Corps de l’article

Border Crossings. Translation Studies and other disciplines represents a significant first step in an ambitious plan to study the interdisciplinary relations between translation studies (TS) and other disciplines. The initiators of this project and editors of the book are two renowned translation scholars, Yves Gambier and Luc van Doorslaer. Starting with a list of more than fifty disciplines and sub-disciplines, the editors end up with sixteen contributions. Contributors and disciplines were selected on an ad hoc basis, i.e. partly based on the editor’s own readings and partly on suggestions made from TS colleagues. In that sense Border Crossings does not offer a systematic study of the interdisciplinary ties between TS and other disciplines. That study is yet to come.

After a brief biographical presentation of the contributors, the book opens with a short historical outline of how TS evolved from a sub-discipline into a poly-discipline. Then follows a preliminary introduction into interdisciplinarity studies (IDS). IDS represents an emerging discipline that studies the compartmentalization of (academic) knowledge in terms of disciplines and other formats (Frodeman, 2017). To study interdisciplinarity presupposes agreeing on a working definition of the term “discipline.” For example, the editors suggest defining the word as “a set of theoretical claims and assumptions and operational norms, practical rules which allow the exchange of experience and knowledge between the members of that discipline” (p. 7). Once disciplines are recognized as entities, one may observe various relationships between those disciplines. One way to categorize interdisciplinary interactions, the editors argue, is in terms of importing, exporting or exchanging concepts, methods and expertise. It is well-known that TS has borrowed from various disciplines. However, it is less clear whether and to what extent other disciplines have borrowed from TS. The questionnaire that was sent to the contributors suggests that the editors were hoping to find evidence that TS has also impacted other disciplines.

The sixteen chapters that follow cover a wide range of topics and present an interdisciplinary dialogue by virtue of being cowritten by a specialist in the complementary discipline (e.g. history studies, information studies, gender studies) with an interest in translation and a specialist in the TS sub-discipline. Chapters one and two deal with TS and history studies. Some historians study translations as historical source materials. The chapters discuss interesting cross-disciplinary topics including the political effects of language use, such as nation-state building, installing power relations, and religious conversion. Both history scholars conclude that while TS shows interest in history studies, the reverse is less true. The next chapter looks for common ground between TS and information science (IS). IS studies various types of (e.g. cross-language) information retrieval tools, but the authors of this chapter focus on terminology. Consequently, translation is understood in linguistic terms. IS has mostly developed its own concepts and methods, or borrowed from technology studies. A fourth chapter deals with TS and communication studies (CS). Both authors agree that CS could benefit from TS in many respects, mostly when dealing with international, cross-cultural communication. The following chapter discusses TS and sociology. Once more, the authors acknowledge that TS has integrated many aspects of social studies while there does not (yet) exist an empirical sociology applied to the specific context of translation. In chapter six, TS meets cognitive neurosciences in terms of information processing. Interestingly, the shift from the narrow, literal definition of linguistic translation to its wider, metaphorical definition of context-dependent meaning-making process challenges not only cognitive neurosciences, but also computer sciences and computational linguistics, especially when researchers attempt to automate natural language use. The widening of the semantic field of the term “translation,” from a strictly linguistic matter to an intercultural communication issue, is generally ascribed to the “cultural turn” that took place in TS in the 1970s and 1980s. Biosemiotics, which is discussed in the next chapter, inflates the semantic field of the word “translation” even more. Here the term “translation” refers to “the processes by which meaning is created in living systems” (p. 169). The question of whether it is beneficial for TS to adopt such a wide definition remains a matter of contention. Chapter eight tackles the relations between TS and adaptation studies. Contrary to what the cultural turn did with the definition of translation, literary film scholars narrow down the denomination “adaptation studies” to mean “literary film adaptation studies” (LFAS). In doing so, they ignore the many other types of adaptation that are studied in other disciplines, pertaining to both the human (e.g. media studies) and the natural sciences (e.g. evolutionary biology). Once more the authors observe an asymmetrical relationship between TS and LFAS: whereas the former considers (verbal) adaptation to be part of the translation process, literature-into-film scholars typically consider translation to be a strictly linguistic matter, and therefore not relevant to AS. Chapters nine and ten deal with computer science and computational linguistics respectively. Both chapters focus on machine translation (MT) as the most visible intersection between computer science and computational linguistics on the one hand, and TS on the other. Interestingly, whereas in most chapters, TS scholars show more interest in “the other” discipline than vice versa, here TS scholars have been reluctant to invest in MT studies, wary that it might render translators and TS obsolete. Chapter eleven tackles the relations between TS and international business and marketing, and deals with website localization in particular. Note that the authors use the words “translation” and “adaptation” interchangeably to describe the “localization” process. This is confusing to scholars who continue to understand the common meaning of the words “translation” and “adaptation.” To most laypeople in the West, “to translate” means to accurately represent the sense of a verbal expression in another natural language, and “to adapt” involves change that leads to a better fit. In that case, both terms refer to neatly distinguishable phenomena since the former represents an invariance-oriented process (Mossop, 2017) while the latter points to a variance-oriented phenomenon. From this point of view, processes such as localization, foreignization, periodization, modernization and acculturation are typical adaptational processes in that they represent processes of change that aim for or result in a better fit of what has been adapted in the target context. Chapter twelve discusses TS and multilingualism. The authors discuss various language strategies within multilingual contexts including code-switching, diglossia, language revitalisation, and language promotion. Translation and interpretation are seen as particular implementation measures of such wider language policies. The next chapter looks at TS and comparative literature (CL). Among other things, the authors discuss the issue of CL scholars pretending to be able to read various languages, while in fact relying on translations for their comparative studies. They point out that CL moved away from TS when translation was understood in instrumental linguistic terms. With the metaphorical widening of the concept, CL could renew its interest in TS. Chapter fourteen discusses TS and game studies, and returns to the topic of localization (see above). Translation is understood as both a language specific practice and a cultural adaptation process. In the end, game localization involves transferring gameplay experience from the source to the target language and culture. Chapter fifteen examines TS together with language pedagogy and considers the roles translation could play in learning languages. Both disciplines meet where it is understood that language use involves not only linguistic systems but also cultures. The authors launch an interesting concept, “translation-specific cultural competence” (p. 335), yet ignore the vast and relevant work that has been done in intercultural communication studies (see Hall, 1959; Hofstede, 2001; Trompenaars, 1998; Schwartz, 2012, and many others). Finally, the last chapter deals with TS and gender studies. Focusing on the translation of the English word “gender” in various countries, the authors show that more than the translatability of a word is at stake.

As stated above, this collection of essays does not offer a systematic analysis of the interdisciplinary relations between TS and other disciplines. Nevertheless, the contributions assemble some interesting first impressions. One recurring impression concerns the asymmetrical relation between TS and the other disciplines in terms of importing, exporting and exchanging expertise. Reading through the chapters suggests a correlation between this asymmetry and the choice between a narrow, language-based definition of translation, and a wider, metaphorical definition of the term. If translation is understood as a strictly linguistic matter, it makes sense for non-TS scholars to consider it off-limits and irrelevant to their own discipline. Concurrently, if translation is understood in its wider sense as cultural translation, more non-TS scholars find “translational” phenomena that could be relevant to their discipline. Whether spreading this wider definition of translation among non-TS scholars will lead the latter to import TS concepts and expertise remains to be seen. In that sense, this collection of interdisciplinary reflections offers an interesting first step towards further investigation.