M2: Unit 3 – Q9.2 Answer

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Here is a short list of examples of alternative ways of naming certain objects, events, phenomena, people and places:

  • ‘Food biotechnology’ or ‘genetically modified food’
  • ‘Civilian contractors’ or ‘mercenaries’
  • ‘Neighbourhoods’ or ‘colonial settlements’ (in the context of   Occupied Palestine)
  • ‘The Westbank’ or ‘Judea and Samaria’
  • ‘Wall’ or ‘fence’ or ‘barrier’ or ‘Apartheid Wall’ or ‘security fence’ (in reference to the structure erected by Israel in 2004)
  • ‘Eskimo’ or ‘Inuit’
  • ‘Tripartite aggression’ or ‘Suez Crisis’
  • ‘Return to the Motherland’ or ‘Transition of Sovereignty’ (in the context of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule)

As you will see, the choice of any one of the above options instead of its alternative activates a whole set of alternative narratives. These terms immediately signal the narrative location of the speaker. If I speak about ‘food biotechnology’, for example, I activate narratives of successful technological advancement designed to improve all of our lives; if I mention ‘genetically modified food’ I activate narratives about ethically suspect scientific experiments tampering with the natural order of things. My choice of label frames the narrative version I wish to communicate to my listener. In other words, the label that is used ‘guides and constrains our response’ (Baker 2006:122).

As the list above tells us, such alternative labels often come from the political sphere and can therefore be particularly problematic for conference interpreters and translators working for NGOs. Baker (ibid.) argues that translators and interpreters need to be responsible when translating these terms: if they decide to employ the alternative version more commonly used in the receiving culture they will distort the narrative communicated by the source text or speaker. However, if they translate the terms literally they may find themselves ‘participating in uncritical circulation of a narrative they may well find ethically reprehensible if they stopped to ponder its implications’ (ibid.:127).

The translator or interpreter therefore needs to be aware of the alternative narratives activated by each  term, in order to judge the right way to approach such a problem. Some organisations have put policies in place to deal with this issue. For example, the activist interpreting organisation, Babels, have recently set up a ‘Lexicon Project’ which involves building glossaries with ‘politically responsible’ equivalents to encourage interpreters to think critically about the terms they use.