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Words and Actions

Dec 3, 2021

We eavesdrop on police interrogations, wire-tapping and immigration interviews, and sneak on a Keolis bus (on board entertainment: The Interpreter) to explore the complex processes of translation and interpreting in high stakes contexts. Joining us are a forensic linguist, an expert in asylum seeking procedures and a researcher on multimodal translation, who illustrate the pervasive impact of translators as important decision-makers that may affect the future, safety and prosperity of people and businesses.
For more information, references and a full transcript head over
This episode opens with one of the guests, Krzysztof Kredens, talking about the machine metaphor for translating and interpreting, which still dominates the non-linguistic understanding of those professions. It can be linked to the famous Shannon-Weaver model of communication: first proposed by mathematician and engineer Claude Shannon in 1948 (and later popularised by fellow mathematician Warren Weaver), it conceives of communication as involving a sender or encoder, a message and a receiver or decoder. Message transmission can be affected by channel and noise.
Because human communication does not follow the rules of mathematics, this model has often been criticised as inappropriate and even distorting. Erika calls it a destructive metaphor, citing 

Stibbe, A. (2015). Ecolinguistics: Language, Ecology and the Stories We Live By. London: Routledge. 

Our discussion of equivalence in translation draws on the following two works: 

Baker, M. (2011). In Other Words: A coursebook on translation. London: Routledge.

Koller, W. (1995). The concept of equivalence and the object of translation studies. Target: International Journal of Translation Studies, 7(2), 191-222.

Listeners of a certain age may remember, if not Nikita Khrushchev’s wrongly interpreted words from an address at the Polish embassy in Moscow (1956), then perhaps Sting citing them in his song Russians (1985).
When discussing pragmatic equivalence, we give an example of a direct vs. indirect speech act: in the former, a directive is used to make a request (‘Sit down’) while in the latter, the speaker uses a rogative form to realise the request function (‘Would you like sitting down?’).  

Bernard reels off a whole list of films involving translators and interpreters; the excerpt from The Interpreter (2005) that we enact can be found at 1:40. If you would like to watch films with a language and linguistics angle, follow @LinguistsMovies on Twitter for updates on their virtual watchalong nights. 

Our main interview guest for the episode is Katrijn Maryns, whose relevant publications include:

Jacobs, M., & Maryns, K. (2021). Managing narratives, managing identities: Language and credibility in legal consultations with asylum seekers. Language in Society, 1-28.

Maryns, K. (2014). The Asylum Speaker: Language in the Belgian asylum procedure. London: Routledge.

Maryns, K. (2017). The use of English as ad hoc institutional standard in the Belgian asylum interview. Applied Linguistics, 38(5), 737-758.

In the final part of the analysis, Victoria Nydegger Schrøder analyses the values statement of the headquarters and local subsidiaries of global transport operator Keolis. You can see the screenshots on our blog:
Victoria kindly mentions two publications by Erika and Veronika (we did not tell her to!):

Darics, E., & Koller, V. (2018). Language in Business, Language at Work. London: Palgrave.

Darics, E., & Koller, V. (2019). Social actors “to go”: An analytical toolkit to explore agency in business discourse and communication. Business and Professional Communication Quarterly, 82(2), 214-238.

In her analysis, Victoria, among other things, comments on the use of ‘we’ and how it can refer to different groups of people throughout a text and often stay ambiguous. This feature of corporate discourse has also been observed by Veronika:

Koller, V. (2009). Corporate self-presentation and self-centredness: A case for cognitive critical discourse analysis. In: Pishwa, H. (ed.) Language and Social Cognition: Expression of the social mind. Berlin: de Gruyter, pp. 267-287.

In our next episode, we will discuss machine translation and other applications in language technology - see you then!