Translation, cultures and the media

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  • This article was downloaded by: [University of California, San Francisco]On: 18 December 2014, At: 16:52Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    European Journal of English StudiesPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/neje20

    Translation, cultures and the mediaElena Di Giovanni aa Department of Linguistic and Literary Research , University ofMacerata E-mail:Published online: 24 Jul 2008.

    To cite this article: Elena Di Giovanni (2008) Translation, cultures and the media, European Journalof English Studies, 12:2, 123-131, DOI: 10.1080/13825570802151330

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  • Elena Di Giovanni

    TRANSLATION, CULTURES AND THE

    MEDIA

    Translation is not just a window opened on another world, or some suchpious platitude. Rather, translation is a channel opened, often not without acertain reluctance, through which foreign influences can penetrate the nativeculture.

    (Lefevere, 1990: 2)

    Transculturation refers to a process whereby cultural forms literally movethrough time and space where they interact with other cultural forms andsettings, influence each other, produce new forms. . . . Many cultural crossingsare made possible by the mass media.

    (Lull, 2000: 242)

    The media have long been a focus amongst those working with language andcommunication. Firstly, media are a rich source of readily accessible data forresearch. Secondly, media usage influences and represents peoples use of andattitudes towards language. Thirdly, media can tell us a great deal about socialmeanings and stereotypes projected through language and communication.Fourthly, the media reflect and influence the formation and expression ofculture, politics and social life.

    (Bell and Garrett, 1998: 4)

    The above quotations, taken from three of the countless volumes which offer jointreflections on translation, cultures and the media, are meant to provide evidence ofthe growing interdependence of such fields. They also point to the ever-increasingamount of academic and non-academic discussion they fuel, the neologisms theygenerate (transculturation), the expressions they highlight and make popular (culturalforms, cultural crossings) and, last but not least, the innumerable, often inextricable,research paths they open up. While new labels and definitions are created to try andaccount for an ever-widening range of phenomena related to these three issues, newterritories and boundaries are established among all the disciplines which are involvedin these multidimensional, multidirectional flows. And if the overall amount ofdiscussion about the role of cultures in the media, the function of the media ininfluencing cultures and the impact of translation on both cultures and the media is onthe increase (as can be attested, for instance, by the publications devoted to issues ofglobalization, an umbrella word which inevitably brings together translation, culturesand the media), this sometimes leads to overlaps and confusion.

    European Journal of English Studies Vol. 12, No. 2, August 2008, pp. 123131

    ISSN 1382-5577 print/ISSN 1744-4243 online 2008 Taylor & Francishttp://www.tandf.co.uk/journals DOI: 10.1080/13825570802151330

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  • The title of the present volume may appear rather trivial, using as it doesbuzzwords such as translation, cultures and the media. And yet, besides evoking over-exploited concepts, Translation, Cultures and the Media points to a huge and dynamicdomain which calls for more systematic approaches where (in)compatibility betweenthe three elements becomes an issue. Therefore, by way of introduction to thiscollection of extremely diverse and yet homogeneous essays on translation, culturesand the media, we shall briefly dwell on these three terms, reflect upon their changingmeaning and try to explore their common ground, their specificity and compatibility.

    Let us start by focusing on the study of translation and its most recent evolutionsin connection with cultures and the media. The observation of translationphenomena goes back to the dawn of Western civilization, although the formalacknowledgement of a discipline called translation studies is relatively recent.Notwithstanding its having recently acquired international recognition (towards theend of the 1970s), over the past two decades or so research on translation has beenincredibly boosted by scholars all over the world, who have come from all sorts ofdisciplinary backgrounds and have sometimes even unconsciously joined forces tohave a say on the kinds of activities which can be brought to the domain oftranslation. By way of example, reference can be made to the proliferatingcontributions by non-Western scholars (such as Eva Hung, Tejaswini Niranjana,Augusto and Haroldo de Campos, Rita Kothari,1 etc.) and their role in expandingcurrent debates as well as diluting the very concept of translation. With these andother thrusts it seems that, to the present date, translation studies have overgrownand almost lost some of their specificity, having been pushed in multiple, sometimeseven denaturalizing directions.

    Translation and culture make up an incredibly popular pair, almost a trope. Itis undoubtedly the most common pair which has been evoked by researchers oftranslation since the acknowledgement of the cultural turn (Bassnett and Lefevere,1990) and the systematic development of culture-oriented translation studies.However, if translation and culture seem nowadays to enter into an increasingnumber of theoretical and practical relations, they are also the object of controversies,if not conflicts. As some scholars have pointed out; (Trivedi, 2004: 3545), or onlyhinted at (Apter, 2006), the coming together of these two issues has brought aboutnew interpretations of the concept of translation, some of them leading far from whattranslation most commonly implies, in theory as well as in practice. The debate overcultural translation, for instance, has given rise to a host of studies on the processes ofhybridization which diasporas and multiculturalism have fuelled, where the role ofinterlingual transfer seems to be almost irrelevant and is often lost in the mist of timeand space. As a matter of fact, in this and other culture-oriented reflections ontranslation, the observation of processes of interlingual transformation becomesincreasingly less prominent, leaving the stage for more complex, interdisciplinary andless specific studies of translation as a generic form of transfer, passage and dynamism.Just like the above-mentioned cultural translation, a host of new expressions havebeen coined, many of them opening up new research avenues and often implying anexcessive expansion of the concept of translation, a spreading of its meaning andessence over (too) many paths.

    Thus, it seems plausible to argue that the union between translation andculture has had the merit of broadening the spectrum of translation studies and

    1 2 4 E U R O P E A N J O U R N A L O F E N G L I S H S T U D I E S

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  • intensifying the overall research activity connected with them but, on the other hand,it has led to a loss of specificity which has only been partially recovered through small-scale, often limited studies.

    As for translation and the media, these two terms have most commonly cometogether within a sub-discipline known as multimedia translation. This field, like theresearch areas mentioned above, has been growing constantly over the past 15 years;it has rapidly come to the fore at international level and has claimed recognition aswell as closer attention by the academic community. Now that recognition has finallycome, as is proved by the impressive amount of publications and conferencespromoted over the past 10 years, the very nature of multimedia translation hasbecome the bone of contention for scholars within and outside this field. As a matterof fact, those very scholars who had first promoted the systematic union of mediaand translation have been making use of the space and visibility acquired by thediscipline to highlight the great difficulty of tracing its boundaries and defining whatmultimedia can possibly mean in relation to the study and practice of translation.Traces of these practical and conceptual difficulties can be found, for instance, in the(written and oral) debates over the terminology to be employed when exploring theunion of translation and the media: expressions such as (multi)media translation,screen translation and audiovisual translation have been used alternatively andsimultaneously, while the fuzzy boundaries of whatever ought to be called multimediatranslation have also come to clash with localization, a practice and a theory whichoften seems to struggle along the borders of media translation.

    From what has been claimed so far, we can easily infer that whenever translationenters into relationships with cultures and the media, the movement which theirrelationships generates is alternatively (or perhaps sequentially) expansive orrestricting, positive or negative, constructive or disruptive. From its own side, theacademic community in the West and beyond seems to have at first supportedand boosted these unions, bestowing upon them the status of indissoluble marriagesand tolerating, even encouraging, the increasingly polygamous nature of translation.And then, after one or two decades devoted to exploring the possibilities offered bythe polygamous marriages contracted by translation, it seems that the maturity ofthese relationships has generally brought about a certain confusion, a fuzziness ofboundaries and objectives. It has also unveiled an increasingly large, multifarious spacewhere nothing and everything about translation, cultures and the media ispossible.

    Incidentally, something similar seems to have occurred to the equally popular andover-discussed union between culture and the media. Engaged as they have been inthe search for a clear-cut definition of the mass media and their role in contemporary,globalized society, media theorists and critics have felt the need to always encompasscultural issues, difficult though they are to grasp and account for. And just liketranslation studies, media studies have witnessed an enormous expansion of theirboundaries, they have somehow lost their specificity while striving to cater for allaspects related to the production and perception of the media worldwide. This, inturn, has led to unavoidable fragmentation, to repeated attempts to recover specificitywithin sub-domains and small-scale investigation areas, with a consequent loss of awide enough viewpoint and a significant time investment in the search for analyticalparameters and clear-cut divisions. Among the many differentiations set forth by

    TRANSLATION, CULTURES AND THE MEDIA 1 2 5

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  • media studies scholars over the past decade or so, one great divide has been identifiedbetween rigorous, experiment-led approaches on one side and more discursive,critical studies on the other. These two areas are, in turn, permeated by the principlesof statistics or by cultural and social studies (Rantanen, 2005). Within culture-oriented media studies, the claim made by James Lull (2000: 12) that the mediapromote the social construction of diverse cultures seems to be of particularrelevance here, focusing as it does on what is often a taken-for-granted fact: culturestravel through texts, across different languages, and the media are responsible for themost conspicuous transmigration of texts worldwide.

    The connections between cultures and the media are so numerous and sopowerful that, although they could certainly as they actually do fuel very diverseresearch paths, they are also impossible to overlook even when dealing with statistics-based or experiment-led studies (see Orero and Caffreys papers in this volume).Also, quite importantly, the mutual influence between media and cultures is so deepand pervasive that it does not seem to leave any chance of tackling the two issuesseparately: if the media shape the very perception of cultures and the making ofidentities, cultures themselves are highly responsible for the way the media evolve andhave an impact on societies. Thus, as has been observed when considering togethertranslation and culture or translation and the media, the union betweencultures and the media is nowadays indissoluble, but it has been exposed anddebated so much that its very nature and its main tenets seem to be increasinglydifficult to grasp.

    The role of translation and interlingual communication in general in determiningthe interaction between cultures and the media, although often neglected, is essential,manifold and ever-changing. Within media studies, such a role has been often takenfor granted, or overlooked, as part of broader cultural interactions (language is aboutdifferences in the way people live; Agar, 1994: 128). Alternatively, it has beenassociated with the very translation of cultures, more than the transposition oflinguistic signs, as emerges, for instance, from...

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