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Review of  The Translator as Mediator of Cultures

Reviewer: Ioan-Lucian Popa
Book Title: The Translator as Mediator of Cultures
Book Author: Humphrey Tonkin Maria Esposito Frank
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Translation
Issue Number: 22.2389

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EDITORS: Tonkin, Humphrey and Esposito Frank, Maria
TITLE: The Translator as Mediator of Cultures
SERIES TITLE: Studies in World Language Problems 3
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2010

Ioan-Lucian Popa, Faculty of Letters, Vasile Alecsandri University of Bacau, Romania


This volume, edited by Humphrey Tonkin (who is also a major contributor to it)
and Maria Esposito Frank, is a collection of essays based on a conference held
at the University of Hartford in 2006, entitled ''The Translator as Mediator,''
where professional translators, anthropologists, linguists, and literature
academics discussed translation in general and also the way in which the
influences the literatures of various cultures and identities exert upon one
another, all within a globalized world.

The book is divided into three parts: Part 1. Translation and reconciliation,
Part 2. Translation and negotiation, Part 3. Translation and the interpretation
of texts.

In the preface, the editors place the developments in the field of translation
theories and practices within the larger framework of globalization and equate
their impact with that of the Renaissance culture. The current expansion of
translation studies is one of the outcomes of developments not only in cultural
studies or literary theory, but also in policy studies and political theory. The
editors point out to the roles that translators assume: ''mediators of cultures,
enablers, but also gatekeepers'' (p. viii). The conference that generated the
book under scrutiny discussed in an interdisciplinary context issues ''concerning
post-colonial and 'post-missionary' language attitudes and policies, border
identity, transcreation, betweenness, technological mediations and futuristic
renditions, international crime and law, and literary translation'' (p. viii).

Then, the editors outline the structure of the book. The first of the three
parts approaches practical aspects of the profession. The second part is
dedicated to the theory of translation, especially the role of the translator as
negotiator. The third section puts emphasis on the interpretation and exchange
of texts.

In the introductory article, ''Introduction. Between temples and templates:
History's claims on the translator,'' Probal Dasgupta heralds ''a period of
history that gives translators a dizzying degree of theoretical importance'' (p. 13).

Part 1 comprises four chapters. Chapter 1, ''Translation as reconciliation: A
conversation about politics, translation, and multilingualism in South Africa,''
is a fascinating exchange of ideas about the current linguistic situation in
South Africa. It is also the written record of a conversation among Antjie Krog,
Rosalind Morris, and Humphrey Tonkin at the Institute for Comparative Literature
and Society at Columbia University, USA, on April 29, 2009. During apartheid,
there were only two official languages: English and Afrikaans. Nowadays, there
are eleven official languages: Afrikaans is witnessing a decline; the languages
of the Black population (IsiNdebele, IsiXhosa, IsiZulu, Sesotho sa Leboa,
Sesotho, Setswana, siSwati, Tshivenda, Xitsonga) aspire to an elevated position,
while English has become the de facto official language of the country. In such
circumstances, the role of translation is of extreme importance, as it ensures
the visibility of all the cultures and peoples of South Africa, and translation,
therefore, not only mediates among the languages of the realm and increasingly
becomes one form of reconciliation, but also engenders reciprocal cultural

Chapter 2, ''Interpreting at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former
Yugoslavia (ICTY): Linguistic and cultural challenges,'' by Nancy Schweda
Nicholson focuses first on the specificity of court interpreting and then on the
differences between Common Law found in countries where “English is the language
of the law” (Gibbons 2003: 5) and Civil Law, in the rest of the world. A
historical section outlines the creation of the ICTY and the way it functions.
Special attention is given to the Conference and Language Services Section,
whose task is to furnish interpreting and translation services. The working
languages are listed and the modes of interpreting are identified (simultaneous
interpreting, relay interpreting, consecutive interpreting) and described. One
peculiarity of the interpreters' work is highlighted: because of the singular
task of the ICTY, interpreters show very high stress levels. With a view to
helping the interpreters and their employers cope with the complexity of their
tasks, training courses are organized and they ensure a very high level of
professionalism in the search of justice.

Chapter 3, ''Translating and interpreting sign language: Mediating the
DEAF-WORLD,'' by Timothy Reagan opens new perspectives by approaching a set of
activities that have been given little attention comparatively. The term
DEAF-WORLD refers to the cultural phenomenon of deafness and often has synonyms
such as “deaf culture” or “deaf community”. The capitalization is employed to
distinguish between the audiological condition of deafness and the cultural
condition of Deafness. The chapter is very informative as it familiarizes the
reader with the complexity of sign languages and their lack of general
codification. More than any other activities, sign language translation and
interpreting are heavily dependent on variables such as awareness of cultural
differences and linguistic knowledge.

Chapter 4, ''Translators in a global community,'' by Jonathan Pool, addresses the
issue of improving the way in which the global community interacts
linguistically. The solution offered by the author is that of achieving a
“panlingual transparency via aspectual phased translation” (p. 72). The proposed
model is a four-phase translation process that will ensure communication in the
global community, helping, at the same time, in the preservation of the
linguistic diversity of today's world. Thus, the process presupposes an initial
phase of intralingual cultural translation from the literary source language
into a ''global representation'' of it. Then, an interlingual translation from the
global representation of the source language into the global representation of
the target language, and then, again, an intralingual final phase, from the
global representation of the target language into its literary form. The example
provided by the author (p. 76) involves a text in the Bantu language Yao to be
published on the Web “for global consumption” that also includes speakers of
Muong (a language spoken by a minority in Vietnam). Thus, a speaker of Yao
translates from standard literary Yao into ‘global’ Yao (a written variety of
Yao that has the supplementary characteristic of complying with a ‘global
semantic-pragmatic standard’). An automatic program translates from global Yao
into a “global standard representation, an intelingua” (p. 77). In phase three,
another automatic program translates from the interlingua into global Muong and,
finally, a speaker of Muong translates into literary Muong. The author considers
that turning to account the panlingual transparency model presupposes a
combination of language learning, human and automatic translation with the
ultimate aim of making all the languages media for communication and, at the
same time, perpetuating the existence of all languages. Jonathan Pool also
identifies the obstacles that will hamper the implementation of panlingual
transparency and tries to discover ways to circumvent them and iterates the idea
of a ''negotiated interlingual semantic standard'' (p. 83).

Part 2 of the book, ''Translation and negotiation,'' begins with chapter 5, ''The
treason of translation? Bilingualism, linguistic borders and identity,'' by John
Edwards, in which the author identifies ''a potential tension between the
necessity of translation and its invasive qualities'' (89). and attempts to
clarify some of its points. Starting from George Steiner’s opinion that “there
is in every act of translation [...] a touch of treason. Hoarded dreams, patents
of life are being taken across the frontier”, Edwards believes that the
so-called ''treason'', supposedly inherent to the process translation, is not in
itself a reason for complaints; it is inadequacies occurring during the process
that are blamable for distortions of the message as they build ''inadequate or
unsatisfactory linguistic bridges'' (p. 96). The ''tensions'' that may occur during
the act of translation are brought about by the attempts to render poetry and
philosophical texts in another language, to convey vernacular and ephemeral
source language into a target idiom, to preserve the original tone, or by the
degree of freedom a translator is allowed to benefit from in his/her endeavour.

In Chapter 6, ''The poetics of experience: Toward a pragmatic understanding of
experience, practice, and translation,'' the author, Vincent Colapietro,
investigates the complexities of translation, challenging simplistic approaches
to the act of translation that view it as a process of encoding, decoding and
re-encoding, and reaches the conclusion that text translation from a source
language into target languages is ''a continuation of the translation of
experience into text, art, work'' (p. 122).

Part 3, ''Translation and the interpretation of texts,'' begins with chapter 7,
''Translation and the rediscovery of the multinational Central European,'' by
Thomas Cooper. The author starts from the assumption that, since the fall of
communist regimes in Central Europe, the study of the cultures of the region has
been under the sign of the national paradigm. This approach has been aimed at
obliterating the ''myth of a monolithic Eastern Bloc'' (p. 127). Belief in such a
myth results in a failure to grasp the reality that Central European cultures
have national features and features that go beyond linguistic borders.
Translation is one of the ways in which the cultures of the region interact and
influence one another and the chapter provides a number of very powerful and
appropriate examples of such instances. Cooper asserts that, consequently,
translation should no longer be considered ''as a bridge between cultures'' (p.
127), since in the Central European context, translation is ''more a form of
expression through which a shared multinational culture is sustained'' (p. 127).
The literatures of the region are re-assessed as being not so much national as
transnational (Esterházy [1990: 273] even speaks of the “betweenness” that is
the characteristic of Central European literatures) and this statement is
supported by examples provided by the Thomas Cooper. One of the most obvious
illustrations is that of “works of literature from Transylvania and Banat [that]
frequently subvert national paradigms, in part by incorporating influences from
the literatures of other national groups” (p. 131). Translation, thus, sees its
status reinforced as a mode of cultural mediation and as a device that
highlights the intricate interrelations among the cultures of the region.

Chapter 8, ''Transcriação / Transcreation: The Brazilian concrete poets and
translation,'' by K. David Jackson presents the endeavours of two Brazilian
concrete poets (Haroldo de Campos and Augusto de Campos) to translate works of
some of the founders of contemporary poetics as well as some classical poetry.
De Campo coined the term transcriação / transcreation in order to singularize
their new brand of creative translation. Their approach to translation was aimed
at attaining phonetic, syntactic, and morphological equivalence and their
activity as translators had a multilaterally beneficial effect upon Brazilian
literature transforming it, at least for a while, ''into a center of action in
world languages and letters'' (p. 155) and, at the same time, contributed in an
original way to the debate on translation.

Chapter 9, ''Expression and translation of philosophy: Giorgio Colli, a master of
time,'' by Marie-José Tramuta, is an homage to Giorgio Colli and Mazzino
Montinari for their translation into Italian and their critical edition of F.
Nietzsche's works, which was award ed the Wheatland Prize for Translation (the
prestigious prize is presented each year by the American Wheatland Foundation).
Giorgio Colli (1917-1979) and Mazzino Montinari (1928-1986) are the authors of
the Italian translation of Nietzsche's works. Their critical edition became the
scholarly standard, and was published in Italian, in French, in German and in
Dutch. The chapter contains information about this edition, which was also
considered one of the most important scholarly achievements of the previous century.

Chapter 10, ''The semantics of invention: Translation into Esperanto,'' by
Humphrey Tonkin, approaches the challenges that a translator might face when
translating into a planned language. Tonkin starts with considerations upon his
own experience with translating Winnie-the-Pooh into Esperanto. On the one hand,
it seems simpler to translate into Esperanto, as there is no literary tradition
in this language; on the other, the translator, when faced with the task of
translating literary works with a very high density of meaning has to find
solutions that may have a detrimental effect on the unique impact of the
original. Added difficulties are those inherent to various literary genres,
especially poetry and drama, or historical distance, or in a relatively limited
number of cases, the translation of names. As an intellectual exercise,
Esperanto has an undeniable quality, that of being a disambiguating language,
i.e. a language that establishes a single semantic or grammatical interpretation
of a linguistic unit. The author highlights the fact that any process of
translation is, in some respects, a form of language making (linguistic/semantic
invention) and this is indeed valid as regards Esperanto, which is ''was not so
much a new language as a restatement of the old in a new context. One could call
it a translation of the European semantic base'' (p. 178).


The book contains a variety of articles on the subject of the
translator's/interpreter's implicit and explicit role of mediator
between/among/of cultures. The contributions are all of good quality due to the
fact that all the authors are among the authoritative voices in translation
theory and practice, and range from thorough research papers to well-informed
and extremely useful descriptions of individual experiences; for instance, to
quote a few examples of the latter, Nancy Schweda Nicholson relates her own
experience as trainer during the training course organized by the Association of
Defense Counsel and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former
Yugoslavia in 2003, during which the trainees were advised on how to work with
interpreters; then, Humphrey Tonkin shares his experience as a translator into

The internal coherence of the book is accomplished through a focus on the
translator’s general role as mediator and on the intricacies of the task. Most
of the chapters are reworked versions of papers that were presented at the
conference held at the University of Hartford in 2006, entitled ''The Translator
as Mediator”.

The book under scrutiny is a valuable contribution to translation studies;
through the diversity of the approached issues, it contributes to the elevation
of the status of the domain. Its specific contribution to the field is that it
attempts and succeeds in presenting the multi-faceted role of the translator as
mediator between/among cultures. Important specific contributions are made as to
the reconciliatory role of translation in specific linguistic environments (the
case in point is South Africa). Another valuable contribution is the
presentation of the linguistic and cultural challenges inherent to interpreting
in international courts of law (the specific case of the International Criminal
Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia). The attempt to shed more light on
translating and interpreting sign language(s) is also commendable as is the
admirable “rediscovery of the multinational Central European” from the
perspective of the semiotic process of translation. All the articles are built
on solid foundations provided by previous research and each of them contributes
to the advancement of the domain. Besides the intrinsic value of each of the
chapters, a noteworthy strong point is that the volume does not limit itself to
issues concerning the major languages of the world, but that it also adresses,
among others, Central European languages and African languages.

Overall, the book gives a very comprehensive and multifaceted treatment of the
topic under scrutiny.


Esterházy, Péter. 1990. “On Hungarian Contemporary Literature”. Cross Currents:
A Yearbook of Central European Culture 9.405-406.

Gibbons, John. 2003. Forensic Linguistics: An Introduction to Language in the
Justice System. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Steiner, George. 1992. After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation. Second
Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Tonkin, Humphrey, ed. 1972. Winnie-la-Pu: An Esperanto Version of A. A. Milne’s
Winnie-the-Pooh, trans. Ivy Kellerman Reed and Ralph A. Levin. New York: Dutton.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Ioan-Lucian Popa, PhD, is associate professor at Vasile Alecsandri University of Bacau, Romania. His main research interests are translation theory and practice, bilingual lexicography, and English linguistics.