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How do we imagine translation?

In this video, a number of experts speak about their own language repertoires – the languages they know and how, where and when they use them.

We often imagine translation as a link between two distinct locations.

One of the most common metaphors of translation is that of a bridge connecting two islands, where the islands are two separate languages, two cultures, and possibly two national spaces.

A personal map of languages and cultures

The drawing below traces a personal map of languages and cultures. It is inspired by pictures drawn by many students over the years when asked to produce a graphic image of their own experience of languages and translation.

The drawing uses islands and ‘bridges’ as visual representations of translation understood as a way of connecting places and people.

A diagram showing the relationship between language and culture

This is indeed one role that translation can play, but, as we have seen when discussing linguistic landscapes, translation can also be found within one location where multiple languages co-exist, clash, overlap or are creatively mixed.

Translation can bring together and divide

Whether within one place (for instance, the public spaces of a city) or across distinct cultural boundaries (as in the case of global awareness-raising campaigns such as those for human rights), translation can be used to bring people together, but also to divide them.

Cultures are not homogeneous

One of the things we learn from translation practice is that ‘cultures’ or communities are not homogeneous: different ‘native speakers’ speak different variants of their language (or sociolects) which are affected by factors such as class, education, age, gender, or sexual orientation.

When negotiating between different communities of native speakers and different languages, those factors remain important.

They are Shirin Ramzanali Fazel, a writer of Somali origins who publishes both in Italian and in English; and two of our course tutors: Aurelie Zannier and Nelson Mlambo. They describe very complex patterns of language learning, language proficiency and language use, both in their personal and professional lives.

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Working with Translation: Theory and Practice

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