Comptes rendus de lecture

Anthony Pym, Miriam Shlesinger and Zuzana Jettmarová (ed.). Sociocultural Aspects of Translating and Interpreting. Amsterdam/Philadelphia, John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2006, 255 p.[Record]

  • Denise Merkle

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  • Denise Merkle
    Université de Moncton

This edited collection of 17 selected papers from the “Translation Targets Conference”, organised by Charles University in Prague in September 2003, is a valuable contribution to the growing interest in the “social turn” in Translation Studies. Authors from a broad spectrum of sociocultural and political traditions–Canada, Europe (Austria, Belgium, Finland, Italy, Portugal, Spain, The Netherlands, United Kingdom), former USSR countries (Latvia, Romania) and India–present case studies that expose translation and interpreting problems within their sociocultural context. One of the editors, Anthony Pym, precedes the papers with a thorough introduction to concepts discussed in the respective chapters and suggestions for future research. He notes the growing shift of interest in Translation and Interpreting Studies from the text to the social agent, from a sociology of language to a focus on “mediators and their social contexts” (p. 3) and encourages researchers to resist “the simple binarisms that oppose one society (language, culture) to another, with the mediator on one side or the other.” Research “should be able to perceive overlaps and complex positions” (p. 24). The volume is organised into eight sections: 1) Agents behind translation; 2) Social histories; 3) Perceived roles and values; 4) Interaction of inner and outer contexts; 5) Power relations disclosed; 6) Power distribution and cooperation; 7) Constructing systems; 8) The view from Interpreting Studies. A unique contribution of this volume that draws on progress in Interpreting Studies is its emphasis on interpreters and interpreting in health services, immigration detention centres and asylum hearings, with one-third of the papers dealing with community interpreting and public-service interpreting (sections 6, 7 and 8). Katrien Lannoy and Jan Van Gucht’s empirical sociology paper presents quantitative data on the “Babel rebuilt” three-tier structure of translation services provided to social welfare institutions in Flanders. This is the most overtly sociological paper of the volume; however, as Pym observes “the conceptual leaps from the empirical data to the recommendations remain precarious” (p. 21). What is clear from many of the other Interpreting Studies papers, as Pym states in his “Foreword,” is that contextual power relations are often more important than the mere rendering of the message (vii). For instance, Sonja Pöllabauer presents examples of Austrian interpreters within their Translationskultur (Prunč 1997) at asylum hearings. The interpreters are all female in the cases studied and tend to favour one-sided loyalty with the immigration officers who are respectively male. Their mediatory role is neither neutral nor transparent, and this of course impacts their ethical commitment as interpreters to represent the interests of asylum seekers. Guillermo R. Navarro Montesdeoca discusses power relations at an Immigrant Detention Centre in Spain in what are considered to be democratic communication situations but where cooperation and understanding are not the overriding goals and the interpreter is low in the hierarchy with all that relative powerlessness implies. Mette Rudvin’s contribution stresses the importance of considering the degree to which institutional systems (e.g., health care system, legal system) are culture-bound in order to create shared meaning during triadic interpreter-mediated cross-cultural exchange. The author outlines problems that may result when there is friction between the role of a natural interpreter assigned to a family member in a health-care setting and one’s personal/cultural identity in cases where, for example, source culture taboo subjects are broached. Nadja Grbić outlines the dramatic changes in assessing sign language interpreters in Styria (Austria) over the past ten years in tandem with the professionalization of the sector through the development of university training programmes and professional associations. Her sociological research shows that the “norms of this system are unstable and contingent” and, in Pym’s words, “asks to what extent the …