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Communities of Practice in Translating and Interpreting. Ian Mason Sichuan University October 2013. Trends in translation studies. Linguistic approaches The word The sentence The text Cultural studies approaches history Power Ideology, etc. Sociological approaches Bourdieu, etc.

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communities of practice in translating and interpreting

Communities of Practice in Translating and Interpreting

Ian Mason

Sichuan University

October 2013

trends in translation studies
Trends in translation studies
  • Linguistic approaches
    • The word
    • The sentence
    • The text
  • Cultural studies approaches
    • history
    • Power
    • Ideology, etc.
  • Sociological approaches
    • Bourdieu, etc.
discourse and the translator
Discourse and the Translator
  • Dimensions of context
    • Communicative
    • Pragmatic
    • Semiotic
  • Inner circle: Context <> Structure <> Texture
  • Outer circle: culture, ideology, etc.
  • Layers of context.
macro and micro levels of analysis
Macro- and micro-levels of analysis
  • How do we establish the link between the outer layers of context (e.g. sociologies of translation) and actual decisions made by translators in real time?
  • Current disconnect
  • D1: ‘the pragmatic process of meaning negotiation’ (Widdowson 2004: 8)
    • D2: Institutionalised modes of speaking and writing, giving expression to particular attitudes towards areas of social activity (cf. Foucault)
narrative theory
Narrative Theory
  • Baker (2006) Translation and Conflict
  • Narratives: ‘the every-day stories we live by’
  • Ontological narratives: stories that we tell about ourselves and our place in the world.
  • Public narratives: stories elaborated and circulated by institutions.
  • Meta-narratives: ‘capitalism’, ‘communism’, ‘globalization’…

translators and interpreters disseminate (or challenge) dominant narratives

discourse d2
Discourse (D2)
  • narratives(Baker 2006)
    • More concrete, less abstract
    • Individual (‘ontological’) as well as ‘public’
    • “Narrative theory recognizes that at any moment in time we can be located within a variety of divergent, criss-crossing, often vacillating narratives…”
  • Cf. Communities of Practice
communities of practice
Communities of Practice
  • Wenger, Etienne (1998) Communities of Practice.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
learning as social participation
Learning as social participation
  • Meaning: learning as experience
  • Practice: learning as doing
  • Community: learning as belonging
  • Identity: learning as becoming
etienne wenger research project
Etienne Wenger: research project
  • Large, US medical insurance company: ALINSU
    • Two ‘vignettes’:
    • Ariel’s day
    • The Calculation of Benefit worksheet
birthday cake
Birthday cake
  • Supervisor: “Well, it was nice seeing all your faces again”
workplace exchange
Workplace exchange
  • Trish: “Maureen, do you know what’s ‘incompetent cervix’? The insured put this as a justification of ultrasound”
  • Maureen: “I’m pretty sure that it’s eligible, but we should have this from the doctor, not just the insured”
  • An ambulance claim form is lacking a ‘diagnosis’. Ariel asks Nancy what to do.
  • Nancy:“Just find one in the claim history, just anything that will do”
  • Ariel (looks doubtful)
  • Nancy: “Welcome to claims processing!”
the cob worksheet
The COB Worksheet
  • “You can’t just tell them ‘I subtracted this line from this line’”
  • “the C, F & J thing”
discourse d21
Discourse (D2)
  • “a discourse is a social, interactive resource for constructing statements about the world and coordinating engagement in practice” (Wenger, p289)
  • Cf: institutional discourse (Hatim & Mason 1990; 1997)
  • Cf: public narratives, ontological narratives (Baker 2006)
discourse d22
Discourse (D2)
  • “a discourse is a social, interactive resource for constructing statements about the world and coordinating engagement in practice” (Wenger, p289)
identity and power
Identity and Power
  • Identification
  • Negotiation
    • as components of identity
    • as perception of belonging/not belonging
    • as determinants of a social concept of power
the translator s identity
The translator’s identity
  • Identification (forms of belonging)
  • Negotiability (control over meanings)
i dentification


Membership of group/assoc’n.

Affinity with subject matter

Volunteer translating





Experience of lack of expertise

Alienation from subject matter

Submission to institutional norms



Favourable feedback

Other tr’s experience

Willing adoption of house style





Critical feedback/rejection

Assumption that others know

Reluctant compliance with instructions

communities of practice1
Communities of Practice

Toury (1995: 53):

“‘translatorship’ amounts first and foremost to being able to play a social role”

the translator s communities of practice
The translator’s communities of practice
  • Training (school, university, short courses, etc.)
  • Employer (gov’t, company, agency, etc.)
  • Translator associations, etc.
  • Social networking
  • Social activity (friends, interests, membership of associations, etc.)
  • Commissioning bodies (and their discourses)
some examples we
Some examples: ‘we’
  • We are more than 50 million today. [producer + receiveridentity]
  • There are about 50 million people living in France today. [distant perspective]
  • Identification/(non-)participation
web chat property title deeds
Web chat: Property title deeds

‘Asidicen y ortogan’: I need a less clumsy version that what I normally use, which is:

  • ‘This concludes the declaration of those present’
  • I’ve been using for 25 years: ‘thus they state and grant’
  • We usually say: ‘so declared and certified’, if that helps?


some examples should ness from koskinen 2008
Some examples: ‘should-ness’(from Koskinen 2008)

C: [The difference between EU institutions] also shows in that I had to, was it yesterday or the day before yesterday, when I again went to ask A that, hrrmmm, olisi, tulisi, pitäisi, one of these three is forbidden here but now again I cannot remember…

B: (whispering) tulisi


C: tulisi, yeah, and, and well in the Parliament it was olisi which was not allowed.

  • Negotiability/alignment/non-participation
cop field and habitus
CoP/Field and Habitus
  • Wenger explicitly recognizes Bourdieu as a source.
  • Emphasis on learning as social participation (contr: ‘habitus’).
  • CoPs as multiple, overlapping and interacting (contr: ‘field’).


  • Power-as-control largely missing in Wenger’s account (social concept of power).
beyond communities of practice
Beyond Communities of Practice
  • Barton & Tusting (2005)
    • Institutional power, conflict
    • Negotiating, challenging power relations
    • Competing discourses
    • Social power operates through language
  • Blommaert (2005): unequal exchanges
    • (re-)entextualisation
    • voice
the king s linguist kouraogo 2001
‘The King’s Linguist’ (Kouraogo 2001)
  • Communities
  • Practices
  • Identity
  • Identification
  • Participation
  • Negotiability

“These ceremonies took place in the open air with officials neatly seated in the front rows surrounded by delegates of various peasants’ organizations and a huge crowd of local villagers”. (p116)


“…high-ranking officials such as ministers, Members of Parliament, diplomats, top civil servants… The illiterate villagers, the normal target audience of the interpreting, typically had to stand for hours under a scorching sun throughout the ceremonies”. (p117)


“the interpreter speaks louder than the original speaker, smiles constantly and uses ample gestures and keeps some form of eye contact with the crowd. The original speaker, on the other hand, stood still, sternly reading his text throughout.” (p118)

translator s cops
Translator’s CoPs
  • Primary school teacher
  • Local correspondent of the Burkina Faso news agency
  • No formal training
  • Reputation as a public speaker
items of meaning represented
Items of meaning represented
  • Peoples’ banks open to anyone, rich or poor.
  • Save by depositing cash in bank.
  • Members can get loans.
  • Individuals: 5 000 > 3 000 000
  • Associations: 5 000 > 10 000 000
  • Enrolment: 2 photos + 1 000 CFA francs.
  • Credit available after 4 months.
  • Money & bank belongs to everyone
competing discourses
Competing Discourses


  • Official
  • Distant
  • Condescending
  • Admonishment
  • European


  • Interpersonal
  • Institutional (we)
  • Cooperative
  • Hyperbole
  • 3rd person
  • Communities, identities, participation.
  • The activist translator
    • Degree of intervention?
    • In whose interest?
  • Empowerment
    • Who is empowered?
    • Institutional power versus interactional power.
    • Post-colonial perspective: is this a ‘resistant’ translation?