gdy podczas kontrolowanej przez prowadzącego zajęcia dyskusji zaczynali dochodzić do kilku wzajemnie warunkujących się wniosków. Po pierwsze przełożyć tego tekstu „po prostu na język polski” się nie da, ponieważ nie ma jednego wyraźnie określonego miejsca w uniwersum komunikacyjnym polszczyzny, w którym przekład tego tekstu miałby funkcjonować – przecież w Polsce dyskusji o instytucjonalnym przymusie zakwaterowania studentów w akademikach nikt nie prowadzi, więc przekład nie może być głosem w takiej dyskusji. Po drugie więc, polski odbiorca najprawdopodobniej czytać będzie tekst przekładu z innych powodów i w innym celu niż amerykański odbiorca oryginału. Wynikał z tego wniosek trzeci – taki, że wybór odpowiedniego sposobu potraktowania tych kłopotliwych elementów leksykalnych uzależniony będzie od wiedzy tłumacza o oczekiwaniach i praktykach komunikacyjnych konkretnej grupy odbiorców, do której miałby trafić przekład, oraz od wymogów zleceniodawcy. Następnie ustalono dwie hipotetyczne grupy potencjalnych odbiorców przekładu. Pierwsza z nich mogłaby składać się z czytelników zainteresowanych zarówno opisywanym w tekście problemem moralnym, jak i realiami amerykańskiej kultury studenckiej odzwierciedlonymi w słowach „freshman” i „sophomore” – czytelnikami takimi byłyby na przykład osoby wybierające się na studia do USA. Druga grupę stanowiliby czytelnicy zainteresowani jedynie moralnymi rozterkami jednostki spowodowanymi przez przymus instytucjonalny. W tym momencie uczestnicy zajęć nie mieli już większych problemów z wyborem technik tłumaczenia problematycznych słów – technik odmiennych oczywiście dla każdej z obydwu grup odbiorców. Twierdzono zgodnie, ze w przekładzie dla grupy pierwszej powinny znaleźć się angielski słowa umieszczone w nawiasie po polskich „studenci pierwszego roku” i „studenci drugiego roku”, być może nawet – gdyby było to zgodne z wymogami zleceniodawcy – opatrzone odpowiednimi przypisami. Dla grupy drugiej wybierano tylko „studenci pierwszego roku” i „studenci drugiego roku”. Uznano także, że gdyby odbiorcą przekładu tego tekstu miała być grupa inna niż te dwie, to należałoby zapewne skorzystać z jeszcze innych technik przekładu.

Analiza sieci wyborów, jako dydaktyczne narzędzie kształtowania kreatywności w przekładzie

By Ewa Data-Bukowska (Jagiellonian University of Cracow, Poland)

Abstract & Keywords


This article demonstrates how collaboration, based on the sharing of multiple perspectives, can be made ‘a particularly valuable element’ (Kiraly 2003: 4) in beginner translators’ education. It presents the method of Choice Network Analysis, a useful tool and classroom technique in teaching translation. With this method multiple translations of a chosen source text by a variety of translators are collected, compared and classified in order to select a number of translational solutions to be incorporated into a general network of strategies used by the group of participating students (Campbell 1999, 2000). Envisioning the various solutions as being situated within a choice network may help students to develop translational creativity rooted in divergent thinking. In the article, which represents an action study, the idea of the Choice Network Analysis is related to the social constructivist (Kiraly 2003) and the Cognitive Linguistics (Tabakowska 2001) perspectives, as well as to research on creativity (Kußmaul 1995) and competence in translation (Pym 1992).


Celem artykułu jest pokazanie w jaki sposób współpraca między początkującymi tłumaczami, oparta o analizę różnych punktów widzenia zawartych w ich tłumaczeniach danego tekstu, może zostać wykorzystana w dydaktyce przekładu na poziomie podstawowym. Współpraca taka koncentruje się wokół tworzenia sieci wyborów translatorskich, wzorowanej na Analizie Sieci Wyborów (metodzie badawczej propagowanej przez australijskiego językoznawcę S. Cambella (1999, 2000), która umożliwia uporządkowanie i porównanie wielu tłumaczeń tego samego tekstu). Utworzona sieć wyborów stanowi zapis różnych strategii zastosowanych przez uczestników zajęć przekładowych w odniesieniu do danej struktury tekstu źródłowego. Zapis takich rozwiązań tłumaczeniowych może pomóc adeptom przekładu rozwijać kreatywność translatorską bazującą na myśleniu dywergencyjnym. W ramach opisywanej w artykule techniki dydaktycznej Analiza Sieci Wyborów łączy się z podstawowymi założeniami konstruktywizmu społecznego (Kiraly 2003) i kognitywnej teorii przekładu (Tabakowska 2001), jak również zostaje odniesiona do badań z zakresu kreatywności (Kußmaul 1995) oraz kompetencji translatorskiej (Pym 1992).

Keywords: Analiza sieci wyborów, kreatywność, dostęp do wielu perspektyw, kompetencja translatorska, dydaktyka przekładu, Choice Network Analysis, creativity, translation competence, translator training

©inTRAlinea & Ewa Data-Bukowska (2014).
"Analiza sieci wyborów, jako dydaktyczne narzędzie kształtowania kreatywności w przekładzie"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Challenges in Translation Pedagogy
Edited by: Maria Piotrowska & Sergiy Tyupa
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Permanent URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2105

Coraz więcej studentów wybiera translatologię, jako główny przedmiot studiów, w trakcie których otrzymuje rozciągnięte w czasie, wszechstronne wykształcenie, bazujące w znacznym stopniu na praktyce tłumaczenia. Zajęcia z praktyki tłumaczenia są jednak także częścią bardziej tradycyjnych studiów filologicznych pierwszego i drugiego stopnia. Na takich kursach naucza się podstaw przekładu, co wymaga zastosowania niekonwencjonalnych metod i szczególnych technik dydaktycznych, pozwalających na zapoznanie studentów z istotą przekładu w relatywnie krótkim czasie, rozpoczynając od podstaw tj. od momentu, gdy nie posiadają oni jeszcze żadnych kompetencji translatorskich a stosowane przez nich rozwiązania tłumaczeniowe nierzadko są dalekie od adekwatnych. W tym artykule skoncentruję się na takiej właśnie sytuacji dydaktycznej.

Słabym punktem zajęć tego typu jest zazwyczaj nadmierne eksponowanie roli nauczyciela, jako „wyroczni” przekazującej wiedzę oraz decydującej o wyborze tzw. „najlepszego” rozwiązania translatorskiego (Kiraly 2003). Natomiast wśród licznych problemów, z jakimi zmagają się uczestnicy kursów wymienia się wyłanianie zagadnień, które są kluczowe dla realizacji danego przekładu oraz obawę początkujących tłumaczy przed podejmowaniem śmiałych decyzji translatorskich, która owocuje schematycznością ich postępowania, np. unikaniem tłumaczeń dosłownych, nawet jeśli są one w pełni akceptowalne (Kußmaul 1995: 18–19). Niedoświadczeni przekładowcy nie dostrzegają także słabych stron sporządzonych tłumaczeń (Colina 2003: 29). Obserwacje te mogą świadczyć o braku świadomości adeptów przekładu, że w przypadku każdej treści źródłowej zawsze istnieje wiele możliwych sposobów jej realizacji w języku docelowym.

Podejmując próbę opracowania techniki dydaktycznej, która mogłaby być przydatna w interesującym nas przypadku, istotne wydaje się zatem uwzględnienie następujących kwestii:

  • zwiększenie samodzielności działania początkujących tłumaczy;
  • oswojenie ich z faktem wielości wyborów ekwiwalentów i związaną z tym kreatywnością językową w przekładzie;
  • uwrażliwienie ich na wyłanianie zagadnień, które uznaje się za kluczowe dla tłumaczeń w zakresie wybranych języków;
  • kształtowanie decyzyjności, co do adekwatności zastosowanych rozwiązań.

Zaplanowanie zajęć z uwzględnieniem wymienionych tu celów dydaktycznych pozwala uczącemu się porzucić rolę biernego odbiorcy wiedzy translatorskiej na rzecz roli świadomego kreatora przekładu i własnej kompetencji. Jak jednak zrealizować to zadanie w praktyce?

Celem artykułu jest zaproponowanie takiego rozwiązania i przedstawienie Analizy Sieci Wyborów (Choice Network Analysis), stosowanej w badaniach nad przekładem (Campbell 1999, 2000), jako przydatnego narzędzia w dydaktyce przekładu. Wykażę, że wykorzystanie ASW umożliwia ukonstytuowanie spójnej konceptualnie techniki dydaktycznej w zakresie nauczania tłumaczenia i realizację wymienionych powyżej celów dydaktycznych już na poziomie podstawowym.

1. Stare przyzwyczajenia

Kiraly (2003: 4) zauważa, że rozwój metod i technik dydaktycznych w zakresie nauczania przekładu na przestrzeni lat został podporządkowany zasadzie prowadzenia ucznia za rękę (hand-me-down principle). Oznacza to, że oczekuje się, żeby nauczyciel przekazywał wiedzę uczniom, a ci przyswoili ją tak dobrze, jak to możliwe (Kiraly 2003: 6). W praktyce oznacza to realizację zajęć tłumaczeniowych według następującego schematu: studenci czytają kolejno fragmenty swoich przekładów (zazwyczaj ograniczone do pojedynczych wypowiedzeń);  następnie grupa dyskutuje na temat odczytanej wersji, a nauczyciel wygłasza swój komentarz, nierzadko ukierunkowany na wypunktowanie tzw. błędów translatorskich. Ostatnim etapem dyskusji jest osiągnięcie porozumienia, co do tego, który z zaproponowanych wariantów jest najlepszy. W sytuacji, gdy nie udaje się tego ustalić, decydujące słowo należy do nauczyciela. Tzw. najlepszy ekwiwalent zostaje także skwapliwie zanotowany przez uczestników kursu, zaś inne rozwiązania popadają w niepamięć. (Kiraly 2003: 5–6) W takim zogniskowanym wokół postaci nauczyciela modelu nie liczy się, zatem indywidualne (i przez to niepowtarzalne) doświadczanie treści przez ucznia, a więc to, co zdaniem kognitywistów stanowi istotę funkcjonowania języka naturalnego (Tabakowska  2001). Model ten jest więc sprzeczny z poznawczymi podstawami funkcjonowania człowieka w otaczającej rzeczywistości. Być może to właśnie, dlatego po ogłoszeniu werdyktu dotyczącego „najlepszego” wariantu, bardziej wytrwali studenci intuicyjnie zadają niekiedy kłopotliwe pytanie: A czy tak (też) może być?

Dla początkujących tłumaczy zaprezentowany tu sposób nauczania przekładu jest nie tylko szkodliwy, ale i niebezpieczny, ponieważ już od początku utrwala sposób myślenia o tłumaczeniu, który na dłuższą metę może rodzić frustrację. Adept przekładu nie rozwija świadomości dotyczącej konceptualnego potencjału języka, ale ją zawęża. Wyrabia w sobie przekonanie, że albo odnajdzie ten jeden, najlepszy ekwiwalent, albo nie sprosta zadaniu. Jako bierny odbiorca wiedzy nie potrafi także świadomie podjąć decyzji translatorskiej, lecz kieruje się intuicją. Trafność zastosowanego rozwiązania jest więc wypadkową pewności siebie przekładowcy, być może wrodzonego talentu oraz przypadku. Dlatego nie można wykluczyć, że scharakteryzowany tu sposób kształcenia wpływa negatywnie na samoocenę początkujących tłumaczy, na co zwracają uwagę niektórzy badacze:

It may very well be that when our students embark on a translation course, they are quite self-confident young people, but in the course of their studies they lose their self-confidence as a result of criticism of their teachers (Kußmaul 1995: 32).

Trudno również oprzeć się wrażeniu, że promowanie  takiego sposobu działania jest sprzeczne z ideą nauczania, które przecież powinno rozbudzać zainteresowania poznawcze uczniów i kształtować ich pewność siebie. Dodatkowo, jak podkreśla Kußmaul (2009: 109), kłóci się z kreatywną istotą przekładu, u którego podstaw leży myślenie dywergencyjne (ukierunkowane na wyłonienie wielu potencjalnych rozwiązań danego problemu), nie zaś konwergencyjne (zakładające istnienie jednego takiego rozwiązania) (zob. także Data-Bukowska 2011).

2. Nowe podejście

Zdaniem Kiraly’ego (2003: 5) scharakteryzowany powyżej sposób nauczania przekładu wywodzi się z mocno zakorzenionego w tradycji dydaktycznej przekonania, że treść i poznanie są oddzielnymi bytami. Natomiast w ujęciu konstruktywizmu społecznego, który badacz ten reprezentuje, za kluczowe uznaje się założenie dotyczące poznawczych korzeni języka i związaną z nimi zdolność człowieka do kształtowania treści. Jak ujmuje to badacz „there is no meaning in the world until we human beings make it – both individually and collectively” using our experience, sense perception, beliefs etc.” (Kiraly 2003: 9). Oznacza to, że uczenie się i formowanie treści poznawczej muszą być postrzegane, jako nierozłączne i podlegające konstruowaniu. Gromadzenie wiedzy bazuje na dostępie użytkownika języka do wielu perspektyw (sharing of multiple perspectives) oraz nagromadzonego przez wspólnotę doświadczenia (cumulative experience) (Kiraly 2003: 9). Dlaczego więc w przypadku uczenia się przekładu miałoby być inaczej?

Zdaniem badacza (Kiraly 2003: 14) nowy sposób nauczania przekładu powinien pozwolić studentom: budować kompetencję poprzez obserwację problemu w odniesieniu do wiedzy, którą już posiadają; uwolnić się od przeświadczenia, że istnieje jedno najlepsze rozwiązanie, które za wszelką cenę należy odnaleźć; wyrobić w sobie przekonanie, że uczą się rozwiązywania problemów, a nie wydawania ocen dotyczących tego, który przekład jest najlepszy, ponieważ ocena taka nie jest możliwa.

Na tak zorientowaną dydaktykę przekładu, zwraca także uwagę Bernardini (2004: 27), która podkreśla, że na poziomie podstawowym efekty nauczania powinny być oceniane nie w oparciu o produkty tj. dostarczone przez studentów tłumaczenia, ale poprzez analizę procesów tj. działań tłumaczy, które doprowadziły do powstania takich przekładów. Składają się na nie m.in. postępy adeptów przekładu w czytaniu ze zrozumieniem, pozyskiwanie przez nich niezbędnej do realizacji tłumaczenia wiedzy, sposoby poszukiwania właściwych rozwiązań, współdziałanie w grupie, itd.

Poszukiwanie nowatorskich (bazujących na różnych założeniach teoretycznych i kombinacji różnych metod) rozwiązań dydaktycznych w nauczaniu przekładu, wydaje się więc nieuniknione, co potwierdzają też coraz liczniejsze opracowania ukierunkowane na tę kwestię (np. Colina 2003; Dam-Jensen i Heine 2009; Fraser 1996; Gerding-Salas 2000; Gile 2004; Hansen 2006; Kim 2005; Kostopoulou 2007; Pym 2009; Whitfield 2005; Wróblewski 2010; Zanettin et al. 2003). Jak podkreśla Calzada Pérez (2005) urozmaicenie na płaszczyźnie dydaktycznej jest tu wskazane, ponieważ konfrontowanie studentów z różnymi podejściami do przekładu uczy ich giętkości poznawczej i otwiera drogę do twórczego rozwiązywania problemów. Na poziomie podstawowym wydaje się natomiast konieczne, chociażby dlatego, że dydaktyka przekładu w takim przypadku zawsze łączy się z pewnymi ograniczeniami. Przykładowo, odtworzenie naturalnej sytuacji przekładowej i zastosowanie autentycznych (tj. pojawiających się w profesjonalnej praktyce przekładowej) tekstów, jest wtedy bardzo ograniczone. Dlatego wiele wskazuje na to, że w sztucznych warunkach kształcenia w grupie na poziomie podstawowym tym bardziej należy postawić na te aspekty zaistniałej sytuacji, które są dostępne i mogą przynieść wymierne efekty w przyszłości. Do takich należy bez wątpienia dostęp do różnych, niekiedy niedoskonałych, punktów widzenia (różnych konceptualizacji językowych odnoszących się do tej samej struktury wyjściowej, zanurzonej w określonym kontekście), które dzięki swoim przekładom danego tekstu dostarczają uczestnicy kursu translatorskiego.

Wprowadzenie zmian w życie nie jest jednak łatwe i jak zauważa Kiraly (2003: 12) często spotyka się z krytyką i niechęcią dydaktyków przekładu. Przyczyn tego może być wiele. Jedną z nich wydaje się fakt, że niezwykle trudno jest uporządkować dostarczone prze studentów liczne przekłady tekstu źródłowego. Doświadczenie pokazuje, że zastosowanie listy tłumaczeń danej konceptualizacji umożliwiające porównywanie jej różnych aspektów, które nauczyciel (lub wyznaczona osoba) przygotowuje w oparciu o wcześniej przesłane teksty, nie jest wystarczające.

Jak pokazuje Tabela 1, lista taka okazuje się być nieczytelna i trudna do ogarnięcia już przy kilkunastu analizowanych wariantach[1]. Dodatkowo, to znowu jedynie sporządzający listę jest stroną aktywną a pozostali czekają na gotowe rozwiązanie. W oparciu o tak skonstruowaną listę trudno także przeprowadzić analizę na poziomie ekwiwalencji. W efekcie student nadal nie ma jasności, na jakie aspekty przekładu powinien zwrócić szczególną uwagę i jaki repertuar środków potencjalnie pozostaje do jego dyspozycji w rozpatrywanym przypadku.

Zestawienie tłumaczeń tej samej struktury wyjściowej (wybór dostarczonych przekładów):

Finansminister Sträng presenterade i dag det förslag till skattereform som är följden av vårens Haga-uppgörelse med Folkpartiet.

Szwedzki minister finansów Sträng przedstawił dziś propozycję reformy podatkowej, będącą konsekwencją porozumienia zawartego wiosną na zamku Haga w szwedzkim Enköping pomiędzy rządem a Ludową Partią Liberałów (szw. Folkpartiet). (31)

Szwedzki Minister Finansów Gunnar Sträng przedstawił dziś projekt reformy podatkowej, która jest następstwem wiosennego porozumienia zawartego w Pałacu Haga w Sztokholmie z Ludową Partią Liberałów. (39)

Szwedzki minister finansów Gunnar Sträng przedstawił dziś projekt ustawy o reformie systemu podatkowego, który jest następstwem porozumień z Ludową Partią Liberałów w zamku Haga. (36)

Minister finansów Szwecji Gunnar Sträng zaprezentował dziś projekt reformy podatkowej, będącej następstwem tzw. Porozumienia Haga, zawartego na wiosnę tego roku między szwedzkim rządem i centroprawicową opozycyjną partią Folkpartiet na zamku Haga niedaleko Sztokholmu.(38)

Szwedzki minister finansów Gunnar Sträng zaprezentował wczoraj propozycję reformy podatkowej, będącej skutkiem porozumienia ze szwedzką Ludową Partią Liberałów (Folkpartiet), mającego miejsce tej wiosny w Hadze.(28)

3. Rola nauczyciela

Jaka więc powinna być rola nauczyciela w scharakteryzowanym tu nowym wyzwaniu dydaktycznym? Rolę tę Kiraly (2003: 12) definiuje jako „to help the group move to a new level of understanding”. Kolejnym zadaniem nauczyciela (dodajmy ograniczonym tylko do wstępnego etapu nauczania) jest „scaffolding”, tzn. pomoc intelektualna przejawiająca się np. w dostarczaniu teoretycznej podbudowy do wyznaczanych zadań (Kiraly 2003: 12). To on korzystając ze swojej wiedzy i doświadczenia, wyselekcjonowuje także zagadnienia, którym należy poświęcić większą uwagę. Jednak nauczyciel to przede wszystkim trener lub jak wyraża to Kiraly (2003: 21) „a travelling assistant”, który zwraca uwagę na problemy pojawiające się podczas pracy studentów nad powierzonym im zadaniem tłumaczeniowym.

4. Analiza sieci wyborów

Korzystny z perspektywy dydaktycznej tj. przejrzysty i nieskomplikowany sposób uporządkowania dostarczonych przez studentów licznych konceptualizacji przekładowych wydaje się więc kluczem do zapoczątkowania zmian. W realizacji tego aspektu zajęć pomocna okazuje się Analiza Sieci Wyborów (ASW), którą rozpropagował w swoich pracach australijski badacz Stewart Campbell (por. Campbell 1999, 2000).

Wymieniony typ analizy jest stosowany głównie w badaniach nad poznaniem procesów umysłowych leżących u podstaw tłumaczenia. Zasadza się na kardynalnym założeniu, że o procesach takich można wnioskować w oparciu o obserwację decyzji translatorskich podjętych przez wielu tłumaczy, którzy sporządzili przekłady tego samego tekstu. ASW jest stawiana na równi z innymi metodami wykorzystywanymi w badaniu takich procesów zarówno w psychologii (eksperymentalna metoda tłumaczeniowa), jak i translatologii (protokoły głośnego myślenia). Jej zaletą jest to, że umożliwia analizowanie konceptualizacji językowych zanurzonych w aktualnym kontekście oraz wytworzonych w naturalnej sytuacji przekładowej (por. Campbell 1999: 38).

U podstaw ASW leży koneksjonistyczny model umysłu (Campbell 2000: 32). Każda sieć, która stanowi zapis wyróżnionych i uporządkowanych tzw. węzłów dostępu tzn. typów rozwiązań translatorskich zastosowanych przez określoną grupę tłumaczy w odniesieniu do wybranej struktury tego samego tekstu źródłowego, powinna zostać utworzona z uwzględnieniem następujących zasad:

  1. musi uwzględniać wszystkie zgromadzone dane (przekłady danego tekstu), nawet jeśli zastosowane przez tłumaczy rozwiązanie jest dalekie od adekwatnego;
  2. być akceptowalna pod względem lingwistycznym;
  3. zawierać minimalną możliwą ilość węzłów dostępu (Campbell 2000: 39).

Opisany tu pokrótce model ASW został zastosowany przez Cambella do charakterystyki tłumaczeń różnych jednostek językowych na kilka języków (Campbell 1999, 2000). Przyjrzyjmy się jednemu z nich, dotyczącemu przekładu arabskiej struktury metaforycznej na język angielski – rycina 1 poniżej.

Na ryc. 1 każdy wyznaczony w ramach sieci węzeł dostępu stanowi ścieżkę, którą podążali członkowie grupy wykonującej tłumaczenie danego tekstu. W przypadku modelu poniżej pierwszy z wyborów dotyczył tego, czy metaforę należy tłumaczyć, czy nie. Ci, którzy zdecydowali się na przekład, stanęli z kolei przed wyborem czy zastosować przekład przy pomocy metafory, czy rewerbalizować sens. Decyzja o wykorzystaniu metafory wymusiła ustosunkowanie się do kwestii zachowania / zmodyfikowania zawartego w tekście źródłowym wyobrażenia. Podążanie każdą ze ścieżek przyniosło konkretne rozwiązanie przekładowe.

Ryc. 1 Zastosowanie ASW dla tłumaczeń arabskiego lahi:b w konstrukcji lahi:b al.-huru:b al.-?ahliyya. (Campbell 2000: 34)

Przedstawiona sieć wyborów jest więc schematycznym zapisem wspólnego doświadczenia grupy tłumaczy, które można porównać do wiedzy pozyskanej dzięki stosowanej w psychologii technice burzy mózgów (brainstorming) służącej kreatywnemu rozwiązywaniu problemu poprzez generowanie jego wielu potencjalnych rozwiązań (por. Kußmaul 1995).

W sytuacji zastosowania ASW podczas zajęć przekładowych studenci przygotowują sieć samodzielnie, ale pod nadzorem nauczyciela, który czuwa nad zachowaniem lingwistycznej wiarygodności wyróżnianych węzłów dostępu. Można więc powiedzieć, że to sami studenci szukają dostępu do punktów widzenia innych członków grupy zajęciowej i kategoryzują je zgodnie z wyznaczonym przez nauczyciela zadaniem (scenariuszem). Z perspektywy dydaktycznej jest to także zapis potencjalnych rozwiązań translatorskich, z których każdy tłumacz musi być przygotowany wybrać jedno, mając jednak w świadomości również inne. Dzięki odniesieniu takiego rozwiązania do pozostałych elementów sieci jest to wybór bardziej świadomy, bazujący na wyważeniu korzyści i strat (lub, czego nie można wykluczyć skłaniający do dalszych poszukiwań). Im więcej węzłów dostępu do sieci, tym szerzej zostaje ukształtowane zaplecze konceptualne uczestników kursu.

ASW rozszerza perspektywę, uczy myślenia i kreowania potencjalnych rozwiązań, a więc tego, co wydaje się stosunkowo trudne dla jednostkowego umysłu. Z łatwością może zostać zastosowana do kategorii językowych (w tym złożonych) na różnych poziomach organizacji konceptualnej. W analizie skazani jesteśmy jednak na zawężenie perspektywy i związaną z tym modularność opisu, mimo iż decyzje podejmowane w przekładzie (bez względu na to, czy są świadome czy nieświadome) zawsze łączą się z jednoczesnym przetwarzaniem różnych rodzajów treści (semantycznej, syntaktycznej, pragmatycznej, itd.). Zachowanie tej symultaniczności wydaje się jednak (w zasadzie) nieosiągalne na poziomie podstawowym. Mimo tej niedoskonałości zaprezentowany sposób postępowania nie wyklucza nadrzędnego z perspektywy dydaktyki przekładu gromadzenia wiedzy niezbędnej do kształtowania kompetencji translatorskiej w określonym zakresie. Nie bez znaczenia jest tu także aspekt wizualny przedsięwzięcia (por. ryc. 1 powyżej). Ponieważ zapamiętujemy ok. 80% tego, co zobaczymy (a zaledwie 20% tego, co usłyszymy) narysowana sieć ułatwia studentom zapamiętywanie tak zgromadzonej treści.

5. Wyznaczanie scenariusza

Jednym z najważniejszych zadań nauczyciela w przypadku wykorzystania ASW, jako narzędzia dydaktycznego jest wybór zagadnień, wokół których analiza ta się koncentruje. Każde zagadnienie można podporządkować określonemu scenariuszowi, którego ustanowienie (dzięki doświadczeniu nauczyciela) pozwala wyeksponować różne konfiguracje w ramach dostarczonych wariantów tłumaczeń (Campbell 2000). Scenariusz może przykładowo bazować na jednostce TW, która posiada dokładnie określony i usankcjonowany konwencją odpowiednik w języku docelowym. Może też dotyczyć struktury symbolizującej zjawisko, które nie posiada takiego odpowiednika. Interesujące są scenariusze bazujące na wyrażeniach metaforycznych czy idiomatycznych, bądź odnoszące się do asymetrii językowych. Model sprawdza się jednak także dobrze w przypadku struktur, których przekład zazwyczaj nie przykuwa uwagi początkujących tłumaczy, a których zaktywizowanie jest istotnym elementem kształtowania ich kompetencji translatorskiej na poziomie podstawowym. Do takich należy np. przekład struktur gramatycznych. Scenariusz może także ukonstytuować zjawisko pragmatyczne np. dotyczące realizacji grzeczności językowej.

6. Czynnik ewaluacji

Co jednak z kluczową dla przekładu adekwatnością zgromadzonych przez grupę rozwiązań translatorskich? Ocena adekwatności przekładu ciągle znajduje się we wstępnej fazie wypracowywania koncepcji (por. Lauscher 2000; Campbell i Hale 2003; Campbell i Wakim 2007). Zwykle dotyczy także całego tekstu, jest wielowymiarowa i łączy się z przyjętą teorią przekładu. Stanowi tym samym jedną z trudniejszych kwestii podczas zajęć dydaktycznych. W kontekście niniejszych rozważań zostaje zredukowana do ustalenia stopnia ekwiwalencji między analizowaną jednostką tekstu źródłowego a jej odpowiednikami w przekładach, które uporządkowano w ramach ASW.

Kwestia ewaluacji na poziomie ekwiwalencji wymaga od nauczyciela ustalenia, jaki sposób rozumienia tego pojęcia zostaje przyjęty w ramach kursu. Przykładowo, Hale i Campbell (2002: 21) przyjmują za taką podstawę pragmatyczną adekwatność danego rozwiązania. Praktyka dydaktyczna pokazuje, że przydatna w tym względzie jest także kognitywna teoria przekładu (Tabakowska 2001). Zgodnie z tym ujęciem poszukiwanie odpowiedniości między tekstem źródłowym i docelowym rozgrywa się na poziomie konceptualnym i dotyczy zastosowanego w oryginale i przekładach sposobu obrazowania (językowego sposobu ujmowania) treści. Jak podkreśla Tabakowska (2001: 162) przekład zasadza się na „ekwiwalencji w doświadczeniu”, zarówno tym jednostkowym (w znacznym stopniu uwarunkowanym kulturowo) jak i uniwersalnym. Jest zatem możliwy „dzięki względnemu podobieństwu struktur mentalnych i językowych oraz naszej umiejętności wczuwania się w inne sposoby myślenia, przyswajania sobie ‘innych reguł gry’” (Hejwowski 2005: 352). Takie podejście pozwala uświadomić studentom konceptualne podstawy przekładu i uwrażliwić ich na szczegóły analizowanych obrazów językowych. Umożliwia także połączenie w całość różnych rodzajów wiedzy – od językowej do kluczowej z perspektywy przekładu wiedzy komunikacyjnej. Zastosowania tej teorii w analizie wielu tłumaczeń danego tekstu można odnaleźć w wybranych pracach (np. Tabakowska 2001; Data-Bukowska 2007).

Za kolejny aspekt ewaluacji należy uznać analizę tekstu przekładu w celu oceny poprawności użycia języka docelowego. Uwzględnienie tego czynnika pozwala doprecyzować procedury postępowania w przypadku zastosowania ASW, jako ośrodka wypracowywanego tu podejścia dydaktycznego, ponieważ jak zaznacza Tabakowska (2001):

[k]ażdy indywidualny, niepowtarzalny akt przekładu poprzedzony jest     indywidualnym, niepowtarzalnym aktem recepcji i interpretacji, lecz równocześnie oba stadia tego procesu ograniczone są przez konwencje – językowe, społeczne i historyczne. (Tabakowska 2001: 99, podkreślenie E.D.-B.)

Podczas ewaluacji studenci otrzymują możliwość obrony własnego punktu widzenia przed grupą.

7. Rozwijanie kompetencji translatorskiej

Systematycznie stosowany sposób pracy nauczyciela ze studentami podczas zajęć dydaktycznych jest o tyle uzasadniony, o ile pozwala im rozwijać kompetencję translatorską. Dlatego sposób rozumienia tego pojęcia (por. Alves 2005; Data-Bukowska 2014) zawsze powinien zostać uwzględniony w przypadku opracowywania i wprowadzania nowych technik (rozwiązań) dydaktycznych. W jakim zatem zakresie budowanie przez studentów sieci wyborów rozwija ich kompetencję translatorską?

Pym (1992) podkreśla, że kompetencja translatorska bazuje na dwóch umiejętnościach:

  1. zdolności wygenerowania wielu tekstów docelowych dla jednego tekstu źródłowego;
  2. zdolności wyselekcjonowania spośród nich tylko jednego najbardziej odpowiedniego.

Jak ujmuje to sam badacz:

There can be no doubt that translators need know a good deal about grammar, rhetoric, terminology […] but the specifically translational part of their practice is strictly neither linguistic, common nor commercial. It is a process of generation and selection between alternative texts. (Pym 1992: 281)

Zdaniem Pyma (1992) to właśnie te umiejętności powinny być kształtowane na zajęciach z praktyki przekładu. Należy jednak podkreślić, że chodzi tu raczej o wyrabianie nawyków oraz utrwalanie sposobu rozumowania i związanej z nim zdolności do podejmowania świadomych decyzji, nie zaś o wyłanianie dokładnie jednego, najlepszego rozwiązania (tak jak w przypadku tradycyjnych metod dydaktycznych). Wyboru należy zdaniem badacza dokonywać spośród wielu dostępnych rozwiązań, których analiza i uporządkowanie podbudowuje konceptualne zaplecze danego wyboru.

Badacz wprowadza pojęcie błędu binarnego (binary error) i błędu nie binarnego (non-binary error) (Pym 1992: 282). W pierwszym przypadku chodzi o wyraźną opozycję między błędnym i poprawnym rozwiązaniem. W drugim natomiast o relację zachodząca, między co najmniej jednym dopuszczalnym rozwiązaniem a innym dopuszczalnym rozwiązaniem, które zostają odniesione do rozwiązań nieadekwatnych. (Pym 1992: 282) To ten drugi sposób podejścia do konceptualizacji językowych charakteryzuje studia nad przekładem (Pym 1992: 283).

Zaproponowane przez badacza ujęcie kompetencji translatorskiej dobrze wpisuje się w koncepcję techniki dydaktycznej bazującej na ASW i pozwala określić sposób postępowania z wyróżnionymi w ramach sieci rozwiązaniami danego problemu przekładowego. Wymusza również sposób mówienia o takich rozwiązaniach, który koncentruje się wokół formuły „To jest poprawne, ale …” nie zaś wokół stosowanej tradycyjnie „Niepoprawne jest …”. Takie ujęcie umożliwia także uwzględnianie błędnych rozwiązań translatorskich zastosowanych dla danej jednostki i wpisanie ich w ramy kształtowanego podczas zajęć konceptualnego zaplecza studentów (ich wiedzy przekładowej).

8. Łącząc teorię z praktyką

Propozycja sposobu pracy podczas zajęć dydaktycznych z wykorzystaniem ASW, jako elementu metody dydaktycznej przebiega więc według następującego schematu:

  1. Grupa studentów dokonuje przekładu wybranego przez nauczyciela tekstu na język ojczysty;
  2. Nauczyciel wyznacza zadania (wybiera jednostkę TW i problematyzuje jej użycie w tekście zgodnie z założonym scenariuszem);
  3. Faza wstępna: ustosunkowanie się do kwestii poprawności językowej każdej ze zgromadzonych realizacji wybranej jednostki, co umożliwia wstępny podział tych realizacji na konwencjonalnie akceptowane i nieakceptowane;
  4. Dalsze uporządkowanie zgromadzonych realizacji rozpatrywanej struktury w ramach sieci wyborów z uwzględnieniem wyróżnionych powyżej dwóch kategorii i wyznaczonego zadania;
  5. Jeśli warunek poprawności językowej w realizacji struktury źródłowej jest spełniony, możliwe jest ustosunkowanie się do kwestii ekwiwalencji, jeśli nie konieczne jest ustalenie, w jakich aspektach konwencja została naruszona;
  6. Analiza źródłowej struktury konceptualnej;
  7. Porównanie każdego z węzłów sieci ze strukturą źródłową na płaszczyźnie konceptualnej;
  8. Porównanie węzłów sieci między sobą;
  9. Określenie, które z przeanalizowanych realizacji można uznać za konceptualnie ekwiwalentne i możliwe do zastosowania w danych warunkach kontekstowych;
  10. Przedyskutowanie zmian w zakresie ulepszenia wyłonionych struktur niekonwencjonalnych[2].

Zgodnie z przedstawionym tu sposobem pracy nauczyciela z adeptami przekładu w analizie adekwatności dostarczonych przekładów wszystkie dane językowe są rozpatrywane wertykalnie (w relacji do tekstu wyjściowego, który jest punktem odniesienia w ustalaniu stopnia konceptualnej równoważności struktury wyjściowej i docelowej), oraz horyzontalnie (w relacji do innych przekładów). Sposób analizy konceptualnych obrazów zostaje zogniskowany wokół formuły „To jest odpowiednie, ale …”.

Doświadczenie podpowiada, że kilkanaście dostarczonych przekładów może nie pozwolić na wyłonienie zadowalającej koncepcji w języku docelowym. Jest to jednak skrajny przypadek, który dla nauczyciela jest sygnałem, że tekst został dobrany nieodpowiednio do kompetencji studentów. W prezentowanej tu metodzie dydaktycznej centralne jest jednak leżące u podstaw pojęcia kreatywności rozwiązywanie problemu.

9. Podsumowanie

Campbell (2000: 38) podkreśla, że ASW nie jest wpisana w ramy żadnej konkretnej teorii lingwistycznej, co stanowi o jej ogromnym potencjale i możliwości zastosowania do różnych obszarów w dziedzinie przekładu. Na uwagę zasługuje jednak to, że badacz wymieniając takie zastosowania nie uwzględnia wśród nich dydaktyki przekładu. Przyczyną takiego stanu rzeczy może być fakt, że opracowanie konkretnego rozwiązania dydaktycznego wymaga zakorzenienia go w spójnym systemie wiedzy teoretycznej, bazującej na określonych wstępnych założeniach i umożliwiającej zdefiniowanie kluczowych pojęć. Uściślenie tych kwestii jest istotne dla realizacji nowoczesnych zajęć dydaktycznych, których elementem jest zapoznanie studentów z tym, jaki profil reprezentuje nauczyciel i jakie są cele dydaktyczne kursu.

Zarysowana tu propozycja dydaktyczna wydaje się jednak potwierdzać tezę, że współdziałanie między teorią i praktyką na gruncie przekładu jest możliwe (por. Calzada Pérez 2005; Colina 2003a; Pym 2009). Aby móc zasilić dydaktykę przekładu myśl teoretyczna musi jednak dojrzeć. Jak pokazuje ten artykuł dojrzewanie nie zawsze oznacza to samo miejsce, tego samego badacza czy ten sam paradygmat. Jak zostało wykazane technika dydaktyczna skoncentrowana wokół ASW jest mocno zakorzeniona w translatologicznej myśli teoretycznej, która wyrosła na różnym gruncie, w różnych ośrodkach badań nad przekładem w świecie. Dzięki sieci wyborów możliwe stało się zrealizowanie postulatów Kiraly’ego (2003), badaczy kreatywności w przekładzie (Kußmaul 1995) oraz kognitywnych ujęć języka i przekładu bazujących m.in. na pojęciu sieciowego modelu kategorii, jako właściwego umysłowi ludzkiemu (Tabakowska 2001). Nie bez znaczenia jest tu także nowatorskie spojrzenie na pojęcie kompetencji translatorskiej zaproponowane przez Pyma (1992), które wyrosło w opozycji do bardziej tradycyjnych ujęć utożsamiających tę kompetencję z szeroko rozumianą wiedzą (por. Data-Bukowska 2014).  

Zaproponowane rozwiązanie dydaktyczne można na bardziej ogólnym poziomie scharakteryzować jako metodę problemową, aktywizującą, ukierunkowaną na dyskusję dydaktyczną i burzę mózgów. Jest to więc kombinacja różnego rodzaju rozwiązań metodycznych, co pozwala wysnuć wniosek, że przyniesie wymierne efekty i umożliwi początkującym tłumaczom osiągnięcie założonego poziomu kompetencji, którym jest zwiększenie ich samodzielności działania i podejmowania decyzji, uwrażliwienie na kluczowe kwestie translatorskie oraz wykształcenie myślenia dywergencyjnego leżącego u podstaw kreatywności w przekładzie.


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[1] Zestawienie zostało przygotowane na podstawie tłumaczeń sporządzonych przez studentów drugiego roku studiów drugiego stopnia na kierunku filologia szwedzka UJ w 2010 i 2011 roku.

[2] W zaproponowanym schemacie pomijam kwestię złamania konwencji w tekście źródłowym.

Going Professional: Challenges and Opportunities for the Contemporary Translator Educators

By Joanna Dybiec-Gajer (Pedagogical University of Cracow, Poland)

Abstract & Keywords

The translation profession has been undergoing a rapid process of professionalisation. In models of professionalisation, translator certification is considered one of crucial elements of the process. The paper begins with a discussion of professionalisation and its models in the context of translation to move on to certification programmes and their categorization. The main goal is to discuss the impact of certification on translator education, i.e. the washback effect, showing both positive developments that have been triggered as well as constraints that have been generated as professionalisation takes on the form of institutional control and regulation. The discussion is illustrated with examples from the Polish system of translator certification.

Keywords: professionalisation, testing, translator certification, translator training

©inTRAlinea & Joanna Dybiec-Gajer (2014).
"Going Professional: Challenges and Opportunities for the Contemporary Translator Educators"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Challenges in Translation Pedagogy
Edited by: Maria Piotrowska & Sergiy Tyupa
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Permanent URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2104

1. Introduction

Translator education is a dynamically developing branch of Translation Studies, which has evolved from a method of foreign language teaching to an independent, highly specialised domain in its own right, aimed at various aspects, both theoretical and practical, concerned with educating translators[1]. In other words, translator education has gone professional in the sense that it has accumulated a vast body of research, formulated its premises, developed standards and proposed theoretical solutions along with practical applications. This is well illustrated by the process of academisation with ‘the explosion of translation programmes’ (Drugan 2013: 7). Translator education is also going professional in the sense that, depending on a country specific context, it has started or is starting to consider and implement the implications resulting from a close link between translator training and market needs. There is a far reaching consensus in the literature that needs-based training aimed at developing a set of competences conceptualised as professional translation skills, including a high level of technological skills (see for instance EMT competence model, 2009), should prepare trainees to meet the demands of real-life settings in which individuals under the job profile of translators work (professional realism). Yet translator education, along with TS at large, also seems very much concerned with professionalisation in the sense of raising the status of translation and translators in general, from a still valid call to put an end to ‘translators’ invisibility’ to support for various inter-institutional and cross-national initiatives to increase the quality of training. Professionalisation of translator education, in the sense outlined, is also closely linked with professionalisation of the translation profession. The aim of the paper is to investigate this relationship, focusing on implications of the professionalisation process of translation as occupation on translator training. In other words, it addresses the opportunities and challenges of professionalisation for contemporary translator educators. In particular, the focus is on certification, which is considered to be a crucial element of professionalisation.

2. Professionalisation and translation as an emerging profession

The concepts of professionalisation, along with profession and professionalism, have been subject of scholarly analysis, most of which concentrated on the domain of sociology.  Professionalisation can be defined as ‘the process whereby occupations seek to upgrade their status by adopting organisational and occupational attributes and traits’ (US National Center for Education Statistics 1997, in Pym et al. 2012: 80). The question of raising status becomes even more prominent in definitions stemming from sociology of professions, where ‘the concept of professionalisation is regarded as the process to pursue, develop and maintain the closure of the occupational group in order to maintain practitioners’ own occupational self-interests in terms of their salary, status and power as well as the monopoly protection of the occupational jurisdiction’ (Larson 1977;  Abbott 1988 in Evetts 2012). Such an understanding of professionalisation as a critique of an ideological construct and of elitism was popular in the 1970s and 1980s; it continued in the 1990s in studies which shifted toward the idea of professionalisation as a historical and gendered construct. In recent studies, as sociologists of profession demonstrate, the concept of professionalisation can be a very useful tool for the analysis of newly emerging occupations (Evetts 2012), thus it offers interesting conceptual approaches to translation as profession. While some occupational groups such as doctors or lawyers are traditionally regarded as fully professionalised, translators[2], such as, for example, sign language interpreters are on their way to professionalisation (cf. Figure 1).

Figure 1. Professionalisation continuum (Witter-Merithew and Johnson 2004: 19).

What are the steps that lead towards professionalisation? According to Wilensky’s sociological analysis (1964) they include:

  • full-time ascription of effort to the activity that needs to be done;
  • establishing training institutions (schools, universities) with specialised teachers or trainers;
  • creation of professional associations;
  • lobbying to secure legal protection of the occupational field; 
  • establishing formal codes of ethics as sets of rules to present the ideal service, eliminate the unqualified, protect clients; undertaking efforts to separate the competent from the incompetent.

Another model of professionalisation, developed specifically with translators in mind, was proposed by Tseng (1992). Altough it addresses the situtation of the occupation of conference interpreters in Taiwan, it may be of relevance for translators as such. It is also of interest since its explanatory potential was noted in the literature (Ju 2009; Tryuk 2009; Pym et al. 2012: 82–83). The model distinguishes four phases:

  1. Market disorder - characterized by ongoing competition between skilled and non-skilled  practitioners, little consistency in translation and training standards;
  2. Consensus and commitment - characterized by a general consolidation of translation market, development of some training and professional guidelines;
  3. Formation of formal networks - characterized by an improved collaboration of stakeholders with regard to controlling the admission to the profession and enhancing its status;
  4. Professional autonomy – characterised by a close collaboration of stakeholders, introduction of tighter control over the profession (creation of codes of ethics, certification) and working towards achieving market control and influencing legislation.

Tseng’s model was further developed by Ju (2009) (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. Ju’s modification of Tseng’s model of the professionalisation process (2009: 120)

The discussed model seems to tap into an understanding of professionalisation as gaining control over many aspects of the profession’s functioning in society. The model stresses the importance of various bodies such as governmental and training institutions and shows their contribution to the professionalisation process. Characteristically, the highest phase of development is perceived to lie in professional autonomy guaranteed by protection and licensure for the establishment of which influential stakeholders are important. In its extended version, the model places particular emphasis on certification as a mechanism leading towards professionalisation.

Likewise, arguments in favour of more regulation can be found in the DGT-funded report on the status of translation profession in the EU. Noting ‘market disorder, low status [of the profession] and a corresponding decline in perceived standards’ (Pym et al. 2012: 4), the authors envisage the following actions that can be undertaken as remedy: ‘European regulation of authorised/sworn translation; European (and/or global) accreditation of certifying bodies; accreditation of translator-training programmes; and the development of standardised examinations for translator certification’ (Pym et al. 2012: 4). Given the emphasis placed on the role of credentialing in the professionalisation process, it is worthwhile considering definitions and types of certification.

3. Certification: definitions and models

Credentialing is one of major status signalling mechanisms, known under a variety of names: certification, accreditation, licensure, authorisation, approval and registration. The usage of terminology varies across contexts, countries or even states, as in the USA (cf. Mikkelson 2013: 66–67). In the literature, the most widely accepted definitions seem to be those proposed by Jiri  Stejskal, growing from his studies on translator certification. In general, organisations are accredited and individuals are certified. Certification, as defined by Stejskal, is ‘a voluntary process by which an organisation grants recognition to an individual who has met certain predetermined qualification standards’ (Stejskal 2004 in Chan 2011). Accreditation, on the other hand, is ‘a process by which an entity grants public recognition to an organization such as a school, institute, college, programme, facility, or company that has met predetermined standards’ (Stejskal 2004 in Chan 2011). The article deals mainly with certification in the sense outlined above. As such, certification can be categorised according to a number of criteria:

  1. Certifying body (professional organisation / governmental body or specialised government agency /academic institution)
  2. Mode (e.g. translation, interpreting, community interpreting, sign language interpreting)
  3. Subject area (law, health care, technology, etc.)
  4. Degree of proficiency (e.g. professional / paraprofessional, junior / senior)
  5. Eligibility for application
    • citizenship
    • degree in translation
    • other academic qualifications
    • evidence of experience in translation
    • legal prerequisites
  6. Design and implementation of testing instruments[3]
    • types of test tasks (e.g. various translation tests, terminology tests, questions on ethics, role plays, interviews, etc.)
    • availability of feedback
    • availability of a review procedure
    • Revalidation (or a ‘maintenance instrument’, recommended or mandatory, such as evidence of professional development)

To illustrate the categorisation, which may involve some natural overlap, an example from the area of sworn translator certification is provided as the profile of legal, or sworn translator, can be categorised as the most professionalised of all translator profiles. The example comes from a Polish setting, which is of particular relevance as Poland is considered one of the countries with the highest level of regulations and standards concerning the profession of legal translators (Hertog and van Gucht 2008: 142). The Polish certification system is organised at a national level, with provisions stipulated in an adequate act[4] and corresponding resolutions. 

Certification of sworn translators in Poland:

  1. Certifying body: governmental body - Ministry of Justice via State Examination Committee 
  2. Mode: translation and interpreting 
  3. Subject area: law (50% of exam texts are to be legal texts) and general
  4. Degree of proficiency: professional level, LSP with generalist elements
  5. Eligibility for application
    • citizenship: yes[5]
    • degree in translation or related subject: no[6]
    • other academic qualifications: completion of MA-level studies (in any area)
    • evidence of experience in translation: none required
    • legal prerequisites: yes (clean criminal record) and full capacity for acts in law
    • professional membership: none required
  6. Design and implementation of testing instruments[7]
    • types of test tasks: written translation of texts from and into L1, interpreting (consecutive and sight translation) 
    • availability of feedback: on request
    • availability of a review procedure: no
    • Revalidation - none required, certification is granted for life[8]

4. Opportunities and challenges of certification

Translator certification exams as high-stakes testing raise a number of issues for stakeholders involved and trigger off changes across educational landscapes, and, ideally, are hoped to enhance translator status and value in market terms. Below some of the issues are outlined, with focus on the perspectives of translator education. 

4.1 Design of testing instruments

Examination-based translator and interpreter certification raises problems characteristic of testing in general, i.e. predominantly of validity and reliability, widely discussed in the literature (e.g. Bachman 1990; Komorowska 2005: 22–31; Angelelli 2009: 15–23). In other words, do the designed instruments test what they are supposed to test? Do they give the same results for individuals with similar skills irrespective of time and place of test administration and test raters?

Design and development of testing instruments is a complex, time-consuming and expensive process which should integrate research in translation studies and testing. According to estimates, a full-circle of development of a testing tool according to premises of educational measurement takes about two years (Niemierko 2009: 75). Additionally, in many settings the entire certification system is regulated with more or less rigidity. While certification schemes run by professional associations may be more flexible to adopt changes, government-run or supervised programmes tend to be more restrictive. In the Polish example, many elements of the testing procedure, including assessment criteria, are stipulated by the law. As a result, any alterations, amendments or needed improvements to such a formalised certification system are difficult to be made.

4.2 Training needs

In many countries the success rate in certification exams is very low. For instance, below 20% in the USA (ATA)[9], 20-30% in Australia (Pym et al. 2012: 77), 15-25% in Poland (Kubacki 2012: 191–197), 5% in Norway (Kubacki 2012: 47). This is typically explained by insufficient competence levels of candidates, interpreted as a result of poor exam preparation and inadequate training (Mikkelson 2013: 70; Kubacki 2012: 197). High failure rates in certification exams, as high stakes testing, naturally evoke strong emotions. While some may stress the unjustifiable difficulty levels of such exams, translator educators tend to criticise unrealistic and unauthentic modes of administration (such as handwritten exams for translators) or unclear marking systems. In Poland, the sharpest criticism has been directed at reliability of sworn translator testing and unavailability to the public of the examination regulations with a marking system (Zieliński 2011: 127–128; Dybiec 2013: 149). As scholars report, in the USA even a lawsuit was filed; however the rigor of the examinations has been in general maintained (Gonzalez, Vasquez and Mikkelson 1991). Such a situation is an opportunity for translator training institutions (usually universities) to stress the importance of translation and interpretation education and also to forward their own agenda. Universities can contribute to raising competence levels of candidates by offering specialised training programmes. In Poland, many, if not most of translation and interpreting degree programmes include now modules preparing for the state examination for sworn translators, separate extracurricular courses are also available[10]. This leads to another important aspect, known in the literature as washback effect, i.e. in this case the influence of high-stakes testing on teaching and translation education research.

4.3 Washback effect

Examination effects on training practice can be positive, negative or both. On the positive side, it is important to note the appearance of new training programmes and curricular changes in the existing ones. New teaching materials and translator’s tools are developed. Further, certification exams provide incentives for research in the field of translation education: on LSP-translation, translation examinations, translation assessment, translator competence, curriculum design. From the classroom perspective, certification exams can provide a useful reference point and resource for teachers. However, given the rigidity and formalisation of certification exams and their role of gate keeping, it is important to bear in mind that their pedagogical usefulness may be limited. Most of the translator certification exams, also in the revised formats as in the case of Australia, are traditional translation exams, depending on text translation (see Kelly for criticism of such testing, 2005: 132) as the only indicator of translator competence, while the innovative teaching practice calls for the development and application of a variety of tools for measuring the student’s progress and competence from translation diaries to eye-tracking methods (cf. Dybiec 2013). Finally, on the negative side, some curricular changes in the academic landscape may in fact be a facelift to attract students and to compete on a tighter educational market while some publications or one-off courses aimed at preparation of test takers seem to capitalise on the demand generated by the introduction of translator certification. This applies especially to contexts where translator certification schemes are a relatively new development (e.g. in Poland since 2004, by comparison the ATA certification examinations go back to the 1970s).

4.4 Value of certification

As the translation profession strives for more recognition, translator certification schemes are perceived as an instrument towards this goal. For translators, taking and successfully completing certification exams involves cost and effort, so naturally the question arises if this translates into market terms such as better assignments, better pay, more prestige. Investigating the translation profession from the perspective of information economics, Chan concludes that ‘in our questionnaire surveys, the translators (the supply side) and the people responsible for hiring translators (the demand side), both believed that the certification process has not functioned effectively as a signalling device’ (Chan 2011). In many contexts, downward pressure on rates has been noted which is difficult to offset with certification. In the Polish example, the certification exam plays a crucial role as its successful completion allows entry to a segment of court and official document translation. Thus, on the one hand, for translators or translators-to-be who plan to specialise in legal translation and envisage a career in court translation it has a clear value of qualification that is a prerequisite for practising the profession of sworn translator. On the other hand, the introduction of certification has not affected the rates for sworn translation. It seems that the certification has led to some enhancement of the status and ‘visibility’ of sworn translators, yet has not brought about any changes in terms of their pay.

5. The translator educator as a professional?

Given the growing number of translator programmes, the call for professional realism in the classroom (e.g. Kelly 2005; Olvera Lobo 2007; Gouadec 2007) and the general pressure toward professionalisation in its multifarious meanings, the question of the translator educator’s profile becomes relevant. According to steps towards professionalisation quoted earlier (Wilensky 1964), in order to be considered a professional in a given field, this activity should be carried out full-time, that is with allocation of all resources meant for a particular activity which leads to this activity being the major source of a person’s income. Following this argumentation, professional translators can be professional only in a (particular) domain of translation while TS scholars can be professional only in their field of research. Thus the profile of a translator trainer cannot be a simple additive model, putting on top of the professional translator’s competences some pedagogical skills or adding some translation experience to the profile of a TS scholar[11]. The translator educator’s profile, on the one hand, concerns the issues of professional identity, on the other, competences and skills required with regard to teaching and functioning in the academic context where, traditionally, most of the training takes place. Finally, it includes a psychological component, from predisposition to interpersonal qualifications. It seems that the professional identity of translator educators is in the process of emerging: in practice, theoretical considerations, and institutional settings.

As for the practice, in a recent empirical study on translation assessment from the pedagogical perspective, most of respondents involved in teaching translation defined themselves either as academics (university lecturers/professors) or ascribed themselves a dual identity as academics and translators. Only a small percentage of respondents used the term ‘translator trainer/educator’ to characterize their professional activity (14% in an international sample and less in a Polish one) (Dybiec 2013). Although the study was small-scale, yet it was conducted in a high-calibre setting so its findings may suggest some tendencies in self-perception of this professional group. As the findings indicate, there seems to be little (articulated) awareness among practitioners concerning the specificity and importance of preparing for translator training. This may be explained by the academic set-up where until now regular programmes in translation and interpretation pedagogy were basically non-existent.

As for the theory, the field of translation pedagogy, unlike the related fields of education and methods of teaching, has been slow to address the profile of the teacher/educator in its domain (cf. Kelly 2008). The wind of change may be blowing from the institutional setting, with the latest EMT Translator Trainer Profile (2013). The EMT reference document identifies four competences:

  1. Field competence
  2. Instructional competence
  3. Organisational competence
  4. Interpersonal competence
  5. Assessment competence

It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss the issues of translator trainer competence which, without doubt, deserves more academic attention. Here, I would like to highlight the significance of interpersonal and instructional competence against the backdrop of recent professionalisation developments in the translation profession. These include proliferation of translation and translation related standards, introduction or re-design of translator certification programmes, revision and extension of codes of ethics, effecting also educational settings. In translator training major influence has been exerted additionally by the EMT programme. Some of these changes have propagated process-based approaches and managerialist agendas, favouring more regulation in the profession, in my view leaving translators and translators-to-be as truly autonomous figures out of the picture. Some competence components from the EMT Translator Trainer Profile seem to work against this neglect for the human factor, the critical link in translation understood as intercultural and interpersonal communication. For instance, while the EMT translator profile (EMT 2008) specifies that interpersonal competence involves ‘knowing how to comply with professional ethics’, the EMT translator trainer profile (EMT 2013) specifies that it involves ‘ability to identify, adopt and critically assess codes of professional ethics for translators and trainers’ as well as ‘ability to teach students how to apply and critically assess codes of professional ethics for translators’. The phrase ‘critically assess’ makes a difference from a call for obedience, introducing the concept of ‘self-reflexivity’ and autonomous thinking.

6. Instead of conclusion: Is professionalisation a desirable goal?

Not without reason, recent TS literature articulates and favours calls and initiatives for the improvement of the translation status (Pym et al. 2012). Such opinions are also voiced in some newly revised codes of translators’ professional ethics (cf. TEPIS). Although rather rare among translation scholars, criticism of professionalisation, not uncommon among sociologists, stresses that ‘going professional’ entails ‘a shift from the notions of altruism service to pursuit of power and prestige’ (Witter-Merithew and Johnson 2004). In the discussed models of professionalisation the phase of ‘protection and licensure’ (Tseng 1992; Ju 2009) is presented as the highest development. Further, an important study on the translation profession in the EU notes that ‘[t]he process of professionalisation can [...] be seen as the production of efficient signals of status such that good translators stay in the market’ (Pym et al. 2012: 3). Such an understanding of professionalisation favours developments which lead to the creation of clear signalling mechanisms, in other words, formal systems and structures, i.e. regulation and institutionalisation. Depending on a country- and institution-specific setting, more professionalisation in many of its multifarious meanings may be indeed necessary both for translation and even more so for translator training units to raise the quality of training and forward their agenda. Yet for translator education it seems vital to maintain balance between what Evetts (2012) calls occupational professionalism with values of competence and trust on the one hand, and managerial or organisational professionalism (expressed in the discourse of professionalism) as a tool of control, hierarchy building and exclusivity, on the other.


Angelleli, Claudia V. (2009) “Using a Rubric to Assess Translation Ability” Testing and Assessment in Translation and Interpreting Studies, Claudia V. Angelelli and Holly E. Jacobson (eds), Amsterdam/Philadelphia, John Benjamins: 13–47.

Bachman, Lyle (1990) Fundamental Considerations in Language Testing, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Biel,  Łucja (2011) “Training translators or translation service providers? EN 15038:2006 standard of translation services and its training implications”. Journal of Specialised Translation no. 16: 61–76

Chan, Andy Lung Jan (2011) Information Economics and the Translation Profession: An Empirical Investigation into Translator Certification and Other Signaling Mechanisms in the Translation Marketplace, Saarbrucken, Lap Lambert Academic Publishing.

Drugan, Joanna (2013) Quality in Professional Translation: Assessment and Improvement, London, Bloomsbury.

Dybiec-Gajer, Joanna (2013) Zmierzyć przekład? Z metodologii oceniania w dydaktyce przekładu pisemnego, Kraków, Universitas.

Dybiec-Gajer, Joanna (2013) “Tłumaczenie jako świadczenie usług tłumaczeniowych? Między realizmem zawodowym a dyktatem rynku w kształceniu tłumaczy”, Między Oryginałem a PrzekłademDydaktyka przekładu no. 19/20: 169–187.

EMT Expert Group, “Competences for professional translators, experts in multilingual and multimedia communication” http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/translation/programmemes/emt/key_documents/emt_competences_translators_en.pdf (accessed 29 March 2010).

 EMT Expert Group, “EMT Translator Trainer Profile. Competences of the trainer in translation (Version 12 Sept. 2013)” URL: http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/translation/programmemes/emt/key_documents/translator_trainer_profile_en.pdf (accessed 15 February 2014).

Evetts, Julia (2012) “Professionalism in Turbulent Times: Changes, Challenges and Opportunities”. Paper delivered at Propel International Conference, Stirling, 9-11 May 2012, http://www.propel.stir.ac.uk/downloads/JuliaEvetts-FullPaper.pdf (accessed 15 September 2013).

Greere, Anca (2010) “Translation in Romania: Steps towards recognition and

professionalisation”, Meta 55/4: 789-816, URL: http://www.erudit.org/revue/meta/2010/v55/n4/index.html (accessed 20 April 2013).

Gonzalez, Roseann Duenas, Vasquez, Victoria. F., and Mikkelson, Holly  (1991) Fundamentals of Court Interpretation: Theory, Policy, and Practice, Durham, NC, Carolina Academic Press.

Gouadec, Daniel (2007) Translation as a profession, Amsterdam/Philadelphia, John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Hertog, Erik, Jan van Gucht (eds) (2008) Status Quaestionis. Questionnaire on the Provision of Legal Interpreting and Translation in the EU. Antwerpia–Oxford–Portland, Intersentia.

Ju, Elma Mingli (2009) “The professionalisation of interpreting in Taiwan: A critical review of Tseng’s model”, Compilation and Translation Review no. 2(2): 105–125.

Kelly, Dorothy (2008) “Training the Trainers: Towards a Description of Translator Trainer Competence and Training Needs Analysis”, TTR: traduction, terminologie, redaction, 21(1): 99-125,

URL: http://www.erudit.org/revue/ttr/2008/v21/n1/029688ar.html (accessed 15 September 2013)

Kelly, Dorothy (2005) A Handbook for Translator Trainers: A Guide to Reflective Practice, Manchester, St. Jerome.

Kubacki, Artur Dariusz (2012) Tłumaczenie poświadczone. Status, kształcenie, warsztat i odpowiedzialność tłumacza przysięgłego, Warszawa, Wolters Kluwer.

Mikkelson, Holly (2013) “Universities and Interpreter Certification”, The International Journal for Translation & Interpreting 5 (1): 66-78,

URL:  http://www.trans-int.org/index.php/transint/article/download/189/109 (accessed 11 October 2013).

Niemierko, Bolesław (2009) Diagnostyka edukacyjna, Warszawa, Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN.

Olvera Lobo, M. D. et al. (2007) “A professional approach to translator training (PATT)”, Meta, no. 52(3): 517–528.

Pym, Anthony, François Grin, Claudio Sfreddo, and Andy L. J. Chan (2012) The Status of the Translation Profession in the European Union, European Commission.

Tseng, Joseph (1992) Interpreting as an emerging profession in Taiwan — A sociological model, MA thesis, New Taipei City, Fu Jen Catholic University.

Tryuk, Małgorzata (2009) “Początki przekładu ustnego w Polsce. Pierwszy etap profesjonalizacji rynku” in 50 lat polskiej translatoryki, Krzysztof Hejwowski, Anna Szczęsny and Urszula Topczewska (eds), Warszawa, Instytut Lingwistyki Stosowanej, Uniwersytet Warszawski: 57–66.

Wilensky, Harold L. (1964) “The professionalisation of everyone?”, American Journal of Sociology no. 70(2): 137–158.

Witter-Merithew, Anna, and Leilani Johnson (2004) “Market disorder within the field of sign language interpreting: Professionalisation implications”, Journal of Interpretation 19–55.

Zieliński, Lech (2011) “Egzamin na tłumacza przysięgłego a norma i jakość przekładu tekstów prawnych oraz prawniczych”, Rocznik Przekładoznawczy. Studia nad teorią, praktyką i dydaktyką przekładu no. 6: 117–130.


[1] The literature on the subject records debates over the usage of ‘training’ versus ‘education’ in the context of translation, introducing a duality of pedagogical approaches and concepts. While understanding ’translator education’ as a component of the broader and more humanistic approach than ‘translator training’, I nevertheless use the two terms in the article interchangeably in order to overcome unproductive dualism.

[2] ‘Translator’ is used in the article as an umbrella term to encompass activities that include both traditional (written) translation and interpretation as well as a variety of more novel roles from terminology mining to post-editing.

[3] As certification involves granting recognition which has important bearing on an individual’s career it can be classified as a high-stakes examination. Thus designing testing instruments requires due attention and consideration of some premises of educational measurement. In such context Point 6 is far from exhaustive as it lists only some of the aspects that are particularly relevant from the perspective of test takers and translator education.

[4] ACT of 25 November 2004 on the Profession of Sworn Translator, Polish Journal of Law, Dziennik Ustaw, 2004, No. 273, item 2702).

[5] The candidate is required to be a citizen of Poland or of an EU member state. (Other provisions are also available).

[6] An educational requirement concerning an MA degree in languages or any area combined with a post-graduate diploma in translation was abolished in 2011 as part of a larger policy to ease entry to some professions. This change has been criticized by TEPIS, The Polish Society of Sworn and Specialized Translators.

[7] Specified in the Minister of Justice’s Regulation.

[8] Certification is granted for life unless reasons for suspension or withdrawal of authorization take place, such as professional misconduct (Act on the Profession of Sworn Translator).

[9] ATA (h_ p://www.atanet.org/certification/aboutcert_overview.php, 15 September 2012).

[10] As of writing this article, to the best of my knowledge no degree programme aimed exclusively at future sworn translators was available (such training is usually offered at a post-graduate level).

[11] As translator education is set mostly in academic environs, due to the institutional framework many of  teachers or educators may also be researchers (in some contexts - even predominantly). I am aware of the diversity of the actual profile of translator trainers, yet would like to stress employment constraints which, as in the Polish case, make it difficult to employ individuals (professional translators) not set on an academic career.

Parlare di traduzione ai bambini (e non solo)

By Fabio Regattin (Università di Bologna, Italy)


©inTRAlinea & Fabio Regattin (2014).
"Parlare di traduzione ai bambini (e non solo)"
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Target-Group-Tailored Legal English Courses

By Slávka Janigová (Pavol Jozef Šafárik University in Košice, Slovakia)

Abstract & Keywords

The paper sums up the differences and common features of legal English courses conducted at the Law Faculty of P.J.Šafárik University Košice, Slovakia, in contrast to teaching legal English translation students at the Faculty of Arts of the same university. Both curricula incorporate linguistics, law/economics and translation theory, and their methodology is focused on  problem-solving, distinguishing between target-language- and source-language-oriented translation techniques, parallel text analysis and context-defined approach to terminology. However, the proportion in which the respective elements and methodology should be incorporated in the curriculum is to reflect different target skills of the attendees. Linguistic, translation and legal skills, if reasonably allocated and trained, may be mutually beneficial for both target groups. Translation students, however, have better chances to become legal translators than law graduates due to a more complex production-focused training they have received.

Keywords: legal translation, legal English, mediation-focused translation course, production-focused translation course

©inTRAlinea & Slávka Janigová (2014).
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inTRAlinea Special Issue: Challenges in Translation Pedagogy
Edited by: Maria Piotrowska & Sergiy Tyupa
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
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1. Description of courses

In focus of this paper are undergraduate Legal English courses conducted for two different target groups, namely law students of the Law Faculty of Pavol Jozef Šafárik University in Košice, Slovakia, and students of translation and interpretation studying a programme of English/French/German language for European Institutions and Economics at the Faculty of Arts of the same University. I intend to summarise the most important common and distinct features of these courses based on my experience in both. Finally, based on the needs and skills analysis of the two target groups I will attempt to respond to the issue of ´who would make a better translator – a lawyer with some translation and linguistic skills or a translator with some legal skills´, as my reviewer has rightly prompted me to do. 

Legal English courses taught at the Law Faculty are conducted in the first year, winter and summer semesters, in the form of one 90-minute seminar per week. At the end of each semester students take written examinations. Legal English courses run by the Department of English and American Studies are intended for BA and MA students of translation and interpretation, currently for English, German and French languages, and parallel to the linguistic and translatology element, this programme also involves the fundamentals of law and economics mediated through lectures and seminars conducted in the Slovak language by qualified law/economics specialists. Mandatory subjects in which undergraduates have to take examinations at the end of each semester, beside linguistic and translation disciplines, include law and economics. Moreover, in terminological seminars students receive some basics of the English law in multiple sub-branches, such as introductory jurisprudential issues, company law, public finances, financial law, tax law and international financial law with an elective option of tort law, contract law, civil procedure, intellectual property law, and so on.  Students are also invited and encouraged to write their bachelor´s and master´s theses on translation and terminological topics involving a combination of both legal and economic translation problems and corpus comparative issues.

Admission examinations for the translation/interpretation study programme test reception, production and mediation at B2, B1+ and B1+ CEFR level, respectively. Admission examinations for law students do not test the applicant´s English skills, but, in general, they are expected to have successfully taken the B1 or B2 A-levels in English to be able to follow legal English courses at the Law Faculty.

2. Focus-tailoring of courses

As has been stated, the curriculum of both legal English courses for lawyers and translators incorporates three specialisations – linguistics, law/economics and translation studies, the share of these elements in the curriculum is, however, different in these target groups, since different aims are pursued therein. A needs analysis has revealed that the courses for law students should be mediation-focused, i.e. they should concentrate on a target competence expected of law graduates, which is primarily an ability to be a ´mediator´ between their client and the body of law in focus, including the competence to make up for institutional discrepancies between the Continental and Common Law Systems and employ techniques that would allow settling these distinctions. Hence the focus of law students is law, legal terminology and legal skills. On the other hand, courses of translation are production-focused, since students are more concerned with the linguistic and translation point of terminological issues and translation techniques that are available to make up for terminological discrepancies resulting from the lack of correspondence of legal institutes of respective legal systems. None of the groups, however, can dispense with, at least, some amount of all of the three competences: lawyers need the basics of linguistics and translatology, whereas translators also need legal skills.

This obviously different focus of attention of two of the groups may be observed during the instruction itself. It may be illustrated by a different reception of the same study material used during the law seminars and translation seminars. For example, legal briefs analysed at seminars to demonstrate legal English concepts/terms receive a different response from law and translation students. In the course of analysis the attention of the former is likely to concentrate on the legal point at issue, arguments of litigants, evidence and the outcome of proceedings, whereas discussion with translation students over the same text will result in a detailed linguistic and terminological analysis, with questions being raised as to what would be the most felicitous terminological, syntactic and stylistic outcome in the target language.

3. Authenticity as the source of good legal English style and guarantee of successful communication

The issue of authenticity is one of the major aspects of legal English teaching methodology. It is the alpha and omega for what counts as a good legal style. The point is what kind of texts are to be selected for the students´ first contact with legal English: authentic legal texts drawn by trained common-law lawyers, whose content will inevitably be common-law-oriented, or texts dealing with continental legal concepts (Slovak in our case), which will inevitably be less authentic since they would be, most probably, drawn by Slovak legal experts in English, or translated into English.

At the beginning of the course, law students tend to enquire why they are made to study the English law institutes. They would prefer learning about the Slovak law institutes in English. One of my arguments in this respect is the lack of authenticity of texts written by continental lawyers in English and an inevitable occurrence of structural transfers and translation shifts due to a clash of legal cultures. Apart from providing context-clarification of terminology, authentic texts are the most valuable reference source of collocations, higher syntactic structures (phrases, clauses), preferred word order, punctuation, cohesive navigators, that is they serve as a reference source of the legal English style. But not only may that, without a detailed linguistic analysis and knowledge of specific syntactic and stylistic tools, the communication fail in both its reception, as well as production aspects. My observation is that syntactic and stylistic competence seems to be a much more complicated issue than terminology, both as an individual competence as well as a teacher´s challenge.

The following tasks have been selected to illustrate the point:

  1. Task: Identify the appropriate antecedents of the text navigators bolded out.
    Insolvency is such a relative condition of a person´s or entity´s assets and liabilities that the former, if all made immediately available, would not be sufficient to discharge the latter. (Chromá, 2003: 124)
    Solution: antecedent of the former is asset; antecedent of the latter is liabilities
  1. Task: Identify the referent of hereunder and antecedents of thereunder.
    The Board of Directors of the Seller has taken, or will take before the Closing Date, all actions required by law, its Certificate of Incorporation, its By-Laws or otherwise to authorise (i) the execution and delivery of this Agreement and the other Acquisition Documents, and (ii) the performance of its obligations hereunder and thereunder. (private legal instrument)
    Solution: the referent of hereunder is this Agreement as a legal act (deixis)
    the referent of thereunder is the other Acquisition Documents (text navigation)

The two of the above sentences show specific legal English text navigators and deicticals, that is, cohesive devices. Neither the reception of the reader, not the production of translation will be successful without a proper interpretation of their referents and antecedents.

  1. Task: Do the syntactic analysis of the structure: the last to survive of…
    The duration of copyright in a film is 70 years after the death of the last to survive of the principal director, the authors of the screenplay and dialogue, and the composer of any music specially created for the film.  http://www.patent.gov.uk/
    Solution: until the death of the last surviving from among the principal director, the authors of the screenplay and the composer, that is split infinitive postmodification separating the relational of-phrase from its head, that is nominalised adjective.
  1. Task: Focus on the text navigator thereto – what noun in the preceding structure is its antecedent – the bearer/a Share Warrant/the rights/terms and conditions
    The bearer of a Share Warrant shall have the rights and be subject to the terms and conditions in relation thereto conferred or imposed by the Directors from time to time and whether made before or after the issue of the Share Warrant. (Articles of Association – private legal instrument)
    Solution: the antecedent tends not to be animate and not plural – a Share Warrant

Actually, since during the seminars (mainly due to the lack of time) law students are exposed mostly to academic texts (extracts from legal textbooks, simplified legal briefs, monolingual dictionaries, and so on), without an appropriate syntactic/stylistic training most of them would be quite lost upon encountering  the language of  ´real´ legal instruments (text of legislation, private contracts, memoranda of association, by-laws, power of attorneys, wills, and so on), favouring extremely complicated syntactic and stylistic structures (Tomášek 1998). This should also be taken into consideration by the teacher when selecting texts for the instruction.

4. Source- versus target-language orientation of translation

Exposing students of both types of courses to authentic legal English texts is an instruction tool that may also be exploited in training them to perceive their translation efforts as cognitive interactions aimed at dynamic equivalence to be obtained between the message of the source and target texts (Nida, 1969). Students are exposed to the idea that during the translation process they actually become navigators exerting orientational influence over the target recipient, they are supposed to navigate the recipient in constructing the meaning of the target text intended and expected by the writer of the source text (Janigová, 2012). The text analysis focusing on the sameness of the communicative effect on the source and target text recipients will also involve identification of speech-act functions and structural means used to effect one and the same function in the source and target texts.

This may be done in the light of the Austin´s speech-act theory distinguishing between constatives and performatives (Austin, 2000). The key tests to be employed to distinguish  between constatives and performatives are the ´true-or-false´ test versus ´felicity´ test. A  simple indicator of the difference between two of the tests is an im/possibility of inserting a deictical hereby in a clause. The positive hereby test would indicate a performative effect of a text unit, whereas the opposite would be the result for constatives.

  1. I (hereby) pronounce you husband and wife. (performative employment of simple present)


  1.  I (hereby) write him every day.* (habitual present)

Students may further be instructed to identify several sub-categories within the class of performatives (verdictives, directives, declaratives, and so on) and the formal means employed to affect them. The following examples are taken from private legal instruments:

  1. I, XY, of the City of Edmonton, in the Province of Alberta, MAKE OATH AND SAY THAT I am one of the defendants named herein, and as such I have personal knowledge of the facts deposed to herein, and I verily believe the same to be true. (declarative)
  2. IT IS ORDERED AND DECREED THAT  XY shall pay …(directive)
  3. The defendant IS FOUND guilty and is sentenced to imprisonment. (verdictive)

The effect-focused analysis of parallel texts will reveal that the source and target languages do not use the same formal means to indicate a particular communicative function.

  1. The defendant IS FOUND guilty and is sentenced to imprisonment. (passive impersonal structure)
  2. Súd uznáva obžalovaného vinným a odsudzuje ho na trest odňatia slobody. (active personal structure)

Upon being encouraged to examine and compare the means employed in parallel texts, students will start to realise that their translation products may either be source-language or target language-oriented (Newmark 1988). Translation students will be further provided with some in-depth theoretical insight into the issue of source-language oriented and target-language oriented strategies and techniques that will allow them to refine their product and make it more rationally-controlled. On the other hand, even though law students would not appreciate being overloaded with the theoretical aspect of translation science, they are able to perceive a difference between the two approaches. Hence, regardless of the amount of theoretical input, both target groups would be willing to admit that two of the strategies available can produce quite a different quality of their final products. The following example taken from a Slovak contract (private legal instrument) is supposed to illustrate the point:

  1. Obidve zmluvné strany vyhlasujú, že sa oboznámili s obsahom tejto zmluvy, že nebola dohodnutá v tiesni ani za inakšie nevýhodných podmienok a že ju uzavreli z vlastnej vôle, určite, vážne a zrozumiteľne.

Source-oriented variant of translation (basically word-for-word variant):

12.a  Both the contract parties declare that they have got acquainted with the content of this contract, that is was not agreed in duress, nor otherwise unfavourable conditions and that they concluded it of their own will, certainly, seriously and clearly.

Target-oriented translation variant (employing basically the techniques of transposition and modulation, extension):

12.b Both the Contractors warrant and represent that they have read the wording of this Contract which has not been executed under duress or other inconvenience and that they enter into this Contract as free act and deed, with a serious legal intent and under sufficiently certain and clear terms and conditions.

Posing a question which of the above versions sounds more ´natural´, the reply would definitely be in favour of the second option by both the target groups. Source-oriented translation is less demanding since it mainly consists in word-for-word translation based on general dictionaries, or, in a better case, some bilingual law dictionaries. To arrive at the second version, however, general or even bilingual law dictionaries would not suffice, since it does not rely on a dictionary translation of separate words and phrases, but rather on the student´s own cognitive interaction with authentic parallel texts.

5. A problem-solving approach to terminology

As has been pointed out above, the parallel texts analysis is treated as a source as well as guaranty of the good style, function-focused employment of structural language forms, but also context-defined identification of terms. Legal terminology is not to be introduced to students as a finite product contained in law dictionaries they are supposed to consult. It is rather presented as a context-dependent goal they are expected to attain by more or less successful activation of equivalent response in reader to their translation product. The training process is problem-solving, rather than being concerned with introducing and testing decontextualized legal nomenclature. During the instruction process students are encouraged to activate all their knowledge of general language, legal systems of both the source and target languages, consult monolingual and bilingual law dictionaries and legal experts. They are prompted to refine their prima-facie word-for-word translation via appropriate target-language oriented translation techniques of transposition, modulation, extension, and so on, although the instruction to law students will be more deductive (there is actually not much space at the seminars for discussion over theoretical translation concepts).

  1. After the Second World War most of these statutory companies were nationalised and their functions taken over by public companies*1. Recently some public services have been ‘privatised’ i.e. returned to public companies*2 status. (Chromá 2003: 94)

The term public companies in the above sentences activates two opposite readings: first it indicates nationalised state-owned enterprises, whereas the second instance is supposed to activate the meaning of privately owned company having shares tradable on the public stock exchange. Proper identification of the respective meanings of these terms is not a matter of bilingual dictionary, but is rather exclusively context-dependent. This is also a reply to terminologists defending no-polysemy approach to terminology. Right the opposite seems to be true. Terms are built on the extension of a polysemantic range of lexemes through contextual specification.

As to the semantic analysis of terminology, students are encouraged to draw on their respective legal and linguistic skills, to combine them and benefit from both as much as possible. Law students will employ the skill of comparative analysis aimed to identify the major defining elements of legal institutes, whereas translation students are prompted to employ the linguistic method of componential analysis, i.e. they will analyse the major semantic traits of institutes.



Civil law consequences

Breach of individually
defined rights and duties

Intentional interference

Interference with person

Interference with land

Interference with goods

Civil wrong














Breach of contract




























Trespass to person







Trespass to land







Trespass to goods







Private nuisance







Public nuisance







Table 1: An exemplification of componential/comparative analysis
of terms in the terminological field of wrong

Actually, the major defining elements of legal concepts are identical with the major semantic traits of terms. They constitute the tertium comparationis of the analysis of legal institutes. Hence, law students can benefit from the linguistic clarity of the method of componential analysis, whereas translation students´ legal skills aid them in selecting the defining semantic features of institutes. The skills of legal comparative analysis and componential analysis seem to be complementary and may therefore be viewed as mutually beneficial for both types of students (Janigová, 2013).

6. Conclusions

The paper aimed to identify the common features and differences between the curriculum of legal English seminars taught to law and translation students. Both curricula incorporate linguistics, law/economics and translation theory. Methodologically, both of them are focused on problem-solving, distinguishing between target-language- and source-language oriented translation techniques, parallel text analysis and context-defined approach to terminology.

However, taking into consideration the varying market-oriented needs of students of the respective courses, i.e. mediation-focused with the former and production-focused with the latter, the above elements of instruction should be exploited in varying proportions. Translation students´ curriculum is to focus on translatology and linguistics with legal specialisation being a supplementary skill facilitating students´ orientation in contextual delimitation of referents of legal terms both in the source and target languages. Law students’ future qualification requires that the courses should be focused on the legal element, where the contextual delimitation of referents is of primary concern since it extends students´ passive knowledge, serves as grounds for training legal skills of case analysis, identifying the ratio decidendi and the main elements of instant cases and precedents, and prompts them to activate their active performance in legal language.

The relationship between the skills that students of both target groups are aimed to obtain is that of mutually favourable inter-dependence. By advancing their linguistic skills and obtaining the basics of translation, law students not only improve their final legal English competence and performance, but also obtain useful tools of linguistic analysis (componential analysis, lexical fields analysis, syntactic analysis) that may be further used in advancing their foreign legal communication in general. On the other hand, for linguistically-oriented translation students their legal competence seems to be indispensable for their coping with the context-based analysis of referents of legal terms, in both the Slovak as well as English legal systems.

If the above conclusions are to be taken as justification grounds in a dilemma which of the target groups discussed here have better chances to become successful legal translators, it seems quite obvious that the production-focused tailoring of translation courses for translation undergraduates compared to the mediation-focused design of courses for law students equips the former group with a complex of skills allowing them, along with the mediation of the core message of the source text, to finalise their target product so that it would comply with the lexical/syntactic/stylistic criteria of the target language by employing appropriate translation techniques and linguistic skills, basically exploiting their elementary legal skills ´only´ to clarify the relevant terminology. The target product of law graduates of legal English courses is much less likely (to honour the exceptions) to attain the final level that would satisfy all of the above criteria, which is due to the fact that in their courses the training of linguistic and translation skills is only ancillary. Based on my experience with both groups, I definitely favour translation students as having better chances to become successful and apt legal translators.


Austin, John L. (2000) Jak udělat něco slovy (How to do things with words), Praha, Filosofia.

Chromá, Marta (2003) New Introduction to Legal English, Praha, Carolinum.

Janigová, Slávka (2012) “Translation of Legal Texts as Cognitive Interactions” in Cognitive Dynamics in Linguistic Interactions, Alexander Kravchenko (ed.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing: 261–80.

Janigová, Slávka (2013) “The Target Product of Legal English Translation Courses – A Multi-Skilled Translator”, Teória a prax prípravy budúcich translatológov a učiteľov anglického jazyka. Zborník z Medzinárodnej elektronickej konferencie v dňoch 26. – 26. júna 2013, Banská Bystrica, Vydavateľstvo Univerzity Mateja Bela v Banskej Bystrici – Belianum, Fakulta humanitných vied: 1–15.

Newmark, Peter (1988) A Textbook of Translation, Hertfordshire, Prentice Hall.

Nida, Eugene, and Charles R. Taber (1969) The Theory and Practice of Translation, Leiden, E. J. Brill for the United Bible Societies.

Tomášek, Michal (1998) Překlad v právní praxi, Praha, Linde Praha a.s.

Czy gramatyka kontrastywna potrzebna jest tłumaczowi?

O zadaniach gramatyki kontrastywnej na usługach teorii przekładu

By Monika Jazowy-Jarmuł (Jagiellonian University, Poland)

Abstract & Keywords


This article constitutes an attempt to establish whether findings derived from comparative research can prove useful for the theory and practice of translation. Contrastive grammar, which is a part of applied linguistics, offers conclusions with regard to the formal and semantic adequacy. The knowledge of the structures of the source and target languages does not implicate, however, the formation of an equivalent utterance, since numerous formal and semantic discrepancies are induced extralinguistically, for instance via the context or the sender's communicative intention. When at the service of the theory of translation, contrastive grammar must therefore, beside the structural and semantic aspect, also take into consideration the pragmalinguistic one, which is frequently the factor that determines the translator's choices. The analysis presented by the Author is illustrated with numerous examples excerpted from works of famous Swedish writers and their Polish translations.


Niniejszy artykuł stanowić będzie próbę odpowiedzi na pytanie, czy wnioski wynikające z badań porównawczych mogą być przydatne dla praktyki i teorii przekładu. Gramatyka kontrastywna, będąca częścią językoznawstwa stosowanego, dostarcza wniosków dotyczących odpowiedniości formalnej i semantycznej. Znajomość struktur języka źródłowego i języka docelowego nie implikuje jednak stworzenia wypowiedzi ekwiwalentnej, gdyż wiele rozbieżności formalno-semantycznych determinowana jest ekstralingwistycznie np. przez kontekst lub intencję komunikacyjną nadawcy. Gramatyka kontrastywna na usługach teorii przekładu musi więc także uwzględniać, obok aspektu strukturalno-leksykalnego, aspekt pragmalingwistyczny będący często czynnikiem determinującym wybory translatorskie. Rozważania autorki ilustrowane są licznymi przykładami zaczerpniętymi z dzieł znanych autorów szwedzkich i ich polskich tłumaczeń.

Keywords: contrastive grammar, gramatyka kontrastywna, equivalence, ekwiwalencja, contrastive analysis, analiza kontrastywna, translation theory, teoria przekładu

©inTRAlinea & Monika Jazowy-Jarmuł (2014).
"Czy gramatyka kontrastywna potrzebna jest tłumaczowi?"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Challenges in Translation Pedagogy
Edited by: Maria Piotrowska & Sergiy Tyupa
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Permanent URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2102

W pracach lingwistycznych gramatyka kontrastywna definiowana jest najczęściej, jako opis dwóch lub kilku języków, mający na celu ukazanie różnic i podobieństw między nimi na wszystkich poziomach struktury językowej (zob. Eliasson 1978: 99, Koczerhan 2009: 13, Polański 1995: 188). Rozróżnia się gramatykę kontrastywną teoretyczną oraz stosowaną (ibid.). Do zadań tej pierwszej należy wypracowanie podstaw teoretycznych do porównywania języków, w celu ukazania podobieństw i różnic pomiędzy badanymi językami. Praktyczne zadania gramatyki kontrastywnej obejmują opis działania „mechanizmów transferu”, czyli tworzenia struktur języka obcego z zastosowaniem reguł języka własnego tj. „języka źródła”, oraz ustalenie charakteru interferencji językowej (Maciejewski 1983: 63; zob. też Abrahamsson 2009: 32; Koczerhan 2009: 16).

Zgodnie z przedstawionymi zagadnieniami wyodrębnia się dwa główne kierunki badań: studia konfrontatywne stosowane i teoretyczne. Pierwsze dostarczają wniosków z zakresu ogólnej metodyki nauczania języków. Podstawę badań konfrontatywnych teoretycznych stanowi natomiast aspekt czysto strukturalny. Porównanie struktur oryginału i ich odpowiedników w innych językach traktowane jest jako tertium comparationis dla realizacji leksykalnych odpowiedników strukturalnych w analizowanych językach. Studia konfrontatywne dostarczają wniosków dotyczących odpowiedniości formalnej i semantycznej, które powinny mieć zastosowanie w nauczaniu zasad przekładu. Rezultaty takich analiz pozwalają tłumaczowi na uświadomienie sobie cech zarówno szczególnych, jak i uniwersalnych, porównywanych języków. W opinii wielu teoretyków przekładu znajomość gramatyki kontrastywnej stanowi konieczny element kompetencji tłumacza (np. Kußmaul 1994: 208; Nord 1993: 262; Snell-Hornby 1994: 20).

W Polsce najwięcej uwagi poświęcono studiom polsko - angielskim, np. J. Fisiak, M. Lipińska-Grzegorek, T. Zabrocki An Introductory English-Polish Contrastive Grammar (1978), seria Papers and Studies in Contrastive Linguistics pod reakcją J.Fisiaka oraz studiom polsko-niemieckim, np. Deutsch-polnische kontrastive Grammatik (2000) pod reakcją U.Engela, J.Czochralski Verbalaspekt und Tempussystem im Deutschen und Polnischen: eine konfrontative Darstellung (1972). Na gruncie polsko-szwedzkim obszerne oraz cząstkowe badania nad systemem gramatycznym obu języków podejmowali np.: E. Gårding Kontrastiv fonetik och syntax (1976), R. Kozłowska-Raś Kategoria czasu, aspektu i rodzaju czynności w systemie koniugacyjnym języka szwedzkiego i polskiego (1980), W.Maciejewski Podstawy polsko-szwedzkiej kontrastywnej lingwistyki tekstu (1983), G. Sadalska  Bestämdhetskategorin i svenskan och polskan (1993).

W ostatnim czasie ukazało się również wiele prac konfrontatywnych, wykorzystujących, jako metodę badawczą, konfrontację przekładową: np. J. Jarosz Duńskie ekwiwalenty tłumaczeniowe polskich przyimków we frazach temporalnych (2008) , M. Papierz Zaimki w języku i tekście. Studium słowacko-polskie (2003), J. Satoła-Staśkowiak Polsko-bułgarskie odpowiedniości przekładowe czasów przeszłych (2010), M. Jazowy-Jarmuł Översättningsmöjligheter av svenska nominalfraser till polska (2006). Punktem wyjścia analizy są ekwiwalentne teksty, tj. tekst w języku wyjściowym i tekst w języku docelowym. Zestawienie tekstu oryginału i przekładu pozwala ustalić odpowiedniki translacyjne badanych jednostek językowych, wykazać różnice i podobieństwa pomiędzy badanymi jednostkami językowymi w zakresie struktury i treści, a także w zakresie ich funkcjonowania w danym kontekście (Kozłowska 1985: 245, Jarosz 2008: 25). Analiza, dokonanych w procesie tłumaczenia przekształceń struktur gramatycznych i leksykalnych umożliwia prześledzenie decyzji podjętych przez tłumacza (wybór strategii translatorskiej) oraz ustalenie czynników determinujących te decyzje. Metodologia taka przyjęta została również w niniejszym opracowaniu. Materiał stanowiący podstawę analizy (zestawienie szwedzkiego oryginału z jego polskim tłumaczeniem) zaczerpnięty został z powieści Ingmara Bergmana, Svena Delblanca, Stiega Larssona, kryminałów Larsa Keplera, a także z dzieł naukowych szwedzkiego językoznawcy Bengta Sigurda.

Proces analizy kontrastywnej polega na poszukiwaniu ekwiwalentnych struktur (form) wyrażania danej treści w obcym języku. Charakter procesu analizy kontrastywnej jest więc analogiczny do procesu przekładu, w którym tłumacz poszukuje środków języka docelowego, które funkcjonalnie i semantycznie oddają struktury języka wyjściowego. Gruntowna znajomość systemów obu języków, różnic i podobieństw zachodzących między nimi, stanowi zatem podstawę kompetencji tłumacza. Jednak prymarność analizy strukturalnej odnosi się jedynie do pierwszego etapu procesu tłumaczenia. Znajomość struktur języka źródłowego i języka docelowego, kompetencja językowa, nie gwarantuje stworzenia wypowiedzi ekwiwalentnej w sensie komunikatywnym. Porównując przekład z oryginałem można ustalić takie odpowiedniki tłumaczeniowe, które nie znalazły miejsca w słownikach. Analiza zebranego materiału językowego pozwala stwierdzić, że wybór poszczególnych faktów językowych uwarunkowany jest często szeroko pojętym kontekstem: językowym, sytuacyjnym, kulturowym. W przekładzie tłumacz dokonuje transpozycji pewnej wizji świata danej społeczności językowej na inną (Grzegorczykowa 1992: 76, Pieńkos 2003: 27). Obok doskonałej znajomości repertuaru językowego, konieczna jest więc również kompetencja komunikatywna, czyli np. znajomość okoliczności użycia odpowiedniego zwrotu przez członków danej społeczności (Coseriu 1994: 53, 77; Hymes 1972: 67). Znajomość realiów danej społeczności, tradycji narodowych, kultury, geografii, ustroju społecznego pozwala tłumaczowi dokonać wyboru wariantu zapewniającego obok ekwiwalencji semantycznej, również ekwiwalencję pragmatyczną (zob. Bogusławski 1976: 300, Hejwowski 2004: 156). Konfrontacja szwedzkiej frazy adresatywnej Mina damer och herrar! z niemiecką frazą Meine Damen und Herren!pokazuje, iż frazy, mimo absolutnej identyczności strukturalno-leksykalnej, nie mogą być traktowane jako ekwiwalentne. Szwedzka fraza charakteryzuje się innym walorem pragmalingwistycznym, ponieważ może być użyta wyłącznie w szczególnie uroczystej sytuacji, jak np. przemówienie podczas uroczystości przyznania Nagrody Nobla (por. SAG 1999, 2: 268, Szulc 1985: 13). Jednym z ciekawszych zagadnień jest także kwestia wyboru ekwiwalentów tłumaczeniowych szwedzkich form referencyjnych w postaci zaimków. Rozważmy następujące przykłady:

(1) Jag har hört att du är skicklig på behandling av akut trauma, sägerJoona Linna. (K)
Słyszałem, że zna się pan na leczeniu urazów – mówi Joona Linna.

 (2) Mikael, innan jag går in på det skulle jag vilja göra en överenskommelse med dig. (L) 
Panie Mikaelu, zanim zacznę, chciałbym zawrzeć z panem porozumienie.

Obydwa przytoczone przykłady pochodzą z powieści kryminalnych kryminałów szwedzkich autorów i ich polskich tłumaczeń. Obrazują taką samą sytuację komunikacyjną: rozmówcy nie są ze sobą zaprzyjaźnieni i spotykają się w sytuacji formalnej. W analizowanych przykładach szwedzki zaimek osobowy du pełni funkcję referencyjną, wyznacza adresata wypowiadanego tekstu. Zaimek ten należy do tzw. zaimków bezrodzajowych, tzn. nie jest nacechowany ze względu na rodzaj gramatyczny i płeć adresata (Grzegorczykowa, Laskowski, Wróbel 1998: 334). Wybór przez szwedzkiego rozmówcę zaimka du jako formy adresatywnej, usankcjonowany jest społeczną konwencją językową, powszechnym zastąpieniem honoratyfikatywnego zaimka ni (2 os. l.mn.) bezdystansową formą du.

Konfrontacja tekstu szwedzkiego i polskiego przekładu pokazuje, iż mamy do czynienia z odejściem od formalnej struktury oryginału i zastosowaniem odpowiednika ekwiwalentnego pod względem pragmatycznym. Formą adresatywną, adekwatną w opisanej sytuacji komunikacyjnej, jest w języku polskim rzeczownik tytularny pan, składniowo łączący się z czasownikiem w 3 osobie, zróżnicowany rodzajowo (Łaziński 2006: 17). Dodatkowo, w przykładzie (2) w polskim przekładzie, zastosowano formę dystansową pan +imię w formie wołacza (panie Mikaelu). Według Łazińskiego, we współczesnej polszczyźnie, zwrot z imieniem jest powszechnie używany, jako forma zwracania się do osoby bliżej nieznanej, z racji braku innych uniwersalnych form adresatywnych (Łaziński 2006: 106-107).

Kontekst i sytuacja komunikacyjna wpływa na decyzję dotyczącą wyboru translacyjnego odpowiednika także w przypadku szwedzkiego zaimka rzeczownego man, który nie posiada w języku polskim odpowiednika formalnego w postaci zaimka. Zaimek man określany jest przez szwedzkich językoznawców, jak Wessen (Wessen 1968: 78) czy Noreen (Noreen 1904: 63), jako „wyrażenie o uogólnionym znaczeniu”, mające charakter polisemantyczny ze względu na różne możliwości interpretacji semantycznej przez odbiorcę komunikatu. Wskazówek dotyczących prawidłowego wyboru dostarcza odbiorcy/tłumaczowi kontekst, a także odwołanie się nadawcy do wspólnej z odbiorcą wiedzy o świecie, znajomości sytuacji lub wspólnych doświadczeń. Zaimek man używany jest często w wypowiedzeniach, które muszą zostać dookreślone przez odbiorcę i w których wykorzystuje się różne mechanizmy wnioskowania. W użyciu kontekstowym, man może wskazywać dowolnego referenta lub grupę referentów, może także odnosić się do mówiącego. Analiza porównawcza wykazała, iż np. w przypadku wypowiedzi odnoszących się do odbiorcy, którym jest sam nadawca, język docelowy werbalizuje informacje (intencje nadawcy: nadawca zaleca realizowanie tego stanu rzeczy samemu sobie) pozostawione w oryginale jako domyślne. Ekwiwalentem tłumaczeniowym szwedzkiego zaimka man była zazwyczaj w takich wypowiedziach forma czasownika 1. osoby liczby pojedynczej:

(3) Man får akta sig att vilja för mycket, särskilt nu, när mama och andra mäniskor börjar lyssna på vad man vill. (B)
Muszę uważać z tym przesadnym chceniem zwłaszcza teraz, kiedy mama i inni zaczynają słuchać, czego człowiek chce.

Wiele rozbieżności formalno-semantycznych determinowanych jest więc ekstra- lingwistycznie, przez kontekst lub intencję komunikacyjną nadawcy. Istotny problem w przekładzie stanowi np. rozkład funkcji informacyjnych w wypowiedzi. Nadawca zazwyczaj projektuje swoją wypowiedź (komunikat) tak, aby przejść od punktu widzenia, jaki dzieli wraz z odbiorcą do wiadomości nowej dla osoby słuchającej (van Dijk 2001: 81). Zgodnie z założeniami przedstawicieli Szkoły Praskiej przyjmuje się, iż zazwyczaj znana informacja (temat) poprzedza w wypowiedzeniu informację nową (remat) (zob. Mathesius 1975: 156). Remat może jednak np. wskazywać referenta, który jest znany zarówno nadawcy, jak i odbiorcy w danej sytuacji komunikacyjnej. Dlatego też definiowany bywa, jako człon najbardziej istotny z komunikatywnego punktu widzenia, temat natomiast jako swoiste tło, określenie tego, o czym się mówi (Bußmann 2008: 733, Padučeva 1992: 158, Vater 1992: 97). Poniższe przykłady ilustrują, w jaki sposób formalna struktura zdania może sygnalizować dystrybucję informacji w języku szwedzkim i polskim:

(4) En reporter på lokalradion rakade befinna sig i banken just när rånet ägde rum. (L)
Jednym ze świadków był – znajdujący się właśnie w banku reporter lokalnej rozgłośni radiowej.

(5) En ung herre som heter Ernst Åkerblom kom farande på sin cykel [...] (B)
Przyjechał na rowerze pewien młody człowiek, Ernst Åkerblom.

(6) En man med smutsig polisuniform kommer in. (K)
Na oddział wchodzi mężczyzna w brudnym mundurze policyjnym.

Analizując strukturę tematyczno-rematyczną oryginału i przekładu, można stwierdzić, iż porównywane języki odmiennie układają w zdaniu poszczególne elementy. Nadawca w różny sposób (przy pomocy różnych środków) informuje odbiorcę, które elementy wypowiedzi są najważniejsze, a które przekazują informację znaną albo uprzednio daną. Język szwedzki charakteryzuje się utrwalonym (stałym) szykiem wyrazów, co ogranicza wykorzystanie szyku do aktualnego rozczłonkowania zdania. We wszystkich językach istnieje jednak pewna możliwość modyfikowania schematu zdania ze względu na intencję komunikacyjną nadawcy. W języku szwedzkim, w którym szyk wyrazów pełni funkcję gramatyczną, możliwości te są mniejsze niż w języku polskim, w którym istnienie systemu przypadków wpływa na swobodę usytuowania wyrazów. Należy zwrócić uwagę, iż swoboda szyku elementów zdania w języku polskim nie oznacza dowolności: „Zmienność szyku pewnych członów zdania jest ściśle uformowana odpowiednimi czynnikami bądź natury obiektywnej, gramatycznej, bądź natury subiektywnej, stylistycznej” (Jodłowski 1976: 158; por. też: Grzegorczykowa 2002: 48; Polański 1995: 541; Szober 1963: 317).

Powyższe przykłady ilustrują zastosowanie rodzajnika w celu zachowania struktury tematyczno-rematycznej wypowiedzi w języku szwedzkim. Wyrażenie rematyczne reprezentowane jest w analizowanych przykładach przez frazę nominalną przenoszącą znaczenie nieokreśloności. Znaczenie to sygnalizowane jest przez prepozycyjny rodzajnik nieokreślony a nie, tak jak w tłumaczeniu, przez finalną pozycję frazy nominalnej w zdaniu. Fraza nominalna z rodzajnikiem nieokreślonym wskazuje na referenta, który jest zindywidualizowanym, lecz nie zidentyfikowanym jednoznacznie elementem zbioru wieloelementowego (Svartholm 1978: 40, Grzegorczykowa 2002: 112).

Analiza porównawcza oryginału i tłumaczenia wykazuje, iż w języku polskim środkiem pozwalającym uwypuklić elementy wypowiedzi, jako ważniejsze, jest szyk zdania. W omawianych przykładach dokonano, zgodnie ze strukturą tematyczno-rematyczną zdania, zmiany szyku wyrazów w stosunku do oryginału. Fraza nominalna zawierająca nową informację, odpowiadająca frazie nominalnej z rodzajnikiem nieokreślonym, została w tłumaczeniu umieszczona w pozycji rematycznej (finalnej) zdania. Znaczenie nieokreśloności, którego formalny wykładnik stanowi w oryginale rodzajnik nieokreślony, oddane zostało w tłumaczeniu przy pomocy struktury semantycznej zdania. Szyk wyrazów w języku polskim może więc służyć, jako ekwiwalent rodzajnika nieokreślonego. W przykładzie (5) użycie przez mówiącego dodatkowo zaimka pewien sugerowało, iż mówiący dysponuje pewną wiedzą dotyczącą omawianego referenta, jednak nie widzi potrzeby lub też z jakiś względów nie chce go jawnie wskazać (Grzegorczykowa 2002: 113–114; Topolińska 1984: 314). Opisane znaczenie wyrażone zostało w oryginale implicytnie.

Jak wynika z powyższych przykładów wybór określonych środków językowych uwarunkowany jest funkcją komunikacyjną wypowiedzi. W celu wyrażenia ładunku komunikatywnego danego członu zdania w języku szwedzkim stosowane są także inne środki formalne (składniowe), takie jak np.: podmiot formalny det, parafraza emfatyczna czy też konstrukcja pasywna, umożliwiająca zmianę dystrybucji informacji w stosunku do zdania zawierającego konstrukcję aktywną (Ekerot 1979: 99, Koczerhan 2009: 218, SAG 1999: 38, 42, 380, 517, Sundman 1987: 360). Spójrzmy dla przykładu na następujące zdania:

(7) Hon tittar på honom och ser samtidigt det smutsiga draperiet bakom hans rygg. [...]Det finns en fuktfläck på tyget, en liten oval,som från en mun. (K)
Zasłona jest nieruchoma ale w jakiś sposób przyciąga uwagę. Na materiale widać plamkę wilgoci, niewielki owal, jak usta.

(8) Vokalharmonin styrs här av rotens vokal. (S)
W powyższych przykładach harmonię wokaliczną determinuje samogłoska rdzenna.

(9) För några dagar sedan opererades hon på Akademiska Sjukhuset av professor Oldenburg. (B)
Kilka dni temu operował ją w Szpitalu Akademickim profesor Oldenburg.

(10) –Vem är ansvarig läkare? frågar Erik. Daniella Richards. Det var hon som ville att jag skulle ringa, avbryter kommissarien. (K)
– Kto jest lekarzem prowadzącym?- pyta Erik. Daniella Richards. Właśnie ona chciała, żebym zatelefonował – przerywa komisarz.

W języku szwedzkim (przykład 7) zastosowanie podmiotu formalnego w postaci zaimka det pozwala uniknąć umieszczenia informacji nowej w pozycji inicjalnej zdania, w której zazwyczaj zostaje zawarta informacja, co do której nadawca może przypuszczać, że jest ona obecna w świadomości odbiorcy (Ekerot 1979: 99, SAG 1999: 38, 42, van Dijk 2001: 88). Obligatoryjne wypełnienie pozycji podmiotu umożliwia umieszczenie fragmentu wypowiedzi, stanowiącego informację wyeksponowaną, na dalszej pozycji w schemacie zdania. Centrum informacyjne wypowiedzi (remat) reprezentowane jest przez grupę nominalną opatrzoną rodzajnikiem nieokreślonym en fuktfläck. Informacja presuponowana, czyli to, co odbiorca już wie, realizowana jest przez frazę przyimkową på tyget. Określnik wyznaczający (rodzajnik sufigowany tyget), wskazuje na referenta, który może być jednoznacznie zidentyfikowany przez odbiorcę (anafora). Analiza porównawcza wykazała, że najczęstszym ekwiwalentem tej konstrukcji jest szyk zdania, (wykorzystanie pozycji inicjalnej i finalnej zdania w języku polskim), który pozwala na wyeksponowanie odpowiednich treści.

Również w przykładach (8) i (9), w polskim tłumaczeniu, składniowym środkiem aktualnego rozczłonkowania zdania jest szyk wyrazów. W przeważającej ilości porównywanych przykładów konstrukcje pasywne zostają w tłumaczeniu zastąpione przez konstrukcje aktywne. Ustalona pozycja podmiotu w schemacie zdania w języku szwedzkim ogranicza możliwości zmiany miejsca tego członu, tak jak to ma miejsce w języku polskim. Zamiana konstrukcji aktywnej na konstrukcję pasywną, w języku o stałym szyku, jakim jest język szwedzki, pozwala skonstruować zdanie w taki sposób, by człon rematyczny znalazł się w finalnej części wypowiedzi. Realizacja komunikatywnej funkcji zdania uważana jest za jedną z przyczyn wysokiej frekwencji konstrukcji pasywnych w języku szwedzkim (Sundman 1987: 360).

Przykład (10) ilustruje użycie w języku szwedzkim parafrazy emfatycznej (emfatisk utbrytning) w celu podkreślenia ważności pewnego elementu wypowiedzi. Wyeksponowany (rematyczny) człon zdania w postaci zaimka osobowego hon wskazuje na referenta, który może być jednoznacznie zidentyfikowany przez odbiorcę przez odesłanie w obrębie tekstu(anafora). Według szwedzkich językoznawców zastosowanie tej konstrukcji pozwala na umieszczenie wyeksponowanego składnika na dalszej pozycji w schemacie zdania, niż byłoby to możliwe w przypadku zastosowania zdania nienacechowanego pod względem ekspresywnym, z podmiotem w pozycji inicjalnej (Ekerot 1979: 102). W polskim tłumaczeniu postać emfatyczną otrzymuje się przy pomocy szyku wyrazów, użycia zaimka osobowego ona oraz zastosowania partykuły właśnie wzmacniającej treść członu zdania, któremu towarzyszy (Polański 1995: 134).

Zagadnienie wartości tematyczno-rematycznej pojawia się także w procesie przekładu werbalnych form czasowych na język polski:

 (11) [...] man har ställt fram en stol åt den svartklädda, otydligt mumlande och gråtande hustrun. (B)
[…] niewyraźnie mruczącej, zapłakanej kobiecie podsunięto krzesło.

Porównanie oryginału i przekładu pozwala na stwierdzenie pewnych preferencji dotyczących umiejscowienia w schemacie zdania fraz werbalnych, w których znaczenie czasowe: Przeszłość współwystępuje ze znaczeniem aspektu: Perfektywność. Frazy te stanowią często rematyczną część zdania, dlatego też ich układ w zdaniu może być odmienny w polskim przekładzie niż w języku wyjściowym. Jak wynika z przedstawionych przykładów, ta sam treść może być wyrażana przy pomocy różnych struktur syntaktycznych, różnego uporządkowania linearnego. Prześledzenie przykładów, porównań oryginału z przekładem, pozwala na stwierdzenie podobieństw, dzięki którym zasada ekwiwalencji może być realizowana na planie syntaktycznym, mimo różnic w sposobie ustrukturyzowania informacji. Ekwiwalencja oznacza w tym przypadku odwzorowanie uporządkowania tematyczno-rematycznego na płaszczyźnie zdania, co oznacza, iż zarówno oryginał, jak i przekład są tożsame pod względem funkcji komunikacyjnej wypowiedzi (Maciejewski 1983: 83). Intencja komunikacyjna nadawcy musi więc zostać najpierw prawidłowo odczytana przez odbiorcę (tłumacza), a następnie oddana przy pomocy środków, jakimi dysponuje język docelowy. Porównanie systemów syntaktycznych ze szczególnym uwzględnieniem funkcji komunikatywnej szyku wymaga z pewnością dalszych, pogłębionych badań.

Analiza porównawcza specyfiki systemów języka, gramatycznego, leksykalnego i stylistycznego pozwala dostrzec cechy specyficzne i uniwersalne, niewidoczne przy badaniu poszczególnych języków oddzielnie. Jak wykazała analiza wybranych przykładów zaczerpniętych z języka szwedzkiego i ich translacyjnych odpowiedników, wybór środków języka docelowego uwarunkowany może być np. normami sytuacyjnymi kultury języka, określonymi celami komunikacyjnymi, kontekstem wypowiedzi czy też jej wartością emocjonalną. Słuszna więc wydaje się teza, że analiza formalna, semantyczna i stylistyczna wybranych jednostek językowych odnosi się jedynie do pierwszego etapu procesu tłumaczenia. Porównanie dwóch systemów językowych zapewnia konieczną dla tłumacza kompetencje językową, a także pozwala poznać technikę przejścia od jednego języka do innego. Badania konfrontatywne na usługach teorii przekładu nie mogą jednak ograniczać się tylko do porównywania struktur semantyczno-składniowych, ponieważ analiza samych znaków językowych, jak stwierdza Pieńkos, nie jest w stanie znaleźć klucza do wydobywania znaczenia ukrytego w danym tekście lub danej wypowiedzi (Pieńkos 2003: 31). Przekład nie jest wiernym odbiciem gramatyczno-leksykalnych i stylistycznych składników tekstu oryginału ale dobranym układem takich elementów gramatyczno-leksykalnych i stylistycznych języka przekładu, które pozwolą na odwzorowanie komunikatywności i sugestywności tekstu źródłowego (ibid: 26). Zdefiniowanie przekładu jako kompleksowego aktu komunikacji (procesu zorientowanego na funkcję komunikacyjną) (Snell-Hornby 1994: 13, Nord 1995: 31, Wills 1996: 3) powoduje konieczność rozszerzenia badań porównawczych o dodatkowe tertium comparationis w postaci kryteriów natury pragmatycznej, tj. szeroko pojętego kontekstu i sytuacji, w których dane wypowiedzi się pojawiają (Hernández Sacristán 1994: 40 za: Dąmbska-Prokop 1999: 93, Krzeszowski 1990: 16).


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Integrating Technology into Interpreter Training Courses:

A Blended Learning Approach

By Marta Kajzer-Wietrzny & Maria Tymczynska (Adam Mickiewicz University, Poland)

Abstract & Keywords

In the context of reduced contact hours at many training institutions, interpreting students and their trainers turn to Computer Assisted Interpreter Training (CAIT) solutions to support their learning and teaching experience. However, they need guidance so as not to be overwhelmed by the wealth of options available. In this article we present different CAIT tools for both in- and out-of-class practice including websites, speech repositories, video corpora, interpreter training software, course management systems (CMS), video conferencing tools and a self-contained 3D virtual learning environment with bespoke pedagogical materials. We then specify which CAITs can be used to train particular skills in blended settings and at what phase of the interpreting assignment (preparation, interpreting, reflection). Finally, we present how to teach those skills using CAITs in blended learning pathways. The pathways we suggest include individual practice with prepared materials in a 3D environment (short consecutive), collaborative video conferencing practice in role-plays (longer consecutive with notes), and CMS-aided conference simulations which may also involve clients of interpreting services (simultaneous interpreting). Informed by the idea of guided autonomy, the pathways are intended to foster both individual and collaborative learning in situated scenarios to ensure a steady improvement of students’ interpreting performance and to increase their professional awareness.

Keywords: blended interpreter training, CAIT tools, guided autonomy, situated learning, collaborative learning

©inTRAlinea & Marta Kajzer-Wietrzny & Maria Tymczynska (2014).
"Integrating Technology into Interpreter Training Courses:"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Challenges in Translation Pedagogy
Edited by: Maria Piotrowska & Sergiy Tyupa
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1. Computers in interpreter training

Students of interpreting (irrespective of the stage or type of training) need adequate self-study opportunities and learning resources which would allow them to learn about and practice interpreting in varied communication settings. Yet, students do not always have access to suitable training materials (Sandrelli 2005: 1). In the context of reduced contact hours this need has become even more pressing, making both students and their teachers turn to explore the training possibilities offered by various Information and Communication Technology (ICT) tools.

The idea of Computer Assisted Interpreter Training (CAIT) emerged in the mid-90s as a spin-off from Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) and centred at the very beginning on providing e-learning materials for interpreter training. The first generation CAIT tools took the form of speech banks, such as IRIS (Interpreters’ Information System, University of Trieste, 1999, see Carabelli 2003) or the more elaborate MARIUS (University of Granada, 2003; see Boéri and de Manuel Jerez 2011). The speech banks were well-organised databases of audio, video and text materials classified by the type of interpreting and/or stage of interpreter training. Video-based resources and pedagogic materials were also developed for particular forms of interpreting. For example monologues and bilingual role-play dialogues were created for short consecutive interpreting at the Copenhagen Business School (Hansen and Shlesinger 2007). The pedagogical materials included background documents, texts for sight translation, PowerPoint presentations, glossaries and bespoke tasks and exercises which were accessible from a dedicated e-learning platform. There were also successful attempts to develop authoring programs for interpreting training. For example Interpr-It provided practice materials and Italian audio-only dialogues for students to use in between face-to-face interpreting classes (University of Hull, 1995; see Cervato and de Ferra 1995).

While the present day CAIT tools continue to offer self-study interpreting materials, some CAIT solutions went even further to create life-like interpreting scenarios which require collaboration between students. One of the primary aims of the EVIVA project[1] is precisely to investigate different ICT-based solutions (3D virtual worlds, videoconference- and video-based environments)·with regard to how they support individual and collaborative learning processes with prepared content and in live interactions in business and community interpreting training.

Whether they are meant for individual or collaborative practice, CAIT tools are usually ‘seen as a useful integration to traditional methods, not as a replacement of interpreting classes. However, the implementation of such software tools [does] require a shift in the educational approach’ (Sandrelli 2005: 5). In this article we first specify which CAITs can be used to train particular skills in blended settings and at what phase of the interpreting assignment (preparation, interpreting, reflection), and then propose three pathways for situated interpreter training which promote student autonomy and collaboration.

2. Overview of CAIT tools

In addition to websites and interactive online resources, an entire new generation of CAIT tools is now available including intelligent speech repositories, interpreter training software resembling conference system simulators, and virtual interpreter training environments. Video conferencing tools and video corpora can also be used effectively in interpreter training.

2.1. Websites

ORCIT (Online Resources for Conference Interpreter Training)

Designed for trainers and beginning students of conference interpreting, this website features interactive pedagogical tools illustrating such key issues as active listening and analysis or public speaking and note-taking in a very accessible manner. The resources are available in many languages (English, German, Czech, Greek, Spanish, French, and Lithuanian) but they do not focus on language pair specific translation problems. They can be used by trainers to complement in-class instruction or by students in their self-study time.

Interpreter Training Resources

Created with students and trainers in mind, this website features articles and activities on issues related to interpreting practice and research which can be used in the beginning and intermediate stages of training. The rich and varied resources on consecutive and simultaneous interpreting contributed by conference interpreters list key skills to be mastered, present practical tips, direct students to interpreting activities and show examples of correct interpretations. In the note-taking section students will find the general principles of note-taking and practical tips helping them to capture the structure of utterances and organise margins and symbols, as well as bibliographic information with further exercises. The simultaneous interpreting section even contains suggestions on evaluation methods. The website is also replete with interpreting-related advice on using rhetorical devices, parallel texts or language corpora and ideas for organizing new vocabulary and terminology. There is a recommended reading list, links to interesting materials, press releases and practical suggestions for people starting a career in interpreting.

National Network for Interpreting (NNI)

Although this website does not contain materials for interpreting practice, students will find here practical and inspiring content about the interpreting profession. For example there is a map of skills valuable for interpreting (for example the ability to search for information or knowledge of current affairs) linked to clips demonstrating how those skills may be developed. The website also addresses the issue of time management and organization of an interpreter’s professional life by presenting viewers with a sample calendar of a freelance interpreter. NNI moderates a YouTube channel which includes short videos on various matters relevant to interpreting, such as developing an awareness of cultural differences.

2.2. Speech repositories


Speechpool contains speeches searchable by topic and type of interpreting (consecutive interpreting with notes, simultaneous interpreting). Before deciding to interpret a speech, users can read key terms and phrases and explore topic-related links. The repository enables users to grade speeches in terms of difficulty as well as add comments about the quality of recordings. Users can also upload recordings of their own speeches which then serve as practice material for others. The speeches are available in 12 languages with English as the main source language. The site is free but requires registration.

Speech Repository

Tailored towards the needs of trainee interpreters and candidates preparing for their accreditation tests, this repository features an extensive collection of videos including authentic speeches delivered in the EU institutions (press conferences, meetings of the European Parliament, and so on) and speeches prepared specifically for training purposes. Recordings can be browsed using a search engine which enables users to select the source language, the level of difficulty and the interpreting technique. All speeches contain a list of key words and phrases, some are accompanied by transcripts. The speech repository comes with a bespoke software which allows users to simultaneously play speeches and record their interpretations for evaluation purposes. The use of the repository requires registration and is partially coordinated by trainers in selected interpreter training centres.

2.3. Video corpora


The key advantage of video-based corpora in interpreter education is that they ‘provide systematic access to naturally occurring language’ supported by corpus-linguistic methods, which encourages exploratory and autonomous learning (Braun 2005: 47).The Elisa corpus[2] comprises 25 recordings of interviews with native speakers of different varieties of English including Scottish, Irish, and Australian English. The interviews focus on their professional career, a topic which offers good material for incipient interpreters. The demo available on the corpus website enables users to access selected interviews in their full video version supported with transcripts and a topic index. Moreover, the demo includes some pedagogical materials which, although originally designed for language learners, may also be an aid for interpreting students.


The Backbone corpus[3] is designed for foreign language learners and students of interpreting. It comprises ten-minute recordings of monolingual interviews with native speakers of various European languages (English, French, German, Polish, Turkish), which have been transcribed and annotated with regard to thematic and linguistic features (Kohn 2012). It also includes interviews with people who speak English as a lingua franca, which enables interpreting trainees to practice interpreting non-native speakers. Transcripts are available for each video and can be browsed with reference to various linguistic challenges such as cultural issues or specialist vocabulary.

2.4. Interpreter training software

Black Box

Black Box was ‘the first commercially available authoring program developed specifically for interpreter training’ (Sandrelli and de Manuel Jerez 2007: 288). It allows students to simultaneously play the source material and record their own interpretation. In their interpreting practice, trainees can bookmark particularly difficult passages to which they would like to return. They can even slow down the playback of individual recordings to facilitate comprehension. Black Box allows trainers to create individual interpreting activities or entire practice modules as well as annotate interpreting challenges such as particularly difficult expressions or terms. Other features include the possibility to monitor prosody (Black Box can display waveforms of recorded interpretations) and even perform sight translation (timed scrolling of source text makes students keep a steady pace).


SCICrecTM enables users of the Speech Repository (see above) to download speeches, interpret them simultaneously or consecutively and record their own interpretations. The SCICrecTM software encodes interpretation as an audio-only track in a separate file and then replays it together with the original recording in two audio channels: left and right. Users can control the volume in both channels separately and even mute one channel to check the quality of their interpretation or listen to the original speech. Students of interpreting may then use the recordings for self-evaluation or send them to their tutors. SCICrecTM is compatible with both Windows and Mac and supports extended character sets for Bulgarian or Greek.

2.5. Interpreter training in virtual environments

IVY – Interpreting in Virtual Reality

IVY[4] is a virtual learning environment devised to support students in the initial stages of business and community interpreting training (Ritsos et al. 2012; Braun et al. 2013). Developed within an already existent 3D environment called Second Life (SL), this complex tool allows registered users to access the IVY island as avatars and practice dialogue interpreting in three working modes: the interpreting mode, the live mode and the exploration mode.

In the first mode students work with monologue- and dialogue-based materials which are situated in credible interpreting settings and based on authentic recordings[5]. Before they start interpreting, students read a brief to learn about the details of their assignment. By outlining the roles of the participants, the location of the interaction, and the main issues to be discussed, interpreting briefs set prepared materials in the context of life-like interpreting interactions which helps students to identify with the assignment by increasing its authenticity. Prepared materials come with transcripts and sets of bespoke pedagogical activities which help students to prepare for and reflect on their interpreting practice (Chmiel et al. 2012).

Students may also work in the live mode which makes it possible for a number of users to meet online and hold virtual meetings or even organise mock conferences. Such online meetings can be held between students alone but they can also include potential clients of interpreting services.

The exploration mode is primarily designed for the clients of interpreting services. It helps them to get acquainted with interpreter's work and prepares them for cooperation with interpreters in multilingual meetings.

2.6. Videoconferencing tools

Google Hangout

Although not developed with interpreter education in mind, free video conferencing tools may also be used in interpreter training. Tutors may engage students in interpreting video conferences between potential clients of interpreting or encourage students to take part in simulated meetings to practice interpreting. Once introduced by the tutor, the tool may be used outside the interpreting classroom to provide interpreting students with additional practice opportunities. The key benefit of free VC tools is that there is no need for the participants of the video conference to possess a professional VC system, which makes it available to a larger number of users in remote locations. The advantage of using Google Hangout is that together with other tools offered by Google (drive, social network) it can be adapted to serve as a course management system (Erkollar and Oberer 2011: 572). There are also recording options within Google Hangout: videos can be recorded on Google+ but they have to be streamed over YouTube, which makes them publicly available. Tutors and students may, however, resort to external recording options using either screen capture or audio recording software.

2.7. E-learning platforms (Course Management Systems)


Moodle is an open-source Course Management System (CMS) offering different activity modules and resources that enable educators to make their courses more collaborative. Like VC tools, Moodle was not designed for interpreter training, but it may be easily adapted to serve this purpose. ‘O]nline learning activities incorporating multimedia, such as audio and video presentations and animations [may be used] to create an effective collaborative learning environment while addressing a variety of learning styles’ (Tymczyńska 2009: 148), which is particularly relevant in interpreter training courses. Moodle can be used by tutors to organize practice materials, give instructions and provide students with links to different ICT tools and other resources to help them to prepare for interpreting assignments. It can also be employed to engage students in online collaborative glossary building, forums and chats (see Fictumová 2004: 9–21). Finally, Moodle keeps track of user activity which may be useful for assessment purposes.

This overview served to demonstrate the different possibilities that CAIT tools offer to interpreting trainees in their self-study and to their tutors who can use them to enrich their teaching repertoire. The solutions presented here support students’ interpreting practice and foster their professional awareness.

3. Training specific skills with CAIT tools

CAIT tools can be employed during different phases of the interpreting assignment. Some of them are particularly useful for preparation while others are applicable to almost any phase but with a focus on training different discrete skills. Table 1 presents ways of applying CAIT tools to the preparatory, interpreting and reflective phases of the assignment.


Interpreting phases and related skills

CAIT tools

Specific uses




  • context
  • purpose


  • register
  • terms of address
  • background reading
  • term search
  • glossary building



  • consulting materials for background reading and links to other online resources
  • practising with similar recordings
  • collaborating on glossary building

Multilingual Speeches, Speechpool

  • consulting lists of challenging terms and expressions


  • practising with similar recordings
  • searching the corpus (for example: lexical search)

IVY (interpreting mode)

  • reading briefs
  • completing preparatory activities


IVY (live mode)

  • reading instructions for role-plays
  • preparing for assigned roles

Google Hangout

  • reading instructions for role-plays
  • preparing for assigned roles


  • active listening and analysis
  • note-taking
  • working memory training
  • target speech production: monitoring accuracy, fidelity, grammar, intonation and prosody
  • stress management


IVY (interpreting mode)

  • interpreting monologues and multilingual dialogues

Multilingual Speeches,


  • interpreting speeches designed for simo/consec and rated for difficulty


  • interpreting recordings of authentic monolingual interviews in different languages incl. ELF

Black Box, SCICrecTM

  • interpreting with advanced recording options
  • training paced sight translation in Black Box
  • monitoring prosody in Black Box


IVY (live mode)

  • interpreting live role-plays (international collaboration possible)
  • practicing stress management
  • training in a 3D avatar-based environment

Google Hangout

  • interpreting live role-plays (international collaboration possible)
  • practising stress management
  • video conferencing training


  • reflection on preparation and practice
  • self-assessment
  • peer-assessment


IVY (interpreting mode)

  • completing reflective activities
  • consulting transcripts

Multilingual Speeches,


  • consulting transcripts (available for selected materials)


  • consulting transcripts

Black Box, SCICrecTM

  • monitoring prosody in Black Box
  • advanced replay options in SCICrecTM
  • sending interpretations to tutors via SCICrecTM


IVY (live mode)

  • participating in reflective sessions with tutors and/or peers

Google Hangout

  • participating in reflective sessions with tutors and/or peers

Table 1. Using CAIT tools to practise interpreting skills at different phases of the interpreting assignment

The table points to the fact that an e-learning platform can accommodate diverse resources and pedagogical activities. The collection and organisation of such content can be laborious, but it must be stressed that e-learning platforms are very efficient for this purpose and, unlike other tools, they allow tutors to modify course content to suit students' needs at different stages of training.

Although there are few free tools for live interpreting practice, those presented here can be exploited in different ways, for instance in live interactions with potential clients of interpreting. Alternatively, role-plays among students can target specific interpreting challenges.

Authentic speeches from repositories and other resources tend to be more challenging and so they are suitable for the more advanced students. Yet, such materials usually lack a pedagogical embedding (briefs, activities).

Given the number of CAIT tools and their functionalities, students need pedagogical guidance to learn which tools to use at a particular phase of interpreting practice and which skills to focus on. This was visible in the pedagogical evaluation of IVY whose outcomes highlighted the importance of clear and direct instructions to help students to make pedagogically useful choices (Tymczyńska et al 2013: 30).

The best way to provide students with guidance is in blended settings. Tutors need to state clearly the learning goals behind each interpreting session and the skills which are meant to be practiced. This can first be done in class and then reinforced by specifically designed online learning resources. For example, when the goal is to practice active listening and analysis prior to consecutive interpretation, students’ activity in class can be continued in their self-study with repositories. Here, tutor guidance involves the selection of online practice materials and the provision of pedagogical guidelines.

4. Pathways for blended interpreter training

In its current form CAIT tools provide ample opportunities for autonomous individual and collaborative learning. The best way for the tutor to provide students with guidance is in blended settings: this refers both to autonomous individual practice addressing individual interpreting styles (Kajzer-Wietrzny 2013) and to autonomous collaborative practice. Interpreting tutors may encourage students to integrate different CAIT tools into their interpreting practice. This can be organized in a number of ways. Below we present three sample pathways that students may follow under tutor guidance or supervision.

Pathway 1: Individual practice in IVY

Focus: short consecutive without notes

This pathway is envisaged for individual practice sessions especially at the beginning of interpreter training as part of home assignments which can later be discussed in class with regard to interpreting challenges and possible interpreting strategies. In this particular scenario, student’s task is to prepare, complete and reflect on an assignment in IVY. Interpreting assignments in IVY involve working with bilingual interviews or monologues divided into short chunks (suitable for consecutive interpreting without notes).

Having accessed the IVY Island in Second Life and selected the desired language combination and practice materials, the student teleports to the appropriate location, reads the interpreting brief and carries out preparatory activities. There are generic and language specific activities. The former raise students’ awareness of diverse interpreting issues, the latter foster anticipation of language- and culture-specific aspects of the interpreting assignment. Once prepared, the student launches external recording software to save their interpretation for reflective activities. At this point the student interprets the selected monologue/dialogue without notes paying attention to the issues discussed in the preparatory activities. Reflection on the interpreting assignment constitutes a very important part of the interpreting practice and in IVY it is aided by generic and scenario-specific reflective activities. At this stage, students may listen to their rendition, evaluate its accuracy by consulting the transcript of the original, consider the efficiency of the strategies applied, analyse their intonation, fluency, and so on.

A similar pathway would also be possible with the use of Black Box or a Course Management System, but it would be necessary for the tutors to feed those tools with relevant pedagogic materials first.

In this pathway students’ autonomous practice (including preparation and reflection) is aided by tutor guidelines and bespoke pedagogical materials. The IVY solution is unique compared to other CAIT tools as it provides students with a self-contained virtual learning environment. Not only do students practice interpreting in life-like scenarios, but they also analyse interpreting briefs and complete learning activities which present them with interpreting-related tasks, questions, and problems to be solved. By mirroring real-world communicative events (interpreting situations and conditions), this environment fosters students’ self-paced and self-monitored autonomous practice (see Tymczyńska et al. 2013). The IVY environment may be used to aid the development of diverse discrete interpreting skills (such as memory training or fluency in target text production). Dialogue- and monologue-based scenarios can also help interpreting trainees to deal with the continued switching of language direction, instances of weaker coherence, self-repairs and asides which are characteristic features of spontaneous speech. More importantly, however, such scenarios can be used to develop an awareness of professional situations: by working with interpreting briefs, preparatory and reflective activities students learn how to prepare for and reflect on their interpreting assignments much the same way as an interpreter does in real life (see Braun and Slater forthcoming).

As a further step, interaction and communication management skills can be practised in live settings which favour dialogic interaction in collaboration.

Pathway 2: Collaborative practice in Google Hangout

Focus: longer consecutive with notes

This pathway is envisaged for collaborative practice as part of home assignments once students have mastered the basics of interpreter-mediated communication working with prepared materials. In this pathway students prepare and carry out a role-play in Google Hangout and then analyse their performance with their peers and/or tutor in an online or in-class reflective session.[6]

Students can practice a role-play scenario specifically assigned by the tutor or choose a role-play from a list provided earlier. To authenticate the scenario, every role-play contains a short description introducing the context of the interaction, the participants and the main topics to be discussed. The non-interpreting role-players are provided with scenario-specific instructions and sample resources to prepare for their roles. Their task is to come up with a detailed list of issues to be discussed and to prepare a brief for the interpreter(s) including information about the interpreting assignment, expected terminology, and so on. In addition to the brief from the role-players, the interpreters are also provided with scenario-specific instructions. Prior to the online enactment, students do background reading and prepare relevant terminology. The online interpreting interaction is video-recorded (either using internal Google Hangout recording options or a dedicated screen capture application). After the role-play students analyse the recording and discuss aspects related to their performance and to social interaction such as turn-taking. Initial spontaneous reflection can take place among the students alone, it may also include the tutor who can prompt students' recall of selected challenging passages and encourage reflection on the efficiency of strategies they applied. Alternatively, the tutor may watch the entire recording and provide students with feedback during an in-class reflective session.

Collaborative and situated learning (see Kiraly 2000; 2005) have the potential to engage groups of students working to attain the same goal. In the case of consecutive interpreting, collaborative settings enable students to practice dialogic interaction. They can learn efficient turn-taking strategies, ways of negotiating meaning and coping with misunderstandings by asking for clarification. In addition to co-ordinating the interaction, students also practise remote interpreting. The use of video-conferencing technology creates perfect conditions for learning to cope with such challenges as overlapping speakers or lower quality of the audio and video signal. In video conferencing student have a limited view of the speakers which means that they need to learn to interpret speakers’ non-linguistic signals based solely on the facial expressions and gestures which are visible from the screen. In collaborative online practice students can also monitor and give feedback on their peers’ performance which fosters the development of peer assessment skills and eliminates the additional stress factor related to tutor supervision. By working together, students can identify additional areas for improvement, which is difficult in solitary practice. To further authenticate this pathway, role-play scenarios for advanced students may include participants from foreign interpreter training institutions or even prospective clients of interpreting services who do not speak students’ mother tongue. In such cases this pathway may be adapted to fit an in-class role-playing scenario with non-interpreting participants in remote locations.

Pathway 3: In-class collaborative practice aided by Moodle

Focus: simultaneous interpreting

This pathway is envisaged for students’ collaborative practice sessions orchestrated in class and preceded by a thorough individual online preparation.

In this pathway, students prepare for and participate in a mock conference with potential clients of interpreting services (or other interpreting students if potential clients are not available), and then reflect on their interpreting assignment in a feedback session with their tutor.

Prior to the mock conference, the tutor uploads preparatory materials for students on Moodle. These may include links to online resources focussing on relevant skills such as research (ORCIT), analysis (NNI website) or reformulation (Interpreter Training Resources). Conference-related materials including sample opening statements, articles and audiovisual materials on similar topics from online newspapers, speech repositories or video corpora may also be uploaded. Based on the preparatory materials students create a glossary, either individually or in collaboration, and upload it to Moodle before the mock-conference for the tutor to review. The mock-conference takes place in an interpreting laboratory and is moderated either by the tutor or a conference participant. Speakers (students or clients) are interpreted simultaneously by trainees in booths and the trainees have to follow proper both behaviour. Interpretations are recorded.

After the mock-conference the tutor may moderate an in-class reflective session focussing on interpreting challenges. During the session the trainees (and possibly the clients) compare their experiences while the trainees discuss the efficiency of strategies they applied to deal with challenging passages (specialist terminology, managing social interaction). Such a general feedback session may be followed by individual student reflection after class, whereby students would listen again to the recordings of their interpreting performance and reflect on their major strengths and weaknesses.

Collaborative pathways are valuable because they increase the authenticity of the learning experience and allow students to test their interpreting skills in scenarios simulating real professional contexts. The more authentic such pathways are, the greater the chance that students become more engaged in their interpreting practice and have a better sense of achievement. Even in semi-authentic interpreting contexts students can increase their situational awareness because by engaging in collaborative interactions with their peers (and possibly clients) students modify and construct new knowledge and develop or refine existing skills and competences (Piaget 1955, Vygotsky 1978, Moser-Mercer, Class and Seeber 2005).

Like in Google Hangout, this pathway is also collaborative but it is supplemented with additional benefits offered by content management systems. Moodle allows the tutor to carefully instruct the students at the same time not limiting them to just one resource. Tutors may also design their own materials and successfully share them with students via CMS. They can upload notes with guidelines for practice and preparatory or reflective learning activities, enable online collaboration on glossaries and even carry out terminological quizzes. This makes the learning experience better structured (because all activities and resources are included within relevant modules, individual files can be hidden from view and shown when necessary) and more autonomous but leaves good opportunities for guidance. In contrast to self-contained environments like IVY, Moodle allows for the introduction of self-developed materials supporting collaborative interactions, but it also requires greater effort because content has to be created, uploaded and managed (Tymczyńska 2009: 157).

The pathways explore the notion of guided autonomy in both individual and collaborative interpreting practice using different CAIT tools. By working with credible or authentic scenarios students learn to actively co-construct new knowledge, practise interpreting and interpreting-related skills, discuss challenges and address their weaknesses in reflective sessions. Tutor guidance coupled with students’ growing responsibility for their own learning can help to motivate students to engage in regular and challenging interpreting practice.

5. Discussion

Integrating technology into interpreter training courses using a blended approach necessitates some pedagogical adjustment but it offers many advantages.

Organising blended interpreter training courses around the idea of guided autonomy entails that the traditional roles of the tutor and student need to be redefined. Much akin to self-directed learning in adult education (see Grow 1991), the role of the interpreting tutor also changes from that of authority and coach to that of motivator and guide, and even to that of facilitator, consultant and delegator depending on the extent to which students are able to self-direct their own learning. Therefore, tutors are advised to adapt their teaching and change roles where necessary (see Kiraly 2003). Interpreting students, on the other hand, need to use tutor guidance to their advantage and learn to organize and manage their own study time to achieve the desired learning outcomes (see Kelly 2005: 21–41).

Although there are many ways in which ICT tools may be used to facilitate situated interpreter training in blended settings, it can be argued that it takes time to develop authentic or credible interpreting scenarios and equip them with pedagogical materials (such as related PowerPoint slides or reflective activities). This is because tutors need to find appropriate interpreting materials online (see Kajzer-Wietrzny forthcoming), situate them in credible scenarios (provide interpreting briefs) and enrich them with preparatory and reflective activities. Alternatively, tutors can use a self-contained environment like IVY which already contains bespoke pedagogical materials. However, we would like to posit that it is worthwhile to integrate authentic recordings with pedagogical activities. It has been shown that trainees appreciate such materials because they make the interpreting practice more life-like, which increases the satisfaction from the learning experience and the motivation to develop discrete interpreting skills, professional awareness and self-assessment skills (Hansen and Shlesinger 2007; Tymczyńska et al. 2013; Braun and Slater forthcoming). Preparing role-play scenarios or mock-conferences for live interaction appears to be more demanding than working with prepared materials. Yet, such forms of interpreting practice offer greater authenticity and spontaneous interaction and have been warmly received by students in the pedagogical evaluation of virtual learning environments in the EVIVA project (in progress).

Another group of issues to be considered relates to course design. At a global level interpreter training in blended settings needs balance between online and in-class practice. At a local level tutors need to decide which CAIT tools are most suitable for out-of-class practice and which tools can be used in class. Such decisions depend on the curriculum and student needs. When students need advanced note-taking practice they will interpret longer chunks with complex syntax, numbers, and so on. Such practice can be carried out in class but very often due to reduced contact hours students will turn to speech repositories or IVY in their self-directed practice. In other words, the proportions between offline and online activities need to be adjusted to the needs of a course and individual students (see Garrison and Kanuka 2004: 96–7).

A related question involves proportions between students’ in-class and online activities in their final grade. It could be argued that regardless of the setting students’ interpreting performance should be given priority. However, preparatory and reflective tasks done either in class or online may also be graded. If tutors decide to grade glossaries or recordings of online interpretations, then their workload will increase substantially. Yet, if students are not asked to present hard evidence of their self-directed practice, they may not treat it seriously. Such questions need to be resolved by tutors or programme administrators.

Finally, when preparing courses in a blended setting tutors need to take two key factors into account: the so-called steep learning curve (see Sanchez 2007; Carr, Oliver and Burn 2010) and hardware problems. The former is inherent in all new technological solutions which require users to adapt to the new methods to reap benefits later. Some users get accustomed to novel technological solutions relatively quickly while for others initial difficulties may be discouraging. Tutors need to be aware of this and adjust their guidance so that students develop a flexible approach to technology and are able to come up with alternative solutions to their problems. In case of insufficient or malfunctioning student hardware tutors may decide to extend the deadline for an online assignment, make it accessible from university's computer lab or even enable its completion offline.

CAIT tools will soon become a necessity in interpreter education and tutors need to be trained to help students overcome technical obstacles to keep them engaged in the learning process and excited about using technology for interpreting practice. This will only be possible if tutors themselves are not disenchanted with technology and know how to successfully implement CAIT tools in their courses. It is therefore vital that tutors also receive appropriate training to sensitize them to students' needs in blended contexts. Such training could for example demonstrate how to provide guidance in on-site or online tutorials in addition to carrying out an induction session and providing users with instruction manuals.

Once appropriate adjustments have been made, this approach brings about unquestionable advantages to interpreter training by empowering students, providing them with collaborative training opportunities in life-like settings, enhancing their assessment skills and giving them a competitive edge on the technological end. Guided autonomy empowers students by fostering self-reliance, increasing their motivation and making them more responsible for the objectives, content and progress of their own learning process. Unlike traditional interpreter training courses which focused on reproducing the content of the source message, scenarios simulating client-interpreter interactions make students more aware of the social and professional aspects of interpreting. In-class and online role-plays or mock conferences additionally turn students’ attention to the pragmatics of polite interaction such as greetings and the exchange of pleasantries, turn-taking, or negotiation of meaning. Life-like scenarios aided by CAIT tools help to promote student engagement in the learning process. Finally, integrating technology into interpreter training courses teaches students digital literacy, a valuable skill on the labour market (for instance in remote interpreting).

The blended approach to interpreter training also empowers the tutors who can manage their courses more effectively. In-class hours may focus on new challenges and strategies and collaborative activities, while online practice may be more individualised and help students to improve in specific areas of difficulty identified in class. As regards assessment, students' online activity may be tracked as different CAIT tools indicate how frequently individual users log in to a service and how much time they devote to their practice. Such data may be helpful in providing individualised feedback and contribute to a more informed evaluation of the students (for instance students' weak performance could be associated with a lower frequency of practice).

6. Questions for further research

In the absence of sufficient hard data it is still unclear to what extent different CAIT tools aid learning processes and activities in individual and collaborative interpreter training. EVIVA, a follow-up project to IVY, aims to analyse the affordances of such tools and ascertain in how far they support work with prepared interpreting materials and role-plays. EVIVA will focus on 3D virtual worlds, videoconference- and video-based environments and analyse the learning processes of both interpreting students and clients of interpreting services taking into account the development of digital literacy.

The findings of EVIVA and similar projects will help to determine to what extent such prominent notions in translation and interpreting pedagogy as situated learning, autonomous learning (problem-solving) and the acquisition of digital literacy apply to virtual learning environments. It is hoped that the outcomes of such projects will serve to inform blended interpreter training pedagogy and may even be useful in fully online interpreter training courses.


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---- (forthcoming) “Przegląd internetowych zasobów dla studentów tłumaczenia ustnego” [A Review of interpreting resources for interpreting students] in Tłumaczenie ustne – poradnik dydaktyka [Interpreting – a didactic guide](working title), Chmiel, Agnieszka and Przemysław Janikowski (eds).

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[1] EVIVA (Evaluating the Education of Interpreters and their Clients through Virtual Learning Activities), EU Lifelong Learning Programme 2013-14, project 531140-LLP-1-2012-1-UK-KA3-KA3MP; co-ordinator University of Surrey, UK; with financial support from the European Commission.

[2] The development of the ELISA corpus (English Language Interview Corpus as a second-Language Application) was supported by a young researcher grant (S. Braun), University of Tübingen 2003-04; see Braun (2006, 2010).

[3] BACKBONE (European Lifelong Learning project 143502-LLP-1-2008-1-DE-KA2-KA2MP, 2009-10; co-ordinator: University of Tübingen, Germany); with financial support from the European Commission.

[4] IVY (Interpreting in Virtual Reality), EU Lifelong Learning Programme 2011-13, project 511862-LLP-1-2010-1-UK-KA3-KA3MP; co-ordinator University of Surrey, UK; with financial support from the European Commission.

[5] Recordings available in IVY are based on authentic interviews from ELISA and Backbone.

[6] It is recommended that prior to the online enactment students practice role-plays in class to develop efficient turn-taking strategies, practise maintaining eye-contact and discuss interpreter positioning options. In class students should also learn about such important aspects of remote interpreting via VC tools as greetings, facial expressions, gestures and proper microphone management.

New Challenges in Audiovisual Translation

By R. M. Bollettieri, E. Di Giovanni & L. Rossato (University of Bologna, University of Macerata)

Keywords: audiovisual translation, digital revolution, media accessibility, new challenges

©inTRAlinea & R. M. Bollettieri, E. Di Giovanni & L. Rossato (2014).
"New Challenges in Audiovisual Translation"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Across Screens Across Boundaries
Edited by: Rosa Maria Bollettieri Bosinelli, Elena Di Giovanni & Linda Rossato
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Permanent URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2078

At the turn of the 21st century, the booming of new communication technologies and the transformations that occurred as regards the fruition of traditional media (television, telephone, cinema, etc.) have triggered what has been labeled as the “digital revolution”. Not only have new media and their augmented potentiality for interactive consumption significantly influenced the social, economic, and political frameworks of both Western and emerging countries, but they have also brought about changes in cross-cultural interactions, which are increasingly fast and far-reaching. Boundaries between a ‘centre’ and a ‘periphery’ in the dissemination of audiovisual texts have become gradually more blurred: hegemonies are being challenged, with local, small-scale industries becoming more and more visible at a global level, while productions reaching the global circuit are often born as supranational projects.

Studies on audiovisual translation[1] today can rightfully claim a central role in the process of understanding and clarifying many of the challenges and opportunities that the digital revolution has brought about. Although widely seen as a sub-discipline of Translation Studies, studies on audiovisual translation are truly interdisciplinary in themselves, bringing together knowledge of more or less traditional media, IT, audience reception, cognitivism and, of course, languages and cultures.

Audiences beyond screens are becoming increasingly heterogeneous, but also progressively more specialized and demanding. Furthermore, translation modes are no longer monolithic: modalities are merged, techniques and practices are constantly updated, re-shaped and reconfigured. Today increasing attention is given to media accessibility and the making of audiovisual products for all, with the result that all has irreversibly challenged the very notion of majority and minority.

The result of this revolution in the field of audiovisual translation seems to be that its study and practice are reaching beyond themselves: across disciplinary boundaries when it comes to research; over production and fruition modes when it comes to distribution and reception; beyond national, cultural and social boundaries when it comes to origins, identities, and representations.

Reaching across disciplines and spaces, can we say there is still such a thing as audiovisual translation? Can we still identify a source and a target text? Is it possible to divide audiences into source and target receivers of a text that is produced across, and reaches beyond, cultural boundaries?

This collection aims to contribute to the debate on audiovisual (screen) translation as laid out above. The contributions in this special issue explore the changes and movements that animate the production, distribution and translation of "texts" for screens. While providing multidisciplinary approaches and pointing to innovative research paths, the following chapters, on the whole, portray the state-of-the art in audiovisual translation research.

The 11 contributions are arranged into two main sections revolving around two key aspects of the audiovisual paradigm, namely texts and audiences. The first group of articles tackles specifically the shaping of meanings in audiovisual texts and focuses on how these are conveyed, through the process and practice of translation, beyond their context of origin. The second part of the volume handles the issue of how texts are received and perceived by target audiences, once they are globally disseminated.

The first section opens with an article by Katherine Russo (University of Naples “L’Orientale”, Italy) which focuses on the interlingual translation of Baz Luhrmann’s global movie Australia (USA, 2008), as well as on the intralingual “translation” of the film from Australian English into global English. In her conclusions, the author argues that the materiality of globalization may shape translocal social knowledge and create translocal audiences.

The second article, by Veronica Bonsignori and Silvia Bruti (University of Pisa, Italy) also investigates the representations of a post-colonial variety of English in film dialogues, namely Indian English. The authors approach the subject from the perspective of globally distributed Western film productions set in India. The essay examines the treatment of the cultural identity of Indian English-speaking communities, both in the original and in the dubbed Italian version. It also hints at the possibility that representations of cultural identity are seen as translations in their own right.

The third contribution, by Pierre Alexis Mével (University of Nottingham, UK), also deals with linguistic varieties in audiovisual translation. The author explores the use of verlan, i.e. a specific variety of French, in subtitling African American vernacular English. Looking at a corpus of films from the 1990s that predominantly portray African American characters, Mével’s article analyzes the ways in which the dialogues have been subtitled combining “standard” French and verlan – the use of which challenges boundaries when superimposed onto images of African Americans.

The distribution in Flanders of the Italian film La Meglio Gioventù  by Marco Tullio Giordana (2003), is the focus of the contribution by Manuela Caniato (Ghent University, Belgium). Applying a theoretical framework that reaches beyond linguistics and translation studies, the author portrays films as cultural objects and investigates the processes of resistance and negotiation of meaning and how they take place in cross-cultural dimensions.

Turning to the evolution of specific audiovisual text genres, the article by Monika Wozniak (University of Rome “La Sapienza”, Italy) deals with the translation of science fiction films and TV series. The article focuses on the translational issues pertaining to this genre, such as the rendering of neologisms for fictional scientific terminology (which the author refers to as technobabble).

Still in the realm of new audiovisual text types, the article by Gianna Tarquini (University of Bologna, Italy) provides a thorough overview of the challenges and perspectives opened up in screen translation by the booming market of videogame localization.

 Moving onto intersemiotic translation, Rita Wilson (Monash University, Melbourne, Australia) reports on the transitioning from a printed novel to a web-based, hypertext. The article points to potential developments and challenges for audiovisual translation in connection to the web, fostering intercultural dialogue and redefining the role of the writer and/as translator.

The second part of the volume is devoted to the exploration of  new audiences for audiovisual translations. The manifold issues at stake are approached from different angles and analyzed from theoretical as well as empirical perspectives.

Building on the concept of viewership 2.0, the contribution by Alice Casarini (University of Bologna, Italy) sets out to explore growing phenomena such as fan-subbing and fan-dubbing in connection with cult TV series, testifying audience evolution in terms of a strongly intensified pro-activity.

Two articles, one by Elena Di Giovanni (University of Macerata, Italy) and one by Agnese Morettini (University of Macerata, Italy) investigate audiences for accessible audiovisual texts. While Di Giovanni engages with an empirical study on the perception and enjoyment of audio introduction in conjunction with audio-description by blind and visually impaired audiences, Morettini deals with the European and Italian legislative framework on accessibility to the audiovisual media, shedding light on the requirements and standards (or lack thereof) in subtitling for the deaf and hard of hearing.

The final essay, by Linda Rossato (University of Bologna, Italy), reports on an exploratory study conducted among a demographically mixed sample of Italian TV viewers, including satellite and pay TV subscribers. By adopting an empirical approach, this article investigates if and how the audience consumption of a niche TV genre such as televised cookery has changed since the introduction in Italy of terrestrial digital television and the multiplication of factual channels in 2011.

Overall this collection offers a variety of viewpoints from scholars and practitioners coming from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds, on a topic – audiovisual translation – that needs to be constantly revisited.


[1] In this collection of essays, authors have chosen to use either audiovisual translation or screen translation as a definition for the area of research and activity revolving around the audiovisual media. Screen translation, i.e. the definition used by the Forlì School of Translation for 20 years, is perhaps more limited in scope (excluding translations for live events) but as appropriate as audiovisual translation (AVT) to refer to the vibrant field of activity that is the subject of this volume.

Visual adaptation in translated comics

By Federico Zanettin (Università di Perugia, Italy)

Abstract & Keywords

This article focuses on visual adaptation strategies and practices in the publication of foreign comics. It first defines visual adaptation in the context of related terms such as audiovisual translation (AVT) and localization. Then, it provides a typology of visual adaptation strategies, illustrated with examples taken from a variety of comics. This is followed by a description of visual adaptation practices in comics translation industry as concerns two the comic types which have the largest volume of foreign editions, American superhero comics and Japanese manga. In the case of manga translation, after an initial stage in which Japanese comics were heavily adapted lo local comics visual conventions, market pressure in the form of fan base expectations has met with economic concerns by the publishers. Foreignization strategies (i.e. little visual adaptation) have now superseded domestication strategies (i.e. much visual adaptation) as the general norm for localized manga. In the case of Marvel comics, the technological implementation of adaptation strategies allows for the production of multiple foreign editions tailored to local markets. Foreignization strategies, which privilege non-adaptation over adaptation to target visual conventions, innovate the aesthetic conventions and pictorial repertoires of the target comics polysystem.

Keywords: comics, audiovisual translation, traduzione multimediale, literary translation, comics translation, visual adaptation, comics localization, lettering, graphic editing, images, manga, US mainstream comics, superheroes, translation strategies, translation practices, comics polysystem

©inTRAlinea & Federico Zanettin (2014).
"Visual adaptation in translated comics"
inTRAlinea Volumes
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This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Permanent URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2079

1. AVT, localization, and visual adaptation[1]

Comics are narrative visual texts which usually incorporate verbal content.[2] Since comics are multichannel rather than only verbal texts, the study of translated comics is usually seen as part of audiovisual translation (AVT), the area of translation studies which deals with “the transfer from one language to another of the verbal components contained in audiovisual works and products” (Chiaro 2012: 1050). According to this definition, AVT concerns itself both with screen translation practices such as dubbing, subtitling and respeaking, and with multimodal types of translation such as translation for the theatre and the advertising industry. Comics in translation are  seen as a type of AVT since, it is argued, the translation of comics involves constraints similar to those of dubbing and subtitling (Chiaro 2009: 142).

In the translation studies literature, localization is also often filed under audiovisual translation. However, AVT (including comics translation) could also be seen through the lens of localization, as many of the translation activities covered by the term AVT increasingly involve practices which characterize a localization approach.

Localization, defined as “taking a product and making it linguistically and culturally appropriate to the target locale (country/region and language) where it will be used” (Esselink 2000: 3), is now the term generally used by the language industry to refer to the “translation” of all computer related products, including software and websites, videogames, and mobile applications.

In the localization industry, translation is seen as just one element in a chain of processes, a stage in a larger project carried out by a team, which goes from the managing of the project itself to the adaptation of cultural conventions and hard-coded (audio)visual elements such as, for instance, date and number format in the case of computer programs and soundtrack in the case of videogames. Pym (2010) argues that while not being strictly speaking a theory of translation, localization provides a set of new terms and concepts which can be useful in the study of translated products. First, the  definition of localization stresses the reference to a product rather than a text, and to a locale (a combination of language and regional location) over just language. Second, localization is usually preceded by internationalization which means that an intermediate locale-neutral version of the product to be localized is prepared, while translation directionality goes from one-to-many rather than from one-to-one. The concepts are sometimes subsumed under the term globalization and the full process is referred to by the acronym GILT, Globalization, Internationalization, Localization, Translation.

According to Pym the localization paradigm[3] can arguably be extended to the analysis of other types of text transformation processes. For instance, Pym discusses how in film translation/localization an intermediate script is especially prepared for translators of local versions (dubbed and subtitled). This internationalized script includes instructions about culture specific elements and cross references. Orengo (2005, see also Pym 2004), argues that also the production of international news can be described in terms of localization, since “the process of adapting a text from a news agency release for a newspaper story corresponds to its passage from a global product to a localised version in the local press” (Orengo 2005: 175). O’Hagan & Mangiron (2013: 106) suggest that “the emergence of new media resulting from the convergence of technologies is seeing the previously separate domains of localization and AVT come together to cater for the new type of products needing to be prepared to go global. Whether AVT subsumes localization or viceversa remains to be seen”.

A localization view of translation is, however, not always well received within the translation studies community since the term is perceived as just a fancy synonym used by the computer industry to refer to what is otherwise “simply a commonly accepted definition of translation itself” (Hartley 2009: 107). At the same time the view of translation held by the localization industry is perceived as reductive, in that it tends to consider translation simply as the replacement of decontextualized textual strings (Pym 2010).

In this article, I use the term comics localization as subsuming both “translation” and “visual adaptation”[4], to underline the similarities between the processes and practices involved in the production of a foreign edition of a comic book with those foregrounded in the definition of localization (see also Zanettin 2008b, 2009, 2011). Within comics localization, translation refers to the verbal (written) text which is produced by a translator in order to replace the source language verbal text, while by “visual adaptation” I refer to all changes made to the publication format, layout, pictures (including lettering, see below) and in general all elements of a localized comic book except for the verbal content.

This definition of translation as only one part of the comics localization process is not meant to imply the acceptance of a reductive view of translation, and of translators as only concerned with the verbal aspects of comics in isolation from the visual context. Rather, competent translators of comics should be seen as “semiotic investigators” (Celotti 2008), skilled readers of the medium who are aware that meaning in comics is created by relationships of complementarity and dialogue between verbal and non verbal messages, and for whom the visual context constitutes an opportunity rather than a constraint. However, while translators are perhaps in a position to act as “paratranslators” (Yuste Frías 2010), [5] able to anticipate and perhaps also have an influence in orienting the visual appearance of the localized product, they are not the only agents responsible for the production of a foreign edition, whose production may involve editing or removing images, adding/removing/altering colors, changing layout, size and pagination, etc., as will be detailed in the next section.

It seems important to adopt a distinction made by foreign edition comic collectors,[6] who point out that a localized version of a comic product first published in a different country is a re-issue rather than a re-print. While a re-print is “a second publication of exactly the same material” in order to meet “capacity demand of distribution channel sales”, a re-issue implies some kind of transformation, as regards packaging but also the visual and sometimes the verbal content of a comic (Zanettin 2008b). Foreign editions are “first publication[s] of any licensed material outside [the] country of origin”, and may be followed by subsequent re-prints or re-issues. Foreign editions may be in the same language as that of the country of original edition, as happens, for example, with US comics published in English in the UK, Canada, India and South Africa, and with Argentinian comics published in Spanish in Mexico and Spain. Foreign editions, however, usually imply translation i.e. that “lettering is translated into [the] national language of [the] region”, as one foreign edition collector put it in a forum message. Collectors of foreign comics insist that foreign editions are not simply reprints of original comics in a foreign language, since foreign editions involve a repackaging of the text, and often changes and alternations to cover and inside drawings, graphic elements, coloring, lettering, inking, format dimensions, etc., or, as another forum user put it, “re-imagining” the text. Furthermore, they point out that licensed (as well as unlicensed) material in which the “original” drawings and story has been extensively changed, redrawn, recolored, rearranged, etc. is often published as “foreign edition”, even though it could well have a claim as an autochthonous product. For instance, in an Brazilian edition of Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars (1984-85), some characters were expunged or redrawn, possibly for reasons of marketing or copyright,[7] while many Disney stories and characters are first created and published in Italy and elsewhere in Europe and South America as licensed material (Zanettin 2008b).

A descriptive analysis of comics in translation has to take into consideration all elements which may be subject to change when a comic book is published in foreign edition. As Kaindl (2010) argues

The various techniques involved in designing comics, ranging from various linguistic elements such as text in speech bubbles, narrative texts, onomatopoeia and captions, to typographic elements, pictographic elements such as speedlines, ideograms such as stars, flowers etc., and pictorial representations of persons, objects and situations, are all integral to the constitution of the meaning - and therefore translation-relevant. (Kaindl 2010:36)

Kaindl (1999) distinguishes among three groups of signs in comics: pictorial, typographical and linguistic, this last category including five functional linguistic categories, i.e. titles, dialogue, narration, inscription and onomatopoeia. Drawing on Delabastita’s (1989) work on film translation, he lists six strategies which can be used to translate these signs in comics, i.e. ‘repetitio’, ‘deletio’, ‘detractio’, ‘adiectio’, ‘transmutatio’, and ‘substitutio’ (1999: 275). Celotti (2008) distinguishes among four “loci of translation”, where verbal messages appear with a different function, i.e. balloons, captions, titles and linguistic paratext (verbal signs outside the balloon), and illustrates how translators may use four different strategies i.e. ‘translation’ (Delabastita’s ‘substitutio’, the default option for the first three loci), translation with a footnote, cultural adaptation, non-translation (Delabastita’s ‘repetitio’), deletion, and a mix of all the former.

This article focuses on visual adaptation in translated comics, that is on changes to the appearance of translated comics implemented through visual manipulation strategies, which include both of Kaindl’s pictorial and typographical categories, as well as other elements which characterize the re-packaging of foreign comics. I consider typographic signs only as concerns their visual appearance (the lettering), not as regards their verbal contents. Similarly to Kaindl (1999, 2010) and Celotti (2008), in the next section I describe a series of changes which may take place in foreign editions of comics with respect to first publication.[8] The overview of visual adaptation strategies will show that, though the default option is ‘non-translation,’ or ‘repetitio’, all other visual adaptation strategies can and have been employed.

2. A typology of visual adaptation strategies

Visual adaptation may involve changes in publication format, coloring and the drawings themselves, including the appearance of the verbal content. A change in publication format may involve considerably altering the size, shape and/or page layout of a comic book, as well as the type and quality of paper. It may involve the replacement of the cover page with a new one perhaps featuring a drawing from a different artist, as well as adding, replacing or deleting pages. Changes to the coloring scheme and the pictures may affect single pages or panels, or be applied at a global level.

A comic book typically consists in a sequence of pages each subdivided into a sequence of panels, arranged in a more or less regular grid. Each panel is a “frame”, an image from the story, in which visual and verbal elements coexist and interact. Groensteen (2007: 9) argues that in comics “the apparent irreducibility of the image and the story is dialectically resolved through the play of successive images and through their coexistence, through their diegetic connections, and through their panoptic display”. This dialectic applies first at the level of the page, and then at the level of the panels within the page: before looking at the panels in their narrative sequence and before reading the verbal and non verbal signs within each panel, the reader experiences each page as a whole image and in relation to the preceding and following pages. As comics are seen before they are read, the interpretation of verbal signs is intimately tied to understanding their wider visual context and co-text: words not only co-exist with drawings, but are also part of them, as the size, shape and arrangement of the verbal text, both within balloons and boxes (dialogues and narrations) and outside them (“stage scripts”, visual representations of sounds, graphic use of characters and words) is, together with its content, part of the message conveyed by the words.

Within a page, adaptation may involve resizing, deleting or adding panels; within a panel balloons and boxes may also be resized, deleted or added, and the size, shape and arrangement of the letters in which the verbal text is written may be changed. The following examples, mainly referring to the Italian context, provide an overview of visual adaptation strategies, starting from publication format and concluding with lettering.  

2.1 Changing publication format

Foreign editions often involve changes at more than one level, as can be seen in translated comics going back a century. Some of Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland Sunday pages, originally published in the US from 1905 to 1914, appeared in Italy in the children’s weekly Il corriere dei piccoli (Zanettin 2007). The new format implied by the change of publication type (magazine rather than newspaper) and target readers (children rather than both adults and children) brought with it the adaptation to local cultural and genre conventions: a change in page layout, the addition of panels, the deletion of balloons, as well as changes in lettering, coloring and drawings. Figure 1 shows the first strip of a Sunday story as published in The New York Herald, while Figure 2 shows how the last two panels of the original story were adapted to fit the layout of the children’s magazine. Most notably, the title and the balloons were deleted and the background was redrawn and recolored. The dialogues in the balloons were replaced by rhymed captions underneath the panels, following Italian cultural conventions for ‘drawn stories’.

Figure 1: Little Nemo in Slumberland, by Winsor McCay

Figure 2: Little Nemo in Slumberland, Italian adapation, Il Corriere dei Piccoli.

When comic strips are published in magazines, journals and books as collections, or when French albums, American comic books, Italian pocket book series are republished in a different format in translation (Zanettin 2008b, Rota 2008), a change in publication format is sometimes accompanied by a change in page size and layout. Even a simple change in paper size may affect the translation, not only because of the different visual perception of the images, but also because when the size of the page is shrunk, the size of balloons and boxes is reduced as well. Thus, when comics are republished in translation in a smaller format the textual material in the translation may need to be less than that in the source text (or, conversely, the balloons need to be enlarged), in order to allow readability.

2.2 Changing the colors

Sometimes a comic book in color is printed in black and white in translation, and viceversa. For instance, when Alan Moore’s The Swamp Thing saga was published in Italy as a “cult” product rather than as part of the regular DC series, it was published in black and white rather than in color (D’Arcangelo 2008). On the other hand, the first American and European editions of Kazushiro Otomo’s Akira were published in color rather than in the original black and white (Jüngst 2008; Malone, 2010: 319).

Colors can also be considerably altered in foreign editions. For instance, in an Italian 1970 edition of Charlier and Giraud’s La piste del Navajos (Figure 3), which targeted a younger readership, the bright colors used for the background are strikingly different from the softer tones of the French publication (Zanettin 2008b). Figure 4 shows a later Italian edition which reproduces the colors of the original French one.

Figure 3: La piste des Navajos, Italian edition, Crespi
© Charlier et Giraud, Dargaud 2006

Figure 4: La piste des Navajos, Italian edition, Nuova Frontiera
© Charlier et Giraud, Dargaud 2006

2.3 Changing the drawings

Figure 5 shows a page from an episode of the Italian popular monthly series Dylan Dog, while Figure 6 shows the translation published in 1999 by Dark Horse Press, a major player in the US comic publishing industry. Two differences are noticeable at first sight: first, the amount of written text in the American edition is less than that in the Italian version, leaving more white space in the balloons. This can be seen as an adaptation to US comics reading pace and conventions, which privilege action over dialogue. Second, the character sitting at the centre of the second panel in Figure 6 does not wear moustaches, and this is because some images of Groucho Marx are protected by copyright in the US. Accordingly, the name of the character was changed from Groucho into Felix.

Figure 5: Dylan Dog, by Tiziano Sclavi
© Sergio Bonelli Editore

Figure 6: Dylan Dog, US edition, Dark Horse
© Sergio Bonelli Editore

This difference in the way Groucho/Felix is drawn may at times lead to some confusion. For instance, while in the Italian sequence in Figure 7 it is apparent that the three mouths in close-up belong to three different characters, the identity of the characters is less clear in the American translation in Figure 8.

Figure 7: Dylan Dog, by Tiziano Sclavi
© Sergio Bonelli Editore

Figure 8: Dylan Dog, US edition, Dark Horse
© Sergio Bonelli Editore

Figure 9 shows a panel from a Disney story published in Kuwait in which it can be noticed that the thighs of the Tarzan character were covered with culturally appropriate garments.

Figure 9: Brad of the Jungle
© Disney

Figure 10 shows a panel from a Donald Duck story published in the United Arab Emirates. As can be seen in, the body of a woman wearing a bikini suit has been almost completely blackened in the adapted edition, in compliance with the guidelines of the Saudi Ministry of Information (Zitawi 2004, 2008a, 2008b).[9]

Figure 10: a panel from a Donald Duck story
© Disney

Another example of a change to the drawing is the transformation of a swastika into a less politically loaded symbol in the German edition of an American comic book (see Figure 36).

2.4 Changing page layout

Hugo Pratt’s La ballata del mare salato (Ballad of the Salt Sea), was first published in Italy in black and white in magazine instalments in 1967, and in the course of the years as a volume in various editions and different formats, in colors and in black and white. In the US, it was published by The Harvill Press in 1996 in black and white in “album” format (slightly smaller than A4 paper size), and in 2012 by Universe, a division of the Italian publishing house Rizzoli. The 2012 US edition was based on an Italian edition in the smaller “graphic novel” format[10] published by Rizzoli–Lizard (Migliori 1999), but as opposed to the Italian edition, it is in color. Because of the change in publication format, the page layout was redesigned so that each page contains three rather than four strips, as originally conceived by Pratt. To this end, on the one hand the images were blown up, on the other the length of the strips was shortened. To make them fit the new grid some panels were repositioned, split, cut out or enlarged. For instance, the first panel in the opening page of the story (Figure 11) has been reshaped by chopping out part of the image on both sides, and adding a stripe of white background at the top (Figure 12). The written text is accordingly adapted to the new shape. The remaining two strips are broken down, so that three panels slide to the following page. The panel which concluded the first page is now found in the middle of the second page. A third of it has been cut out and it is juxtaposed to a panel which was originally the first panel of the second page. Incidentally, this panel contains a reverse angle shot, showing the face of the character which was seen from the back before turning the page, thus spoiling the visual climax.

Figure 11: A ballad of the salt sea, by Hugo Pratt, Hanvill
© 1967 CONG sa - Switzerland

Figure 12: A ballad of the salt sea, by Hugo Pratt, Universe
© 1967 CONG sa - Switzerland

Other examples of this “destruction of a comics classic” (Jared 2012) include the breaking down of a sequence representing a fight inside a hut (Figure 13 and Figure 14) so that “instead of the natural end to the fight at the bottom of the page, the fight seems to continue too long, dragging onto the next page. The final two panels seem a waste of page space and reading time.” (Jared, 2012: online).

Figure 13: A ballad of the salt sea, by Hugo Pratt, Hanville
© Cong SA

Figure 14: A ballad of the salt sea, by Hugo Pratt, Universe
© Cong SA

A change in page layout is also involved in the publication of manga in Western left-to-right reading direction (see below), whereas by flipping the pages not only most characters notoriously become left handed, but the composition of the page is altogether altered (see Barbieri 2004, Zanettin 2008a). In some cases, a change in reading direction may be effected by flipping individual panels rather than the whole page (Rota 2008, Zitawi 2008a).

2.5 Replacing, deleting or adding pages

An example of page replacement comes from a comparison between page 56 of the Tintin in Congo by Hergé in French[11] and two Italian translations, both published in the last decade: while the French edition is still as it was when it was first published in 1946, the Italian edition (Figure 16) is derived from the Swedish edition of 1978. This happened because, when the album was to be published in Sweden, the publishers objected to the scene depicting Tintin blowing up a rhinoceros with a stick of dynamite (Figure 15). They asked that the page be redrawn, and Hergé complied.

Figure 15: Tintin au Congo, by Hergé
© Hergé/Moulinsart 2014

Figure 16: Tintin in Congo, Lizard Edizioni
© Hergé/Moulinsart 2014

Since then there are two versions, the French one and the “international” one. A more recent republication of the adventures of Tintin in Italy by Rizzoli-Lizard (2011) reinstates the original page. This edition reprints all the original 23 French albums in the smaller graphic novel format, putting together three albums in each volume, and is framed as a more ‘philological’ publication for adult readers through a prefatory note by the popular art critic and TV presenter Philippe Daverio.

A rather different strategy was followed in a 1970 Italian translation of La Piste des Navajos, an episode of the French western Blueberry saga by Charlier and Giraud (see Zanettin 2008b). The original 48 page story was in fact shortened to 46 pages, to make room for advertising (see below).

2.6 Resizing, deleting, replacing or adding panels

The Blueberry story just mentioned could not of course be simply depleted of two random pages. Thus, a few panels were deleted from two consecutive pages, and the remaining panels were re-combined into a new page. However, while this adjustment prevented a complete disruption of the narrative flaw such as would have resulted from simply taking out two full pages, the adaptation still generates an incongruous transition in the translated narrative (Zanettin 2008b).

An example involving the replacement of panels comes from the Disney story published in Kuwait, in which not only the drawings were re-touched (see Figure 9 and 10), but also sometimes created anew. Figure 17 shows a page from the source story, while Figure 18 shows how one panel was replaced with a new one created by merging drawings from two adjacent panels, to avoid showing a kiss between Clarabelle Cow and a monkey. Some Arabic text was also added in the new panel.

Figure 17: Brad of the Jungle
© Disney

Figure 18: Brad of the Jungle, Kwaiti edition
© Disney

2.7 Resizing, deleting or adding balloons and boxes

Changing the appearance of the physical spaces which contain dialogues and narratives implies a change in the drawings, which can be partly covered by the resized balloons (sees Figure 25 and 26). Balloons or boxes may be added to insert additional text provided by the translator, for instance a note explaining a narrative link to an episode of a series yet unpublished in translation. Balloons may also be deleted, for instance when no direct “equivalent” exists in the translated comics culture. This happens, for instance, with the Japanese visual rendering of the sound of “silence”, which is sometimes omitted in foreign editions together with the balloon.

An example or resizing a balloon comes from an American comic book translated into Italian, an episode from the epic fantasy Bone by Jeff Smith (Figure19). In the Italian publication (Figure 20), the smaller monster creature was completely erased to make room for a larger balloon. Accordingly the words in the balloon are uttered by the bigger monster creature. By looking at the larger narrative context it is not clear why this change was effected, as both versions work. The change appears to have been made only to accommodate for a longer text in Italian.

Figure 19: Bone, by Jeff Smith
© Jeff Smith

Figure 20: Bone, Italian edition
© Jeff Smith

2.8 Changing the characters (lettering)

Celotti’s (2008) four loci of translation -balloons, captions, titles and the linguistic paratext- are the physical spaces where the content, size and shape of characters change in translation. The placing of verbal signs in these loci requires graphical skills and is materially carried out by a letterer/graphic editor. A distinction can be made between lettering, which involves the replacement of text in regular type font inside balloons and boxes, and other types of visual adaptation which involve retouching the drawings to replace titles and verbal signs which are part of the visual paratext, such as inscriptions, road signs, newspapers, sound effects, onomatopoeic and unarticulated sounds, etc.

Calligraphy and typography play an important role in the visual reading experience, and comics creators make use of both conventional techniques such as using a bigger character size to represent shouting, or stereotyped fonts to represent national provenance (e.g. gothic font type for Germans), and of more unconventional and creative effects. In translation, lettering can be carried out manually or electronically, and the resulting lettered text can approximate to a larger or smaller extent the visual impact of the source image. Thus, lettering can have a considerable effect on how a translated comic is read and received.

Figures 21 and 22 illustrate how lettering affects two different Italian translations of a page from Will Eisner’s graphic novel A contract with God. The two editions, which also differ as regards the verbal content, use a different font size and shape. Figure 21 contains the text hand-lettered by Will Eisner, in which the characters are drawn with raindrops dripping from them. Figure 22 shows one Italian edition (Punto Zero 2001) which has been lettered using regular font types. Figure 23 shows a later Italian edition (Fandango 2009) which is hand-lettered and thus much closer to the American original.

Figure 21: A contract with God, by Will Eisner
© Will Eisner Studios Inc.

Figure 22: A contract with God, Italian edition, Punto Zero
© Will Eisner Studios Inc.

Figure 23: A contract with God, Italian edition, Fandango
© Will Eisner Studios Inc.

3. Visual adaptation practices

Generally speaking, we can distinguish several stages in the production of translated comics, after the negotiation of publication rights with the foreign publisher and before a book is sent to the printer. First, a translator (in-house or free-lance) provides the verbal text which is meant to replace the content of balloons and boxes. The translation is then reviewed by a text editor and passed on to a letterer/graphic editor, who is responsible for visual adaptation and who, if needed, may make further changes to the text. Depending on the publisher (and on the size and budget of a translation project), the distinct aspects of visual adaptation (lettering, graphic design, pagination, page layout, typesetting) can be carried out by one or more people, in-house or outsourcing them to a graphic studio. The process may differ from country to country, with some countries still resorting to manual lettering and graphic editing to a more or less extent.

Comics localization practices and processes have changed considerably around the turn of the century, and all translated comics are now processed using desktop publishing and photo editing software. However, the type and origin of the product translated largely determines which visual adaptation practices are implemented. The largest volume of translation in Europe is generated by Japanese comics (manga), and by US mainstream comics, mostly of the superhero adventure type by publishers such Marvel/Disney and DC.

3.1 Manga

Though some manga were also published in foreign edition in the 1980s, the market for Japanese comics begun to take off only in the early 1990s, becoming increasingly more important in Western comics publishing.[12] Currently, translated manga are the single largest sector, representing between one-third and one-half of all comics titles published in Europe, the US and Australia (Rampant 2010, Bouissou et al. 2010, Goldberg 2010, Malone 2010). As opposed to superhero comics for which US publishers provide licensed products in electronic format (see below), foreign editions of Japanese comics are often published by working from images scanned from a copy of an original Japanese printed copy. Thus the letterer/graphic editor, after receiving the file with the translation (with additional notes and explanations by the translator or publisher if necessary and envisaged) has to first delete the content of balloons, then replace it with transparent boxes containing the translation pasted from the translation file received. All other types of editing, including retouching balloons, drawings and the linguistic paratext are carried out by manually editing the images, at considerable expense of time and effort, as well as production costs.

At first, translated manga were heavily adapted to target cultural conventions, in order to make them as similar as possible to Western comic books. The reading direction, right to left in Japan, was reversed, balloons, sound effects, onomatopoeia and inscriptions were redrawn and the stories were colored (Jüngst 2008, Rampant 2010). Figures 24, 25 and 26 illustrate an example from the late 1990s, when this norm was prevailing in manga localization practices. The example comes from a Japanese version of an American comic, namely Spider-Man: The Manga, published in Japan from January 1970 to September 1971.[13] Both the American and Italian translations, published almost simultaneously more than 25 years later (in 1997 and 1998, respectively), in turn adapt the Japanese comic to the prevailing Western reading conventions for manga of the time, that is printed left to right and editing the drawings in order to replace Japanese paratextual verbal signs. The onomatopoeia in the third and fourth panel have been translated differently and rendered with different lettering style in the English and in Italian editions. The Japanese text in the panels in the centre strip has been replaced by narration in text boxes on a white background, which cover part of the drawings. In the American translation, the white text boxes clutter the view and hide significant pictorial details. The Italian adaptation is somewhat less obtrusive, with smaller boxes, and some partial reconstruction of the background.

Figure 24: Spider-Man: The Manga, Japanese version
© Kodansha

Figure 25: Spider-Man: The Manga, American edition
© Kodansha

Figure 26: Spider-Man: The Manga, Italian edition
© Kodansha

Later on, manga started to appear in the original black and white format, but still in reversed reading format and with considerable visual adaptations.

At the turn of the millennium, manga started to be printed in the original right to left reading direction. Currently most manga are printed right to left and with very little visual adaptation. Japanese onomatopoeia is usually left untouched, while Japanese characters are accompanied by a translation in small print, as can be seen in Figure 27 and Figure 28.

Figure 27: Hokusai, Italian edition
© Kadokawa Shoten

Figure 28: Pluto, Italian edition
© Tezuka Productions, Noaki Urasawa and Takashi Nagasaki

A variety of reasons can be brought to explain this shift in visual adaptation norms. According to a number of scholars (Jüngst 2008, O’Hagan 2009, Rampant 2010), the most important factor was the pressure exerted by the market through the unofficial, non-commercial translation practice known as scanlation. Since the advancement of the Internet in the 1990s, manga fan groups started to get hold of unpublished (in the West) Japanese series from their counterparts in Japan. Some of them organized into teams of “translators, editors, photomanipulators (who place the text onto the image), and scanners who digitally scan the original comics” (Rampant 2010: 236) and distributed the translated manga in digital format. Manga readers liked the experience of the foreign, they wanted their manga “to look as ‘Japanese’ as possible” or even “more Japanese than the original” (Jüngst 2008: 74). Thus, scanlation practices favouring ‘formal equivalence’, i.e. unchanged visual appearance, created market expectations as to this type of localization strategy. According to Rampant (2010: 231) “the advent of scanlation has shown how the advent of a translation group outside the publisher’s market ... can change the norms of manga translators within that market”. Whereas initially the prevailing norms favoured domestication, manga publishers have adopted a foreignizing translation strategy “because of scanlators... fan and consumer pressure” (ibid.). However, technical and commercial considerations may also have been at a premium, as suggested by Andrea Baricordi (2012).[14] One of the first manga to lead the change was Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball, at the explicit request of the Japanese rights holders, who required it to be printed in the original reading direction (Bouissou et al. 2010). Dragon Ball was an unsurpassed best seller in the mid-nineties and it is thus certain to have exerted a considerable influence on how manga titles were published in its wake. Certainly publishers did not object to saving the cost of flipping images.

3.2 US mainstream comics

According to Andrea Baricordi (2012), Japanese publishers had, at least initially, little interest in foreign editions, as translations represented for them a rather small sector of the market. US mainstream publishers such as DC and Marvel adopted quite a different approach to foreign markets.

The switch to digitally applied color and digital lettering began in the 1990s, affecting the production of original as well as of foreign editions. Superhero comics are traditionally produced by a team which includes a script writer, a penciller, an inker, a colorist and a letterer. With the advent of computers, the inked story was digitally colored and lettered, and this brought about a noticeable change in the characters of comics “by adding a wider range of color in finer gradations, thereby allowing artists to model forms through color rather than through cross-hatching in black” (Petersen 2010: 228).

According to Peterson, however,

[t]he largest significant improvement with digital production of comics has been the way it is now possible to digitally move and adjust speech bubbles. This capability has significantly enhanced the reading quality of digital comics and become extremely useful in translating comics because the size of the emanata can be changed to suit the needs of the language. Such flexibility has greatly reduced the cost of producing translations and dramatically expanded the diversity of titles in different languages.

When preparing a foreign edition, the letterer/graphic editor receives a set of files which include the translation already edited, the source files to be localized, and a copy of the original comic book, either in print or in electronic format. The comic book contains numbered references to the textual items to be replaced in the translated publication, which serve as signposts for the letterer/graphic editor. Figure 29 shows an example from an electronic copy of a page of a Spider-Man story.

Figure 29: Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man
© Marvel Comics

Source files are effectively processed as three different layers. A first layer contains only the drawing, and is stored as a digital image in bitmap file format (e.g. TIFF or BMP). Figure 30 shows the bitmap image of a page from a PunisherMAX story.

Figure 30: PunisherMAX, the image
© Marvel Comics

A second layer contains empty balloons and boxes, paratextual verbal signs (onomatopoeia and sounds effects) and titles (Figure 31).

Figure 31: PunisherMAX: the balloons
© Marvel Comics

The empty balloons are overlaid on the underlying image. Figure 32 shows the two layers combined in the Punisher story.

Figure 32: PunisherMAX: balloons and drawings
© Marvel Comics

This second layer is stored in graphic files in a vector format called EPS, which allows to resize the image without loss of definition. This allows the letterer/graphic editor to move or resize balloons and boxes in order to accommodate the text. This layer can also be used to add balloons or boxes containing, for instance, translator’s notes. Titles and paratextual verbal signs such as sound effects and onomatopoeia can also be modified as necessary. To save time and efforts pre-designed word art can sometimes be used to replace verbal signs, but often titles and other translated information are re-created from scratch. Figures 33 and 34 show the American edition of a DC Aquaman story and its German translation.

Figure 33: Aquaman, titles
© DC Comics

Figure 34: Aquaman, German titles
© DC Comics

A third layer contains the written text, and is in its turn overlaid on the underlying image containing balloons and boxes. The letterer/graphic editor deletes the text in the original language from the text layer, and replaces it with the text from the file provided by the translator, placing it over the balloons and boxes in the second layer. The text is assigned a font type and size, centered in the balloon, hyphenated, and then adapted to the size and shape of the balloons and boxes. If the length of the translated text exceeds the space of the balloon, the letterer can either reduce the size of the characters or enlarge the balloons (or, as it sometimes happens, shorten the translation).

Typographic fonts are either selected from those commercially available or created anew by the letterer him or herself. In some cases, for instance for the Italian translation of Will Eisner’s graphic novels, lettering may involve the sampling and re-using of characters from the original work, or even the creation of new characters from scratch (Figure 15). Some font types specifically designed for comics lettering aim at replicating as far as possible the irregular style of hand-written characters by providing a set of different realizations for each letter, based on letter combination (Ficarra 2012).

American superhero comics are usually printed using the CMYK color definition, which is based on the combination of four colors, Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key black. In printing the first three basic colors are aligned, or keyed, to the black key plate. In the CMYK subtractive color model, white is the natural color of the paper background, while black results from a full combination of colored inks. Black is used to save money on ink, and to produce deeper black tones.

Lettering proper (i.e. inside the balloons) affects only the black color plate, so that in the case of co-productions, that is, the simultaneous production of different language versions of the same comic book, production costs may be considerably lowered by using the same cyan, magenta and yellow plates for all editions, while only the black color plate containing the lettered translations is changed for the different language editions. Figure 35 shows the German translation text layer of the page from the Punisher story, currently being produced in Italy for the Italian, French, and German markets. Figure 36 shows the corresponding page in the German edition.[15]

As can be seen in Figure 36, the letterer/graphic editor has not only lettered the balloons, but also retouched the drawing. Since the representation of swastikas is legally forbidden in Germany, the symbol worn on the forehead by the character in the third panel has been changed into a parallelogram with two crossing lines. In order to change the image only in the German edition, and to preserve the swastika sign in the Italian and French ones, the letterer/graphic editor has edited the layer of the German text, as can be seen in Figure 35.

Figure 35: PunisherMAX: the text layer
© Marvel Comics

Figure 36: PunisherMAX, German edition
© Marvel Comics

Figure 37 illustrates a still different case, in which the verbal signs in the original comic were part of the drawing in the first layer. The Spider-Man comic book was also a multilingual co-production, so that only the black color plate would differ from one edition to the other. To this end, using photo editing software, the letterer/graphic editor first erased the newspaper sub headline and byline, then reconstructed the colored background and then, on the text layer overlaid a transparent text box with the translations (one for each language). The final result for the Italian edition can be seen in Figure 37.

Figure 37: Ultimate comics: Spider-Man, Italian edition
© Marvel Comics

The Aquaman comic book in Figure 34 is produced only for the German market, allowing for the change of all four color plates. In multilingual productions, on the other hand, titles are in either black or white. If the background does not allow for a stark contrast with either one of these two colors, the background of the text box containing the title is filled up with the one of the two not used for the title. In this way the comic book can be printed in all languages by changing just the black color plate. The alternative strategy of leaving the title in the original language and provide a translation in a footnote seems to be less used for this type of comic books.

4. Conclusions

This article has provided an overview of visual adaptation strategies and practices, showing how the latter are implemented in the localization of two of the main types of comics published in translation, Japanese manga and US mainstream comics. To conclude, I offer a tentative overview of the main causes of visual adaptation strategies and practices, together with a comment on the effect of visual adaptation norms for manga on the polysystem of Western comics.

Visual adaptations may be the result of cultural or commercial factors, of the publisher abiding by overt state regulations concerning translated (as well as non translated) comics, or be prompted by the verbal content. Adaptation strategies and practices also differ according to the type and format of the comics translated, and to the form in which the source material is transmitted to the target publisher, as shown by the differences in the making of Italian editions of Japanese and US comics.

Publishers are driven by commercial motivations, and do not publish comic books which would either be censored, lead to legal disputes (Figures 5, 6, 7 and 8), or simply not sell. Furthermore, visual adaptation may considerably affect productions costs. However, the costs involved in the visual adaptation of foreign comics may well be compensated by high sales, as originally envisaged by Western publishers when importing manga. The shift toward less intrusive visual adaptation in foreign editions of manga provide an example of how translation norms developed within a strong users community have influenced commercial publication standards. In its turn, the move toward less visual adaptation has been welcomed by the comics industry as a way to save on production costs. When first appearing in Western markets manga where more heavily edited than now, but the extra cost was justified by the preoccupation of entering the market with a product which would otherwise look too foreign. Now, saving on the production budget is justified by a readership which is ready if not willing to accept what was until not long ago a highly unfamiliar visual presentation. The visual adaptation of American superhero comics, on the other hand, is streamlined in a process which follows the internationalization-localization pattern. Technological developments have made it possible for the files used for original publication to be used by letterers/graphic editors as a basis for multiple foreign editions, allowing for the manipulation of different layers of visual content, similarly to what happens when US film companies prepare their DVDs for multiple foreign versions.

Good examples of visual censorship are the Disney comics published in the Arab peninsula (Figures 9, 10 and 18) and the Marvel comic published in Germany (Figure 31). In some cases censorship is not sanctioned by an official body or law, but still cultural conventions and taboos may persuade the publisher to carry out significant adaptations. In Egypt, while no official censoring body existed, both pictures and verbal content are often deleted or changed in Disney comics published in the 1990s because of the expectation that they be otherwise received as ‘inappropriate’ by the target readership (Zitawi, 2004; 2008a; 2008b). Another good example of self-censorship is the ‘international’ edition of Tintin au Congo (Figure 16). Finally, visual editing may be prompted by the need to accommodate for the written text (Figures 19 and 20).

To conclude, it could be argued that, in the polysystem of Western comics, the norms for manga localization have developed in a way that is similar to what first happened with European editions of American comics.[16] While foreign editions of American comics were first adapted to existing visual formats (see Figure 2), when they acquired a more central role in the European comics polysystem in the 1930s, visual conventions such as balloons and paratextual signs were ‘repeated’ in translation, along with onomatopoeia, action lines, and other visual features specific to American comics. European comics, while developing their own national traditions, incorporated these conventions both through translation and through indigenous production.[17]

Similarly, when in the 1980s and early 1990s manga had a peripheral role in the polysystem of Western comics literature, the specific conventions of Japanese comics were adapted to Western visual conventions. As the number of titles and sale figures increased, manga acquired a more central role in the polysystem, and Manga visual and narrative conventions entered the mainstream. Again, this happened both through translation and through indigenous production by authors who have grown up reading manga, and who have increasingly adopted manga drawing style and conventions (Rommens 2000, Jüngst 2008, Bainbridge and Norris 2010). By privileging foreignizing strategies (i.e. resemblance to the original images) over domesticating strategies (i.e. resemblance to target visual conventions), manga visual adaptation practices have favoured innovation of the aesthetic conventions and pictorial repertoires of the target comics polysystems.


Works cited

McCay, Winsor (1905-1911) Little Nemo in Slumberland, New York Herald.

Pratt, Hugo (1967) Una ballata del mare salatoSgt. Kirk, Ivaldi.

Hergé (1946) Tintin au Congo, Casterman.

Gail Renard, Christopher Spencer and Xavier Vives Mateu (1999) Minnie Mouse. Brad of the Jungle, Disney.

Smith, Jeff (1999) Bone, Volume Six: Old Man’s Cave, Cartoon Books.

Eisner, Will (1978) A contract with God, Baronet Books.

Charlier, Jean-Michel and Jean Giraud (1969) La piste des Navajos, Dargaud.

Sclavi, Tiziano and Luigi Picatto (1987) Dylan Dog 8, Il ritorno del mostro, Sergio Bonelli Editore.

Bendis, Brian, Sara Pichelli and Justin Ponsor (2011) Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man, vol. 4, The death of Spider-Man, Marvel.

Aaron, Jason, Steve Dillon and Matt Hollingsworth (2011) PunisherMAX, vol. 12, Frank, Part 1, Marvel.

Johns, Geoff, Ivan Reis and Joe Prado (2011) Aquaman: The Trench, Part One, DC Comics.

Ono, Kōsei, Kazumas Hirai and Ryoichi Ikegami (1970-71) Spider-Man: The Manga, Monthly Shōnen Magazine, Kodansha.

ISHInoMORI, Shotaro (1987) Hokusai, Kadokawa Shoten.

Urosawa, Naoki, Takashi Nagasaki (2003-2009) Pluto, Shogakukan.

Secondary sources

Bainbridge, Jason and Craig Norris (2010) “Hybrid Manga: Implications for the Global Knowledge Economy” in Manga: an anthology of global and cultural perspectives, Toni Johnson-Woods (ed), New York, Continuum: 235-252.

Barbieri, Daniele (2004) “Samurai allo specchio”, Golem – L’indispensabile, n.8, novembre 2004, URL: http://www.golemindispensabile.it/index.php?_idnodo=7958&_idfrm=62 (accessed 08 February 2012).

Baricordi, Andrea (2012) “Risposte x intervista”, Message to Federico Zanettin, 5 Feb. 2012, E-mail.

Bouissou, Jean-Marie, Marco Pellitteri and Bernd Dolle-Winkauff (2010) “Manga in Europe. A Short Study of Marked and Fandom”, Manga: an anthology of global and cultural perspectives, Toni Johnson-Woods (ed), New York, Continuum: 253-266.

Celotti, Nadine (2008) “The Translator of Comics as a Semiotic Investigator”, Comics in Translation, Federico Zanettin (ed), Manchester, St Jerome: 33-49.

Chiaro, Delia (2009) “Issue in Audiovisual Translation”, The Routledge Companion to Translation Studies. Revised Edition, Jeremy Munday (ed), London and New York: Routledge: 141-164.

Chiaro, Delia (2012) “Audiovisual Translation”, The Encyclopedia of Applied Linguistics, Chapelle, Carol A. (ed), Hoboken New Jersey, Wiley-Blackwell: 1050 – 1060.

D’Arcangelo, Adele (2008) “‘Slime Heroes from the Swamp’: the Italian edition of Alan Moore’s The Swamp Thing”, Comics in Translation, Federico Zanettin (ed), Manchester, St. Jerome: 133-152.

D’Arcangelo, Adele and Federico Zanettin (2004) “Dylan Dog Goes to the Usa: A North-American Translation of an Italian Comic Book Series”, Across Languages and Cultures 5, no. 2: 187-211.

Delabastita, Dirk (1989) “Translation and Mass-Communication: Film and T.V. Translation as Evidence of Cultural Dynamics”, Babel 35, no. 4: 193-218.

Eisner, Will (985) Comics as Sequential Art, Tamarac: FL, Poorhouse Press.

Esselink, Bert (2000) A Practical Guide to Localization, Amsterdam and Philadelphia, John Benjamins.

Ficarra, Marco (2012) Manuale di lettering, Pomezia, Tunué.

Goldberg, Wendi (2010) “The Manga Phenomenon in America”, Manga: an anthology of global and cultural perspectives, Toni Johnson-Woods (ed), New York: Continuum, 253-266.

Groensteen, Thierry (2007) The System of Comics. Translated by Bart Beaty and Nick Nguyen, Jackson, University Press of Mississipi.

Hartley, Tony (2009) “Technology and Translation”, The Routledge Companion to Translation Studies. Revised Edition, Jeremy Munday (ed.), London and New York, Routledge: 106-127.

Holmes, James H. (1988) Translated! Papers on literary translation and translation studies, Amsterdam – Atlanta: GA, Rodopi.

Jared (2012) ‘How to destroy a comics classic’, Big Planet Comics http://www.bigplanetcomics.com/how-to-destroy-a-comics-classic (consulted 10 April 2012).

Johnson-Woods, Toni (ed) (2010) Manga: an anthology of global and cultural perspectives, New York, Continuum.

Jüngst, Heike (2008) “Translating Manga”, Comics in Translation, Federico Zanettin (ed), Manchester, St Jerome: 50-78.

Kaindl, Klaus (1999) “Thump, Whizz, Poom: A Framework for the Study of Comics under Translation”, Target 11, no. 2: 263-288.

Kaindl, Klaus (2010) “Comics in translation”, Handbook of Translation Studies, Yves Gambier and Luc Van Doorslaer (eds), Amsterdam and Philadelphia, John Benjamins: 36-40.

Malone, Paul M. (2010) “The Manga Publishing Scene in Europe”, Manga: an anthology of global and cultural perspectives, Toni Johnson-Woods (ed), New York, Continuum: 315-331.

McCloud, Scott (1993) Understanding Comics, Northampton: MA, Tundra.

Merino-Bernal,  Miguel Ángel (2014) The Localisation of Video Games, London and New York, Routledge.

Migliori, Marco (1999) “Hugo Pratt by Lizard”, UBCFumetti.com, URL:  http://www.ubcfumetti.com/monitor/a001a.htm (consulted 11 April 2012).
O’Hagan, Minako (2009) “Evolution of User-generated Translation: Fansubs, Translation Hacking and Crowdsourcing”, The Journal of Internationalisation and Localisation 1: 94-121.

Nord, Christiane (2012) “Paratranslation – a new paradigm or a re-invented wheel?”, Perspectives: Studies in Translatology 20, no. 4: 339-409.

O'Hagan, Minako and Carmen Mangiron (2013) Game Localization: Translating for the Global Digital Entertainment Industry, Amsterdam and Philadelphia, John Benjamins.

Orengo, Alberto (2005) “Localising News: Translation and the ‘Global-national’ Dichotomy”, Language and Intercultural Communication 5, no. 2: 168-187.

Petersen, Robert (2010) Comics, Manga, and Graphic Novels: A History of Graphic Narratives, Santa Barbara: CA, Greenwood.

Pilcher, Tim and Brad Brooks (2005) The essential guide to world comics, London, Collins & Brown.

Pym, Anthony (2004) The Moving Text: Localization, Translation and Distribution, Amsterdam and Philadelphia, John Benjamins.

Pym, Anthony (2010) Exploring Translation Theories, London and New York, Routledge.

Rampant, James (2010) “The Manga Polysystem. What Fans Want Fans Get”, Manga: an anthology of global and cultural perspectives, Toni Johnson-Woods (ed), New York, Continuum: 221-232.

Raw, Lawrence (2012) Translation, Adaptation and Transformation, London, Bloomsbury.

Rommens, Aarnoud (2000) “Manga story-telling/showing”, Imange & Narrative 1, no. 1, URL: http://www.imageandnarrative.be/inarchive/narratology/aarnoudrommens.htm (consulted 11 April 2012).

Rota, Valerio (2008) “Aspects of Adaptation. The Translation of Comics Formats”, Comics in Translation, Federico Zanettin (ed), Manchester, St Jerome: 79-98.

Spinazzoli, Vittorio (2012) Tirature 2012. Graphic Novel. L’età adulta del fumetto, Milano, Il Saggiatore.

Yuste Frías, José (2010) “Au seuil de la traduction : la paratraduction”, Event or Incident. Événement ou Incident. On the Role of Translation in the Dynamics of Cultural Exchange. Du rôle des traductions dans les processus d'échanges culturels, Ton Naaijkens (ed), Bern, Peter Lang: 287-316.

Zanettin, Federico (2007) “La traduzione dei fumetti. Approcci linguistici, semiotici e storico-culturali”, La traduzione. Lo stato dell’arte / Translation. The State of the Art, Vittoria Intonti, Graziella Todisco and Maristella Gatto (eds), Ravenna, Longo: 137-150.

Zanettin, Federico (2008a) “Comics in Translation: An Overview”, Comics in Translation, Federico Zanettin (ed), Manchester, St Jerome: 1-32.

Zanettin, Federico (2008b) “The Translation of Comics as Localization. On Three Italian Translations of La piste des Navajos”Comics in Translation, Federico Zanettin (ed), Manchester, St Jerome: 200-219.

Zanettin, Federico (2009) “Comics in Translation”, The Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies, Mona Baker and Gabriela Saldanha (eds), London and New York, Routledge: 37-40.

Zanettin, Federico (2011) “La traduzione del linguaggio non verbale nei fumetti”, Minding the Gap: Studies in Linguistic and Cultural Exchange, Vol. II, Raffaella Baccolini, Delia Chiaro, Chris Rundle and Sam Whitsitt (eds), Bologna: Bononia University Press: 573-588.

Zitawi, Jehan (2004) The Translation of Disney Comics in the Arab World: A Pragmatic Perspective, PhD thesis, University of Manchester at Manchester.

Zitawi, Jehan (2008a) “Disney Comics in the Arab Culture(s). A Pragmatic Perspective”, Comics in Translation, Federico Zanettin (ed), Manchester, St Jerome: 152-171.

Zitawi, Jehan (2008b) “Contextualizing Disney Comics within the Arab Culture”, Meta 53, no. 1: 139-153.


[1] The author and publisher gratefully acknowledge the permission granted to reproduce the copyright material in this article. Every effort has been made to trace copyright holders and to obtain their permission for the use of copyright material. The publisher apologizes for any errors or omissions and would be grateful if notified of any corrections that should be incorporated.

The author would also like to thank the three anonymous reviewers for their insightful advice.

[2] No unanimous agreement exists on a definition of comics. The present definition is consistent with Eisner (1985) and McCloud (1993).

[3] One of six general paradigms or general teories of translation, the others being equivalence-based paradigms, purpose-based paradigms, descriptive paradigms, the “uncertainty” paradigm, and “cultural translation” (Pym 2009).

[4] Some terminological confusion may arise from the fact that “adaptation”, together with “transcreation” and “transadaptation”, is one of the terms used to refer to AVT (see Merino-Bernal 2014). Furthermore, adaptation is usually seen as taking place across media and as an intra-lingual, rather than an inter-lingual process, though as highlighted by Raw (2012), adaptation may take place across cultures as well as across media, and translation and adaptation should be viewed as “fundamentally different yet interrelated processes” Raw (2012: 3).

[5] Though see Nord (2012) who, while welcoming the concept of “paratranslation”  as “a nice and practical umbrella term for all the verbal and nonverbal texts constituting the ‘environment’ of a translation” (2012: 406), argues that the term “refers to the object of research, not to the research itself or to the activity of taking paratranslation into consideration in a translation process. Consequently, it does not make sense to speak of ‘paratranslators’, as Yuste Frías does” (2012: 406-407).

[6] Information from collectors of foreign editions seems especially relevant as collectors have access to national as well as foreign publications. All quotations in this paragraph come from a glossary developed by forum users at Foreign Comic Collector, an “online magazine dedicated to foreign comic variants”  (http://foreigncomiccollector.webs.com/, consulted on 22 August 2014).

[7] See the discussion between Jim Shooter, former Marvel’s editor-in-chief, and a Portuguese fan on Jim Shooter’s blog (http://www.jimshooter.com/2011/10/secret-origin-of-official-handbook-of_12.html, consulted on 22 August 2014).

[8] Though it should be noted that foreign editions maybe based on re-issues in the original language of publication, and may be reissued themselves (Zanettin 2008b).

[9] The illustrations for Disney comics were all taken from Zitawi (2004) unpublished PhD thesis.

[10] The graphic novel, or “book form”, was first introduced in Italy as a publication format in the late 1990s, has now become so successful that the 2012 edition of Tirature (Spinazzoli 2012), an Italian yearbook monitoring the publishing and literary worlds, celebrated this type of adult literature as the most notable phenomenon of the year. Graphic novels, are generally speaking, non-serial full-length stories for an adult readership, but their definition overlaps with that of a product category, a bound comic book of usually two hundred pages or more, sold in general bookstores. In view of its commercial viability, medium and large publishers have joined forces with small comics publishers in filling bookshop shelves with this publication format. Together with new indigenous or translated works, many comics from past years have also been republished in this format.

[11] The source text is in this case a re-issue, if not a remake. The story, which was first published in black and white in the 1930s, was re-drawn, colored and partly re-written in the 1940s.

[12] Manga first arrived in Europe and the United States in the wake of anime, Japanese cartoons broadcastd on television in the late 1970s and early 1980s. With the aim of capitalizing on the success of the TV animated series, some American and European publishers started to produce comic book versions of them. These products, however, were not the translated versions of the Japanese manga from which the anime had originated, but rather indigenous productions created after the animated series, that is “licensed spin-off comics drawn by Western artists” (Malone, 2010: 317).

[13] Figure 24 shows a page of Spider-Man: The Manga as originally published in installments in the magazine Monthly Shonen Jump. While the vast majority of manga productions are in black and white, some stories, like the one in the example, may feature pages printed in color.

[14] Andrea Baricordi is the publishing director of Kappa Edizioni and one of the “Kappa boys”, the group originally responsibile for introducing Japanese comics in the Italian market in the 1990s.

[15] The Spider-Man, Punisher and Aquaman comics books from which the examples are taken are published by Panini Comics, an Italian-based company which produces comics for the comics market worldwide. The adaptation is carried out at by RAM Studio. I would like to thank Paolo Parisi and Rossella Provini for showing me details of their work, and for providing the illustrations.

[16] This conclusion, though, would warrant further studies and the joint analysis of verbal and non-verbal localization (i.e. of both translation and visual adaptation).

[17] American comics and cartoons also profoundly affected the development of the Japan comics industry developed after WWII (Pilcher and Brooks 2005).

From Assumptions about Knowing and Learning to Praxis in Translator Education

By Donald Kiraly (University of Mainz, Germany)

Abstract & Keywords

The article discusses the problem of the absence of qualifying academic programmes for translation teachers who have to resort to their own intuitions and to a so-called folk pedagogical approach. It aims at identifying the underlying understandings of the nature of knowledge and learning that are behind the traditional ‘Who will take the first sentence?’ teaching practice as well as alternative didactic approaches. While there are some motivating and inspiring publications on innovative learner-centred teaching methodologies, they still lack any discussion of pedagogical epistemology or any general educational principles or theory. The main thesis proposed in the article is that in order to move forward, translation educators need to establish a dialogue with the broader domain of educational theory and praxis, with educational epistemology being a sensible starting point for this dialogue. To set the stage for such a dialogue, the article offers a brief overview of three major epistemological trends: empirico-rationalism, constructivism, and emergentism.

Keywords: constructivism, emergentism, empirico-rationalism, folk pedagogical approach, pedagogical epistemology

©inTRAlinea & Donald Kiraly (2014).
"From Assumptions about Knowing and Learning to Praxis in Translator Education"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Challenges in Translation Pedagogy
Edited by: Maria Piotrowska & Sergiy Tyupa
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Permanent URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2100

1. Beyond Common Sense Epistemology Towards Principled Educational Praxis

In 2008, Álvaro Echeverri published, as the title of his article indicates, an ‘nth’ iteration of the calls over the past several decades for a change from conventional teacher-centered instructionist classroom practice in translator education:

Ceci est un énième plaidoyer, parce que ce n’est pas la première ni certainement la dernière fois que l’on s’inquiète du fait que les formules pédagogiques choisies par les formateurs de traducteurs, en ce qui concerne les interactions dans les cours pratiques de traduction, en particulier, n’ont pas beaucoup changé au cours des cinq dernières décennies (Echeverri 2008: 67).

The present essay might be considered an n+1 with respect to Echeverri's article. Having been involved in a quest to contribute to improvements in translator education over the past thirty years, I have taken multiple opportunities in publications, workshops and conference presentations to revisit conventional instructional praxis in the translation practice classroom amidst the backdrop of teaching and learning that in translator education remain largely outside the pale of what I call the community of thought and praxis in the general field of education[1]. Whereas, for example, school teachers of mathematics, science, religion, history and languages are trained around the world within academic programmes that focus on the theory and praxis of teaching and learning along with their respective subject matter per se, translator education remains on the periphery of the general discipline of education, and is still largely dependent on teachers' intuitions about what it means to know and learn, or what Jerome Bruner (2006) has called 'folk pedagogy', and that Bereiter and Scardamaglia (1993: 188) describe as a 'common sense epistemology'.

Of course, many fields of study in higher education suffer from a pedagogical (or actually androgological) deficit in the sense that lecturers and professors at university often have no special training or education in the art of teaching (or facilitating learning -- which some of us see as a viable and worthy complement or alternative to teaching per se). While no one surely would contest the folly of having a chemist, physician, mathematician, engineer, pharmacist, dentist, psychologist or anthropologist draw solely on common sense or folk understandings of chemistry, medicine, mathematics, engineering, etc... as the ideational basis of their professional activities, university lecturers are often expected to do precisely that. We participate in curriculum development, create lesson plans, devise and implement approaches for promoting the acquisition of knowledge essentially on the basis of our own prior professional experience as language mediators – and generally, our own prior experience. In the absence of degree programmes for translation teachers, that fundamental academic forum is lacking for in-depth discussion about pedagogical epistemology, classroom praxis, or testing procedures among the community of translator educators. Without a true field of 'translator education', I contend, there can be virtually no identification of shared principles, only minimal collaborative work on principled approaches, and no ongoing, systematic assessment of teaching practices. It is true that conference presentations, workshops, journal articles, and other publications provide considerable food for thought for the community of translator educators, but the creation of qualifying academic programmes in translator education is still a major desideratum.

Despite or perhaps because of the lack of translator educator training, I am sure that most translation teachers as well as current and former students of translation will be very familiar with the conventional approach that Echeverri went on to critique in his paper and that Christiane Nord (1996) discussed at length in her so aptly titled article: ‘Wer nimmt denn mal den ersten Satz?’ (Who will take the first sentence?). The folk pedagogical approach that both of these scholars were criticising involves having students attempt to accumulate knowledge of proper translation procedure, technique and strategy on the basis of their teachers' intuitive input and correction by the ostensibly more knowledgeable teacher of the students' faulty rough translations. The teacher is clearly seen as the authority in the classroom (in terms of power, and presumably also in terms of expertise) and generally runs the class in a ‘chalk-and-talk’ manner, sitting in front of rows of students, soliciting verbal contributions from individual class participants who read off their respective translations of parts of a text chosen by the teacher.

My own experience with this approach dates back to 1983, when I was first introduced to translator education at the School of Applied Linguistics and Cultural Studies (FTSK) of the University of Mainz in Germersheim. The teacher would ask if other students had comments to make and would then provide his or her own commentary on the proposed solutions. This would go on for the duration of class after class, from the first semester through the last of the four-year Diplom (MA level degree) programme of studies. It was ubiquitous for all of the languages taught at the School, and for translation instruction both into and out of the students’ respective native tongue. To my knowledge, observing ongoing classes was the only sort of education or training available to me or any other new instructor at the time. Then, as now, there were no university-level programmes for the education of translation instructors, and at the time, no intensive workshops for translator trainers were being offered anywhere, to my knowledge[2]. A survey of the literature on translator education[3] in 1985-86 revealed that very little had been done up until then to develop teaching approaches that would go beyond attempts to, in some way, essentially transmit knowledge from teachers to students. There was clearly a loose community of translation teaching practice back then, but to my knowledge, there were no underlying theories of translator competence acquisition, and also virtually no research on translator education – at least I have found very little evidence of it in the translation studies literature of the day (Kiraly 1995).

Today, some 30 years later, one can still find numerous translation practice classes – and not only at the FTSK – in which a teacher sits in front of perhaps 20 to 60 students seated in rows facing him or her. These students still receive a text that is chosen by the teacher and that the students are expected to translate at home on their own. The main pedagogical activity in these classes is still to read aloud a sentence or short passage from the students’ rough drafts and have it critiqued, particularly by the teacher. The activity is all but devoid of the features of task authenticity that make professional translation a process of resolving real translation problems embedded in a holistic, multi-dimensional context. This context includes competing expectations, demands and standards, interdependencies among myriad actors in authentic situations of interlingual, intercultural communication, and, last but not least – the objective of creating a high-quality product in terms of the standards imposed by a client.

As I have already discussed at some length (Kiraly 1995, 2000), the conventional approach referred to by Echeverri and Nord is well-established in translator education institutions in many countries (Toury 1974, Ladmiral 1977, House 1980, Röhl 1983, Enns-Connolly 1986, Gabrian 1986). While considerable criticism has been heaped upon this standard practice in translation teaching, for example by all of the authors referred to above, particularly for the demotivating, passive role it allocates to students, the disempowering, domineering role it attributes to teachers [reflected in Ladmiral's colorful term: performance magistrale (Ladmiral 1977: 508)], and the overall lack of embeddedness in and preparation for the actual professional praxis of translation. And yet, while this instructional practice has been pervasive until recent years, little has been written about where this particular pedagogical technique comes from and why it seems to persist as a mainstay in the education of professional translators. No one seems to have invented it specifically for use in translation practice classes or, at least, there do not seem to be any translation didactic scholars who proudly claim responsibility for having created it. So there is some evidence that the 'Who will take the first sentence?' approach is perhaps indeed based on a folk epistemology and a hand-me-down praxis perpetuated by tradition – and a perceived lack of viable alternatives.

This is the topic I propose to broach in this article: what are the respective underlying understandings of the nature of knowledge and learning that underlie this and alternative didactic approaches that are emerging for the 'teaching' of translation? I was inspired to undertake this exploratory foray into the educational philosophy behind different approaches to translator education by the illuminating work on the history of curriculum development by William Doll (2002) and on the history of educational epistemology by Brent Davis (2004), both of whom were writing in reference to education in general, and not specifically translation studies. I was also motivated to delve deeper into this topic when I recently co-edited a collected volume of articles by colleagues of mine in various language departments at the School of Translation, Linguistics and Cultural Studies of the University of Mainz (Hansen-Schirra & Kiraly 2012) and another volume of excellent conference papers presented in a panel on innovation in translator education at a major translation studies conference held in 2012 (Kiraly, Hansen-Schirra & Maksymski 2013). While these two volumes report on an array of highly innovative and convincing learner-centered teaching approaches that go far beyond conventional practice, a striking feature in both of them is the virtual absence of any discussion of pedagogical epistemology, or in fact, of any general educational principles or theory in any of the chapters in the book with just a few exceptions.

Echoing Echeverri's (2008) plea, it is my strong conviction that in order to have a justifiable platform for moving beyond the status quo of effete, a-systematic teaching techniques in translator education, we need to establish a dialogue with the broader community of educational theory and praxis and consider its methods, history, failings and successes as we work to improve our own translation-specific pedagogical approaches -- in theory and praxis. I suggest that a suitable starting point for this dialogue would be educational epistemology: the assumptions or beliefs about knowing and 'coming to know' that guide educational praxis.

While in previous publications I have already looked extensively at the epistemological underpinnings of a social constructivist approach to translator education (Kiraly 2000) and a post-positivist emergentist approach (Kiraly 2012a), I would like to take this opportunity to contrast what I see as alternative, competing and perhaps incommensurable educational epistemologies and the implications that these differing views may have for translation teaching praxis past, present and future[4].

I will focus largely on the fundamental role that empirico-rationalist epistemology may have played, largely by force of habit and prevalence, in restricting translator education largely to reductionist-transmissionist praxis in the past, and on how an emergentist worldview could well usher in a paradigm shift in the education of translators in the 21st century. Between these two disparate views lie various constructivisms. In terms of my evolving personal educational philosophy, the elucidation and application of a social constructivist approach to facilitating the development of translator competence at the turn of the millennium was a crucial step in my own evolution as a translation teacher beyond conventional transmissionist teaching and towards facilitating learner empowerment. I find that my social constructivist approach, however, has since been superseded, which I suspected was inevitable from the outset due to the evolutionary nature of theory-making from a post-positivist perspective. As the language mediation professions continue to evolve, as new technologies make their way inexorably into the translator's daily routine, and as the paradigms for human understanding change over time in terms of ontology, epistemology, and cosmology, so there will always be a need to continually re-think and reshape our educational theories and praxis. Nonetheless, I see the evolution of my own thinking beyond social constructivism as a re-construal rather than a rejection.

2. What's epistemology got to do with it?

This section takes a look at three main epistemological trends, which, as suggested by Doll (2002) and Davis (2004), can be traced in intellectual history as far back as the ancient Greeks: 1) empirico-rationalism, 2) constructivism and 3) emergentism[5]. I will of course only be referring to a few exemplary thinkers that one might associate with these trends, and it should be kept in mind that the characterisation of these individuals as belonging to one or the other group of thinkers is hardly etched in stone. My objective is to illustrate my own construal of epistemological trends and to promote awareness of such trends in translator educators rather than to paint a comprehensive or definitive picture of them.

2.1 Empirico-Rationalism: a Suspected Cornerstone of Folk Pedagogy

I use the term empirico-rationalism to refer to the positivist, modernist worldview that dates back to the well-known writings of philosophers and scientists of the Enlightenment. It is based on the thinking of two somewhat distinct groups of thinkers: on the one hand, empiricists like Bacon, Locke, Berkeley, Humes, Galileo and Newton, and on the other hand, rationalists like Descartes, Leibniz, Spinoza and Comte (the founder of positivism). While both groups of thinkers sought to come to know the true nature of the world around them, they approached their quest for stable and universal truth from two different directions. The empiricists believed that careful observation (and measurement) of features of the world could enable the perspicacious human mind to discern truth about it (a bottom-up approach to securing truth), whereas the rationalists believed that it is through careful, logical reasoning that we can come to know objective truth about the world (a top-down approach). While the methods of seeking truth for empiricists and rationalists may be different, both believe that knowledge is pre-defined and can be discovered if sought with the proper means and tools. In any event, from a positivist perspective, whereby truth can be found by examining the world directly and/or through reason, the teaching/learning process can essentially be understood as one involving the transmission of objective knowledge – regardless of how the knowledge was originally acquired by the educator. Teachers can be seen as holders of knowledge that they can pass on to their students. This kind of pedagogical activity can, of course, be seen in classrooms in many fields around the world at every level of education. And it is this two-pronged positivist epistemological tradition I believe, that was an important source of the folk pedagogy that still pervades the translation practice classroom.

The arguments of the universally recognised philosophers and scientists of the Enlightenment have been bolstered by the writings of numerous thinkers that both preceded and followed them. In fact, both empiricism and rationalism in philosophy and science can be seen to have roots that go back, at least, to ancient Greece. Socrates, Euclid, and Plato are generally seen as rationalists, while Sophist atomists like Epicurus and Democritus can be considered early empiricists[6]. And a century before Descartes came on the scene, the less famous but still very influential pedagogue, French philosopher and Renaissance arts master Petrus Ramus invented the concept of 'method', which he developed within the scope of his pedagogical work (Doll 2008: 182; Triche 2004). A Frenchman of the 16th century, Ramus wrote a treatise on the method elucidating what he believed was the ideal structure for teaching the classics and for passing knowledge on from one generation to the next. Ramus’ ideas on implementing a rigid curriculum and devising strict lesson plans spread quickly from country to country and were handed down from generation to generation. They had an impact on Descartes himself and gradually made their way down through the centuries to modern classrooms around the world through the works of such influential figures as Frederick Taylor in the US at the beginning of the 20th century. Taylor became famous for enhancing manufacturing processes to ensure that the greatest possible amount of productivity could be obtained from each individual industrial worker. While Taylor’s ideas were eventually met with opprobrium in the field of industrial management for their dehumanizing effect on the labourer, they were hailed by educators as a boon to improving education, and were adopted in educational circles and applied to one curriculum after another across the United States and in many other countries. The positivist, reductionist rationale developed by the behaviourist American curriculum specialist Ralph Tyler in the first half of the 20th century, and which drew extensively on Taylorism and the stimulus-response theory of B.F. Skinner, was only discredited in the field of education in the 1990s. And in fact, it continues to play a major role in curriculum development and pedagogical practice even today (Doll 2008: 182; Pinar 2008: 491). Despite having fallen into disrepute as a basis for effective management decades ago, Taylorism still pervades folk pedagogy and has been cited as a key factor in the ills that plague education in the US, for example, with regard to the pervasively excessive emphasis on standardised testing and the obsession with teacher accountability (Roskelly 2009: 201).

An important feature of empirico-rationalist epistemology is that it is based on a Cartesian, mechanical understanding of the world and a representational view of knowledge in the mind (both views that are rapidly losing their luster as we move inexorably into the post-positivist era). From this now dated perspective, as presented by empiricists like Bacon and Newton, the world functions much like a clock: in a complicated, mechanistic fashion (Morçöl 2008, 107). Both the physical world and the mental worlds can be seen from this perspective to function essentially in the same way. Knowledge is considered tangible, capable of being stored in the mind (and inside the brain) and as suitable for being divorced from personal experience and passed on in propositional form to other individuals – for example from teacher to learner. It is through Taylorist thought, based on Ramist ideals, that this epistemology is applied concretely to classroom practice:

Most current pedagogical procedures… require classroom learning to be broken down into simple tasks and arranged methodologically into the right sequence of steps to train students in bureaucratically predetermined knowledge, skills and dispositions.  (Triche and McKnight 2004: 39)

This transmissionist view of learning underlies the role of the ‘instructor’ in the classroom – the understanding that the teacher must actually possess, in some sense, the knowledge that is to be acquired by the students, and must be able to transmit that knowledge to them efficiently and effectively. From this perspective, interactive classroom discussion, if it functions as anything other than a disturbance in the efficient distribution of knowledge from one brain to the others, provides an opportunity to practice pre-defined skills and consolidate canonical and practical knowledge acquired directly from the teacher or from other expert sources of input. Discussion among the students themselves within this approach is unnecessary and perhaps even harmful. True knowledge about the world can be identified, packaged, transmitted, ingested, accumulated and tested.

It is by no means certain that the translation teacher standing in front of a ‘Who will take the first sentence?’ classroom is really aware of the history and tradition that I am suggesting lies behind the unconscious decision to educate future professionals in this fashion. And yet, it has been well established in various sub-fields of education that conventional ‘chalk-and-talk’ teacher-centered instruction is based on an objectivist or positivist epistemology that views the sources and locus of knowledge in a ‘realist’ manner (knowledge understood as a true reflection of the objectively real and directly perceivable world) (Doll 1993, Davis and Sumara 1997).

To reiterate: from this perspective: 1) knowledge is to be found in the individual mind (particularly in the teacher's mind in an educational setting); and 2) it represents objective truth about the world that is discoverable through reason and/or through careful observation of reality. There is surely also a tacit understanding that the teacher's professional experience may well have contributed to his or her relevant knowledge. But a quintessential characteristic of this sort of folk pedagogy is that the teacher's expertise can be reduced to axioms, principles, guidelines, rules, and perhaps hints and tricks – in any event 'words of wisdom' that can be received conduit fashion by learners and incorporated into the black box of their minds, located in turn within their brains.

From this perspective, translation students' actual experience in dealing with the authentic, situated work of the translator would be of negligible relevance for the learning process – at least during class. Authentic experience might, of course, still be considered an important part of a student's learning activities outside of the classroom, for example during a work placement or once they begin working on the job. But during the period of study per se, it is the students' ability to cognitively retrieve and integrate the truths transmitted by the teacher that counts. From a positivist educational perspective then, learners do not need to experience the messy, complicated real world of professional translation for themselves; it is far more expedient for teachers to distill, simplify and transmit knowledge and skills: the mainstay if not the very essence and raison d’être of modern institutionalised education.

It is interesting to note that the 'method' that Nord (1996) proposes to move beyond the folk pedagogy underlying 'Who will take the first sentence?' is fully compatible with Ramus', Taylor's and Tyler's pedagogical approaches. She proposes identifying specific sub-domains of the translator's target competence and specifying the precise content that needs to be taught to build up overall translation competence. She suggests using a Socratic approach to interaction in the classroom (based on Socrates' rationalist view that truth could be known by the teacher and deduced by the students through logic and with the teacher's guidance). I believe that Nord's method does indeed represent a step beyond a common-sense, a-theoretical teaching approach towards an actual educational pedagogy, one that acknowledges its underlying epistemology and builds on a coherent and logical set of principles that can be discussed and assessed by the community of translator educators. And while this is a method that is very much at odds both with a social constructivist and an emergentist approach to facilitating learning, it does represent an epistemologically grounded model for instructionism[7] that may well suit certain teachers, learners and learning situations. What is important, in my view, is not having one particular epistemology or attempting to promote learning in one particular way, but creating and applying coherent and principled pedagogical approaches that can be demonstrated to be viable tools in educational praxis.

Some teachers, like me, will surely find that their personal beliefs about the nature of knowing and learning lead them beyond a reductionist, Ramist didactic approach of the type that Nord proposes.

2.2 Social Constructivism: Beyond Instructionism and Radical Constructivism

Before moving on to summarise briefly the underlying epistemological tenets of social constructivism, it is important here, I feel, to reiterate some of the key differences between Piaget's radical constructivism and Vygotsky's social constructivism. While the former can be seen as still being tied to a rather positivist worldview, the latter I construe to be firmly in the post-positivist realm. Both theories suggest that we learn most often not by ingesting truth discovered empirically or rationally, but by creating our own understandings of the world. For Piaget, this was largely a process of individual cognition (which, in turn, allows for social interaction), whereas for Vygotsky, it is social interaction that precedes and leads to thought. For Vygotsky, learning is much more a matter of construing (that is, interpreting) the world than it is a matter of constructing knowledge about the world.

In the social constructivist theory that is closely linked to the Russian polymath Lev Vygotsky, the world is interpreted by individuals in and through social interaction[8]. The first radical constructivist perspective, dating back to ancient Greece, has been attributed to the Sophist Protagoras in the fifth century BC. Protagoras is famous for a statement to the effect that: 'Man is the measure of all things', which has been interpreted as suggesting a relativist philosophical view of man's relationship to knowledge.  During the Enlightenment period, it was Giambattista Vico (1668-1744), an Italian political philosopher, rhetorician, historian and jurist who developed an epistemology that represented a distinct contrast to reductionism. In one of his major works, published in 1710, Vico introduced and defended his famous verum factum principle (stating that only that which is made can be known to be true), which was based on the view that knowledge derives from creation or invention and not from observation.

Vygotskian understandings of learning, the mediational role of culture, scaffolding (interactive support for learning provided by more knowledgeable others) and the zone of proximal development (ZPD) have been adopted and adapted for educational applications in a wide number of pedagogical domains, including mathematics and science education. Along with Lev Vygotsky, one of the two most important thinkers associated with social constructivist epistemology is the American philosopher, psychologist and educational reformer John Dewey. One of the three principle representatives of American pragmatist philosophy (along with Charles Peirce and William James), Dewey rejected the 'spectator view of knowledge' and believed that knowing emerges through action. While he firmly believed in the utility of the scientific method, he saw the goal of its application not as the discovery of truth about the world but instead viable explanations which communities of thought and practice can agree to use. Learners, in his view, need to be situated, involved and implicated in relevant authentic activities rather than be passive recipients of teachers' knowledge. The social constructivist approach I proposed for translator education was inspired largely by the work of Vygotsky and Dewey and was focused on the mainstays of learner autonomy, cognitive apprenticeship and authentic collaborative project work in the classroom. Active and interpersonal cognition in an authentic learning environment was the crux of this social constructivist view of learning. As Dennis Sumara and Brent Davis have put it:

For the constructivist […] cognition is not a process of ‘representing’ a real world that is ‘out there‘ waiting to be apprehended but, rather, is a process of organising and re-organising one’s own subjective world of experience. (Sumara and Davis 1997: 409)

Sumara and Davis succinctly identify the quintessence of the paradigm shift entailed in constructivist thought in general: the abandonment of the belief held by the rationalist and empiricist philosophical traditions that objective truth can be found ‘out there’ in the world and either transmitted or ingested:

… constructivism suggests that ideas and beliefs […] emerge because they are personally viable in a given context, not because they are ideal. In terms of social interaction, such subjective constructions need only be compatible with the constructions of others, for the measure of viability is not a match with some externally determined standard, but the maintenance of one’s integrity in a given context. (ibid)

From such a perspective, learning is far less a matter of acquisition or the intake of input, and far more a process of contextualised, situated, re-construction of the self (a more experienced, competent, autonomous self). While both radical and social constructivism emphasize the need for embodied action as the basis for learning, social constructivism adds the primordial interpersonal component in coming to know and becoming. It is dependent on authentic and collaborative interaction as an essential feature of an effective learning environment.

As they prepare to introduce their readers to post-constructivist educational theory, Sumara and Davis state that a remaining problem with (radical) constructivism is that it still holds an intrapersonal (if not intracranial) view of cognition:

...while constructivism represents an important departure from cognitivism and other representational models of cognition, it shares one fundamental tenet […] that the locus of cognition is the individual. (ibid)

Although social constructivism holds that sense and knowledge are created in interaction with one’s social environment and hence emerge from the interstices of interpersonal interaction, in the end, the individual mind is still the place where knowledge is ‘constructed’ and stored. In addition, the construction metaphor still emphasizes the reification of knowledge and the understanding that the processes at work are largely mechanical: simple or complicated at best. As I hope to show in the final section of this article, the step beyond constructivism towards emergent knowing represents a significant move beyond the mechanistic, positivist, reductionist worldview that has dominated education for centuries – towards an approach that acknowledges the non-linear and unpredictable nature of authentic (non-reductionist) learning systems.

2.3  From Teaching and Acquisition to Emergent Learning in the Post-positivist Era

In addition to his contribution to social constructivist thought, Dewey's work on metaphysics has also been identified as an important contribution to the process philosophy that developed initially at the end of the 19th century and was championed by the renowned British mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead (Whitehead 1950). This philosophical perspective sees the world in evolutionary terms as being in constant flux – as Heraclitus did in ancient Greece according to the dictum attributed to him to the effect that: no man can step into the same river twice (Kenny 210: 17). Process philosophy re-emerged late in the 20th century as complexity science and thinking, which are currently being investigated in a range of natural and social science domains. In the final section of this paper, I will revisit complexity theory and the concept of emergence as I have started to apply them to translator education.

In this section, which, because of space limitations, can at best whet the appetite of readers interested in delving deeper into post-positivist options in translator education, I have taken the liberty of quoting others extensively in order to introduce readers to a few of the many eloquent voices in the domains of educational philosophy and pedagogical research that are contributing to dialogue within post-positivist communities of educational theory and practice in a number of domains. I believe that these voices can contribute to a viable epistemological foundation for the increasing number of translation teachers who find themselves disenchanted with chalk-and-talk practice in the classroom and who find themselves drawn towards collaborative, situated, praxis-oriented pedagogy. The first voice is that of Hanna Risku, who, to my knowledge, is one of the very few other translation studies scholars to date who has come out unequivocally in favour of adopting a post-positivist epistemology for furthering translator education.

Due to the major role played by the environment, any attempts to explain translation by describing processes in the mind of an individual alone are bound to fail. The mind is only one part of the story. We need to find out not only what happens in a translator’s mind, but also what happens elsewhere, e.g. in their hands, and their computers, on their desk, in their languages or in their dialogues. Translation is not done solely by the mind, but by complex systems. These systems include people, the specific social and physical environments and all their cultural artifacts. (My emphasis). (Risku 2010: 103)

Let us take a closer look at what other members of the community of post-positivist educational theory and practice have to say about the points Risku raises here. First of all, the distinction between complicated and complex systems has been attributed to the early computer scientist Warren Weaver (1948). Complicated systems, according to Weaver, are mechanical, much like a clock or any type of machinery (or a computer for that matter) and reducible to their component parts. A competent technician can break them down into their individual pieces, repair them if necessary and put them back together and they will still function as they did before. Complexity, however, refers to systems that have a very large number of component parts and that are not reducible to those parts; they exhibit emergent (unpredictable, self-organising, self-generating) behaviour, resulting in their being more than the sum of their parts. Prime examples of complex systems are an anthill, any living organism and the brain. Complex systems are dynamic and tend to be nested inside other systems. As an example, Brent Davis (a professor of mathematics education and a leading expert on complexity in education) has noted:

The brain […] is not a static form, but a vibrantly changing system that is fractally organised: neurons are clustered into mini columns, mini columns into macro columns, macro columns into cortical areas, cortical areas into hemispheres – and at every level agents interact with and affect other agents. (Davis 2004: 101)

It is in contexts involving such complex systems that tidy positivist reductionism and Euclidean flowchart-type models may prove to be of very limited value. The fractal (recurrent and infinitely self-similar at all scales) nature of complex systems complements the essential complex-system nature of self-organisation or ‘autopoiesis’ (Maturana and Varela 1980). It is interesting to note that fractal geometry, which has since been used to explain an enormous array of natural phenomena, was only created as a mathematical system in the late 20th century by the mathematician Benoît Mandelbrot (1983) (even though its roots date back to the 17th century). The very structure of a complex system changes as it interacts with other systems – that is, as it learns. In applying these features of complex systems to learning processes, Davis states:

This is one of the reasons that the cognitivist brain-as-computer metaphor is problematic. Each event of learning entails a physical transformation of the brain; hence subsequent events of learning are met by a different brain. On the biological level, personal learning is not about acquisition, processing or storing, but about emergent structuring. (2004: 101) (My emphasis)

In the context of educational philosophy, the postmodern mindset encourages us to view cognition itself as just such an emergent adaptive system. It does not involve static knowledge as much as it does dynamic knowing – constantly changing, imminently situated and embodied thinking-in-action:

Knowing is fractal-like: a continuous, re-iterative event through which one knits together one’s history, one’s immediate situation, and one’s projects. Such knowing is never fixed, never stable. (Davis & Sumara 2000: 831)

From this perspective, learning in classrooms becomes a radically different affair from the often-passive ingestion of predetermined knowledge that a reductionist epistemology expects. The fractal, self-similar nature of learning suggests that an embodied approach to classroom practice will be reflected in a less artificially structured curriculum as well (for a more detailed discussion of this point, see Kiraly 2012):

The postmodern perspective of curriculum respects the messiness of the whole and does not try to justify and segment parts of the whole into closed boxes. In this open framework, there is room for play, chance, and the turmoil inherent in learning. Learning does not always have to proceed in sequential steps, but is complex and moves in fits and starts. The postmodern paradigm embraces exceptions and does not feel a need to find the ultimate truth (Lewis 2004: 121-122).

William Doll has summed up the essence of the postmodern classroom in terms of a departure from conventional chalk-and-talk pedagogy as follows:

 Learning now occurs, not through direct transmission from expert to novice, or from teacher to student, but in a non-linear manner in a class exploring a situation/problem/issue together, and indeed from multiple perspectives. (Doll 2008: 193)

This brings us back to the kind of collaborative, authentic-project-based pedagogy I proposed in A Social Constructivist Approach to Translator Education (Kiraly 2000) that has begun to flourish in 21st century translator education. Within translation studies per se, contributions to the literature on post-instructionist approaches to translator education up to the turn of the millennium were limited to the work of Mackenzie and Nieminen (1997) and Jean Vienne (1994), which were not overtly grounded in any particular epistemology, cosmology or pedagogical theory, but which nevertheless served as an important source of inspiration for my own approach, which was based on social constructivist principles. The theoretical perspective provided by emergence yields an even more powerful incentive for undertaking authentic project-work in the classroom than social constructivism did. The near-authentic working conditions that emerge from work on a real project in the classroom reflect the understanding of cognition and learning as embodied action rather than the accretion of bits of knowledge and skills. As Risku has stated:

If learning is situated and context-dependent instead of abstract and decontextualised, the management of different professional situations becomes the primary educational objective…. Therefore it is of paramount importance that teachers of translation and interpreting integrate authentic or near-authentic translation tasks into their teaching. (Risku 2010: 101)

An emergentist view not only allows but requires teachers to climb down from their pedestals of authority, and it implies an obligatory change in their roles from distillers and transmitters of knowledge to guides and companions on the students’ road to experience. Syllabus design is no longer a task to be accomplished by a teacher alone prior to the start of a course; it becomes a tentative plan that emerges with new challenges and unexpected turns, and one leading to unpredictable goals as a course progresses. Learning objectives become far more difficult to specify because they will differ from student to student and will, in the best of cases, evolve in a unique manner for each student throughout each course and throughout the entire programme of studies. So a change in our underlying pedagogical epistemology, in our basic understanding of what it means to learn how to function as a language mediation professional, will bring with it a plethora of new challenges for teachers, learners and our educational institutions themselves. This, however, would be a small price to pay for a pedagogy that is far better suited than chalk-and-talk to the still-emerging postmodern Zeitgeist.

3. In Conclusion

It has not been my intention in this short survey to tell a complete story of anything, but rather to encourage my readers, and particularly those who are or who intend to become, translator educators, to investigate their own epistemologies of pedagogical practice. Just as is the case for translation students, for whom we know that one does not learn to translate merely by translating, so do translation teachers not become master educators merely by teaching. Reflection is also a vital component of the equation. I hope to have demonstrated that by looking back at educational thought for a few dozen, hundred or thousand years, we can better judge what kind of educators we are, and what kind we would like to become in order to serve our students, institutions and society in the future. Figure 1 depicts just a few of the dialogue partners I have found to be particularly edifying over the course of my own personal quest to better understand some of the complexities of learning and teaching.

Figure 1: Emerging Perspectives in Educational Epistemology


Bereiter, Carl and Marlene Scardamaglia (1993) Surpassing Ourselves – An Inquiry into the Nature and Explications of Expertise, Chicago & Lasalle, Illinois, Open Court.

Bruner, Jerome (2006) In Search of Pedagogy Volume II, New York, Routledge.

Davis, Brent 2004 Inventions of Teaching, Mahwah, N.J., L. Earlbaum Associates.

Davis, Brent, and Dennis Sumara (1997) "Cognition, complexity, and teacher education", Harvard Educational Review 67, no. 1: 105–125.

------ (2007) "Complexity Science and Education: Reconceptualizing the Teacher’s Role in Learning",  Interchange 38, no. 1: 53–67.

------ (2008) “Complexity as a Theory of Education.” Transnational Curriculum Inquiry 5, no. 2, URL: http://nitainat.library.ubc.ca/ojs/index.php/tci (accessed 5 January 2013).

Doll, William E. 1993 A Postmodern Perspective on Curriculum, New York, Teachers College Press.

------ (2002) "Ghosts and the Curriculum" in Curriculum Visions, William Doll and Noel Gough (eds), New York, Peter Lang.

------ (2008) “Complexity and the Culture of Curriculum” in Complexity Theory and the Philosophy of Education, Mark Mason (ed.), Malden, Georgia, Wiley-Blackwell: 181–203.

Echeverri, Álvaro (2008) "Énième Plaidoyer Pour L’innovation Dans Les Cours Pratiques de Traduction. Préalables à L’innovation?", TTR: Traduction, Terminologie, Rédaction 21, no. 1: 65–98.

Enns-Conolly, Esther (1986) Translation as an Interpretive Act: A Narrative Study of Translation in University Level Foreign Language Teaching, Ph.D. Disssertation, University of Toronto.

Gabrian , Britta (1986) "Ziel oder Zeillosigkeit des Übersetzungsunterricht" in TextKontext 1, no. 1: 48–62.

Hansen-Schirra, Silvia and Don Kiraly (eds) (2012) Projekte und Projektionen in der translatorischen Kompetenzentwicklung, Frankfurt, Peter Lang.

House, Juliane (1980) "Übersetzen im Fremdsprachenunterricht" in Angewandte Übersetzungswissenschaft, S. O. Poulsen and Wolfram Wilss (eds) Arhus, Wirtschaftsuniversität Arhus: 7–17.

Kenny, Anthony (2010) A New History of Western Philosophy, Oxford, OUP.

Kiraly, Don (1995) Pathways to Translation: Pedagogy and Process. Kent, Ohio, Kent State University Press.

------ (2000) A Social Constructivist Approach to Translator Education. Manchester: St. Jerome.

------ (2012a) “Growing a Project-Based Translation Pedagogy.” META 57 (1): 82–95.

------ (2012b) “Skopos Theory Goes to Paris: Purposeful Translation and Emergent Translation Projects”, MTM 4: 119–144.

Kiraly, Don, Silvia Hansen-Schirra, Karin Maksymski (eds) (2013) New Prospects and Perspectivs for Educating Language Mediators, Tübingen, Narr Verlag.

Ladmiral, J R (1977) "La traduction dans le cadre de l'institution pédagogique", Die Neueren Sprachen 76: 489–516.

Lewis, Nancy S. (2004) “The Intersection of Postmodernity and Classroom Practice.” Teacher Education Quarterly Summer: 119–134.

Mackenzie, Rosemary and Elina Nieminen (1997) “Motivating students to achieve quality in translation” in Transferre Necesse Est, Kinga Klaudy, and Janós Kohn (eds), Budapest, Scholastica: 339–344.

Mandelbrot, Benoît B. (1983) The Fractal Geometry of Nature, New York, Henry Holt & Company.

Maturana, Umberto and Francisco Varela (1980) Autopoiesis and Cognition: the Realization of the Living. Boston: D. Reidel Publishing Co.

Morçöl, Göktu (2001)  “What is Complexity Science? Postmodernist or Postpositivist?”, Emergence 3, no. 1: 104–119.

Nord, Christiane (1996) "Wer nimmt denn mal den ersten Satz? Überlegungen zu neuen Arbeitsformen im Übersetzungsunterricht". In: H. Gerzymisch-Arbogast, J. Haller & E. Steiner (eds) Übersetzungswissenschaft im Umbruch, Festschrift für Wolfram Wilss, Tübingen, Narr: 313–327.

Pinar, William (2008) "Curriculum theory since 1950: Crisis, reconceptualization, internationalization" in The SAGE Handbook of Curriculum and Instruction, F. Connelly, M. He, & J. Phillion (eds), Los Angeles, Sage Publications: 491–514.

Risku, Hanna (1998) Translatorische Kompetenz, Tübingen, Stauffenberg.

------ (2010) “A Cognitive Scientific View on Technical Communication and Translation. Do embodiment and situatedness really make a difference? Target 22, no. 1: 94–111.

Röhl, Monika (1983) Ansätze zu einer Didaktik des Übersetzens, MA thesis, Johannes Gutenberg- Universität, Mainz.

Roskelly, Hephzibah (2009) "Teaching Like Weasels", in Education and Hope in Troubled Times, in Education and Hope in Troubled Times, Sri Shapiro (ed.), London, Routledge: 198–209.

Sumara, Dennis and Brent Davis (1997) "Enactivist Theory and Community Learning: toward a complexified understanding of action research", Educational Action Research 5, no. 3: 403–422.

Toury, Gideon (1974) "The Notion of Native Translator and Translation Teaching, in Die Theorie des Übersetzens und ihr Aufschlußwert für die Übersetzungs- und Dolmetschdidaktik, Wolfram Wilss and Gisela Thome (eds), Tübingen, Gunter Narr: 186–95.

Triche, Stephen and Douglas McKnight (2004) “The Quest for Method: the Legacy of Peter Ramus.” History of Education 33, no. 1: 39–54.

Trueit, Donna (2012) Pragmatism, Postmodernism, and Complexity Theory, New York and London, Routledge.

Varbelow, Sonja (2012) "Instruction, Curriculum and Society: Iterations Based on the Ideas of William Doll" International Journal of Instruction 5, no. 1: 87–94.

Vienne, Jean (1994) "Toward a Pedagogy of Translation in Situation" Perspectives 1: 51–59.

Weaver, Warren (1948) "Science and Complexity", American Scientist 36, no. 4: 536–544.

Whitehead, Alfred North (1950) The Aims of Education and Other Essays, London, E. Benn.


[1] The concept derives from the term ‘community of practice’ coined by Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger. A ‘community of theory and praxis’ emphasizes the reflective nature of the community's work, and 'praxis', I believe, more clearly emphasizes the mindful nature of the work at hand and avoids the ambiguity inherent in the term "practice" (with its second key denotation of repetitive exercise).

[2] Intensive workshops have since been run, (for example those organised and co-taught by the author) between 1999 and 2006 at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in the US and at the Universities of Tarragona and Vic in Spain. There now also exists a single master’s degree in translation pedagogy: the one created recently at Macquarie University in Australia, but even that one has been offered only intermittently, because of a lack of students.

[3] This thorough study on teaching approaches in translator education was the graduate thesis by Röhl (1983) completed at the FTSK. It turned out to be a key impetus behind my dissertation work, which was completed at the University of Illinois.

[4] Throughout this paper, the term epistemology will be used to refer to ‘theories of knowing and learning’ despite the possibility that some postmodernists may understand epistemology in Cartesian terms as being about how we know and come to know the world objectively. I use the term educational epistemology to emphasize the utilisation of epistemological principles in the service of fostering learning.

[5] Empiricism and rationalism can, of course, be depicted as distinct epistemologies as they see truth as being accessible in two radically different ways: through the senses or through reasoning respectively. Nevertheless, both views see truth as being discoverable, identifiable, accessible and retrievable; the upshot are the common features of teaching approaches based on empiricist and rationalist views: teacher-centered instruction.

[6] The history of Western modernism from an educational perspective has been discussed at length and in depth in the works of William Doll (Trueit 2012). I will not even broach the topic of links between Western and Eastern epistemological thought here, but will be doing so in forthcoming publications.

[7] The term instructionism is attributed to Seymour Papert (1993).

[8] Space limitations prohibit me from reviewing the social constructivist perspective in detail. The reader is referred to A Social Constructivist Approach to Translator Education (Kiraly 2000) for a thorough discussion of social constructivist theory and its application to translator education.

Transmedia Storytelling, Translocal Productions:

Audiovisual Strategies of Globalization in Australia

By Katherine E. Russo (University of Naples 'L'Orientale', Italy)

Abstract & Keywords

One of the fundamental problems underlying the English as a global language vs. local languages debate is that they often adhere to the dichotomous ‘global vs. local’ vision of transnational communication, treating them as incommensurable discourses and often reviving the spectre of cultural authenticity. Yet global movies, such as Baz Luhrmann’s Australia, use the potential of transmedia and transcultural strategies to reach a global audience. The production of such movies exploits the growing realization within the media industries that what is variously called «transmedia, multiplatform, or enhanced storytelling» represents the future of entertainment and its economic growth (Jenkins 2003; 2006). On the other side, in order to enter the daily lives of its global audience, the film production decided to exploit the power of another social good: Australian culture. Thus, as the critical applied linguistics scholar, Alistair Pennycook, notes, the literature on English as a global language has often failed to investigate whether English as a global language may be defined as a «translocal» language, a language of fluidity that moves across, while becoming embedded in, the materiality of localities and social relations. The analysis of interlingual translations of post-colonial English language varieties, but also of their intralingual translation into global English, will provide some significant «insights» on how the materiality of globalization shapes translocal social knowledge, creates translocal audiences and contributes to the creation of a supervernacular language. Following this line of thought, the aim of the article is to claim a central space for Audiovisual Translation studies in the study of English as a global language.

Keywords: storytelling, global English, Baz Luhrmann’s Australia, translocal audiences, audiovisual translation

©inTRAlinea & Katherine E. Russo (2014).
"Transmedia Storytelling, Translocal Productions:"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Across Screens Across Boundaries
Edited by: Rosa Maria Bollettieri Bosinelli, Elena Di Giovanni & Linda Rossato
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Permanent URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2077

1. Introduction

One of the main outcomes of the recent debate on the relationship between English as a global language and post-colonial varieties of English is the abandonment of the dichotomous ‘global vs. local’ vision of translation flows (Bollettieri Bosinelli and Di Giovanni 2009; Cronin 2003; Snell-Hornby 2000). Similarly, audiovisual translation of post-colonial English varieties in the era of multimedia localization, the deterritorialization of mass communication through cable TV, and digital broadcasting, entails the shift from the conceptualization of resident and non-dynamic source and target language ecologies to translocalor supra-cultural language ecologies. Yet, the critical literature on audiovisual translation has often failed to take into consideration the transformative agency of post-colonial English language varieties and to investigate whether English as a global language may be defined as a “translocal” language, a language of fluidity that moves across, while becoming embedded in, the materiality of localities and social relations (Blommaert 2010; Pennycook 2007). As Jan Blommaert notes, the homogenizing force of English as a global language can be encountered only in en-globalized forms, i.e. dialects or local semiotic forms “which are prepared to go global” and emerge in the context of technology-driven globalization processes (2012: 9). Such semiotic codes may be defined as supervernaculars, where the ‘super’ is an equivalent of ‘trans-’ and refers to semiotic complexes whose composition and circulation transcend those of local semiotic complexes. Accordingly, the sociolinguistics of globalization unveils two coordinated processes:

(a) the rules of the supervernacular are adopted along with part of its core vocabulary —this is the ‘englobalization’ aspect of the formation of the code;

(b) they are appliedto and blended with local vernacular language into a dialect — the ‘deglobalization’aspect of the process. (Blommaert 2012: 9)

Following this line of thought, the article contends that audiovisual globalization exists as the interplay between englobalization and deglobalization, in which linguistic resources from complex local repertoires are being mobilized and deployed in meaning-making. Audiences witness the process of globalization in the audiovisual translation of post-colonial varieties of English, through their encounter with the phenomenology of englobalization and deglobalization.Therefore, the analysis of interlingual translations of post-colonial English language varieties, but also of their intralingual translation into global English provides significant “insights” on how the materiality of globalization shapes translocal social knowledge, creates translocal audiences and contributes to the creation of supervernacular languages.

2. Audiovisual Translation and Globalization

As Henrik Gottlieb’s recent study on the audiovisual translation of “minor but not marginal” languages demonstrates (Gottlieb 2009), cultural and linguistic difference are often not preserved in intra- and interlingual audiovisual translation giving way to the standardization of a global code or mainstreaming and fitting the general condensation strategies of subtitling. Gottlieb argues that extralinguistic culture-bound references (hereinafter ECR), with the most evident impact on lexical items designating phenomena specific to the culture in which they are used, are most likely to incur in explicatory, adaptive and deletive strategies in upstream subtitling, so that their exotic expressions, alien allusions and foreign settings end up being more palatable to a predominantly monolingual anglophone audience. On the other hand, ECR from the anglophone world are more likely to be recognised abroad and, therefore, they are often preserved in downstream AVT (Figure 1 and Table 1). Accordingly, in analyses of audiovisual translations of minor languages and language varieties, scholars continue to point to the need for an approach based on the ethics of difference. Such a stance, as Lawrence Venuti famously claims, “urges that translation be written, read, and evaluated with greater respect for linguistic and cultural differences … minoritizing the standard dialect” in “opposition to the global hegemony of English” (Venuti 1995: 6, 10).

Figure 1. extralinguistic culture-bound references in AVT


Gottlieb’s strategies for translating culture specific items (2009)
Maximum Fidelity Retention
High Fidelity Literal Translation
Low Fidelity Specification
Minimum Fidelity Omission

Table 1. strategies for translating culture-specific items in AVT

The audiovisual translation of post-colonial English language varieties into global English and into other languages is conditioned by the necessity of either retaining or omitting the ECRs of these varieties which are often central to the articulation of post-colonial identity. In the audiovisual translation of post-colonial English varieties, the items which have attracted most interest are Indigenous strands  loanwords, loan translation, semantic shift, and code-switching. Yet what seems problematic is that while studies in audiovisual translation have abandoned fraught categorisations such as equivalence and fidelity, highlighting that the polysemiotic text does not convey «natural» languages (Taylor 2006), studies on minor languages, L3s and language variation in audiovisual translation seem to fall back into fraught categorisations such as fidelity and authenticity, implying that minor languages need to be protected and retained to avoid the erasure of ‘authentic’ cultures. Instead, countering widespread assumptions about the delocalizing and homogenizing force of globalization, supranational production of global movies has exploited the growing realization within the media industries that while transmedia, multiplatform, or enhanced storytelling represents the future of entertainment and its economic growth, it mustexploit the power of another social good: translocal culture.Films intended for global production and distribution contribute to the creation of a state of translocal intersubjectivity (shared meaning) and social knowledge, although the latter is often based on a non-reciprocal relation since it is often influenced by the anglophone target readerships/audience knowledge and apprehension of familiar and reassuring cultural markers (Riley 2007: 30-31). As the following case-study suggests, ECR are adopted in films such as Baz Lurhmann’s Australia (2008) to create translocal audiences and intersubjective meanings that share none of the traditional attributes of speech communities — territorial fixedness, physical proximity, socio-cultural sharedness and common backgrounds. In this sense, locality is linguistically conveyed in the film through Australian ECR such as walkabout, kangaroo, and koala (compounds and loanwords of the first phases of Australian settler strand nativization), but also through the indexical use of new loanwords, loan translations and semantic shifts which indicate a push towards reconciliation and mutual recognition, as in the case of gulapa, home etc. (Schneider 2007; Leitner 2004).These new forms may highlight, because of their extreme clarity, some fundamental aspects of audiovisual globalization processes. In Blommaert’s words,

Globalization and its new supervernaculars offer us a rich terrain for exploring such phenomena and their dialects. Global phenomena only occur in real life in the form of their many dialects. Such dialects and processes of dialect formation can have different directions and degrees of dynamism, each time tied to (as well as creating) local orders of indexicality, and inquiring into such diverse processes will illuminate a lot about the foundations of language usage in culture and society. (2012: 12)

3. Australia and the Audiovisual Translation of Translocality

Set in the Northern Territory on the eve of the Second World War, the melodramatic, postmodern adventure film Australia(2008), tells the story of the competition between the cattle baron, King Carney (Bryan Brown) and Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman), to win a contract from the Australian Defence Force to feed the army. Lady Sarah Ashley inherits the cattle station, Faraway Downs, from her murdered husband and initially intends to sell the station. Yet she  converts into a frontierswoman, falls in love with the Drover and wishes to adopt the young Aboriginal orphan, Nullah. When King Carney orders his future son-in-law to stop Lady Sarah, she appeals to the Drover (Hugh Jackman) who, together with a team of Aboriginal station workers, drives the cattle  to Darwin amid numerous perils.

Directed and written, as well as produced, by Baz Luhrmann, together with G. Mac Brown and Catherine Knapman, Australiawas released in 2008 by 20th Century Fox. Yet Australiamay be defined as a translocal movie, whose intent was to use the potential of transmedia and transcoding strategies to reach a global audience. The production exploited the growing realization within the media industries and franchising companies that what is variously called “transmedia, multiplatform, or enhanced storytelling” represents the future of entertainment and its economic growth (Jenkins 2003, 2006). That is, it lowered its production costs by sharing assets with the company, Tourism Western Australia, which spent $1 million on a campaign linked with the release of Australia in the United States, Canada, Japan, Europe and South Korea, and tied in with an international Tourism Australia plan. Baz Luhrmann in turn shot the commercial, “Come Walkabout”(2008), exploiting the connection with the film and the young Aboriginal actor Brandon Walters, and especially the discursive ethnification and exoticisation inherent in the Aboriginal English compound walkabout. The Aboriginal English compound walkabout, which refers to traditional spiritual journeys taken by Aboriginal peoples, has undergone a semantic shift in Australian English  (“to go for a walk”) and is often  used as a racist referential strategy to indicate unreliability, yet the commercial obviously calls for the re-appropriation of the original meaning of the compound to entice customers to travel to Australia.

Concerned about the recession and fluctuating international fuel prices, the tourism industry hoped that Luhrmann's film would deliver visitors from all over the world in the same kind of numbers that came to the country following the 1986 release of Crocodile Dundee, and following the significant increase in visitors to New Zealand since 2001 after the release of the Lord of the Rings films. Accordingly, the Twentieth Century Fox DVD is complemented with a joint Emirates and Twentieth Century Fox leaflet advertising flights to Australia.

Moreover, as aforementioned, the film production decided to exploit the power of localityin order to enter the daily lives of its global audience. By dealing explicitly with the most discussed Australian political issue of the last twenty years and exploiting the affective amplification fuelled by the debate regarding the Apology to the Stolen Generations by the Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in 2008, it entered the house of every ordinary citizen each time local media discussed the issue. It did so by playing upon the investment by the Australian broadcasting media in affective saturation, intensification and domination (Martin and White 2005).

 While significantly the famous British based Australian expat intellectual, Germaine Greer (2008) wrote an outraged article on the non-authenticity of the film and its historical inaccuracy, in Australia, it gained so much momentum through its affective exploitation of the discourses of Reconciliation that Marcia Langton (2008), arguably one of the most overtly critical Aboriginal intellectuals, celebrated the film as an historical turning point in the relation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

The film also succeeded in marketing Australian Reconciliation culture for tourism through the exploitation of pastiche and intertextuality. Selling Reconciliation to the globe entailed explaining ECRs, such as the Aboriginal Dreaming Law through the catch motive of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and the creation of a common social knowledge, through the quotation of foundational films of the settler imagination such as Crocodile Dundee.

With these goals in mind, the film also astutely built upon the metaphorical significance of language variation and of code-switching tied to settler/Indigenous social interaction (Bucholtz and Hall 2005). At least four English varieties, each corresponding to the specific characterisation of a protagonist, can be identified already in the first 8 minutes of the movie:

1) Settler Strand: Received Pronunciation

2) Settler Strand: Broad Australian

3) Indigenous Strand: Aboriginal Cattle Kriol

4) Indigenous Strand: Mix of Aboriginal languages (Yolngu, Gurindji)

Language variation is central to the film, as it indexes the complex struggle for co-habitation and national belonging in Australian contact zones, such as outback stations. Accordingly, ECR, loanwords, and loan translation contribute to a specific function of conversational code-switching (Gumperz 1982),  that is, a post-colonial form of speaker positioning and identity negotiation, i.e. accommodation and re-routing.

Both Broad Australian speakers and Aboriginal English speakers make use of ECRs, loanwords, semantic shift, and loan translation. In multilingual movies, as Lukas Bleichenbacher has aptly noted (2008: 191), code-mixing and  code-switching into languages other than English and into different varieties of the same language are typically unrealistic and linguistically unmotivated, as they merely serve the purposes of stereotyping and characterization. Therefore, they respond to linguistic motivations, where the fictional language choices mirror psycholinguistic, pragmatic and sociolinguistic factors which are pertinent in real-life interactions, or to narrative motivations, where code-switching is used for narrative aims, specifically characterization or editing. Drawing upon Lukas Bleichenbacher’s framework for the classification of the motivations for inter and intra sentential code-switching, code-mixing and loanwords in Multilingual Hollywood films, this analysis identifies their narrative use as identity markers (characterisation and stereotyping) and geographical indexing:

- Situational code-switching: scenes where code-switching into another language is motivated by situational factors. These factors include aspects of the communicative situation, such as the speaker’s linguistic repertoire, the addressee(s) of a turn, or the topic.

- Indexical code-switching: scenes where there is a complete absence of any psycholinguistic, pragmatic and sociolinguistic reason for characters to code-switch. Rather, the characters code-switch for the benefit of the viewer, as a mere index of their ethnolinguistic background.

- Language display used to enhance a character’s self-image and identity.

- Language display related to post-colonial accommodation and rerouting.

The analysis has found that ECRs are used as cumulative motifs and contribute to affective intensification through repetition, rhythm and intonation (Martin and White 2005: 20). That is, isolated Australian English and Aboriginal English extralinguistic cultural references and loanwords are low in frequency, but are highly emphasised by prosodic strategies. They are all present in the first 20 minutes of the film and are repeated throughout the film at pivotal moments for language display, characterisation and the specific display of post-colonial accommodation and re-routing through the use of a Settler/Indigenous middle-of-the-road dialect  (Mufwene 2001; Schneider 2007; Trudgill 1986).

Loanwords and code-switching are most notably used for language display and accommodation by the British aristocrat, Lady Ashley (played by Australian actress Nicole Kidman), both in the English and the Australian first scenes regarding her landing in the Australian outback. Nicole Kidman who puts on her best Received Pronunciation at the beginning of the film, gradually accommodates her speech, as in the pivotal scene of the cattle’s arrival in Darwin, where she is re-born as Australian due to her successful driving of the cattle through the desert. The scene is amplified through the two exclamations, “crikey!” and “cheeky black bulls!”, respectively a typical exclamation by the popular Australian television showman, the Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin,  and an Aboriginal English semantic shift, which she  uses to express solidarity and membershipping towards the Drover and the Aboriginal boy Nullah.

In the beginning of the film Lady Ashley displays an ironic use of two foundational Broad Australian English items, billabong, an Aboriginal loanword referring to a pool or lagoon, which has entered Standard Australian English, and the Australian English compound outback in order to distance herself from Australians and define her British metropolitan identity. Yet after the first scenes, the linguistic realisation of the process of accommodation in her speech is quite straightforward. It is Lady Ashley, who by living in Australia, slowly accommodates her speech to that of Australians, thus using code-switching for self-identification and identity negotiation. Yet in her entering the Australian linguistic ecology, represented by the life in the outback, she never accommodates her speech to the hate speech and derogatory terms of the racist settler Fletcher and his helpers, but to that of Drover (the good side of outback settlers, who embraces Aboriginal culture and actually marries an Aboriginal woman) and Nullah the young Aboriginal boy whom she would like to mother.

The difficulty in translating post-colonial loanwords and semantic shifts related to place (Table 1) is partly solved by the presence of the other semiotic channels, such as the long footing of Australian landscapes and the employment of both international and local music, which ensures their persistent trace. Keeping in mind the tourism target oriented aims of the movie, and the  strategic use of lexical cohesion for affective amplification, both the dubbers and subtitlers have largely retained geographical indexes apart from the semantic shift “home”, which is related to the Aboriginal sense of belonging to place.


Eng. Sub.

Ita. Sub.

Ita Dub.

Geographical indexes
















Identity Markers


























Lit. Trans.










Table 2. Audiovisual translation of ECR

Yet in the case of identity markers (Table 1), AV translation choices are differentiated. The movie begins with a voiceover by the Aboriginal boy, Nullah, in a variety that closely resembles Cattle Kriol and in the first sentence he introduces one of the most prominent metaphors of the movie, the walkabout. The general goal of exoticisation, foreignisation and localisation in the audiovisual translation of the film would have entailed the retention of the Australian compound walkabout, a lexeme which as aforementioned has become one of the most common, yet often derogatory and racist, culture-bound terms of Aboriginality. Yet while it is retained in the English subtitles, as it is fairly well known in global English culture, it is significantly generalised in the Italian dubbed version and subtitles.

On the other hand, the loanword gulapa, which is used for characterisation and language display throughout the movie by Nullah as it stands for his spiritual heritage, is retained for it is a measure of cultural incommensurability and untranslatability.

Eng. Sub. It. Sub. It. Dub.
N: I let you see me now. N: Ora mi faccio vedere N: Ora ti lascio vedere me
LA: Who are you? LA: Chi sei? -Chi sei tu?
N: I Nullah. N: Io sono Nullah N:Io Nullah.
LA: How did you get in here? LA: Come sei entrato qui? LA: Come sei entrato qui?
N: I make myself invisible...
with gulapa magic!
N: Mi sono fatto
invisibile con magia gulapa!
N: Mi sono fatto invisibile con magia di gulapa!
LA: What do you want? LA: Che cosa vuoi? LA: Che cosa vuoi?
N: That balanda Fletcher
been curse this place
But you like
Rainbow Serpent
You mien-muk.
You heal this land,
so I sing you to me.
Like I sing a fish to me. […]
So that's why
I took him down the billabong
N: Quel balanda di Fletcher
Ha maledetto questo posto
Ma tu sei come
il Serpente Arcobaleno
Tu mien-muk
Tu curerai questa terra
E allora io canto te a me
Come canto i pesci a me […]
Per questo
io l’ho portato giù al Billabong
N:Quel balanda Fletcher  ha portato maledizione qui  ma tu come  Serpente Arcobaleno Tu Mien-muk Tu cura questa terra  E allora io canto te a me  Come canto i pesci a me […] Per quello io porto lui al Billabong

Table 3. Lady Ashley and Nullah’s first encounter

As the dialogue in Table 2 shows, the item gulapa signals a clear Aboriginal sociolinguistic pattern since in Aboriginal English varieties loanwords are often used to refer to secret/sacred knowledge. Secret/sacred knowledge is often taught to younger members of the family by an elder, such as Nullah’s grandfather. Following a methodology based on the cognitive cultural conceptualisations of Indigenous Australian speakers (Sharifian 2006), it may be argued that Nullah’s uses of the loanword gulapa, and mienmuk (The Rainbow Serpent of the Dreaming Law) are based on the well documented constitutive interconnection between spiritual knowledge, kinship, and place, where individuals are temporarily responsible for knowledge and custodianship of specific places due to particular ‘social positions’, kinship connections and languages. The scene’s informative function in relation to Aboriginal spirituality is also indexed by Nullah’s song, since singing in Aboriginal traditional cultures has the spiritual power of transforming reality and is related to the ancestral period of creation known as the Dreaming Law.

In the same scene, Nullah uses the loanword balanda (white man).Aboriginal English speakers often demonstrate their avoidance of English in referring to ‘white’ people. For instance, the term for white man is wajala in Western Australia, migaloo in Queensland, balanda in Arnhem Land (Northern Territory).The loanword balandain the film indicates another specific sociolinguistic function as the use of loanwords regarding matters of institutionalisation, such as the experience of life on reserves, cattle stations, missions, prison, police, and deaths in custody is frequent in Aboriginal English varieties. The choice of avoidance patterns to speak about the pain of dispossession, displacement, deaths in custody, etc., is made evident in the maintenance of loanwords related to brutal experiences of jail, alcohol, violence and sexual exploitation. In this case Nullah is referring to his mother’s sexual exploitation by Fletcher and follows widespread patterns of testimonies of trauma.

4. Conclusion

Contrary to what one would expect from a global target-oriented movie such as Australia, ‘authentic’ Aboriginal loanwords are often retained in English subtitles, the Italian Dubbed Version and Italian Subtitles. The retaining of the most source-oriented elements entails the privileging of the language which has the less privileged status, defying all laws of explicatory, adaptive and deletive strategies regarding subtitling against the current. The reasons for this may be identified through the aid of intralingual and interlingual audiovisual translation, which may be considered a central tool for the analysis of transcultural processes which underlie global media politics, and the fashioning of translocal communication, for as Gottlieb notes “upstream subtitling may indeed express a high degree of fidelity toward the original lines” (2009).

The endless deferral of Aboriginal languages – their untranslatability – has a central performative function in Australia. Although it is often merely referred to in songs voiceover and in a few instances of code-switching, Aboriginal languages alert readers to the cultural distinctiveness of Aboriginal culture and may prompt them to expand their cultural horizons. Within the interstices of the filmic dialogic space, differential realisations of language practice become intelligible, yet they may or may not draw viewers into a space where local agency may be exercised (Bartlett 2001: 33)


Australia (2008) directed by Baz Luhrmann, Bazmark Production, Twentieth Century Fox, 2008.

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Blommaert, Jan (2012) “Supervernaculars and their Dialects”, Dutch Journal of Applied Linguistics 1(1): 1-14.

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 “Come Walkabout” (2008),directed by Luhrmann, Baz, Tourism Australia. http://www.youtube.com/?v=gQGMuxJ0vCc(accessed: 20 February 2013).

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Greer, Germaine (2008) “Once Upon a Time in a Land, Far, Far Away”, The Guardian 16. http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2008/dec/16/baz-luhrmann-australia(accessed: 12 February 2013).

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Representing varieties of English in film language and dubbing:

The case of Indian English

By Veronica Bonsignori & Silvia Bruti (University of Pisa, Italy)

Abstract & Keywords

In the era of cultural awareness and of the adoption of new, non-Eurocentric perspectives, the construction of identity in audiovisual texts is particularly interesting. Representation is always an act of selection by storytellers, who choose traits and features that to their mind best portray the reality that they mean to describe. When an audiovisual text is dubbed in another language the process of representation of identity takes one further step, passing through several negotiating processes. It is only recently that special attention has been paid to the social and ideological aspects of the audiovisual medium in general and of audiovisual translation in particular, for their impact on the audience’s feelings and their perception of reality. Among the post-colonial varieties of English, Indian English reflects its own cultural ideologies and a certain sense of belonging and identity in promoting different forms of innovation and restructuring with respect to Standard English. Furthermore, this variety is even more difficult to render as its sociolinguistic and cultural values are conveyed at all language levels, and it takes on features from some of the many different mother tongues spoken by the population. Therefore, in this contribution it is our aim to analyse how the cultural identity of the Indian-English speaking community is portrayed in three films and their Italian dubbed version. More specifically, first we focus on the linguistic choices adopted in the original version of these films in order to represent the “Indianness” of the characters. After evaluating how different features contribute to represent different types of Indian identity, we analyse the Italian dub, to identify the main translating strategies and verify if the same cultural and social values are represented, trying, when possible, to compare these features with those that are used in Italian cinema to evoke the stereotype of Indianness.  

Keywords: dubbing, identity, representation, code-switching, Indian English

©inTRAlinea & Veronica Bonsignori & Silvia Bruti (2014).
"Representing varieties of English in film language and dubbing:"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Across Screens Across Boundaries
Edited by: Rosa Maria Bollettieri Bosinelli, Elena Di Giovanni & Linda Rossato
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Permanent URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2066

Don’t write in English, they said,
English is not your mother tongue…
…The language I speak
Becomes mine, its distortions, its queerness
All mine, mine alone, it is half English, half
Indian, funny perhaps, but it is honest,
It is as human as I am human…
…Its voices my joys, my longings my

(Kamala Das, Summer in Calcutta: Fifty Poems)

1. Introduction[1]

Since questions of ethnic diversity and representation are more and more central in our multilingual and multicultural society, with a still more or less evident tendency of American English language and culture to ‘cannibalize’ diversity, our purpose here is to investigate how the cultural identity of the Indian-English speaking community is portrayed through language in films set in India such as Monsoon Wedding (M. Nair 2001; from now on MW), Bride & Prejudice (G. Chadha 2004; from now on BP) and Slumdog Millionaire (D. Boyle and N. Tandan 2008; from now on SM) and their Italian dubbed versions.

We have decided to focus on the linguistic choices adopted in the original version to represent the “Indianness” (Bhatt 2008: 546) of the characters, also when Indian English encounters other varieties of English – i.e. British English in Bride and Prejudice or Desi in Monsoon Wedding – and then to discuss how cultural and social values travel across cultures in the light of the most recurrent strategies adopted in the Italian dub. By Indian English we mean Vernacular Indian English – i.e. a non standard variety that “shows strong identification with local ideologies” (Bhatt 2008) and bears traces of the influence of local languages of India, thus differentiating itself from Standard Indian English, which in contrast is essentially similar in its core syntax to Standard British English – from which it differs only in its phonetics.

Finally, the last step of this study consists in verifying whether the same linguistic strategies employed in the Italian dub to evoke the stereotype of Indianness are actually exploited in Italian cinematography, by analysing a recent film of Italian production but set in India, Lezioni di Volo (F. Archibugi 2006; from now on LV), where Italian and Indian characters mingle and meet.

Although our investigation focuses on the linguistic texture of the analysed films and their dubbed dialogues, we believe that, in any work of fiction, be it a novel or a film, the characters’ idiolect is a strategic instrument used to represent their cultural identity in the diegetic world. We hope to be able to explore the multi-faceted nature of the representation of cultural identity in greater depth in our future research.

2. Language varieties and representation

Representation is always an act of selection by storytellers, who choose traits and features that to their mind best portray the reality that they mean to describe. When an audiovisual text is dubbed in another language the process of representation of identity takes one further step, passing through several negotiating processes (Bollettieri Bosinelli and Di Giovanni 2009).

Recently, special attention has been paid to the social and ideological aspects of the audiovisual medium in general and of audiovisual translation in particular for their impact on the audience’s feelings and their perception of reality. Images, and not only dialogues, are responsible for the transmission of values and consequently of their transfer in either dubbing or subtitling. Several studies have been devoted to the subject of representation: De Marco (2006, 2009), for instance, has focused on the portrayal of cinematic gender stereotypes, a multidimensional and volatile category influenced by cultural and social systems that undergoes further manipulation in translation. Another area that has been only lately studied is the perception of humour, especially in its verbally encoded form, as it is pivotal for humour to be recognised as such by the audience. The perception of humour may be – and often is – severely jeopardised when it is mediated linguistically, that is when it is interlinguistically transposed (cf. on humour, among others, Chiaro 2004, 2007; Bucaria 2005, 2007; Rossato and Chiaro 2010). The studies conducted by the researchers of the Forlì group are all empirical and seek to ascertain the reaction of the audience when exposed to translated humour by identifying practices and responses common to members of the same cultural milieu and abstracting as much as possible from individual variation.

If, generally speaking, there is increasing awareness of and interest in the accents and varieties of English spoken around the world – a fact that is mirrored not only in the number of publications devoted to this subject, but also in the plethora of different accents that are nowadays heard on the BBC, where only a few decades ago there were only RP speakers – most of the research on Englishes in the media is centred on news discourse or advertising, with special attention to Asian and European regions (Martin 2009: 583).

One of the most prolific approaches to the spread of the varieties of English in the media is the one focused on power and ideology. Just to name an example, there are several studies on the portrayal of ideology in Disney films directed at children. From the late ‘80s onwards a new trend emerged – i.e. the portrayal of cultures that are either temporally or spatially remote from Western ones (Di Giovanni 2003). In cartoons and audiovisual texts in general, the viewer has even more “limited time to identify and understand what is represented on the screen. Consequently, authors and directors select and encode information in such a way that viewers are presented with standardised stereotypes” (Bollettieri Bosinelli et al. 2006: 497). More specifically, attention has also been paid to the choice of language varieties as specific diegetic tools to portray characters: Pandey (1997), in fact, claims that the choice of English varieties is often skewed, as speakers of non-standard varieties are usually presented as “powerless proletarians of low cultural and socioeconomic status” (1997: iii). The association between language variation and established notions and values as a typical filmic shortcut to characterisation is confirmed by Lippi-Green (1997), who also analysed accents and stereotypes in animated cartoons.[2] So, for example, if we consider the representation of evil characters, it is true that 85% are speakers of English and only 15% have foreign accents, but a more in-depth analysis of characters with positive, negative and mixed motivations discloses the fact that the representation of people who have a foreign accent (40%) is much more negative than that of speakers of either British (30%) or American English (20%) (Lippi-Green 1997: 92). Thus language variation is deployed as an ideological instrument to represent “variations in power and moral worth” (Pandey 1997: iii).

3. ‘Indianness’ in the media

Apart from the studies we have mentioned above on representation of diversity in animated cartoons and in films that depict a specific ethnic group – e.g. Italian/American in Bosinelli et al. 2006 – Martin (2009) reviews several surveys of different world – or “non-native” – varieties. Among the studies on Indian English there is the one by Bhatia (2001) on the representation of Indians in American media, which stresses that they are depicted “in an overwhelmingly negative light” (2001: 279) with the result that the Indians living in America feel betrayed and abused. The exploitation of foreign values for commercial purposes is a crucial symptom of this attitude: among the examples Bhatia offers there are the use of sacred symbols in films, e.g. the image of the temple in Indiana Jones and the temple of doom, or the Vaishnava Tilak worn by Madonna in her performance of Ray of Light (1998) for the MTV Awards. In the latter case, since the tilak is a symbol of purity, the American pop star was severely attacked by the World Vaishnava Association (WVA) for wearing this holy symbol for commercial profit. Conversely, Bhatia recognises Bollywood films as a relief to other misrepresentations of the Indian culture and notices that this identity is perhaps felt more seriously by Indians abroad than Indians in India (Bhatia 2001: 282). One of the merits of these film productions is that of spreading the idea of diversity and ethnicity through cinema and music (Martin 2009: 587): one example in point is the popularity of Bhangra, a form of celebratory folk music born in India and later exported to Britain, especially by Punjabi immigrants.

As director Mira Nair says in the commentary provided in Monsoon Wedding (DVD version), Bollywood films also offer a wide kaleidoscope of languages, in which English is one form of communication among others:

Like music and costumes, language is also something we play with very much in India. It’s very common and totally natural to speak mixing two or three languages: Hindi, English and Punjabi in this case. [In Monsoon Wedding ] we just went with the absolute honest flow of exactly how we would do it in life… to celebrate being from India rather than look upon the west as anything as closest to happiness in any way (also cited in Martin 2009: 588).

However, in this case study, none of the films analysed strictly belong to Bollywood, which is in fact limited to productions totally spoken in Hindi. Nevertheless, in the films included in our corpus there are some episodes which share some features with Bollywood productions, namely songs, dancing, bright costumes, etc., particularly in Bride and Prejudice, whose genre allows more space for song-and-dance numbers as an integral part of the script. Moreover, Mira Nair, director of Monsoon Wedding, refers to the film as an example of Bollywoood, obviously using the term in a broad sense (cfr. par. 4).

Furthermore, the description of the representation of Indianness relies on the language spoken in the film dialogues (original and translated), without taking into account other aspects of daily life that are shown in the films and that also contribute to the creation of stereotypes (e.g. music, food, clothing, celebrations, etc.).

4. The corpus of our analysis

As mentioned in the introduction, the corpus on which the present study is based can be subdivided into two parts: the first component is constituted by three recent films of British/American/Indian production set in different regions of India, while the second component simply consists of one film of Italian production, yet set in India. The choice of the films was on the one hand constrained by the paucity of recent films where characters speak Indian English in an Indian context, on the other, we chose among the most recent some that included members from different social classes. As regards the Italian film, the choice was practically constrained, as only very recently have elements belonging to the Indian culture been introduced in Italian productions.

The three films under consideration that are part of the first component, which includes both the original English version and the Italian dub, offer quite a varied socio-linguistic scenario. More specifically, MW is set in New Delhi, Delhi, India, and describes the life of the Vermas, an upper-middle class family, during the preparations for an arranged marriage with a stressed father, a bride-to-be with a dark secret, a fanatical event-planner and relatives from different places coming to celebrate and to have a say in everything and interfere in the Vermas’s affairs. Lower classes are also represented in some minor characters – i.e. the housemaid and the wedding planner. Different Englishes are spoken, as the Vermas’ relatives come from Australia and the groom is of Indian origin, but lives in Houston, Texas, and therefore is a Desi[3], speaking this different variety of English.

BP takes place in Amritsar, Punjab, India, and is a romantic, musical adaptation in Bollywood style of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. The story follows the ups and downs of the Bakshis. The eldest daughter, Lalita, helps her father run the family business while her mother is resolved to marry off her daughters to well-off men. Here too there are speakers of different varieties of English, and more specifically, Will Darcy, a handsome and wealthy businessman from Los Angeles, and Balraj Bingley, a barrister from London, UK.

SM is set in the capital of India, Mumbai, and portrays characters from the lower classes. In fact, it tells the story of Jamal Malik, a young man from the slums of Mumbai who participates as a contestant in the Indian version of the show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Against the odds he wins the final prize, arousing suspicion in both the show host and police officers.

Finally, the Italian component consists of the recent film of Italian production LV, which tells the story of two Roman adolescents and inseparable friends, Apollonio and Marco, who are in search of their identity and who call themselves ‘Pollo’, that is ‘chicken’, and ‘Curry’, respectively – a word play that refers to their tight friendship and to the fact that the latter is Indian by birth, adopted by an Italian couple, thus recalling the traditional Indian dish of ‘chicken curry’. The two convince their parents to let them take off for India, since Curry wants to see his native land and look for his real mother. In Jodhpur, they meet an Italian gynaecologist, Chiara, interpreted by Giovanna Mezzogiorno, who takes them to her aid agency’s clinic in the desert of Rajasthan. From a socio-linguistic and socio-cultural point of view, LV is quite interesting, since it vividly represents the differences between characters belonging to various Indian social classes, from the street vendor to the taxi driver to the receptionist and manager of a luxury hotel in Jodhpur; differences which are reflected in the language used, as shall be seen in the following paragraphs. The same holds for the way Indians relate to Curry: they are misled by his Indian looks, which often causes him problems in communication and a sort of “Lost in Translation” effect.

Table 1 below shows the technical details of the films discussed here, while Table 2 describes the linguistic varieties present in each film in its original and dubbed version, indicating also when subtitling is employed.

  Film title Year Director Country Italian title Italian dialogues Runtime
MW Monsoon Wedding 2001 Mira Nair India/USA/F/G/I Monsoon Wedding Mario Paolinelli 114’
BP Bride & Prejudice 2004 Gurinder Chadha UK/USA Matrimoni & Pregiudizi Federica De Paolis 111’
SM Slumdog Millionaire 2008 Danny Boyle, Loveleen Tandan UK The Millionaire Paolo Modugno 120’
LV Lezioni di Volo 2006 Francesca Archibugi I - - 106’

Table 1. The corpus: The English and Italian dub film component, the Italian film component.

Films Original soundtrack
Monsoon Wedding Indian English Hindi/Punjabi Desi (from the USA) Australian English English subs
Bride & Prejudice Indian English Punjabi/Hindi American English Brit-Asian English subs
Slumdog Millionaire Indian English Hindi English subs
Lezioni di Volo Italian English Indian English Hindi Italian subs Italian subs

Table 2. Linguistic varieties in the film corpus, including AVT.

5. Analysing ‘Indianness’ in Film Language

We started off with the analysis – in the original soundtrack of the three films – of a series of phenomena which have been indicated as indices of the linguistic creativity of Indian English (see Balirano 2007; Bhatt 2008; Gargesh 2009; Sedlatschek 2009): compounding, reduplication and affixation on the morphological level; borrowing and appropriation in the choice of lexical items; tags, ellipsis of various elements, the deletion of determiners, a different use of some verbal tenses, word order and topicalisation in the domain of syntax, and finally code-mixing and code-switching. Then, we carried out a parallel analysis of the type of strategies employed in the Italian dubbed version to recreate the same effect of ‘Indianness’, which were then compared to the features used in the Italian film to convey the same effect.

5.1. Morphology and Lexicon

On the morphological level, there are examples of two types of compounding. Firstly, there are cases of hyphenated rhyming reduplicative compounds, as love-shove from BP, which are usually translated into Italian by explicitation, in this case using a diminutive, namely ‘piccioncini’. Secondly, we often find hyphenated compounds made of a word in English and the other in Hindi, which on the one hand reflects the high creativity of Indian English, and on the other is part of the process of language adaptation typical of post-colonial texts. More specifically, as Ashcroft et al. (2002) observe about post-colonial literature, “[t]he crucial function of language as a medium of power demands that post-colonial writing defines itself by seizing the language of the centre and re-placing it in a discourse fully adapted to the colonized place” (2002: 37). Such a result is achieved through the use of two processes, namely abrogation and appropriation. The first entails the “refusal of the categories of the imperial culture, its aesthetic, its illusory standard of normative or ‘correct’ usage” (2002: 37), while the latter is “the process by which the language is taken and made to ‘bear the burden’ of one’s own cultural experience” (2002: 38). In this sense, the creation of such compounds is an instance of the previously mentioned and extensively used mechanisms, with the use of Indian terms, namely loanwords, that are in some way manipulated and re-used in a new way. See examples (1) and (2) below from SM:

(1) [SM] Prem: A few hours ago... you were giving chai for the phone-wallas.
IT DUB > Poche ore fa portavi il tè ai ragazzi del call-centre. [BT[4]: A few hours ago, you were taking tea to the boys at the call centre.]

(2) [SM] Driver: Mother-chod!
IT DUB > Figlio di puttana! [BT: Son of a bitch!]

The two Hindi words walla and chod, which respectively mean ‘someone who is employed in a particular occupation or activity’ and a swearword, are borrowed from one language to be used in another, and generally in the Italian dub explicitation is the preferred strategy to render these new terms, which are not maintained in any way. Moreover, it is worth noticing that the processes of borrowing and appropriation are actually applied twice as regards the compound phone-wallas, since the Hindi word walla is modified by affixation with the addition of the English inflectional suffix -s for the plural.

Another relevant morphological phenomenon that can be found in these films is the use of deferential forms of address, mainly honorifics, in the Indian culture, as -ji or -saab, which are normally appended to proper names, thus functioning as actual suffixes, as in ‘Kholi-saab’, ‘Baba-ji’, ‘Mr Darcy-saab’ in BP. However, these are just two forms of the more varied terms of address used in this context and which are independent lexemes, such as beti and didi, whose use produces the effect of code-mixing. As a consequence, for further discussion and analysis in comparison to the Italian dub, see 5.3. The same holds for another recurring feature that refers more to lexicon, so to say, that is the extensive use of loanwords from Hindi which usually pertain to the semantic domains of food and cooking – e.g. lado for ‘biscotto’, samosa, chai for ‘tè’ – traditions – e.g. dupatta for ‘velo’, sangeet, mehendi for ‘henné’ – and terms of either spontaneous or formal speech such as greetings. Once again, the use of these Hindi words in a major English linguistic context produces the effect of code-mixing (see section 5.3. for an extensive analysis).

5.2. Syntax

As pointed out in the introductory section (cfr. 5.), the most frequent and relevant features characterising Indian English on the syntactic level are tags, ellipsis, the deletion of determiners, a different use of some verbal tenses and word order.

First of all, the three films that are part of the English component of the corpus are characterised by the use of specific invariant tags in the form of huh, no and nah, which is a very common alternative to no in Indian English (Balasubramanian 2009). Extracts (3)–(5) below provide a few examples of some of the ways these tags are rendered in the Italian dubbed version, when translated, whereas example (6) shows an alternative translation, where the tag is completely obliterated and other strategies are employed as a way of compensation, namely in this case a negative interrogative:

(3) [SM] Prem: You got lucky, huh?
IT. DUB > Ti è andata bene, eh?

(4) [SM] Jamal: No, but maybe it’s written, no?
IT. DUB > No, ma magari è scritto, no?

(5) [MW] Pimmi: Well, I’m doing it for your darling daughter, nah?
IT. DUB > Lo faccio per nostra figlia, no?

(6) [MW] Lalit: My God! Pimmi, it’s wonderful, nah?
IT. DUB > Pimmi, non lo trovi meraviglioso Ø?

Indeed, these tags contribute to building up the Indian identity of the characters, and when transposed in the target language, the translation does not fully succeed in rendering the same socio-cultural values. Such difficulty is mirrored also by the fact that of the total number of occurrences present in the original soundtrack of the three films, which is 29, in nearly half of the cases tags are not transposed at all in the target text (cfr. Table 3).

  [BP] Original Dub [MW] Original Dub [SM] Original Dub
huh - - 2 2 Ø 13 7 eh 6 Ø
no 2 1 giusto 1 vero 1 1 vero 2 2 no
nah 2 1 non trovi 1 no 7 5 Ø 1 no 1 non è così - -
Tot. 29            

Table 3. Invariant Tags

The Italian film LV also showcases some examples of these tags, especially huh and nah, which are mainly used by one character, namely by Sharmila/Archie Panjabi, the Indian doctor and colleague of Chiara/Giovanna Mezzogiorno at the World Aid clinic in the desert of Rajasthan. Of course, Sharmila uses these tags when she speaks Indian English, which is generally subtitled in Italian, with European people, as in (7) below, while she sticks to Hindi, which conversely is always left untranslated, when talking to other Indian characters.

(7) [LV] Sharmila: So, how does India seem to you as an adopted?
[IndEng[5]: Come ti sembra l’India da adottato?]

‘Curry’: Very stinky. [Eng: Molto puzzolente.]

Sharmila: Yeah, you only come to see the temples and diseases, cripple and god, nah? Get the tea, please. You know, Italy is not only Raffaello and mafia, huh?
[IndEng: Certo, venite qui per vedere solo templi, malattie, storpi e divinità Ø. Mi passi il tè? L’Italia non sarà solo Raffaello e mafia Ø.]

As will be noticed, the Italian subtitles tend to avoid transposing tags in any way – as well as other discursive items such as please and you know – so that the utterances appear to be more assertive, thus losing the challenging overtones conveyed by the tag itself, with an inevitable modification of the illocutionary force. Nevertheless, some of these values may be recovered from the original spoken dialogues, for example through intonation patterns, whereas in the dubbed versions of the English films it all disappears.

The next characterising feature of Indian English that emerged is the ellipsis of certain syntactic constituents, namely the subject, the auxiliary and the subject together with the verbal element. Extracts (8) and (9) are examples of the first two types respectively and give a general idea of what happens in the Italian dubbing:

(8) [MW] Rahul: [Ø] Went to the airport to get your sister and her husband.
IT. DUB > All’aeroporto, a prendere tua sorella e il marito. [BT: To the airport, to pick up your sister and her husband.]

(9) [SM] Jamal: [Ø] You know who that was?
IT. DUB > Tu sai chi è stato? [BT: You know who did it?]

Generally speaking, the occurrences of elliptical sentences in the original text are higher than in the target text, because of the clear difficulty in rendering certain types of ellipsis, namely of the subject, in Italian, as it is a pro-drop language. Therefore, standardisation is preferred, as happens in (8), or, when possible, some compensation strategies are employed, such as the use of the overt-subject, as in (9), which is a marked choice in Italian, or the use of non-standard ungrammatical constructions, also with the deletion of determiners, as often happens in the Italian subtitles of LV – see example (10) below.

(10) [LV] Auto-rikshaw driver: Ø Cricket team [Ø] inside the palace.
IT. SUBS > [IndEng: C’è squadra Ø di cricket dentro Ø albergo.]
[BT: There is cricket team in hotel.]

The translating choices adopted in subtitling Indian English in the Italian film analysed always seem to underline and strengthen the cultural differences between Indian speakers belonging to different social classes and with a different cultural background and stature. As a consequence, the language used by street vendors and taxi drivers, for example, is always stereotypically incorrect in the Italian subs, as in example (10) above, while that of Indian doctors, like Sharmila and the receptionist and manager of the luxury hotel in Jodhpur is standard.

Example (11) shows another frequent feature of Indian English that this Italian film shares with the other three films under consideration, that is the deletion of determiners, and more specifically of the definite article:

(11) [BP] Mrs Bakshi: She’s our only hope. If we do not get the eldest married first, we’ll never be able to marry Ø rest of you for the shame!
IT. DUB > Lei è Ø nostra speranza! Se la figlia maggiore non si sposa per prima, per la vergogna non riusciremo mai a sistemare le altre!
[BT: She is our hope! If the eldest daughter doesn’t get married first, for the shame we won’t be able to marry off the rest!]

As can be seen in (11), the elision of the determiner is usually maintained in the Italian dub, even though in different parts of the utterance.

A different use of verbal tenses is among the most characterising features of Indian English identified in contrast to Standard British English (Bhatt 2008). In fact, there is an extensive use of the Present Continuous instead of the Present Simple, as in (12), and of the Present Simple instead of the Present Perfect, as in (13) below:

(12)[BP] Mrs Lamba: Oh, his sister is looking so lovely! So fair, nah?
 IT. DUB > Guarda com’è bella la sorella! È deliziosa, non trovi?
[BT: Look at how beautiful his sister is! She’s adorable, don’t you think?]

(13)[MW] Ria: So what do you do? Marry some guy selected by mom and daddy? You barely know him for a couple of weeks! You are so mature, Aditi!
IT. DUB > E allora che fai? Ti sposi con qualcuno scelto da mamma e papà e che conosci solo da due settimane? Io lo so, tu non sei una sciocca.
[BT: So what do you do? Are you going to marry someone chosen by mum and dad and that you’ve known for two weeks? I know it, you’re not a fool.]

In both cases, the translation choices in the Italian dub basically tend to normalisation and standardisation, as the correct tense in Italian is used. Moreover, the language is totally levelled out, because no compensation strategies are employed in other parts of the same utterance. For example, it can be noticed how in (12) the ellipsis of the subject and verb she’s is explicitated, preferring to use the verb ‘è’ overtly, not to mention the translation of the Indian tag nah with the formal ‘non trovi?’.

Finally, one last syntactic feature of Indian English worth mentioning is the word order, that is the lack of inversion of subject and auxiliary verb in the interrogative form. See example (14) below:

(14) [MW] Lalit: I sent Rahul to the airport. The flight was late?
IT. DUB > Come siete venuti? Ho mandato Rahul a prendervi all’aeroporto ma non vi ha trovato perché il volo era in ritardo.
[BT: How did you get here? I sent Raul to pick you up at the airport, but he couldn’t find you because the plane was late.]

Once again, in the Italian dub, the utterance is completely manipulated and the language standardised, with the addition of linguistic material which also modifies the illocutionary force from an interrogative to a statement (made possible in this case by the lack of lip-synch constraints, due to the fact that many characters appear in the scene and the camera goes from one to the other).

This feature is also frequent in LV, as (15) below shows, and since it is more frequently used by characters belonging to lower social classes, the translation in the Italian subtitles is characterised by non-standard and ungrammatical constructions:

(15) [LV] Taxi driver: You are not Indian?
IT. SUBS > [IndEng: No indiano?]

5.3. Code-mixing and Code-switching

The last two characterising features of Indian English that we would like to consider for our investigation are code-mixing and code-switching.

Code-mixing (cf. Auer 2007) entails, in this case, the insertion of Indian/Hindi/Punjabi words in a sentence in English. As previously mentioned in section 5.1., generally, these words pertain to the semantic fields of food, traditions, terms of address and conversational routines. In the first case, we can observe a general tendency in preserving the name of typical Indian food and dishes, as it appears to be the case for lassi and samosa in [MW] and panipuri in [SM], even though this is not a rule, as other terms pertaining to the same domain are translated into Italian, as ladoo with ‘biscotto’ in [BP], chai with ‘tè’ in [MW] and [SM]. Words relating to traditions, conversely, tend to be translated in the dubbed version or even omitted: dupatta with ‘velo’ in [BP], but obliterated in [MW]; mehendi with ‘henné’ in [MW]; sangeet is either maintained, translated with ‘festa’ and ‘matrimonio’, or even omitted in the same film [MW], as can be seen in the following extract in (16):

(16) [MW] Lalit: Save the jokes for the sangeet.
IT. DUB > Risparmiala per la festa, ne avrai bisogno.
[BT: Save it for the party, you’re gonna need it.]

Aditi: What?
IT. DUB > Cosa?
[BT: What?]

Lalit: He’ll be the M.C. at the sangeet.
IT. DUB > Sì, sì, per il sangeet, sarà il cerimoniere ufficiale, d’accordo?
[BT: Yes, yes, for the sangeet, he’ll be the official master of ceremonies, alright?]

Terms of address deserve special attention, as they are a recurring element in code-mixing, both in the form of honorific suffixes appended to proper names (cfr. 5.1.), such as -ji and -saab, and as proper words, like didi, beta, bahi and the like. As far as dubbing is concerned, Table 4 shows the various ways in which the transposition of such terms of address is dealt with in the target text.

  [BP] Original Dub [MW] Original Dub [SM] Original Dub
beta 1 1 Ø 9 5 Ø - -
beti 1 1 beti   3 name - -
        1 amore    
papa 2 2 papa (+2) 5 3 papà [BT: dad] - -
        2 Ø    
        papa (+2)    
didi - - 5 2 name - -
        2 Ø - -
        1 cuginetta [BT: cousin]    
saab 17 15 saab 3 3 name - -
    2 Ø        
-ji 3 2 Ø 1 1 Ø 10 10 Ø
    1 -ji        
bhai - - - - 4 2 fratello [BT: brother]
            2 Ø
baba - - - - 2 2 Ø
Tot. 63            

Table 4. Code-mixing: Terms of address

As may be noticed, these forms can be either maintained or transposed in various ways, using proper names, or other expressions like hypocoristics, but they can also be totally omitted. In fact, out of the total 63 occurrences, 29 are deleted in the Italian dubbed version, even though in some cases translation may present some additions, as can be seen in the extract in (17) from MW:

(17) [MW] Lalit: Don’t compare yourself with me, you’re just a kid, understand?
IT. DUB > Non metterti a giudicare quello che fanno i grandi, ragazzino.
[BT: Don’t judge what grownups do, kid.]

Varun: But right now you said I’m big now!
IT. DUB > Sono uomo solo quando ti pare, vero papà?
[BT: I am a man only when you like, right, dad?]

Lalit: That’s it. You’re going to boarding school. Decided!
IT. DUB > Che faccia tosta, ma il collegio ti raddrizzerà.
[BT: What a cheek! But the boarding school will put you on the right track.]

Varun: Since when?
IT. DUB > Bisogna vedere.
[BT: We’ll see.]

Pimmi to Varun: Beta, beta, papa and I are only talking about it.
IT. DUB > Ora basta. Papà e io ne stiamo semplicemente parlando.
[BT: Stop now. Dad and I are simply talking about it.]

Code-switching occurs from Hindi to English and vice versa, with English supplying mainly the grammatical frame and Hindi the content morphemes. The switch between the two languages expresses the socio-historical experience of the English bilingual population: the words serve as vehicles of cultural memory, “recalling the local-cultural practices of the past within the global medium of [...] English” (Bhatt 2010: 107) and reflect the hybrid, multicultural nature of Indian identity.

This strategy is used in all three films although it is remarkably pervasive in SM. Originally, SM was written entirely in English but at a later stage the director Boyle decided to have the children speak, at least partly, their native language – i.e. Hindi.

In SM code-switching allows the audience to understand the plotline without altering the cultural setting of the story through the use of Hindi. In the original version Hindi dialogues are subtitled in English, whereas in the Italian version both English and Hindi are dubbed into Italian (cf. below). In this film in particular, code-switching performs two main functions. On the one hand it underlines different phases of the plot, for example, it is extensively used in flashbacks on the children’s life in the slums, but as the story goes on, English, the language of social advance, is used more and more. So switches in the code actually mirror momentous changes in the lives of the characters – e.g. the scene in which the two brothers, Jamal and Salim, improvise as tourist guides illustrating in English the beauties of the Taj Mahal. On the other hand, code-switching is used in some specific scenes to signal profound conflicts and social distance between the characters. At the beginning of the film, for instance, the policemen who interrogate and torture Jamal use some Hindi switches in dominant English to underline their distance from the victim, but then they switch back to Hindi to give vent to their anger when cursing.

(18) [SM] Inspector: He’s is unconscious, chutiya. What good is that? How many times have I told you, you should once...
IT. DUB > È svenuto, lo vedi? Che cazzo hai combinato? Quante volte devo dirtelo. Merda!
[BT: He passed out, you see? What the fuck did you do? How many times do I have to tell you! Shit!]

Srinivas: I’m sorry sir.
IT. DUB > Scusi, signore.
[BT: Sorry, sir.]

Inspector: Aré va Srinivas... Now we’ll have Amnesty International here next peeing in their pants about human rights.
IT. DUB > Fantastico, bravo Srinivas. Ora avremo addosso Amnesty International che ci farà due palle sui diritti umani.
[BT: Awesome, well done, Srinivas. Now we’re gonna have Amnesty International on our back breaking our balls on human rights.]

SM is characterised by an extensive use of dialogues in Hindi that in the original version are mostly subtitled in English according to a practice that is known as “part subtitling” (cf. O’Sullivan 2007, 2011)[6], but are dubbed into Italian in the Italian version. The first scene of the film in which subtitles are used shows a group of children playing cricket on a tarmac cricket ground. Jamal seems careless and does not notice that his friends are screaming at him to get out of the way as a light aircraft is about to land there. The children are then pursued by security guards and dash across a rubbish damp and then disappear down a maze of tiny lanes in the slum. In the utterance pronounced by the police officers there is the Hindi preposition ka between two English words.

(19) [SM] Salim: [Hindi: Jamal, catch it, catch it. Jamal! Jamal, it’s yours!]
IT. DUB > Jamal, prendila, prendila. Jamal! Jamal, prendila è tua!
[BT: Jamal, catch it, catch it. Jamal! Jamal, catch it, it’s yours!]

Salim: [Hindi: How did you manage to drop a sitter like that, damn it?]
IT. DUB > No, ma che testa di cavolo, come hai fatto a perdere una palla come quella?
[BT: No, what a pinhead! How could you miss a ball like that?]

Officers: [Hindi: Private ka-land! Private ka-land!]
IT. DUB > Via di qui, proprietà privata! Via, via subito da qui!
[BT: Go away, private property! Away, away from here right now!]

Officer: : [Hindi: Catch him!]

Children: [Hindi: The dogs are coming! Run!]
IT. DUB > La polizia! Via via! Scappiamo!
[BT: The police! Away, away! Let’s run!]

Code-switching is also extensively employed in MW, where it has a strong social function, as Indian people belonging to lower classes, such as the wedding planner Dubey, the workers and the maid, always speak Hindi between themselves, while members of the upper-middle class Varma family mostly speak Indian English sometimes switching to Hindi. Finally, it is worth noticing that when Lalit Varma, the landlord, speaks to Dubey, the wedding-planner, he always uses Hindi as a way of marking the social differences between them, while Dubey sometimes speaks English as a sign of respect and obedience, as can be seen in the extract below in (20). In the original soundtrack, the sequences in Hindi are always subtitled in English, while in the Italian version of the film they are always dubbed:

(20) [MW] Lalit: [Hindi: This is the limit! A white tent?]
IT. DUB > Cos’è, sei daltonico? Che tenda hai messo?
[BT: What? Are you colour-blind? What kind of tent have you put?]

Dubey: Yes, sir!
IT. DUB > Perché, che ha?
[BT: Why? What’s wrong with it?]

Lalit: Dubey! [Hindi: A white tent?!]
IT. DUB > Dubey! Che senso ha una tenda bianca?
[BT: Dubey! What’s the point of a white tent?]

Dubey: Yes, sir!
IT. DUB > In che senso?
[BT: What do you mean?]

Lalit: Oh, “yes, sir”? [Hindi: What’s with the white tent?]
IT. DUB > Ma che ti dice il cervello? Come può venirti in mente di montare una tenda bianca?
[BT: What’s going on in that head of yours? How could you think of using a white tent?]

Dubey: [Hindi: This is the fashion these days, Millenium style: Y2K dot com]
IT. DUB > Non è-- adesso si usa, è del tutto normale! Anzi in questo periodo la vogliono tutti, i maggiori--  
[BT: It’s not-- nowadays it’s fashionable, it’s totally normal! In fact, it is requested by all major--]

Lalit: [Hindi: Smart-arse! A white tent! Is this a wedding or a funeral? Dubey, I only have one daughter and I want a colourful tent for her! Red, yellow, green, blue!]
IT. DUB > Sì, forse a Londra! Hai mangiato pane e volpe? Il bianco a un matrimonio, ma quando mai? Non è mica un funerale questo! Io ci tengo alla vita di mia figlia! Non voglio che si sposi sotto il bianco! Con tutti i cazzi di colore che ci sono! Falla sparire e mettine una colorata!
[BT: Yes, maybe in London! Are you off the rocker? White for a wedding! Since when? This is not a funeral! I care about my daughter’s life! I don’t want her to get married under the white! With all the fucking colours there are! Make it disappear and put another one coloured!]

A few considerations on the code-switching in the Italian film LV are in order. Even in this case, the use of this discursive strategy is mainly influenced by social constraints, as generally Indian characters in the film speak Hindi when addressing people of the same class or ethnicity, whereas they switch to Indian English when speaking to foreigners. A clear example is given by the following extract from the scene in which ‘Curry’ has just arrived in India and people in the streets talk to him directly in Hindi because they think he is Indian, but then switch to Indian English when he tells them he is not:

(21) [LV] Taxi driver: [Hindi]
‘Curry’: I don’t understand. I’m not Indian. [Eng: Non capisco, non sono indiano.]
Taxi driver: You are not Indian? [IndEng: No indiano?]

As can be noticed, in LV, Hindi is never translated in any way into Italian, while subtitling is used to translate English and Indian English.

6. Conclusions

On the whole, despite the remarkable possibilities of deploying morphology in a creative way, the films analysed are not particularly rich in compounds, reduplicatives or even in the use of suffixes. Only a few suffixes from the native languages are employed often, Hindi in particular, e.g. -ji and -walla, both of which are sometimes also preserved in dubbing, due to the ease with which their meaning is inferable from context and images.

Indian English shows its distinctive quality in syntax with very many constructions and forms, but in this corpus only a few traits have been used as markers of identity. Ellipsis of various constituents, either the subject, the verb or both, appears with a certain frequency but is not used to the same extent in the dubbing, as Italian is a pro-drop language in which the subject is normally not expressed, since the person is codified in verb morphology. Similarly, variations in word order — for example the sequence: subject verb in questions — cannot be used in dubbing, as statements and questions differ only in their intonation in Italian.

Tag questions are used quite creatively as markers of linguistic diversity. In fact, Indian English shows a preference for invariant tags of different types. Given that the phenomenon is not typical in Italian, the number of tags translated in dubbing is definitely lower and little variation in tokens is displayed.

The category of honorifics is quite interesting, as it is partly represented by morphological affixes and partly by deferential expressions used as independent lexemes. These elements are also drastically reduced in the Italian dub, with the noticeable exception of the honorifics in BP. Some domesticating strategies are applied, for instance when they are turned into names or familiar diminutives.

Code-mixing and code-switching have by and large proven to be the most typical strategies used to encode various aspects of identity, as “speakers often index polyphonous identities’ through their use of language, so that utterances reflect the nuances of identity in multilayered ways” (Barrett 1999: 318). Code-mixing is often maintained in the dubbed Italian, as the relative scarcity of culturally imbued words referring to exotic artefacts or habits does not impair comprehension and might be welcomed by the audience. On the contrary, code-switching, which especially in SM is a meaningful narrative and communicative strategy, is completely eliminated, the result being a sort of “linguistic whitewashing of originally bright colors into various shades of grey” (Whitman-Linsen 1996: 118).

Finally, it is worth pointing out that this paper is a pilot study, therefore further research with a larger and more structured corpus is needed so that results can be generalised.


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Bride & Prejudice (2004), Gurinder Chadha, UK/USA.

Lezioni di volo (2006), Francesca Archibugi, Italy.

Monsoon Wedding (2001), Mira Nair, India/USA/Italy/Germany/France.

Slumdog Millionaire (2008), Danny Boyle, Loveleen Tandan, UK.


[1] The research was carried out jointly by the two authors. Veronica Bonsignori wrote paragraphs 3., 4., 5., 5.1. and 5.2.; Silvia Bruti wrote paragraphs 1., 2., 5.3. and 6.

[2] Lippi-Green analysed a total of twenty-four animated Disney cartoons and 371 characters as for the variety of language and characterisation.

[3] The word ‘Desi’ refers both to South-Asian immigrants living in the USA and to the language they speak, which is a variety of English resulting from the encounter/clash between English and South-Asian languages – e.g. Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi, etc. For an extensive analysis, see Balirano (2007) and, for the transposition of Desi in Italian dubbing, see Bonsignori (2011, 2012).

[4] ‘BT’ stands for ‘back-translation’.

[5] The language used in the original soundtrack is indicated in italics before subtitles in Italian.

[6] When several languages are employed in films, there are two main linguistic representation strategies: “homogenization” – i.e. representing heterogeneous speech “through English only, sometimes spoken with an accent to identify characters as belonging to a specific speech community” (O’Sullivan 2007: 82) – as in Schindler’s List (Spielberg 1993), where the two speech communities of Poles and Germans both speak English; or “vehicular matching”, a mode in which “the variations in the representational medium [correspond] to the variations in the represented object” (Sternberg 1981: 223).

Translation as a Paradigmatic Universal, Post-Industrial, Knowledge-Based and Innovative Service

By Anna kuznik (Uniwersity of Wrocław, Poland)

Abstract & Keywords

In this paper I argue that translation activity, in all its oral and written forms, is a paradigmatic universal, post-industrial, knowledge-based and innovative service in very advanced societies and economies. I base this argument on general social and economic concepts that are little known in the field of Translation Studies, and which revolve around the following topics: (1) definition, characteristics and type of services sector; (2) global tendencies related to the services sector; and (3) innovation in the services sector. The fact that translation services are contemporary services par excellence leads to certain problems for measuring them. In conclusion, I mention three principal consequences of such a fact for research in other disciplines, for research in Translation Studies and for the training of translators. This paper can be considered as a basis for future research that could focus more on the present and future of translation services.

Keywords: innovation, knowledge-based services, translation services, post-industrial services, services sector

©inTRAlinea & Anna kuznik (2014).
"Translation as a Paradigmatic Universal, Post-Industrial, Knowledge-Based and Innovative Service"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Challenges in Translation Pedagogy
Edited by: Maria Piotrowska & Sergiy Tyupa
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Permanent URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2098

1. Services as an economic activity

1.1. Three economic sectors

In terms of a classical, idealistic division, the economies of industrialised countries are divided into the following three economic sectors: primary sector (agriculture, forestry, fishing, mining and quarrying); secondary sector (manufacturing, industries, production of goods); and tertiary sector (service sector, production of services). As we shall see in the subsequent parts of the article, this tripartite division can only serve as an initial point of reference since there are uncountable changes in societies and their economies that show the arbitrariness and artificiality of this classification, especially when referring to the secondary and tertiary sectors.[1]

1.2. Definition and characteristics of services

Durand defines the concept of services as time of qualified work (supported by a skill) offered by an individual or an organisation for the benefit of another individual or organisation (Durand 2004: 207–251; see also Kuznik 2012: 110–113). In that sense, the beneficiary may purchase access to a tangible good; the availability of another person’s time (services for the elderly, tourism, consultancies); or another person’s abilities (health, culture, leisure, television). Most service relationships consist of an exchange of written information over time to ensure the success of the co-production of the service between expert and user (Durand 2004: 223).

Services have several unique characteristics. Sadler (1997: 98–102) mentions the following:

  1. Services cannot be produced beforehand and stocked. Only the potential for carrying them out can be prepared for; however possible fluctuations, sometimes considerable, in the scale of the activity must be taken into account.
  2. Services can be evaluated only after their production (execution), never before it. That is why we need standards for this execution and the whole process of its production is based on the trust that the standards will be applied.
  3. Services are produced in different spaces, which may be very disperse and are frequently near the customer; that is why the supervision of their execution is very difficult.
  4. Contact with customers is required and therefore also special communication skills. This contact serves two purposes: personalisation of the customer’s assignment (adaptation to particular needs) and teaching the customer how to use the product or the result of given service.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OCED) in its 2005 Oslo Manual (3rd edition) mentions the following characteristics of services: (1) the service sector is diverse; (2) the distinction between products and processes is often blurred, with production and consumption occurring simultaneously; and (3) the development of processes can be more informal for services than for goods (initial phase of search, idea gathering and commercial evaluation) (OECD 2005: 38).

Services demand a different type of work organisation than industry; there are often no fixed working hours for those providing services and there has to be greater flexibility in their way of working. This makes it very difficult to plan the work and to control external conditions.

The most important factor in providing services is the quality of the work and not the quantity (Orczyk 2007: 2). Some services are reciprocal, others unofficial; there are also people trained to offer services who are waiting to see whether there will be a demand for a particular kind of service at a particular time (availability). These characteristics result in the lack of a direct and simple relationship between services and an increase in gross national product, as is the case in industry. On the other hand, services are directly involved in producing improvements in the welfare of society (Orczyk 2007: 2).

The fall in the number of jobs in industry (at least until now) was linked to an increase in the profitability of the sector but without an increase in salaries. In services the situation is different as growth in profitability is slower but it is linked to a simultaneous increase in salaries, at least for a large number of services. The explanation for this phenomenon lies in the way in which salary calculations are made: apart from the cost of providing the service itself, they include the waiting time and preparation of the service (Orczyk 2007: 2).

Carrying out the actual service, however, is an intensive activity requiring an intellectual effort, creativity, autonomy of action and responsibility, in addition to the control of changing external circumstances and exposure to unanticipated factors, which increase stress rates during the work (Durand 2004: 253–303).

1.3. Typology of services

Howells and Tether (2004, quoted in OECD 2005: 38) distinguish between the following types of services: (1) services dealing with goods (transport or logistics); (2) services dealing with information (call centres); (3) knowledge-based services; and (4) services dealing with people (health care).

Boje (2003: 128–138, quoted by Orczyk 2007: 3) identifies the following groups of services in post-industrial societies: (1) services involved in industrial activity for the production of goods (financial, banking and legal services, etc.); (2) services involving the sale and distribution of goods and information, distribution of people and services (transport, communication, marketing and sales); (3) social not-for-profit services provided by public organisations (health and social care, education); and (4) private services consisting in the satisfaction of individual needs through direct contact with the client (tourism, beauty care).

1.4. Occupancy rate by service type

After Orczyk (2007: 3), the following section presents the evolution of the quantity and structure of occupancy rates according to the four groups of services mentioned above. A link is therefore established between the labour market (occupancy rate) and the service sector.

In post-industrial societies, in the first group of services (linked to industry) there has been a considerable increase in the occupancy rate as a result of the creation of networks among the organisation involved in the production process, especially in the departments of technology and marketing (outsourcing). These strategies translate into employment for highly qualified individuals on the one hand and those with very low qualifications assigned to simple tasks on the other. In both cases an increase in the number of work teams for this group of services has been observed.

In the second group of services (sales and distribution) a balanced evolution has been noted since the abrupt change in structure for jobs in this type of service took place back during the era of industrialisation. This group recruits a very high number of employees in post-industrial societies – approximately a fifth of total occupancy.

In the third group of services (social services) there have been major changes in the structure and level of occupancy. It is the group that employs the highest number of people in the entire service sector, independently of the status of those services in each particular society.

Finally, in the fourth group of services (private services) it is difficult to identify clear trends in occupancy. Some of these services are mixed or overlap with social services which creates fuzzy boundaries for both groups. Also, personal services are largely offered from people’s homes – privileged locations for reproductive activity – and are not reflected as much in the official figures. However, researchers have highlighted the growth in demand for these services as a result of the increased free and available time of members of society.

2. Global tendencies related to the services sector

2.1. Boom in services

For several decades now, basically since the end of the Second World War there has been a boom in services in highly developed countries and growth in occupancy in the service sector. It is practically the only sector where occupancy is constantly on the increase. Sadler (1997: 44–45) mentions the following factors contributing to these changes:

  1. An increase in purchasing power in societies generates demand in the fields of tourism, food consumption and financial services.
  2. An increase in the welfare of societies contributes to participation in the social life of the elderly and therefore generates the need for medical and care services.
  3. An increase in the welfare of societies goes together with an increase in the numbers employed in government, education, security forces and social services.
  4. The appearance of new consumer goods and products in turn generates a demand for new services or the redesigning (internet, insurance).

As Peneff states, 'in France today [end of the 20th century] three- quarters of wage earners and two-thirds of the labour force belong to the service sector’ (Peneff 1998: 15). Also, as Durand says, the other sectors – industry and agriculture – are the main clients of the service sector:

Service activities have won such a firm place in the economies of more developed countries that they have considerably reduced those of the industrial and agricultural sectors. Because these sectors are also increasingly turning to services and information technologies, the roles are becoming increasingly juggled to the point where it has required the typology of these three sectors to be abandoned. (Durand 2004: 207)[2]

Durand (2004) explains the explosion in services in industrialised countries by three factors: (1) professionalisation of some domestic activities (hairdressing, repair workshops); (2) externalisation of many activities by companies (accountancy, logistic, cleaning); and (3) computerisation of economic life (computing and communication services).

The process of computerisation of services contributes to an increase in profitability and therefore a reduction in the numbers of employees required. However, this trend is not observed in jobs that require human contact and so in that area employment is more stable (medical care, tourism, education, government jobs). Obviously technological advances in information change the way in which people communicate but they do not change the basic principles of these services or their scope and content. (Orczyk 2007: 4).

2.2. Servicisation of manufacturing. Industrialisation of services

The increased number of services and their diversification also cause diversification in the labour relations that exist in this field.

The importance of industry to the economy is dwindling and it is acquiring features that are typical of the service sector because the production function is falling in favour of growth in the areas of conception, marketing and distribution as a result of the mass use of technology in production companies (Gadrey 1998). This phenomenon is called servicisation of manufacturing. So people employed in industry are also either partly or completely involved in service tasks, although statistical data for occupancy rates often show them as forming part of the industrial sector. If the same service activity were outsourced, the person providing it would appear in the service sector.

Durand gives the following example: ‘maintaining the equipments falls to industry where the workers or technicians of the parent company are involved but the same operations fall to services when they are sub-contracted’ (Durand 2004: 244).[3]

Jean, meanwhile, presents a good example of the servicisation of manufacturing in a job-content perspective (Jean 1998). The tasks of engineers (a strong growth employment category together with teachers and scientific professions) extend to all the work situations around them. According to Jean, the job of an engineer today displays the following features: constant diversification of tasks, increasingly multidimensional activities, increasingly clear separation between technical and managerial tasks.

On the other hand, services are becoming industrialised: they are organised according to a production model paradigm and standardised so that they can be carried out serially. This happens when services are standardised to the limit (Orczyk 2007: 2). The result is the appearance of immense centres of workers with a typically industrial organisation of the work.

It seems that besides these trends personalised services or services for people are maintained since there is no option to standardise them on a large scale. Also, the industrialisation of those services is not possible because there are too many disturbances to the work process as a result of deficient communication with the client or the impossibility of respecting their demands and needs (Orczyk 2007: 3).

Durand offers a different explanation to resistance to industrialisation in the case of the type of services where most of the work involves the content of the information and the transformation of its meaning, in the search for possible contextual relationships and in reflections on its sense rather than the automated activity under pressure of time of tense workflows (Durand 2004: 243–252). According to Durand, these services require a high level of autonomy in the task, and he calls this type of work ‘relational work’ (in French: ‘travail relationnel’), since ‘for the employees, putting information onto a computer screen [...] leads to a linking of that information with other information, with its context, with other people; the sense of the information is thus the content of this work’ (Durand 2004: 245).[4]

2.3. The information society and advanced, knowledge-based services

This section deals with advanced services linked to the creation of the information society and development of knowledge work (Harrison and Kessels 2004; Risku, Dickinson and Pircher 2010). With the arrival of the information society the importance of knowledge work in organisational and business knowledge-based contexts, has emerged (Kuznik, forthcoming).

The importance of knowledge, the specific conditions of its creation, protection and application cannot be defined in terms of quantity but only in terms of quality. The key question is the relationship between knowledge and work. It is not just a question of the quantity of investment in scientific research, with considerable resources dedicated to employing researchers and teaching staff (especially in higher education) and creating centres for training and research, but the quality of the knowledge and the consequences of its protection and transfer to agents in society. Advanced services go hand in hand with the culture of innovation: the creation and transfer of knowledge for improving the performance of production processes. The qualitative component of advanced services also promotes personal development for the people who offer them. Changes in the employment structure of advanced services show how these services favour people with certain initial characteristics (age, training, attitude) (Orczyk 2007: 2).

To date proposals of definitions of knowledge have depended on the historical moment and the theoretical focus (Gouza 2007: 19). From a compilation of different definitions made by Gouza (2007: 20), here I highlight several proposals. Davenport and Prusak define it as ‘a set of experiences, values and contextual information that provide a framework for evaluating and incorporating new experiences and information’ (Davenport and Prusak 1988, quoted in Gouza 2007: 20). For Leonard and Sensiper, knowledge is relevant information, applicable to action, based, at least partly, on experience (Leonard and Sensiper 1998, quoted in Gouza 2007: 20). Beijerse holds that knowledge is the capacity to interpret data and information through a process of conferring meaning to both (Beijerse 1999, quoted in Gouza 2007: 20).[5]

Risku, Dickinson and Pircher (2010) remind us that the concept of knowledge work goes back to 1959 when Peter Drucker used it for the first time in his book Landmarks of Tomorrow. This concept refers to the type of work in which the use of knowledge predominates. This is a characteristic of many intellect-based professions (researchers, engineers, conceivers and creators, analysts and teachers).

The nature of knowledge work is clearly defined when compared against other types of work. For this purpose the classification of employment activity carried out by Dirube (2004: 95–96) in the area of human resources management is useful. He defines three main types: (1) repetitive work; (2) personal services; and (3) analytical-symbolic work.

Repetitive jobs (type 1 in the classification) are understood as being routine tasks for which a standard education or training that enables them to be carried out is sufficient. Normally, jobs in this category are carried out alongside others doing the same thing (workers) in large, closed spaces. The main virtues that the worker should have are: the capacity to follow instructions received, reliability in their execution and loyalty (low or zero creativity and conflict). Production line work and intensive production work would fit into this category.

Personal services work (type 2) also consists of routine tasks but this time person to person. Workers in this category have to know how to smile, transmit trust and optimism and be polite. In this section Dirube includes domestic workers, taxi drivers, hotel receptionists, flight attendants, nurses and even general medical practitioners.

Finally, the workers carrying out analytical-symbolic tasks (type 3) are able to identify and solve problems, use symbols, words and visual and oral representations. They are able to make their work seem unique, they are capable of adding personal value that enriches their work and they are creative. The final result of their activity is often the easiest to produce, but what defines them is the way they plan their work, how they conceptualise the problem, how they reach the solution, how they focus it and communicate it and how they involve others to achieve the desired result.

2.4. Networks and the global information economy

This section concludes looking at global trends that have an impact on the service sector by outlining the crucial elements in network society and network enterprise theories (Castells, 1996; 1997; 1998; 2001; 2006) which, for some authors, are more than theories and are highly elaborate descriptions of the current economic situation using the network metaphor.[6] This network metaphor very clearly shows one of the main social and economic features of our time: the creation and expansion of social networks and the generalised practice of subcontracting.

Castells spent a lot of his professional life in the USA, involved in many research projects on cultural change and employment in industrialised countries. The results of his numerous studies into the phenomenon popularly known as globalisation have been synthesised in his Network Society Theory (Castells 1996; 1997; 1998; 2001; 2006). According to Castells the network society is the result of a series of economic, social and cultural changes which began with the technological revolution in the 1970s. The micro-processor, internet and genetic engineering all promoted exponential growth in interactive computer networks general new forms and channels of communication and social relations. This technological revolution contributed the basis for a fundamental restructuring of the capitalist system from the beginning of the 1980s, creating a ‘new technoeconomic system of information capitalism’ (Castells 1997: 48). ‘Internet is the fabric of our lives’ Castells stated (2001: 15).

Castells identifies three broad types of economic development: agricultural, industrial and informational. In the information economy productivity is based on the technology for the generation of knowledge, information processing and the communication of signs.

Castells warns that the networks themselves are horizontal but not symmetrical and are formed around powerful multinational corporations. The unstoppable increase in flexible labour relations meant the establishment of the temporary supplies, services and works employment contract as the norm.

We do not only owe the concept of the network society to Castells but also the process of information working and network corporations which form the organisational basis of the information economy. In the global information economy, with the network corporation, as its organisational base, the working process itself undergoes a profound change, generating a new paradigm of information work. Under these conditions added value is generated through the innovation of products and processes and the products and inventions of the financial markets play an increasingly growing part of that.

The network corporation is not a network of individual companies but a kind of networked organisation of economic activities that is generalised in all areas of the global economy. For the first time in history the basic unit of organisation is not an individual or a group (company, state, capitalist class) but the network itself, composed of different individuals and organisations in a state of constant modification. The operative unit is a temporary project in the form of a transnational network of large and small companies, personal networks and computer networks.

In the network society, project-based organisation is the best reflection of the new structure of social and organisational life. From a subjective view of the work the notion of projects implies the end of a coherent employment biography. The traditional notion of employment becomes more like a portfolio of activities that are self-managed. The full-time permanent worker is replaced by an occasional collaborator whose activity is remunerated in different ways which are always variable and related to the final result of the product.

3. Innovation. A key issue in the knowledge-based economy

This reflection on the present and future of the service sector would not be complete without talking about innovation. As the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and Statistical Office of the European Communities (Eurostat) state in the foreword to the third edition of the Oslo Manual published in 2005, ‘It has been long understood that the generation, exploitation and diffusion of knowledge are fundamental to economic growth, development and the well-being of nations.’ (OECD 2005: 3). Knowledge therefore contributes to the growth of nations and innovation is the key issue in this knowledge-based economy.

Below there is a presentation of different classification of innovation together with their definitions and examples, starting with the proposal by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, followed by the European Commission and finally the ‘4Ps’ model designed by Bessant and Tidd (2007). In these three proposals I want to highlight the variety of types of innovation and their applicability in the analysis of translation services as an economic, market-oriented activity.

3.1. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development

What is the objective of innovation initiatives in society? From a market-orientated perspective the OECD, following Tirole, offer the following answer to that question: ‘Firms innovate to defend their existing competitive position as well as to seek new competitive advantage.’ (Tirole 1995, quoted in OECD 2005: 30). According to that statement, the objective of innovation in the world of business is to increase competition among the different companies. The 2005 Oslo Manual (3rd edition) focuses on innovation in the business enterprise sector, i.e. market-oriented sectors (primary industries, manufacturing and services sector), but also recognises that innovation exists in the public sector, i.e. non-market-oriented sectors: government services, health and education.

In a very broad definition, innovations are (planned) significant changes to improve firm or societal performance. More specifically, in the market-oriented sectors, ‘an innovation is the implementation of the new or significantly improved product (good or service), or process, a new marketing method, or a new organisational method in business practices, workplace organisation or external relations’ (OECD 2005: 46).

In the 1st (1992) and 2nd (1997) editions of the Oslo Manual, the focus was on firms’ technological development of new products and new production techniques, and only gave a technological product and process definition of innovation. The 3rd edition (2005) includes two additional types of innovation: organisational and marketing innovations; in other words, non-technological innovation. It also refocuses innovation in the first two types (product and process innovation), since it admits that they can deal with goods or services (both new products and significant improvements), and not only with goods. The 3rd edition therefore ‘recognises the importance of innovation in less R&D-intensive industries, such as services and low-technology manufacturing’ (OECD 2005: 11).

The authors are very aware of the specificity of services as an economic activity and warn that innovation in services-oriented sectors can differ substantially from innovation in many manufacturing-oriented sectors, since the former (services-oriented sectors) are ‘often less formally organised, more incremental in nature (not radical) and less technological’ (OECD 2005: 11). The production of services tends to be a continuous process and for that reason the identification of innovation in terms of single event is very difficult (OECD 2005: 38).

3.2. The European Commission

The European Commission (EC) distinguishes between industrial innovation, public sector innovation, innovation in services and the workplace innovation (EC 2014).

As the EC states, workplace innovation is a generic term to cover innovations in the way enterprises are structured, the way they manage their human resources, the way internal decision-making and innovation processes are devised, the way relationships with clients or suppliers are organised or the way the work environment and the internal support systems are designed. Workplace innovation can be found in all types of organisation, be they large corporations, SMEs or even public administrations. In practice they are often combined with technological, process or marketing innovations as they allow companies to tap further into staff creativity, to boost their innovation capacities and to find new solutions swiftly. Workplace innovation: (1) improves performance and working lives through positive organisational change involving inclusive dialogue and by releasing the creativity of employees; (2) coalesces the strategic knowledge of the leadership with the hands-on, practical but often unrecognised knowledge of frontline employees; and (3) seeks to engage all stakeholders in the process of change, leading to ‘win-win’ outcomes in which a creative convergence is forged between enhanced organisational performance and enhanced quality of working life.

Later on, the EC states that ‘in some parts of Europe, the term ‘social innovation’ refers to what the European Commission calls ‘workplace innovation’ (EC 2014). The EC, after Murray, Calulier-Grice and Mulgan (2010), defines social innovation as ‘new ideas that work to address pressing unmet needs. We simply describe it as innovations that are social both in their ends and in their means. Social innovations are new ideas (products, services and models) that simultaneously meet social needs (more effectively than alternatives) and create new social relationships or collaborations’ (EC 2014). It adds that the term ‘social innovation’ is a relatively new one, but social innovation itself is not new. ‘There are many examples of social innovation throughout history, from kindergartens to hospices, and from the cooperative movement to microfinance. A ‘field’ of social innovation is, however, a new idea.’ (EC 2014).[7]

3.3. The ‘4Ps’ model (Bessant and Tidd 2007)

The ‘4Ps’ model, containing a four-type classification of innovations, developed by John Bessant and Joe Tidd (2007), provides a powerful tool for an analysis of social sectors of activity, even in the field of humanitarian innovation (HI 2014). This model is built on the hypothesis that successful innovation is essentially about positive change, and it puts forward four broad categories where such change can take place:

  1. Product innovation: changes in the things (products or services) that an organisation offers. It is the most commonly understood form of innovation which introduces or improves a product or service; a change in what is offered to end users. There are innovative products which help to achieve humanitarian goals. For example, the LifeStraw is a portable water filter developed by Vestergaard-Frandsen which enables individuals to drink clean water from almost any source.
  2. Process innovation: changes in the ways in which products and services are created or delivered. Examples of process innovations that have had a positive effect on the humanitarian sector are the increasing stockpiling of goods in strategic locations, or the use of pre-made packs and kits.
  3. Position innovation: changes in the context in which the products or services are framed and communicated. An example can be seen in attempts by humanitarian agencies in different complex emergencies to develop principle based cross-agency positions in relation to belligerent parties in complex emergencies which amount to a set of conditions under which humanitarian aid would be delivered, and a clear articulation of the situations where it would not.
  4. Paradigm innovation: changes in the underlying mental models which shape what the organisation does. Examples of paradigm innovation in the international humanitarian sector include an increasing emphasis on local ownership and leadership of responses to crises as an alternative to internationally dominated responses.

4. Translation as a paradigmatic universal, post-industrial, knowledge-based and innovative service

4.1. Features of translation as a universal, post-industrial, knowledge-based and innovative service

Translation services, as language services that allow communication between languages in highly developed societies, possess features that identify them as paradigmatic universal, post-industrial, knowledge-based and innovative services; in other words, contemporary services par excellence.

4.1.1. Translation as a universal service activity

Translation seen as an economic activity is a service and therefore forms part of the services sector. The suppliers of this service may be of different sizes and be differently constituted legally, from large multinationals to regular freelance translators and liberal professionals (literary translators). When translation activity is carried out in an organisation that does not specialise in translation services, the people who do the work (the translators) form part of the payroll and therefore appear in the statistics and official figures as employees in the industrial sector (and also, to a lesser degree, in the primary sector). This is the case of payroll translators working in Polish, French and English in Polish electrical power stations with the financial participation of the French company Electricité de France (EDF). This shows that one of the great world trends to make services from industry is also present in the field of translation activity.

The service of translation, according to the definition of services by Durand (2004: 207-251), is qualified working time spent doing translations (supported by translation competence) made available by a translator or translation services supplier for the benefit of an individual or organisation. The beneficiary can purchase the right of access to a tangible product (the translated text), the temporary availability of another (an interpreter or consultant in cultural mediation and the skills of the other person (the translator, interpreter or expert in translation and interpreting-related issues). Much translation service work involves the exchange of information with the client to ensure the co-production of the service.

Translation services share all the characteristics of services in general identified by Sadler (1997: 98–102): these services cannot be produced and stocked beforehand; can be evaluated only after their production; are produced in different spaces; and a constant contact with the customer is required, mostly with the aim of personalisation of the customer’s assignment, rarely for teaching the customer how to use the result of the translation service.

Similarly all the characteristics mentioned by the OECD (2005) are present in translation services: they are extremely diversified; it can be very difficult to distinguish the process from the product itself (especially in the case of interpreting); carrying out these processes is often informal, less structured and standardised, especially in the case of translations for advertising, works of literature and other more complex assignments requiring a more creative approach.

The issue of quality in translation services takes precedence over quantity with the reflexions of translation scholars focusing mainly on quality and much less on issues of quantity. This service (or activity) is often carried out unofficially or reciprocally. During their working hours translators (and generally, suppliers of translation services) frequently find themselves in a waiting period; they are available to receive translation commissions and this waiting time (availability) must be included in the final price of the product they deliver, together with its preparation and the cost of the personalisation of the service (Orczyk 2007: 2). It is also a service that requires intellectual and creative input, autonomy and responsibility and exposure to unpredicted factors and external circumstances increases the stress involved in the work (Kuznik and Verd 2010; Durand 2004: 253–303).

Translation services are included in all the types of service mentioned by Howells and Tether (2004, quoted in OECD 2005), since there are translation services dealing with goods, with information, with knowledge and with people. Equally, they cover the complete typology of services proposed by Boje (2003: 128–138, quoted by Orczyk 2007), as services applied in the production of goods in industries, in the selling and distribution of goods, persons, information and other services; as a social and private (personal) services.

4.1.2. Translation as a post-industrial and knowledge-based service activity

Translation services are affected by all the global tendencies related to the services sector in general.

Major developments in these services in highly developed countries during the second half of the 20th century are well known and growth has recently accelerated.

Translation activity forms a large-scale part of the activities of the industrial sector and the opposite is also true: the organisation of some translation services appears more like industrial organisation (computer-assisted translation or machine translation that deal with huge volumes of translation materials; Gouadec 2007: 297–316). However, a certain section of translation activities has resisted the trend towards industrialisation, especially those that require conceptual and creative working (legal and literary translations, translations for advertising and interpreting; Orczyk 2007: 3; Durand 2004: 243–252). This group of services is the typical ‘relational work', that Durand (2004: 245) talks of.

Translation is a knowledge-based activity, as demonstrated by Risku, Dickinson and Pircher (2010). These authors define concepts of an intellectual worker, intellectual capital, explicit and tacit knowledge and knowledge management, and apply them to the works of translators and the discipline of Translation Studies. They demonstrate that knowledge generated during the theory and practice of translation is a very important component of cultural capital in the knowledge-based society and a key factor for the creation of values in organisations. They identify five different types of knowledge possessed by translators in organisations: (1) language, linguistics and translation; (2) country and culture; (3) general and specific thematic questions; (4) clients and business; y (5) information technologies and computer use. For each type they identify the aspects that may be coded (explicit knowledge) and those that may not (tacit knowledge) and they propose a series of instruments for the management of each type of knowledge in both their explicit and tacit dimensions. In their conclusions they consider the epistemological nature of Translation Studies and present three different facets of the discipline: (1) as a natural science; (2) as a technical discipline (engineering); and (3) as a human, cultural and social science (also see Mayoral 2001; Kuznik 2008; 2012; forthcoming).

In the classification of different types of jobs proposed by Dirube in the field of human resource management (2004: 95–96), translation is included in three job types: (1) repetitive jobs in the case of more standardised or routine assignments or partial assignments; (2) jobs involving personal service in the case of interpreting and contact with the client (managing the translation commissions); and especially in (3) analytical-symbolic jobs, because what defines the job is the way in which the translators plan their work (translation method, strategy, techniques), how they conceptualise translation problems and find appropriate solutions, how they communicate their translation activity to other agents in the market and how they involve others to achieve the desired result (consulting specialists in specialised translation).

Translation services are carried out within and through a dense network of market agents with whom they have constant commercial and social relationships (Abdallah and Koskinen 2007; Risku and Dickinson 2009; Abdallah 2012). Trust is a key point in these relationships since, as with any service, translation services can only be evaluated after production (execution), never before, and the whole production process is based on the trust that the agreed standards between the parties will be applied (Sadler 1997: 98–102).

Translation services are part of and contribute to the information society because they consist of the computerised (digitised) processing of multilingual information.

4.1.3. Translation as an innovative service activity

Translation services have potential for innovation in all the different innovation types mentioned by organisations and scholars: (1) they can incorporate product and process innovations (e.g. changes and combinations of different text formats), organisational and marketing innovations (e.g. the reorganisation of the stages of a commission, regrouping and redefining work teams, innovative planning strategies and contact with the clients (OECD 2005); (2) they may contain elements of industrial innovation as well as workplace and social innovation (EC 2014); (3) they adapt to all the types of innovation proposed by Bessand and Tidd (2007) in their ‘4Ps’: product, process, position and paradigm.

4.2. Difficulties in measuring translation as a paradigmatic, contemporary service

The nature of translation services as universal (omnipresent), post-industrial, knowledge-based and innovative services means that it is very difficult to measure them. This difficulty can be broken down in to the following aspects:

  • There is no exact employment data in the services sector in general (UNDP 2004, Orczyk 2007).
  • There is no clear insight (access) into data about individual services (private services, customer satisfaction, individual needs) (Boje 2003).
  • The industry sector has incorporated a high number of services; in other words much translation activity is carried out within organisations belonging to the industrial sector (and the primary sector, to a lesser extent) and we have no direct access to those data since the translators employed in those sectors appear in the figures as being components of them.
  • Outsourced translation services are measured several times in the same study and we do not have an efficient methodological tool to isolate (control) them (Gouadec 2007; Kuznik 2012).
  • Translation service suppliers always offer a range of additional services which makes it difficult to identify the translation service itself, without including the additional elements (Kuznik 2012).
  • The content of translation jobs is extremely hybrid by nature (Kuznik and Verd 2010; Kuznik 2011; 2012).

These methodological difficulties make it impossible to give an exact description of the situation of translation services in the market and so we have no clear image of that situation. Research in the field of Translation Studies must take these limitations into account.


The first consequence of the fact that the translation activity is a paradigmatic universal, post-industrial, knowledge-based and innovative service is for the neighbouring disciplines such as sociology of work, organisational studies, and economics. They should be interested in studying translation services as paradigmatic, contemporary services in highly advanced societies and economies. This is a very strong argument when talking to researchers from other disciplines and encouraging them to carry out more multidisciplinary studies, jointly with Translation Studies researchers. In that sense, it also means an ennoblement of translation services as an object of study because as a form of multilingual communication they are present everywhere.

The second consequence is for Translation Studies researchers, exploring the sub-field of economic, organisational, employment and professional aspects of translation. When studying a single aspect (for example, typology of translation services), they should not forget other important aspects of the same situation. They should also be able to identify evolutionary features and trends that translation services share with other services in general, and the specific features and trends that are unique to translation services sector.

The third consequence is for translator trainers who should be aware of the type of service sector for which they are training future professionals in translation and interpreting, whether to focus translation activity as a universal, post-industrial, knowledge-based and innovative service or as a traditional service that relies less on technology.

For the first type of services, especially, we can recommend the following training strategies for translators and interpreters:

  • Encouraging creativity in all parts of the university community: students, lecturers and researchers.
  • Encourage an entrepreneurial spirit among students, lecturers and researchers.
  • Transmit knowledge to students, lecturers and researchers about the services and innovation in the service sector.
  • Bring teraching and researching closer to the real market situation through the following possible actions: use real texts and real translation briefs; carry out real translation projects or simulations of them; promote the use of ITC; strengthen professional practices, where possible in innovative organisations external to the university; include training in the creation of companies, marketing, taxation, business plans; carry out professional guidance activities and activities related to entry into the labour market; centralise job offers for students and graduates; promote applied research in collaboration with business networks; promote the contracting of PhD holders in innovate companies; and finally ensure that these actions are suitable documented and distribute information about them.

We should not lose sight, however, of the fact that advanced translation services coexist alongside their simpler, less technological forms. This is the case of legal translation, for example, where the handling of the source and target texts on paper is essential.


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[1] This article was translated into English (quotes originally in French included) by Fiona Kelso with funding from the PACTE Research Group (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona); Project Reference: 2009SGR 00064, Support grants for research groups in Catalonia (SGR), Department of Universities, Research and the Information Society of the Generalitat de Catalunya (Spain).

[2] The same quote originally in French: ‘Les activités de services ont conquis une telle place dans l’économie des pays les plus développés qu’elles réduisent considérablement celles des autres secteurs, industriel et agricole. Parce que ces secteurs recourent aussi de plus en plus aux services et aux technologies de l’information, les cartes se brouillent de plus en plus, jusqu’à imposer l’abandon de cette typologie des trois secteurs’ (Durand 2004: 207).

[3] The same quote originally in French: ‘la maintenance des installations relève de l’industrie quand les ouvriers ou les techniciens de la société mère interviennent, mais les mêmes opérations relèvent des services lorsqu’elles sont sous-traitées’ (Durand 2004: 244).

[4] The same quote originally in French: ‘pour ces salariés, la prise d’information sur un écran ordinateur [...] conduit à une mise en relation de cette information avec d’autres informations, avec son contexte, avec autrui; elle est bien travail sur le sens’ (Durand 2004: 245).

[5] For definitions of the two dimensions of knowledge (codified and tacit knowledge), knowledge management and knowledge transfer via knowledge transfer projects from research institutions to business sector, see Kuznik (forthcoming).

[6] According to Köhler and Martín Artiles: ‘The criticisms of Castells’ work are centred on two key aspects: its scant theoretical weight and its empirical partiality. Many authors see in the ‘network society’ concept nothing more than a group of current trends (ITC, lean production, financial markets, etc.) in the form of a model presented as ‘future society’ (Freyssenet 2002). Castells’ work is more like an x-ray of current trends in the most advanced societies than a sociological theory (Abell/Reyniers 2000).’ (Köhler and Martín Artiles 2004: 237); see also: Durand 2004: 40.

[7] To compete this information about social innovation, there follow quotes from some parts of the Wikipedia page: ‘Social innovation refers to new strategies, concepts, ideas and organizations that meet social needs of all kinds — from working conditions and education to community development and health — that extend and strengthen civil society. [...] The term has overlapping meanings. It can be used to refer to social processes of innovation, such as open source methods and techniques. Alternatively it refers to innovations which have a social purpose — like microcredit or distance learning. The concept can also be related to social entrepreneurship (entrepreneurship is not necessarily innovative, but it can be a means of innovation) and it also overlaps with innovation in public policy and governance. Social innovation can take place within government, the for-profit sector, the nonprofit sector (also known as the third sector), or in the spaces between them. [...] The social innovation theory of “connected difference” emphasizes three key dimension to social innovation. First, they are usually new combination or hybrids of existing elements, rather than wholly new. Two, their practice involve cutting across organizational or disciplinary boundaries and lastly they leave behind compelling new relationships between previously separate individuals and groups. Social innovation is gaining visibility within academia.’ (Wikipedia 2014)

On the Use of verlan to subtitle African American Vernacular English into French:

transnational hybridity

By Pierre-Alexis Mevel (University of Nottingham, UK)

Abstract & Keywords

The polysemiotic nature of subtitled films, whereby textual information (the subtitles) is combined with other audiovisual cues (the pictures and the soundtrack of the film) makes them very vulnerable as a form of translation, as well as a peculiar one: a consequence of the process of subtitling is that both the original (or source text) and the translation (target text) are presented simultaneously to viewers. The possibility of clashes between source and target texts is therefore very great, and incoherencies produced by the juxtaposition of visual referents from the source-language cultural sphere alongside textual referents originating from the target language are often commented upon by translation specialists. Whilst it is widely admitted that the use of cultural substitution – that is when a cultural reference in the source-text is replaced by another one in the target language – in subtitles should be resorted to with extreme caution, a coherent and consistent approach is also absolutely paramount in order to maintain viewers’ suspension of disbelief throughout the film. Looking at a corpus of films from the 1990s portraying predominantly African American characters, this paper analyses the ways in which the dialogues have been subtitled into French. While in most films subtitles display a tendency to neutralise the non-standard features of the original, some also reveal a great level of inventiveness and creativity: the juxtaposition in the subtitled films of features that are culturally-bound (whether to the source or to the target culture) produces a hybrid. Whilst the use of non-standard features from the target language in the subtitles can be justified by connotations they have in common with African American Vernacular English, the use of such features is not unproblematic and raises important issues.

Keywords: domesticating, foreignizing, African American Vernacular English, subtitling, verlan

©inTRAlinea & Pierre-Alexis Mevel (2014).
"On the Use of verlan to subtitle African American Vernacular English into French:"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Across Screens Across Boundaries
Edited by: Rosa Maria Bollettieri Bosinelli, Elena Di Giovanni & Linda Rossato
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Permanent URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2076

1. Introduction

As the notions of domestication and foreignisation have become one of the dominant shibboleths of an increasing number of translation specialists, it is perhaps surprising that audiovisual translation, and specifically subtitled films, has seldom been discussed in the light of these two concepts brought to the fore of Translation Studies by Lawrence Venuti (1995). Subtitled films are semiotically very rich objects, and viewers are permanently reminded of their foreignness, both visually and auditorily: visually because of the text they have to read at the bottom of the screen when they are watching a subtitled film, and auditorily because of the foreign dialogue. The polysemiotic nature of subtitled films, whereby textual information (the subtitles) combines with other audiovisual cues (the film’s images and soundtrack) makes them a very vulnerable form of translation, as well as a peculiar one, to say the least. A peculiarity of subtitling is that both the original (or source text, henceforth ST) and the translation (or target text, henceforth TT) are presented simultaneously to viewers. The possibility of clashes between source and target texts is therefore very great, as is often commented upon by translation specialists who point out the incoherence resulting from the juxtaposition of visual referents from the source language (henceforth SL) cultural sphere with textual referents from that of the target language (henceforth TL). For instance, the use of features of African American Vernacular English (henceforth AAVE) to translate banlieue French in Mathieu Kassovitz’s La Haine (1995) and the systematic transposition of cultural references from the source culture to the target culture (which saw ‘Kronenbourg’ beer become ‘Bud’, ‘cinq francs’ become ‘two bits’, and characters’ names ‘Astérix’ and ‘Darty’ translated respectively as ‘Snoopy’ and ‘Walmart’) were commented on by a number of film critics who attributed the commercial failure of the film in the United States in part to poor subtitling: ‘a sloppy pastiche of black American slang hinders rather than helps an understanding […] of the film’ (an anonymous film critic, cited in Jäckel 2001: 227). The juxtaposition of a depiction of the daily lives of a trio of black-blanc-beur youths with American cultural references is indeed odd.[1] In other words, because of the use of features of AAVE in the subtitles and of the systematic transposition of cultural references for the target (American) audience, American viewers were presumably led to believe that African American youths shared important similarities with youths from the French banlieues, only to be brought back to reality when particular themes in the films made it all the more conspicuous that the action and setting were indeed foreign. There are specific elements of the narrative that make American viewers aware of the foreign nature of the film: as a critic points out, ‘the media hysteria about a stray revolver in a housing project might appear touching to a society in which prepubescents tote Uzis, but not to American youths for whom the young men’s inability to drive would be “quaint”’ (Jäckel 2001: 233). Besides making an argument in favour of an extremely cautious use of cultural substitution in subtitles – that is when a cultural reference in the ST is replaced by another one in the TL – this also suggests that adopting an approach that takes into account the links between the source and target cultures is absolutely paramount in maintaining suspension of disbelief. Therefore, the context of culture-specific elements and the relationship between the source and target cultures are of ultimate importance when choosing a translation strategy.

We are now going to examine the challenges of subtitling from a theoretical perspective in order to crystallise the dynamics that govern the subtitling into French of non-standard features or varieties, such as AAVE.

2. Domestication and foreignisation

Venuti’s original idea of foreignisation involves the use of the remainder which is defined as ‘the collective force of linguistic forms that outstrips any individual’s control and complicates intended meanings’ (Venuti 1998: 108). For Venuti, the remainder is not necessarily motivated by elements of the ST: the foreignness invoked by the remainder is not qualified, and although the remainder points towards the foreignness of that translation, it does not assert anything specific about the nature of this foreignness. This particular point can be addressed in the context of subtitled films: translators certainly have an impact on the content of subtitles, and their use of the remainder can express foreignness, precisely because this foreignness can in turn be supported by the other channels of the film (in other words, the other channels of a film can be used to orient the understanding of viewers in the TL towards a foreignness that is more specific),[2] or it can clash with the subtitles. Venuti’s paradigm would seem to be relevant to the examination of the content of subtitles. There are, however, two important provisos: first, translators have to be cautious in their use of the remainder, for if they use archaisms or forms that have been under-used or that are not codified in writing, they might affect the ability of viewers to read the subtitles with sufficient speed. Secondly, and perhaps obviously, the use of words in the TL that have strong connections to a particular region or to a particular group of people might of course be problematic and trigger cognitive-narrative dissonances. In other words, the remainder used in subtitles should be compatible to some extent, with the images of the film, and this compatibility should pre-date its use. This is in fact an issue that is not specific to subtitled films, but to the foreignising approach in general. The main issue here is that the use of the remainder (archaisms or dialectal features) can be very problematic, precisely because dialectal forms of the TL are often bound to the target culture, and as such can clash with visual elements of a film that are bound to the source culture.

One of the main concerns with subtitled films stems precisely from the fact that foreignness is built from domestic material. Non-dominant discourses are used to create the impression of the foreign, and the foreign is thus built using local blocks of meaning, blocks that might consist in deliberate divergence from the standard but are still, ultimately, part of the target culture. When these blocks from the target culture are superimposed onto images in the form of subtitles, there is always the possibility that the two – images and subtitles – may clash, generating a failed bi-cultural object that culminates in a break of viewers’ suspension of disbelief. In the case of the French film La Haine, it is certainly odd for the American audience (those that frequent art houses and consume foreign films, and therefore presumably experience the foreign) to be faced with three protagonists who wander between their housing estate and Paris where hotdogs cost ‘two bits’, and who speak (in the subtitles) using certain forms of AAVE. The remainder, here (features of AAVE), does not fulfill its foreignising purpose, but rather the opposite. It literally dis-locates the film, it changes its locus – partially anyway – and renders it a cultural aberration that does not belong anywhere. In this particular context, the use of the remainder was also accompanied by a systematic transposition of cultural references to the target culture, as observed in the introduction of this paper. This dislocation of the film meant that the dissonance between the subtitles and the images was too great, it was too deliberate an attempt to make the unfamiliar become familiar, in the face of many indications of foreignness (images, soundtrack, subtitles).

Judging from this film, it would seem that the use of the remainder in film subtitles is doomed to failure, necessarily creating a schizophrenic object that inhabits two spaces at once. In what precise circumstances, then, is it possible to use the remainder in subtitles, without leading to two cultures clashing on screen? Cultures, far from being discrete entities, sometimes share a fair amount of overlap, can take inspiration from one another, and fuse. This contribution seeks to argue that in the event of such an overlap, it is possible to hint at the foreignness of the original by using a remainder that shares, to a more or less direct extent, associations with the culture of the ST. By playing on the overlap between two cultures, it is possible, through the use of linguistic devices from the TL, to evoke and even invoke, to awaken and bring to the fore meanings of the ST that might have been thought ‘lost’ in translation, precisely by taking advantage of the polysemiotic nature of films. We will see below that although the translators’ cultural transposition of La Haine proved unsuccessful (commercially and critically at least), such strategies are not necessarily condemned to failure. Whilst the use of African American slang to subtitle La Haine was generally deemed unsuccessful, I will argue that verlan can serve a valid purpose when used to translate AAVE.

3. The use of verlan in subtitling

A particularly noticeable feature used in the subtitles of some of the films portraying speakers of AAVE is verlan, which is often referred to by French linguists as a feature of banlieue French. The term banlieue French is used here to refer to the variety of French spoken mostly by teenagers and that developed initially in poor suburban areas of Paris before spreading to other urban areas. This variety of French has been described and discussed by several French sociolinguists, who have generally emphasised the link between its spatial and social dimensions (Armstrong & Jamin 2002; Gadet 1998; Jamin et al 2006; Lepoutre 1997; Liogier 2002; Trimaille 2004; Trimaille & Billiez 2006). Sociolinguists have given different names to this variety, each emphasising a particular characteristic: it has been referred to as ‘parler véhiculaire interethnique’ (Offord 1996: 109), ‘langage des jeunes des cités de banlieue’ (Lepoutre 1997: 153), ‘argot contemporain des cités’, ‘ parlers jeunes urbains’, ‘sociolecte urbain générationnel’, ‘français contemporain des cités’ (all found in Trimaille & Billiez 2007), ‘langage des jeunes’ or ‘français des cités’ (both in Liogier 2002). This diversity echoes the various labels used to designate AAVE, and accounts for a certain heterogeneity of practices as well. Variables such as age, ethnic origins and social networks have all been shown to be important criteria in the definition of banlieue French. Although there is an abundant literature on the subject, the terminological fuzziness also illustrates that banlieue French, as a variety, is particularly difficult to circumscribe. Gadet, for example, suggests that this variety is difficult to link primordially to a social environment (‘populaire’), to age (‘jeunes’) or to geographical areas (‘cités’ or ‘banlieues’): ‘Y a-t-il lieu d’opposer au français populaire traditionnel une “langue des jeunes”, objet difficile à nommer (langue des cités, des banlieues)?’ (Gadet 2003: 85)[3] However, David Lepoutre, an ethnographer and sociolinguist, describes what he refers to as ‘le langage des jeunes des cités de banlieue’ (Lepoutre 1997: 153) in his book Cœur de banlieue, and explains that some of its features are particularly distinctive.

One of these features is called verlan, a type of slang (argot) that consists in inverting the sounds or syllables of a word or short phrase when speaking in order to create a new one. Verlan has been discussed in a vast number of studies.[4] As the lack of space does not allow us to go into great detail on all that is known about verlan, we will concern ourselves here with listing its more general principles. The word verlan usually describes both the process – the inversion of sounds or syllables – and also the end product. The new word created is ‘un mot de verlan’ or ‘un mot en verlan’. In the words or sometimes phrases that undergo this process, two sounds or two syllables are usually inverted, although it has to be said that the rules vary greatly depending on the original word used (which may have one, two, or more syllables – verlan is not restricted to two-syllable words). The word verlan itself comes from ‘l’envers’: the two syllables are inverted and form a new word, verlan. Plénat (1995) provides a large number of examples of words that have undergone this process, among which:

Fou [fu] becomes [uf] in verlan

Froid [fʀwa] becomes [wafʀ]

Pourri [puʀi] becomes [ʀipu]

Mystique [mistik] becomes [stikmi]

Verlan, according to Lepoutre (1997: 155-6), has a cryptic function: ‘Le verlan, comme tous les argots, est également un langage de fermeture, une langue du secret. Cette fonction cryptique du langage des rues s’exerce dans le cadre de l’école et plus largement dans les rapports avec les adultes’ [Like all forms of slang, verlan is also a closed language, a way of expressing whatever is secret. The cryptic function of street language thrives in schools and more generally in the relationship with adults]. Gadet (2003: 88) points out that verlan has ‘un renouvellement rapide’ [a fast-paced renewal], and that some words or expressions can be re-encrypted again and again, for instance ‘comme ça’ [kɔmsa] can become [sakɔm] and then [kɔmas] and even [askɔm] or [asmɔk]. Certain words in verlan have spread to other layers of the population or have become widely understood in France because of its widespread representation in the media (in particular for the purpose of caricaturing the young people who live in the banlieues) as early as the 1990s.[5] Therefore, some words such as ‘meuf’ (femme [woman]), ‘teuf’ (fête [party]), or ‘keuf’ (flic [cop]) have lost their cryptic values, and can all be found in the Larousse dictionary.

Lepoutre argues that verlan also has an ‘identity’ function:

La fonction identitaire prend une nouvelle dimension dans le contexte social et culturel des grands ensembles de banlieue: la juxtaposition des migrations, la communauté de situation entre Français et étrangers, dans l’exclusion comme dans la révolte, tout cela concourt à une recherche d’identité que marque le langage’. (Lepoutre 1997: 157)

[The identity function takes a more significant dimension in the social and cultural context of the suburban housing estates: the juxtaposition of migrations, the common experience of exclusion and rebellion shared both by the French and the immigrant population – all these factors contribute in fostering the search for an identity which is embodied in language.]

What this means is that verlan is still very stigmatised today and yet prized by those who use it. Although some words have made it into mainstream French dictionaries, it still bears strong links with banlieue youths.

This feature is of particular interest to us here because some words of verlan are used, to a lesser or greater extent, in the subtitles of an important number of films portraying speakers of AAVE. ‘Keuf’ for instance is used only once in the subtitles of In Too Deep (Michael Rymer, 1999), but ‘meuf’ is used a number of times in White Men Can’t Jump (Ron Shelton, 1992). In other films, however, such as Boyz n the Hood (John Singleton, 1991), Menace II Society (Albert and Allen Hugues, 1993), and New Jack City (Mario Van Peebles, 1991), verlan in the French subtitles is often used. In Boyz n the Hood, ‘meuf’ is used ten times, ‘keum’ (mec [guy]) and ‘keuf’ are both used once. More interestingly from the perspective of a film, the word ‘keubla’ (verlan for ‘black’) is used in the opening line of the film. In Menace II Society, ‘meuf’ is used eight times, ‘tassepé’ (pétasse [floozy]) is used three times, and ‘teuf’ and ‘keuf’ are used twice each. ‘Beuh’ (herbe [grass]), ‘chelou’ (louche [weird]), ‘renoi’ (noir [black]), ‘pécho’ (chopper [catch]) are all used once. Again, ‘meuf’ and ‘teuf’ appear in the subtitles of the very opening exchanges of the film. Finally, in New Jack City, , ‘refré’ (frère [brother]) is used five times, while ‘feuj’ (juif [Jew]), ‘kepa’ (paquet [bag]) and ‘keuf’ are used once.

The use of verlan, naturally, is far from being unproblematic, because it is so deeply connected to banlieue French and to images of French cités, that its use in subtitles runs the risk of making a strong and perhaps unjustified association between speakers of AAVE and speakers of banlieue French. However, authors like Hervé Vieillard-Baron or Lepoutre have shown that connections exist between the American and the French street cultures, and between the young people in particular who live in the cités (and who might be considered the primary speakers of banlieue French, and the main users and innovators of verlan) and their African American counterparts. Of course, the conditions of life are different in the American inner cities and in the French cités, as Lepoutre highlights:

Si l’on ne peut parler, comme dans les quartiers noirs des métropoles étatsuniennes, généralement composées de plus de 90 % d’Afro-Américains, d’‘hyperségrégation’ raciale, ni même de véritable homogénéité culturelle, puisque des populations d’origines très différentes cohabitent dans le grand ensemble. Du moins la forte proportion de population d’origine étrangère d’une part, la nette domination arabe et plus largement musulmane d’autre part, donnent au quartier une indéniable dimension ethnique et religieuse et, partant, un caractère marqué de ghetto contemporain.’ (Lepoutre 1997: 84)

[Unlike the black neighbourhoods of American cities which generally comprise more than 90% of African Americans, it would be unfair to describe French housing estates in terms of racial ‘hypersegregation’ or of true cultural homogeneity, since population groups from very different origins live together in the housing estate. Both the high proportion of immigrants and the clear Arabic and more generally Muslim domination give the neighbourhood an undeniable ethnic and religious dimension, and thereby a strong sense of a contemporary ghetto.]

Vieillard-Baron (1996: 46) also states that ‘depuis trente ans, la ville de Chicago occupe une place mythique dans l’imaginaire des jeunes de banlieue. Elle exprime à la fois le rêve américain, l’exotisme, la relégation des ghettos et le grand banditisme avec Al Capone’ [For 30 years, the city of Chicago has enjoyed a legendary status in the imagination of suburban youths. It simultaneously embodies the American dream, exoticism, ghettoization, and organized crime through Al Capone.]. French youths draw their inspiration from their American counterparts for music, fashion, and also a certain idea of ghettoisation as highlighted by the two quotations above.

There is therefore a fairly strong overlap between the two cultures, and the translators are clearly trying to take advantage of it. By using certain salient features of banlieue French in the subtitles, they can trigger certain associations with a particular socio-economic background, as well as possibly give a sense of counter-culture through linguistic rebellion. Verlan words might thus also be considered to be cultural metonymies, devices that are commonly used in fiction and consist in using a particular element associated with a cultural group in order to evoke the cultural group itself and other features that may usually be associated with it. In the words of Maria Tymoczko:

A piece of literature customarily evokes its culture through consequential and telling signals or details, typically parts or aspects of the culture that are saturated with semiotic significance and emblematic of the culture as a whole, both in terms of objective structure and subjective experience […] In this regard, such cultural elements within a literary work are metonymic evocations of the culture as a whole, including its material culture, history, economy, law, customs, values, and so on (Tymoczko 1999: 45).

Although Tymoczko here describes the relationship between text and culture as a metonymic one, the same is arguably true of films and culture, as Monaco illustrates:

Because metonymical devices yield themselves so well to cinematic exploitation, cinema can be more efficient in this regard than literature can. Associated details can be compressed within the limits of the frame to present a statement of extraordinary richness. Metonymy is a kind of cinematic shorthand. (Monaco 2000: 167-8)

Metonymy is widely used in films, and is a particularly useful rhetorical device, as viewers are given ‘comparatively limited time to identify and understand what is represented on screen’ (Di Giovanni 2007: 96), and culturally salient features (whether visual or verbal) are used for their intrinsic metonymic value. If we apply Monaco’s statement, then visual or verbal on-screen representations can be treated as metonymic evocations of a culture. In the films mentioned above, there are recurring elements, features and themes which appear to be used to represent a certain idea of African America in the films: loose-fitting clothes, baseball caps, sports, crime, violence and AAVE are all elements that contribute to creating or recreating stereotypical representations easily associated with African Americans. The subtitles, also presented ‘within the limits of the frame’ can yield the same power, as the words used in the translation can serve a metonymic purpose as well and can evoke a particular group in the target culture. And if a translation takes place between two cultures that share some contact or familiarity – as is the case in the films with American and French street cultures – then two assumptions can be made: first, that the cultural metonymies of the original may be accessible to viewers of the translated film, and secondly, that the cultural metonymies used in the subtitles may well exploit this familiarity and ‘bridge the gap’ between the two cultures for the viewers in the TL. The use of verlan in the subtitles suggests that translators perceive possible links between the source and the target culture and that because of the overlap between the two, which is also complemented by the other elements of the film (whether visual or acoustic), the use of a salient feature of the target culture such as verlan can help complement viewers’ understanding of a film.

Verlan is the only feature of banlieue French that is used in the subtitles, but it is a very salient one, and most importantly, one that is possible to put into writing. It would therefore be wrong to say that the subtitles are written in banlieue French, and more accurate to say that translators are relying on a particular feature, and on the associations that are stereotypically made with it, to trigger from viewers a certain indexing of characters.

This indexing is social, related to age, geography, and to a certain extent, ethnicity. Armstrong and Jamin (2002: 130) point out that banlieue French ‘is essentially a young working-class phenomenon’. By definition, banlieue French is also a (sub)urban variety. In the films mentioned above, verlan is exclusively used to subtitle the lines of characters who are young and from poor social backgrounds. In the films, only urban contexts are represented, and the level of social and ethnic isolation is always very important, both visually (the characters live in all-African American neighbourhoods) but also thematically (this relegation is often referred to by characters). Armstrong and Jamin (2002: 129), in their study of La Courneuve, highlight that ‘the majority of [banlieue French] features could not be allocated to any specific ethnic group, contrasting with the case of African American Vernacular English’, but although banlieue French is not specifically associated with black people, the social and ethnic relegation of the population who live in the French banlieues causes the variety to have strong associations with ethnic minorities.

The link between banlieue French and AAVE, because of these similarities and of the cultural overlap discussed above, is therefore very pertinent. But while the parallel between AAVE and banlieue French can be attractive, it is not unproblematic since one always runs the risk of making undesirable associations between the two and turning the subtitled films into hybrid objects.

Some verlan words like ‘teuf’, ‘keuf’ and ‘meuf’ are now in the Larousse dictionary. Words like ‘keubla’, ‘tassepé’, ‘feuj’ and ‘kepa’ (or any alternate spellings thereof) are not, which reflects their lack of integration in the French lexis. In other words, the former have all been codified, and to some extent, can be legitimately written, whereas codification has been ‘forced’ onto the latter words by the subtitlers, using certain tacit rules that appear to be used when it comes to verlanisation (for instance, the use of the letter ‘k’ rather than ‘qu’ with verlan words starting with the sound /k/). I would contend that words like ‘teuf’, ‘keuf’, and ‘meuf’ are recognised and understood by a larger part of the French public than ‘keubla’, ‘tassepé’, ‘feuj’, or ‘kepa’. If the codification of these words into writing is problematic (and not unanimous – ‘keubla’ can for instance be found spelt ‘kebla’, or ‘tassepé’ without the middle ‘e’), what is even more problematic is whether they will be understood by viewers or whether they will prevent them from engaging with the film.

The ‘Code of Good Subtitling Practice’, available on the webpage of the European Association for Studies in Screen Translation, states that in subtitles, ‘the language should be grammatically correct since subtitles serve as a model for literacy’ (Carroll & Ivarsson 1998).[6] Whilst verlan is not grammatically incorrect, its use certainly challenges accepted models for literacy as well as a certain idea of the norm. Díaz Cintas and Remael (2007: 9) also suggest that subtitles have to be unambiguous and ‘semantically adequate’.[7] Whilst it is difficult to establish precisely what ambiguity and semantic adequacy might be, and what particular elements in subtitles may be ambiguous for viewers, words in verlan – more particularly those that are less widely used – certainly run the risk of not being understood and of generating ambiguity. Naturally though, viewers can rely on other contextual clues to speculate on the meaning of those words, which overall, represent a very small portion of the dialogue. In addition, the opacity of verlan might even be desirable, in the same way that AAVE can potentially be opaque for non-speakers of AAVE.

In the subtitles of the films examined, the use of verlan is particularly salient because it is associated with a very specific culture, one that is local. The case of verlan, then, engages us in a particularly interesting analysis a posteriori: because it is so strongly associated with a particular age group (youths) from particular areas (the euphemistic banlieues) that are socially deprived,[8] verlan runs the risk of triggering cognitive-narrative dissonances when used in film subtitles.

However, we have shown that French street culture has strong ties with its African American counterpart, which is absolutely crucial to our study. The link between the two cultures is a strong and significant one, and is constantly re-asserted in the media by artists, through clothing, parallels made between American inner cities and French cités. They are so deeply connected that a layperson might think that they are, from a French perspective, very similar. Whilst representations of African America are ubiquitous in France, the opposite is far from true. I argue here that it is possible, through the use of verlan in the subtitles, to trigger associations with French street culture and also, by proxy to its overarching ‘mother’ culture. In the end, the use of verlan to translate AAVE can benefit from networks of representations and stereotypes that associate French street culture and African Americans to trigger connotations for viewers in the TL, connotations which go beyond mere domestication. The use of verlan may actually serve a purpose that can be called foreignising (I qualify this statement below).

It is worth noting that whilst the English subtitles of La Haine were singled out as problematic, French film critics rarely discuss the quality of the translation (whether dubbing or subtitling) of films in their reviews. In the vast majority of cases, it is in fact impossible to determine whether the critics have seen a film in a dubbed or subtitled version. Whilst the use of features of AAVE to translate banlieue French was deemed a hindrance, the use of verlan to translate AAVE has not been commented upon. The use of verlan is relevant precisely because French street culture is in many ways subordinate (for lack of a better word) to its American counterpart, because it draws so much from it – in terms of streetwear, sports, and arts – and because it draws its inspiration and momentum from it. Whilst French teenagers in the cités (those we have described as the primary users of verlan) certainly hold their American counterparts in high regard, the opposite is not true, or certainly not to the same extent, as most Americans teenagers would be ignorant of the French reality, being considerably less exposed to it. American youths know little about French rap music or sports culture, and have little interest in French cités. A careful assessment of the cultural dynamics at play is therefore necessary, should translators want to use features that are connotated geographically or socially in the TL. The important difference with Venuti’s theory is that the choice of verlan in the TL is clearly motivated by the ST. Verlan metonymically invokes French street culture as well as African America, and the images and soundtrack, rather than clashing with verlan, provide a context for its understanding. The meaning of verlan is channeled by the other semiotic systems of the film: they make verlan make sense. This is only possible in a situation where the overlap between the source and target cultures is appropriate, and, crucially, shared by viewers.

The use of verlan in subtitles certainly has to be controlled and contained. The subtitles are trying to make sense of the film, and have to be in cognitive-narrative harmony (we talked about dissonance above, this is its virtuous opposite) with the other channels. Verlan has resonance potential: that is, it can summon SL connotations in the TL, it can metonymically invoke a network of associations that is directly in relation with the source culture. Although not the case in any of the films discussed here, it can be conjectured here that such features (particularly when they have a cryptic component, the way verlan does) could potentially be overused to the point of obscuring meaning irremediably. In the films discussed here, however, verlan words do not feature frequently enough to obscure meaning significantly (should viewers fail to identify these words as cases of verlan). The opacity of verlan could in fact be desirable, in that it deliberately confronts viewers with a departure from the standard that establishes characters as speakers of a non-dominant discourse. Verlan in the films is used significantly (and usually in the opening lines of the films), but in overall quantitative terms not very frequently or systematically by characters portrayed as young speakers of AAVE. It should also be noted that unlike in the English subtitles of La Haine, where every cultural reference was transposed to the target culture, cultural references in the films below usually retain their foreignness: ‘dollars’ remain ‘dollars’ in the subtitles, ‘Miller High Life’ beer is also retained in Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989), as is Old E (Menace II Society), and as are references to prominent American people (such as David Dinkins, Michael Jordan or Mike Tyson). In some cases, when references would be unknown to a French audience or unclear from context, they are neutralised, as in the examples provided in the following table:


Subtitles [and back-translation]

1- Sweet Dick Willie: You mothafuckas are always talking dat old Keith Sweat shit. (Do the Right Thing)

Avec vous, c’est toujours
le même vieux refrain
[With you, it’s always the same tune]

2- Junior: Come on, shoot dis one, let’s go to Sizzlers. (White Men Can’t Jump)

et en route pour le resto.
[Let’s finish this and then head for the restaurant]

3- Raymond: Get yo’ tired butt up here, Gretzsky. (White Men Can’t Jump)

Bouge ton cul, hockey man.
[Move your ass, hockey man]

4- Sidney: Ah ain’t got nothin to worry about, ‘cept Cathy Rigby over here. (White Men Can’t Jump)

Je me fais pas de souci,
sauf pour M. le gymnaste.
[I don’t worry, except for Mr Gymnast]

5- Basketball player: What’s Opie Taylor talking about man? (White Men Can’t Jump)

Qu’est-ce qu’il dit, le péquenaud?
[What is the bumpkin saying?]

6- Roland: No wonder he sound like Willy Nelson. (The Wood)

C’est pour ça
qu’il a un accent de péquenot.
[That’s why he has a bumpkin accent]

7- Slim: Niggas what do ah look like? Alice from the Brady Bunch? (The Wood)

Est-ce que j’ai l’air d’une bonniche?
[Do I look like a maid?]

Table 1 – Examples of the neutralisation of cultural references in the subtitles

The examples in this table illustrate that when cultural references are not retained in the French subtitles, they are not transposed to the target culture either. In all these examples, a cultural reference in the original has been made more generic in the subtitles – Keith Sweat, an African American singer and his lyrics become ‘vieux refrain’, a Sizzlers restaurant becomes ‘resto’, and ice hockey superstar Wayne Gretzsky becomes a somewhat surprising ‘hockey man’. In White Men Can’t Jump, Billy is compared first to American gymnast Cathy Rigby (‘M le gymnaste’) and then to the fictional character Opie Taylor from a small community in North Carolina (‘péquenaud’). In The Wood (Rick Famuyiwa, 1999), references are made to Willy Nelson, a country music singer (‘péquenot’) and to Alice, the housekeeper (‘bonniche’) of the Brady family in the American show The Brady Bunch. In all these examples, translators have clearly picked up on one particular characteristic of each reference. In none of these cases have references been transposed to the target culture. Verlan, then, represents the only significant effort to adapt culturally-bound target culture elements.

This analysis indicates that Venuti’s paradigm, if used in the context of films, needs elaboration. Since the use of the remainder in the TT is not necessarily linked with any singular properties that may be found in the ST, in The Translator’s Invisibility Venuti does not carry out the type of cultural assessment that we are suggesting in this paper. According to his analysis, unlike ‘fluent’ translations, the translation that ‘releases the remainder’ (Venuti 1998: 10) opens itself to the incursion of the foreign, ‘the substandard, and the marginal’ (Venuti 1998: 11), and this in spite of the fact that the idea of the foreign is built with domestic material. Venuti (1998: 11) elaborates: ‘Cultivating a heterogeneous discourse […] does not so much prevent the assimilation of the foreign text as aim to signify the autonomous existence of the text behind (yet by means of) the assimilation process of translation’. This is perhaps never more correct than in the case of subtitled films: the autonomous existence of the foreign text (film) is not in doubt, as outlined above. What is more crucial here is the expression of the marginal and of the substandard (in the words of Venuti), specifically through the use of verlan. The use of this heterogeneous discourse (verlan), although eminently assimilating, does not and cannot domesticate or foreignise the source film on its own. Rather, it signifies the non-standard qualities of the dialogue in the source film. The difference with Venuti’s theory is that the use of verlan in the TL is motivated precisely by the relationship between source and target cultures, and relates to the variation and to the non-standard qualities found in the original.

Díaz Cintas and Remael note that good translators somehow manage to ‘suggest’ variation in subtitles. Whilst their assumption is quite vague and the authors do not explain exactly how translators can manage to ‘suggest’ particular information to viewers, we would like to offer the explanation that the use of verlan in French subtitles, when juxtaposed with images of African American youths, can aptly ‘suggest’ the variation of the original.

The assessment that translators make to decide whether some forms of the remainder can be used in the TT involves looking at a film as a whole – and not merely at the original dialogue in an atomised way, translating item-for-item, word-for-word. Translators analyse the culture(s) portrayed in the film and decide whether features of the TL can trigger the right associations from viewers and give them access to the meanings of the ST. Because of the constraint of reduction and the presence of the other channels in subtitles, pieces of information are discarded (because they are deemed superfluous, irrelevant or semiotically redundant), while others are selected (because they are deemed meaningful or salient) and undergo some level of reorganisation. Subtitling therefore involves a de-atomisation of the ST: translators must look at the film in its entirety and in its complexity before they are able to make a judgment and decide whether a particular use of the remainder makes sense from a cultural perspective.

‘Suggesting’ the right associations for viewers in the TL requires knowledge of the networks of representations that are intertwined in subtitled films in order to work out the meanings that viewers will understand. While this may sound commonplace in translation and translation theory, it has deeper implications in audiovisual translation. The semiotic hybridity of films implies that meanings are constantly the subject of a negotiation between the different channels: images portraying African American youths, over which subtitles are presented, can ‘channel’ meanings and have the power to privilege one or more interpretations over others. The foreignness inherent to subtitles, the other channels of the films, and the fact that cultural references are not transposed to the target culture invite viewers to consider the film as foreign. Because of this we would like to argue that Venuti’s domestication/foreignisation paradigm does have some operational relevance in the context of subtitled film: the subtitling mode is a constant reminder of foreignness, but the content of subtitles can use features like verlan which are in a way domesticating because they are so deeply rooted in the target culture. However, when juxtaposed with the image of the foreign (and with the subtitles as a further reminder of foreignness), viewers can match the socio-cultural features associated with the remainder with the socio-cultural properties of the original, and in those cases only can translators make use of the domestic to express the foreign. In the case of subtitled films, the use of domesticating forms can serve a foreignising purpose and create a specific Other, and say something of the nature of the Other’s foreignness.

In this context, the task of translators is most particular: it obviously involves a willingness not to standardise the dialogue, but also and more crucially, a great deal of empathy to determine what associations viewers will be making. Translators have to draw on a pool of widely acknowledged (and therefore hopefully more recognisable) stereotypes to construct and express difference. There is a tension – almost a discomfort – in the practice of audiovisual translation: whilst we have acknowledged that translation is always-already ideological, translation seems to require from translators a combination of specialist – and to a certain extent elitist – skills, and the use of lay persons' assumptions. In relying on recognised stereotypes, translators run the risk of perpetuating those very stereotypes. For example, the use of verlan may well bear social and geographical connotations that are appropriate in the representation of African America, but the themes tackled in the films discussed here (such as racism, substance abuse, and violence) may well be associated with speakers of verlan (i.e. people who use verlan are violent and so on) and perpetuate negative perceptions of certain social groups. The use of verlan, whilst very interesting from a translational perspective because of the parallel it exploits with African America, also means that negative stereotypes associated with speakers of verlan can be attributed to the characters portrayed. In other words, alongside the socio-geographical information, negative stereotypes are also ‘carried over’ in the translation process.

It can be argued here that this is also the case with such media of representation as films: films that claim to realistically portray the experiences of African Americans in the United States somehow pigeonhole them to a limited set of stereotypes. Ghettoisation, drugs, and violence are the only leitmotivs, and it is no wonder, then, that speakers of AAVE are often associated with negative stereotypes, such as poor education and aggressive behaviour. AAVE is not sub-standard, but rather is a rule-governed system that is learnt and known by its speakers. AAVE is often thought of as somehow inferior to English, and the characters portrayed in the films discussed in this paper who use features of AAVE are systematically perpetuating negative stereotypes. Paradoxically, the films that portray speakers of AAVE were said to be presenting a more realistic representation of African America but appear to be themselves perpetuating to some extent the stereotypes that plague the perception of AAVE and its speakers. Whilst translators may well be aware of issues connected to prestige and of the social status of languages, it is very difficult – perhaps impossible – to ignore these issues and find a middle ground in the form of translations that do not reinforce these poor perceptions. If the films could be accused of perpetuating negative stereotypes about African Americans, then some might argue that the subtitles ought to do the same. What the subtitles do, however, is perpetuate stereotypes about the French banlieues (more specifically about speakers of verlan) and reassert the link between American inner cities and French banlieues.

4. Conclusion

What does this study reveal about domestication and foreignisation as general concepts for translation? According to Venuti, the use of the remainder is not motivated by specific elements of the ST, and as a result the foreignness is one that disturbs dominant discourses. It is a foreignness that is not revelatory of the nature of the original. This study addresses this particular point and suggests that foreignisation can be qualified. The use of the remainder (such as verlan) can, in some cases, go beyond hinting at the foreign nature of the original and can actually explore this foreignness. Foreignisation as a concept needs to see its scope broadened: beyond a disturbance of the dominant discourses, it can also serve more specific purposes. Naturally, this is done through the use of domestic material (which, as Venuti rightly pointed out, is always the case with translation), and foreignisation remains essentially reliant on the use of this material. One of the main issues that translators face when they are translating non-standard varieties is the illustration of specific connotations of the original in the translation. The use of verlan to translate AAVE reveals that this can be achieved to some extent when two cultures share strong ties that are widely recognised. However, such solutions are far from universal and are only possible in very limited cases. It is therefore important to explore the cross-cultural potential of non-standard features used in the TL. Relations between the source and target cultures need to be explored case by case in order to find out how much overlap there is between the two, and how familiar viewers in the TL are with the source culture. While French viewers can be expected to be quite familiar with African American culture (either through media exposure or even by proxy through exposition to French street culture), American viewers do not benefit from the same level of exposure to French street culture. Consequently, the use of verlan to subtitle AAVE can trigger associations with the United States, but the use of AAVE to subtitle banlieue French cannot, and instead brings the film back ‘home’ to American viewers in a way that is deeply problematic.

Subtitlers work under strict time constraints, and their research into how much is shared by the source and target cultures is bound to be limited. Their assessment relies on systems of representations and existing stereotypes, and their translation decisions are informed by these assessments. This might in itself be considered problematic insofar as it means that translation can confirm existing stereotypes, in a negative way, and there seems to be an irreconcilable tension between relying on stereotypes to establish characters quickly on the one hand, and perpetuating those stereotypes on the other.

Subtitled films offer the possibility of familiarising oneself with foreign languages and cultures: first the soundtrack retains intonation and pronunciation patterns that would be replaced through dubbing, and in parallel, the images bring viewers into contact with ‘mannerisms and behaviours of other cultures (gesticulation, way of dressing, interpersonal relationships, geographical spaces)’ (Díaz Cintas & Remael 2007: 15). And whilst this possibility of having direct access to the original is part of the reason why subtitling is such a vulnerable form of translation, it has also been described by specialists of subtitling as one of the most positive aspects of subtitling (D’Ydewalle & Pavakum 1992; Koolstra & Beentjes 1999). It is because of the foreignness already present that the idea of foreignisation is so much more relevant in the context of subtitled films: the subtitles can make use of the domestic tools and values described by Venuti specifically for the purpose of the foreign, because the foreign is already there and is complemented by the subtitles.

Whilst linguists are well aware that linguistic varieties are not hierarchically organised, it is possible that because of the mechanics described above, the use of the remainder in translation reinforces the status of the standard as the perceived superior variety. In films, as in literature, linguistic forms have high metonymic values, and stand for whole networks of representations. As we have seen, Venuti’s concepts – domestication and foreignisation – prove very useful when considering the cultural dynamics at play in interlingual subtitling. Because of the nature of films, however, the level of cultural proximity between features in the dialogue of the original and the subtitles should be looked at carefully before translation is attempted. While Venuti argues that most translations are transparent and translators invisible, subtitles are anything but transparent. Consequently, their foreignising form can potentially be benefited from, and subtitles (both in terms of their form and their content), can work together with images to constitute a system, which despite having domesticating elements, serves a purpose that is ultimately foreignising.


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[1] The use of American references in the subtitles is also potentially misleading for American viewers who might believe that French banlieue youths actually share all those cultural references with American youths (i.e. the use of ‘beer’ in the subtitles instead of ‘bud’ might at least have prevented American viewers from thinking that French youths actually drink Budweiser) (see also Mével 2008 and 2010) The possibility of such ‘mismatches’, whereby there are discrepancies for viewers that are a direct product of the juxtaposition of the different channels of the film, may incidentally be one of the reasons why interlingual subtitles display a tendency to neutralise non-standard features and cultural references.

[2] This is an important difference between films and literature, and the latter may have to rely on paratextual material to achieve a similar effect.

[3] It should be noted that the use of ‘jeunes’ in those labels is metonymic as well as euphemistic, ‘jeunes’ referring to a socially stigmatised category rather than to an age group. The same is true about the use of ‘quartiers’, which often means ‘quartiers défavorisés’ ou ‘quartiers sensibles’, and about ‘banlieues’ which does not designate all banlieues, but rather poor neighbourhoods of the type sometime referred to as ‘grands ensembles’.

[4] See among others Bachmann & Basier (1984), Bagemihl (1988, 1989), Cheneau (1992), Kerleroux (1982), Lefkowitz (1987, 1989, 1991), Lefkowitz & Weinberger (1991), Mela (1988, 1991), Paul (1985), Plénat (1992, 1995) Villoing (1992), Walter (1984), Weinberger & Lefkowitz (1991).

[5] The opening line of C’est ton destin (1990), a song by French comedians Les Inconnus is still often heard today: ‘Eh les keufs, et les meufs, dans le RER, la banlieue, c’est pas rose, la banlieue c’est morose’ [Hey cops, hey broads, in the RER, suburbs are no fun, suburbs are moribund].

[6] http://www.esist.org/ [accessed on 30th April 2012].

[7] The Code of Good Subtitling Practice also provides rules that aim to avoid ambiguity in subtitles. For instance, ‘simple syntactic units should be used’, and ‘the text must be coherent’ (Carroll & Ivarsson,1998).

[8] Again, this is not to say that all the young people in the banlieue use verlan, or that verlan is exclusively used in the banlieues by unemployed young people of various ethnic origins. Rather, the banlieues are treated, by various specialists of verlan, as the birthplace of verlan, where the most recent innovations take place. Therefore the inhabitants of the banlieues are considered the primary innovators and users of verlan.

Bilingualism and Translation Competence

A Research Project and Its First Results

By Wolfgang Lörscher (University of Leipzig, Germany)

Abstract & Keywords

In translation studies it is sometimes assumed that bilinguals take a specific approach to translations and/or are in possession of a special competence for translating. In my research project aspects of bilingualism and translation are investigated. The main questions are whether the two languages of bilinguals play a positive or negative role in translation, whether and to what extent they favour or hinder it. Answers to these questions should be found by pursuing two approaches. First, the relevant literature on bilingualism and translation is reviewed. One focus of interest is the mental representation of the two languages in bilinguals. Second, an empirical investigation is carried out with bilingual subjects. By means of a special methodology data are gathered that should give important hints as to how the subjects make use of their two languages in translation. The results of the research project should not only yield relevant insights for the description and improvement of bilingual translation processes but also for a theory of the development of translation competence in general.

Keywords: compound bilingualism, coordinate bilingualism, translation competence, sense-oriented translation, sign-oriented translation, natural translation

©inTRAlinea & Wolfgang Lörscher (2014).
"Bilingualism and Translation Competence"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Challenges in Translation Pedagogy
Edited by: Maria Piotrowska & Sergiy Tyupa
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Permanent URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2097

1. Introduction

In translation studies it is sometimes assumed that bilinguals take a specific approach to translations and/or are in possession of a special competence for translating. The most extreme form of this view is held by Brian Harris in his hypothesis of a ‘natural translation’. According to this, bilingualism is not only a competence in two languages but also a competence of mediating between the two languages[1].

In the research project described in this paper, aspects of bilingualism and translation are investigated. Two of the main questions are whether the two languages of bilinguals play a positive or negative role in translation, and whether they favour or hinder it. Answers to these questions should be found by pursuing two approaches.

First, the relevant literature on bilingualism and translation is being reviewed. One focus of interest is the mental representation of the two languages in bilinguals. Are these represented in the same or in different areas of the brain? Thus light could also be shed on the forms and functions of the mutual influences of the two languages according to their mental representation.

Second, an empirical investigation is being carried out with bilingual subjects. By means of a special methodology data are being gathered that could give hints

  1. as to how the subjects make use of their two languages in translation, e.g. in order to solve translation problems;
  2. what the role and importance of the source- and target language have for them;
  3. how meanings are constituted, represented and retrieved by the subjects, and what role the two languages play in these processes.

2. What is Bilingualism?

In the relevant literature very different concepts of bilingualism can be found. They can be subsumed under two polar views:

The first goes back to Bloomfield (1933) and Halliday/McIntosh/Strevens (1964). According to them bilingualism occurs when an individual can use each of the two languages in communication in such a way that s/he will be considered a native speaker in each of the respective speech communities.

The degree of competence in each of the two languages thus has to be very high, native or native-like, and largely the same in the two languages involved. Bilingual competence is therefore an extremely rare case characterised by discreteness. One either possesses bilingual competence (in its entirety) or one does not. According to this maximalist definition bilingualism is an exotic, exceptional phenomenon which hardly occurs in reality.

The second concept of bilingualism is extremely wide and thus largely the opposite of the one mentioned above. According to it bilingualism occurs when ‘a speaker can (...) produce complete meaningful utterances in the other language’ (Haugen 1956), or has skills in one of the four modalities (speaking, listening, writing or reading) (MacNamara 1969; Appel / Muysken 1987).

Any real, i.e. communicative, use of a second language, however limited this use may be, is thus considered bilingualism. Even though a person’s competence in the non-native language was extremely limited and possibly restricted to one modality only, this person would nonetheless be subsumed under the heading of bilingualism. The concept is so widely defined that according to it nearly every person can be said to be bilingual. Almost every individual can utter a greeting, a farewell or something alike in a foreign language. In contrast to the narrow definition of bilingualism, which restricted the phenomenon to an extremely small number of people, the wide definition considers bilingualism to be the normal rather than the odd case.

A third concept of bilingualism takes a medial position between the very narrow and the very wide concepts outlined above. According to it bilingualism occurs when an individual uses or has to use two languages – or two varieties of one and the same language – in the conduct of her/his daily life. (e.g. Grosjean 2001) This also means that competence in each of the two languages (or varieties) can vary considerably both with respect to the various skills (speaking, writing, reading and listening, and with respect to the content to be communicated (e.g. the weather, a holiday) as well as the domain of the communication (e.g. an everyday conversation, an enquiry at a car registration office).

In adopting the third concept bilingualism is to be subsumed under the general human faculty of using linguistic varieties or – more generally – sign systems in communication in a situationally adequate way. For translation this has important consequences pointed out by Grosjean (2001, 11):

In fact, bilinguals acquire and use their languages for different purposes, in different domains of life, with different people. … It is thus perfectly normal to find bilinguals who … can only speak about a particular subject in one of their languages. This explains in part why bilinguals are usually poor interpreters and translators. Not only are specific skills required, but interpretation and translation entail that one has identical lexical knowledge in the two languages, something that most bilinguals do not have. (Grosjean 2001, 11)

The fact that translation – together with code switching and code mixing – occurs frequently among bilinguals is the ultimate reason why translation studies are interested in bilingualism.

3. Translation and Translation Competence

It is an obvious fact that translation competence, as possessed by professional translators, is the result of a developmental process that is never final. The process is based on a predisposition to translate which every individual is endowed with. This innate predisposition is not controversial in translation theory. What is most controversial, however, is the way translation competence develops from an individual's innate predisposition. At the moment two highly controversial developmental models exist: natural translation and the concept of translation as transfer.

3.1 Natural Translation

The concept of natural translation goes back to Harris 1977 and Harris/Sherwood 1978. It is defined as ‘the translation done by bilinguals in everyday circumstances and without special training for it.’ (Harris 1977:99) According to Harris and Sherwood bilinguals’ translation competence develops, or rather unfolds itself, to the same degree and parallel to the extent to which the competence of a person in the two languages involved develops. Harris (1977:99) points out that

…all translators have to be bilingual and … all bilinguals can translate.
In addition to some competence in two languages Li and Lj, they all possess a third competence, that of translating from Li to Lj and vice versa. Bilingualism is therefore a triple, not a double, competence: and the third competence is bi-directional.

Translation competence in the sense of natural translation is thus considered to be an aspect of bilingual competence. It is a natural phenomenon of bilinguals and must not be confused with translation competence as possessed by professional translators. With respect to the findings presented in section 2 the assumption that all bilinguals can translate can definitely not be corroborated (cf. Grosjean 2001). Several reasons seem to be responsible for that. The following three may be of special importance. First, even though bilinguals have competence in two languages these competences are usually not of exactly the same kind. They may be more competent for a particular topic in language A than in language B. Second, bilinguals often lack the meta-lingual and meta-cultural awareness necessary for rendering a source-language text effectively into a target-language and culture. And third, bilinguals’ competence in two languages does not necessarily include competence in transferring meanings and/or forms from one language into the other.

3.2 Translation as transfer

The second developmental model of translation competence was proposed by Toury (1986). He agrees with Harris and Sherwood about an innate predisposition to translate and considers it to be ‘co‑extensive with bilingualism’. The differences between the two concepts become evident when Toury points out that translation competence does not develop quasi‑automatically and parallel to the development of a child's bilingualism. Bilingualism is considered to be a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for the development of translation competence. In addition to an individual's bilingual or quasi‑bilingual competence an interlingual or transfer competence must be built up. Apart from other possible but hitherto unknown factors, it comprises the individual's ability to transfer texts equivalently on various levels according to a given purpose/aim and with regard to sense, communicative function(s), style, text type, and/or other factors; or to deliberately violate postulates of equivalence for a certain purpose (Hönig/Kußmaul 1982; Reiß/Vermeer 1984).

Translation competence, according to Toury, can thus be considered to be the sum of bilingual competence and Interlingual transfer competence.

3.3 The Concept of a Rudimentary Ability to Mediate

This concept goes back to Lörscher (1991a, 1991b). Here only its main points shall be outlined.

  • The concept assumes that every individual who has a command of two or more languages (even with various degrees of proficiency) is also endowed with a rudimentary ability to mediate information between these languages.
  • The rudimentary ability to mediate realises itself in performance products which are to be called translations, even though they are imperfect or restricted.
  • The rudimentary ability to mediate can be considered to be a special case of at least two universal innate abilities of the human intellect: that of categorizing and that of comparing, of differentiating similarities and dissimilarities.
  • Both of these abilities, which also underlie any natural linguistic competence, make it possible for an individual to express sense and/or connections of signs in different ways. The mediations of sense and/or signs can occur within the verbal sphere, between the verbal and the nonverbal spheres and between different nonverbal spheres. As soon as an individual has at least partially acquired modes of verbal and/or nonverbal behaviour, rudimentary mediations between them are possible.
  • Based on innate abilities of the human mind, the rudimentary ability to mediate and its modes of realization function irrespective of the genuine nature of the mediating situation and irrespective of the naturalness of its communication.

As a consequence translation competence is considered to equal – an even partial – competence in the languages involved plus an Interlingual (rudimentary) ability to mediate plus training/experience in translation.

4. Bilingualism: On the Mental Status of the Two Languages

Research so far has concentrated largely on four aspects:

  1. Do bilinguals process words, sentences and discourse of each of the two languages in the same way?
  2. Do bilinguals process words, sentences and discourse of each of the two languages in the same way as monolinguals do or are there specific, bilingual processing mechanisms?
  3.  Are there in the bilingual brain two mental lexicons, which are automatically kept apart (independent storage) or does the bilingual brain only possess one mental lexicon with a mechanism that relates the respective entries to the respective language in communication (interdependent storage)?
  4.  Are the languages of bilinguals mentally represented in one or two memory stores?

1. Do bilinguals process words, sentences and discourse of each of the two languages in the same way?

In the relevant literature there seems to be some evidence for this assumption (cf. Fabbro 2001, Nicol 2001). In the processing of a language in which a person has a lower degree of competence, pragmatic factors are more strongly employed as means of compensation.          

2. Do bilinguals process words, sentences and discourse of each of the two languages in the same way as monolinguals do or are there specific, bilingual processing mechanisms?

In the relevant literature there is a high degree of evidence for identical language processing among bilinguals and monolinguals. Specific bilingual mechanisms of language processing seem not to exist (cf. Fabbro 2001, Nicol 2001).

3. Are there in the bilingual brain two mental lexicons, which are automatically kept apart (independent storage) or does the bilingual brain only possess one mental lexicon with a mechanism that relates the respective entries to the respective language in communication (interdependent storage)?

The number of memory stores seems to depend on the respective type of bilingualism (compound, coordinate, subordinate)

Compound bilingualism is characterised by one set of meaning representations for both languages and two modes of expression, one for any of the two languages. This may suggest one mental lexicon for the two languages. It is, however, still a matter of controversy (Fabbro 2001, Nicol 2001, Appel/Muysken 1987).

In coordinate bilingualism there are two sets of meaning representations, one for any of the two languages, as well as two modes of expression, one for either of the two languages. This type of bilingualism may suggest the existence of two mental lexicons. But there is no unanimous consent about this (Fabbro 2001, Nicol 2001, Appel/Muysken 1987).

Subordinate bilingualism is characterised by one set of meaning representations, for L1, and two modes of expression of which the one for L2 is learned by means of that for L1. Subordinate bilingualism suggests the existence of one mental lexicon and one in the process of construction (Fabbro 2001, Nicol 2001, Appel/Muysken 1987).

There is still a third possibility, i.e. the assumption of three memory stores: one conceptual store, for encyclopaedic knowledge, and two language stores, for meaning representations and modes of expression for each of the two languages.

4. Are the languages of bilinguals mentally represented in one or two memory stores?

Three concepts can be distinguished:

(i) Two-Store-Models

These go back to Scoresby-Jackson (1867) and postulate that both languages, at least to a large extent, are stored in different cortical areas.

This view could not be corroborated. Neither electrophysiological studies (event-related potentials, ERPs, e.g. N500), nor the more advanced functional neuroanatomy studies (positron emission tomography, PET, or functional magnetic resonance imaging, fMRI) support these models. The cerebral activation measurable occurs in the same cortical areas of bilinguals and monolinguals and independent of the respective language.

A possible reason is that bilingualism is to be subsumed under the general human faculty of using varieties or, more generally, sign systems in communication in a situationally adequate way (as described earlier).

(ii) One-Store-Models

They go back to Pitres (1895) and Minkowski (1927) who assume that both languages, at least to a large extent, are stored in the same cortical areas of the left and the right hemispheres. Electrophysiological as well a functional neuroanatomy studies have shown that the same cerebral activation occurs with bilinguals as well as with monolinguals in word-, sentence- and text-processing. Accordingly one-store models are generally preferred.

(iii) The Two-Component-Model

A special type of one-store models is the two-component model. With respect to translation Fabbro (2001) and Paradis (1984) assume a two-component model with two neurofunctionally separate and autonomous components in the same cortical area. These are responsible for translation and work in a way relatively independent of the reception and production systems. One component is responsible for a translation from language A to language B, the other one for a translation from language B to language A.

The considerations made so far yield the following insights:

‘Actually, all verbal functions that are present in a bilingual individual have their homolog in a monolingual speaker. Bilinguals switch and mix languages, while monolinguals switch and mix registers; bilinguals translate from one language into another, while monolinguals may paraphrase from one register to another (i.e., they can express the same concept addressing their own little child or an audience of experts) (Paradis, 1993, 1998). This is another reason why it is no longer reasonable to postulate the existence of neural mechanisms specific to bilinguals, as maintained by several neurologists in the past’ (Fabbro 2001, 213)

By consequence, as regards the mental mechanisms of language processing, language competence in the sense of a bilingual competence on the one hand, and in the sense of a competence of a native language (L1) plus a partial competence in another language (interlanguage; IL[2]) on the other hand, do not differ in principle but rather by degree. This is also suggested by the wider definitions of bilingualism (Grosjean 2001). It can be diagrammatically represented as follows:


Figure 1

The considerations made above have important consequences for the investigation of translation:

  • translation processes of bilinguals are likely to differ from translation processes of non-bilinguals, i.e. people with a native language and an interlanguage, not in principle, but only by degree.
  • As a matter of fact, it can be observed that many bilinguals have both subjective and objective problems in translating and in interpreting.
  • This is probably not caused by any specifics of neuronal processes but by the interaction of the two languages. The problems are probably similar to those of monolinguals, when they transfer meaning-sign-combinations from one register into another or from one variety into another.
  • Since little evidence for these phenomena can be found, the investigation of bilingual translation competence is a desideratum in research.

5. Bilingualism and Translation: A Project for the Investigation of Bilingual Translation Competence

In the research project three goals are pursued. First, psycholinguistic aspects of the mental translation process are investigated by analysing translation performance. This is done in order to reconstruct translation strategies. These underlie translation performance, operate in the translation process and thus are not accessible to direct inspection. Second, insights into the combined use of the two languages of bilinguals during their translation processes shall be gained. And third, knowledge about aspects of the development of bilinguals’ translation competence shall be acquired.

The basis of the investigation is a data corpus consisting of translations performed by 22 bilinguals (in the sense of Grosjean’s definition). As one of the aims of the research project is to find out how bilinguals’ translation competence develops, the subjects chosen are no trained but “native translators’ (Toury 1986). Furthermore, their experience in translating varies considerably. This should yield insights into the respective stage of development of the subject’s translation competence.

5.1 Methodology

As concerns the methodology employed in investigating bilingual translation processes, a distinction can be made between methods and procedures for the elicitation of data and those for the analysis and evaluation of data.

5.1.1 Methods for Data Elicitation

For the investigation of the 22 bilingual subjects’ mental processes introspective procedures (thinking-aloud) are employed. During the last years many arguments have been put forward about the advantages and disadvantages of thinking‑aloud. Elsewhere (Lörscher 1991b) seven arguments in favour of this method for eliciting information about translation processes were discussed. As a conclusion, it was pointed out that thinking‑aloud is a useful tool for collecting data about mental processes in general, and translation processes in particular, if we take into account the conditions under which the data are externalised and their inherent limitations. (Ericsson/Simon 1984).

To minimize these limitations retrospective procedures (ex-post thinking-aloud, retrospective probing immediately after translation task) are additionally employed. Such a combination of introspective and retrospective methods should minimize the weaknesses of each procedure when it is used separately. This triangulation of methods is also propagated by Ericsson and Simon (1984).

The subjects’ translations, their thinking-aloud protocols interwoven with the translations and the retrospective information are video-recorded and serve as one data basis for the analysis.  Furthermore the tracking system TRANSLOG is being used by the bilingual subjects. The TRANSLOG recordings serve as a second basis for the analysis. It is hoped that by means of a combination of introspective and retrospective procedures together with the data documented by the TRANSLOG system a rich and valid data corpus can be compiled.

5.1.2 Methods for Data Analysis and Evaluation

The analysis and evaluation of data is carried out by means of an interpretive approach, as this is customary in performance analysis. The primary aim of this approach is the hypothetical reconstruction of sense relations. In the process of interpretive reconstruction, certain data are interpreted as (observable) indicators of (unobservable, mental) translation strategies. These indicators represent the basis for the formation of hypotheses on the mental translation process. ‑ A more detailed description of these phenomena is contained in Lörscher 1991a: 56ff.

The process of knowledge accumulation with respect to translation strategies has a dialectical nature. On the one hand, the analysts must have some knowledge of the concept of translation strategy in order to be able to ascribe the status of strategy indicators to certain signs. On the other hand, it is only by their indicators that translation strategies are constituted, so that knowledge of them can, to a very large extent, only be gained by means of strategy indicators. Therefore, the analysts must often proceed in a speculative and hypothetical way. They often do not interpret certain signs to be indicators as a result of their knowledge of the respective entity or of the relationship between an indicator and a segment of reality, but rather on the basis of considerations of probability. They can be corroborated or turn out to be false in the course of accumulating further knowledge of the phenomena and of gathering more experience in interpretation.

6. Projected Results and Perspective

The results of the research project should yield insights into several domains:

  • concerning the description and analysis of translation processes of bilinguals: What status and roles do the two languages play for the bilinguals? In what ways do bilinguals use the two languages to deal with translation problems and try to solve them? What aspects of bilingual competence can help or hinder translation?
  • concerning approaches to describing as well as improving the efficiency of translation processes among bilinguals, e.g. by comparing successful with unsuccessful translation processes and ascertain what factors may be responsible for success or failure.
  • concerning approaches to describing as well as improving the efficiency of translation processes among non-bilinguals, since differences between bilingual and non-bilingual language competence are by degree and not in principle.
  • concerning a theory of the development of translation competence in general. As the investigations of the mental translation processes of professional and non-professional translators suggest, the process-oriented approach to translation is a decisive indicator of the developmental stage of translation competence (Lörscher 2002). By means of an investigation into bilingual translation processes insights could be gained as to whether and to what extent bilinguals take a sign- or a sense-oriented approach to translation.

Elsewhere (e.g. Lörscher 1995) I have presented considerations concerning a developmental model of translation competence. These were based on a data corpus of translations performed by (advanced) foreign language learners and professional translators. The mediations performed by foreign language learners are characterized by primarily sign-oriented procedures. They are made possible by a mother tongue competence and a partial (interlanguage) competence in a foreign language. The mediations normally take place in artificial mediating situations. They neither make communication possible nor easier, but serve didactic purposes.

Professional translators take a primarily sense-oriented approach to translation. Their developed mediating competence is based on a quasi-bilingual competence and unfolds itself in real mediating situations in which genuine communication takes place. 

Hypothetically, it can be concluded that the rudimentary mediating competence and its forms of realization in elementary translations, as can be observed with (coordinate bilingual) children in the sense of a natural translation, are characterized by a sense-oriented approach to translation. The rudimentary ability to mediate is based on a bilingual competence and unfolds itself in real mediating situations for purposes of making communication possible or easier. Children with compound or subordinate bilingualism, in contrast may take a mainly sign-oriented approach to translation. The research project in progress will hopefully illuminate whether, or to what extent, this hypothesis can be corroborated. 

The development of an individual's rudimentary ability to mediate towards  translation competence, as professional translators possess it in its elaborated realizations and non‑professional translators in its largely deficient forms, is schematically represented in the following diagram:


Figure 2

The rudimentary mediating competence in its largely sense‑oriented forms manifests itself in coordinate bilingual children's natural translation. In the foreign language classroom, in which translation is taken out of its communicative dimension and functionalized for the training and testing of foreign language skills, this rudimentary ability to mediate undergoes a decisive deformation. It is largely reduced to the level of the signs. This is documented in the translations of the foreign language learners and generally remains with non‑professional translators. It is the task of the schools of translation to reverse this deformation. The professionals whom they train approach translations in a primarily sense‑oriented way and thus adopt procedures used by coordinate bilingual children.

With regard to their approach to translation, coordinate bilingual children and professional translators have thus more in common with each other than with foreign language learners. It is, therefore, an urgent task, especially for the schools, to search for possibilities of developing the rudimentary mediating competence towards an elaborated translation competence. By maintaining an apparently inadequate concept and view of translation, this development has far too often been seriously hindered.


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[1] The concept of “natural translation” is discussed in detail in section 3.1 below.

[2] The hypothesis of an interlanguage goes back to Selinker 1972. It assumes that second language learners do not normally acquire the full competence in the target language but an interlanguage system sharing features of the native and the second language.

Double meaning re-negotiation:

Italian films in Flanders as cultural objects

By Manuela Caniato (Ghent Univesity, Belgium)

Abstract & Keywords

This article presents the outcome of empirical research into the background of Italian films screened in Flanders between 2000-2006[*] and considered as cultural objects. It reconstructs their life cycles, combining, as it does, qualitative in-depth interviews with selected gatekeepers and with a focus group of non-native Italian speakers. The paper also presents the results of a pilot study on La meglio gioventù (Giordana 2003), an Italian film that proved very popular in Belgium. This involved the analysis, in terms of both quality and quantity, of the subtitles of La meglio gioventù. The study considers its reception in Flanders and the strategies that characterize the translation of its subtitles into Dutch. The results show that Italian films in Flanders are selected at international film festivals, such as Cannes and Berlin, and go on to be shown in Art-house cinemas but never in commercial cinemas. They also show that La meglio gioventù received a unanimously positive reception. In spite of the success of the film, some of its meanings were negotiated (history, terrorism, family saga, etc.) and some resisted (madness) by the Flemish public and by the gatekeepers, and this process resulted in the loss of one of the film’s important meanings. The subtitles of La meglio gioventù were translated in this vein. The findings show that there are two levels of re-negotiation of meanings/resistance to meanings (symbolic and linguistic) and they do not differ one from the other.

Keywords: reception, flanders, meaning negotiation, audiovisual translation, Italian film, subtitling

©inTRAlinea & Manuela Caniato (2014).
"Double meaning re-negotiation:"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Across Screens Across Boundaries
Edited by: Rosa Maria Bollettieri Bosinelli, Elena Di Giovanni & Linda Rossato
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Permanent URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2075