Corps de l’article

In 2019, Judith Weisz Woodsworth organized an international summer school in translation studies that drew participants from Canada, the US, Europe, and South America for two weeks of lectures, readings, cultural activities, and debate on translation and the global city. She describes it as “an unforgettable experience, undoubtedly the most gratifying in my entire teaching career” (p. xiii). From the summer school came this remarkable volume of essays that, each in its own way, look at how translation facilitates or hinders the movement of ideas and cultures within and between urban spaces.

The book locates itself within the “spatial turn” in translation studies, another in the series of turns that have characterized the discipline. This theoretical perspective—interest in which may stem from its contrast to the dematerialized online spaces that have become so central to our lives—seeks to exploit the ever-present spatial metaphors that describe the dynamic of translation: the movement from source to target text, translation as transfer and “crossing over,” references to translation flows, scapes, contact zones, maps, and borders. It builds on work like the issue of Translation Studies devoted to global landscapes of translation (Kershaw and Saldanha, 2013), publications by Sherry Simon on cities as sites of translation (2012, 2019), and Federico Italiano’s “translation of geographies” (2016, p. 4). Montreal, where the summer school took place, is an appropriate focus for this line of research, not only because it is a hub of translation activity, with numerous translation agencies and practitioners located there, but because the city itself is an island. Located at the confluence of three rivers, Tiohtià:ke, as it is known in Kanien’kéha (Mohawk), long served as a gathering place for Indigenous peoples, and is now connected to its suburbs by architecturally diverse bridges that offer points of crossing (and occasionally, roadblocks) and remain ever-present in the landscape and the collective imagination. Along with bridges, the book uses the trope of gateways, through which some sort of passage is possible, to broaden its reflection on translational spaces.

In her introduction, Woodsworth emphasizes her connection to the city of Montreal, where she first went as a student, after growing up in a migrant family in Winnipeg, and where she has spent much of her life despite a love of travel and stints in other Canadian cities. Montreal is a microcosm of complex language interactions on the local level, at the same time as it is a “global city” (p. 3), albeit an “international middleweight” (p. 4). Woodsworth draws on the concept of global cities developed by sociologist Saskia Sassen (2005), who describes them as command points in an interconnected economic system that has emerged with globalization and the transnational flow of capital and information. As specialized service firms develop to manage and coordinate these transactions, they too become clustered in certain cities, concentrating wealth even further and exacerbating inequality (ibid., p. 29). Sassen notes that “so much of the focus has been on the neutralization of geography and place made possible by the new technologies” (ibid., p. 31), yet place-bound infrastructures remain necessary, as global cities are anchored in their specific histories and conditions. This in turn has led to “new claims on that space” (ibid., p. 39) by disadvantaged urban populations and the formation of networks of transnational activists working on environmental, human rights, and other causes (ibid., p. 32). However, Woodsworth points out that “[i]n describing the cross-border networks of globalization, Sassen identifies political, economic and cultural factors but does not explicitly address issues of language. […] This book is an attempt to address that gap” (p. 3).

The edited volume starts with a strong first part entitled “(Re)claiming Space: Translational Landscapes in Canada,” featuring case studies of translation situations in Canada, more specifically Montreal, described by Woodsworth as “a trailblazer, a city in the vanguard not only of translation practice but also of reflection and flourishing research on the subject of translation” (p. 4). The first chapter, written by historian Pierre Anctil, describes the “third culture” in Montreal (p. 21), that of the mainly Yiddish-speaking immigrant Jewish community that flourished in the first half of the 20th century. With both the Anglophone and Francophone communities uninterested in assimilating the new arrivals, the Montreal Jewish community developed its own cultural and educational institutions and produced a considerable amount of creative work. Anctil points out that translation—between Yiddish, Hebrew, English, and French—was central to daily cultural interactions in Jewish Montreal, and he examines them from the perspective not of English-French duality, but of hybridity and pluralism. While Anctil’s contribution sheds light on a key aspect of translation in Montreal, it covers similar ground to that of his already extensive writing on the subject; indeed, the reference list contains no fewer than ten of Anctil’s other publications on various aspects of Montreal Jewish life.

Carmen Ruschiensky follows with an excellent case study of the Québécois alternative periodical Mainmise, published between 1970 and 1978. Mainmise embodied a paradox: on the one hand, it affirmed a distinct Québécois identity and acted as a focal point of the local hippy movement. On the other, with its sex-drugs-and-rock’n’roll themes and psychedelic visual aesthetic, it was heavily influenced by the American counterculture. It drew extensively on American content and was filled with translations of rock lyrics, comic strips, and other material. Ruschiensky uses the framework of cultural transfer to examine three dimensions of the complex process by which cultural objects pass from one environment to another: the selection of texts, mediation via various agents, and reception into a new context. This analytical perspective, in which translation is viewed not as a single act but as a series of processes, opens up possibilities for understanding various forms of interlingual and intercultural exchange.

In Chapter 3, Marie Leconte examines the complex status of Anglo-Québécois literature as both an English-language literature that can circulate in Canada, North America, and worldwide, and an ultraminor literature embedded in the Québécois literary scene. She draws on the concept of “ultraminority” to understand the various forces that locate this literature within local and global boundaries. Intriguingly, she points to the translation of Anglo-Québécois literature into Quebec French as a kind of appropriation that allows Québécois literature to accumulate symbolic capital and further define itself against la Francophonie. It remains to be seen how writing in other languages in Quebec figures into this framework, and what relation English writing in Montreal has to literature produced elsewhere in Quebec (in the Eastern Townships, for example).

The final chapter of the first part, written by Daniel Salée and Salma El Hankouri, provides an important overview of language relations between Indigenous Peoples and settler Canadians, and seeks to identify spaces of translation between Indigenous and Euro-Canadian languages. Giving a thorough picture of the historical circumstances whereby the vast majority of Indigenous languages were erased and of the current revitalization movement, the chapter will be especially welcome to readers unfamiliar with the Canadian context. In recent years, considerable media attention around the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, in addition to the passage in 2019 of Bill C-91, An Act respecting Indigenous languages, and discoveries in 2021 of unmarked graves at former residential schools have all heightened awareness of Indigenous issues among the general public in Canada. The authors describe the recent retranslations in English and French of Markoosie Patsauq’s popular novel Harpoon of the Hunter, which return to the original Inuktitut syllabics and differ from Markoosie’s 1970 English self-translation. The authors conclude by noting that while Bill C-91 holds potential for Indigenous cultures, it does nothing to dismantle the privileges and power hierarchies that prevent the emergence of equitable translation spaces.

The second part, entitled “Bridges and Barriers: Narratives of Liminality In and Beyond World Cities,” takes the reader to Brazil, Belgium, France, Britain, and back to Canada. In Chapter 5, Juliana Steil focuses on the city of Pelotas in southern Brazil, where a thriving publishing industry emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. One publisher was Livraria Americana, which put out an Almanak containing texts by Brazilian and Portuguese authors as well as numerous translations, mostly from French. Steil’s analysis of one translator’s work shows that he attempted to remake the rhymes and respect the formal features of the original poems, anticipating the artistic concern that characterizes translated literature in Brazil today. In the next chapter, Anaïs De Vierman turns her attention to nonprofessional translation (NPT) in the tourist and immigrant neighbourhoods of Antwerp. Using the tools of linguistic landscape studies, she photographed examples of NPT in signage and examined the translated phrases for syntactic, semantic, and pragmatic shifts. The majority of the shifts she identified were syntactic, suggesting that the translators were more concerned about communication than linguistic accuracy.

From there we move to France. In Chapter 7, Violette Marcelin examines a case of translation across time and space, as eleven years after its publication in the United States, Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food was translated into French by Camille Labro, herself a food writer and advocate of sustainable food practices. The publication—part cookbook, part environmental manifesto—contains numerous adaptations to the French context, such as comments on the local availability of ingredients and references to French food classifications and acronyms. While Marcelin does not refer specifically to Sassen’s work on the global city, her study provides an example of transnational activism, in which social agents are linked across borders in a common cause. Then in Chapter 9, Tiffane Levick proposes a typology for translating urban youth slang such as that used in French novels and films set in the banlieue parisienne. One of the options is the use of nonspecific colloquial language, and she expands on that in her own translations by harnessing the ubiquity of English and the global influence of hip-hop culture to create what she calls Global Youth Speak.

Returning to Chapter 8, Clayton McKee is inspired by the iconic Tower Bridge of London to adopt the metaphor of the drawbridge, whose bascules can be raised and lowered, disrupting the flow of traffic. In his analysis of the English translation of Only in London, by Lebanese author Hanan al-Shaykh, he shows that the protagonists’ attempts to translate their identities from Arabic to English are fraught with difficulties, not least in the cultures’ differing conceptions of gender and sexuality. Finally, in the last chapter of Part II, Nafiseh Mousavi places translation in the wider context of multimodal translanguaging, as she examines the practices of migrants and refugees who draw on nonverbal signs, gestures, drawings, and other resources to communicate. She hones in on lip-sewing as a powerful form of protest that both embodies the silencing of refugees and expresses their suffering and communicative attempts.

The volume closes, fittingly, with an epilogue by Sherry Simon, who has written extensively on translation and cities. She reflects on a place where she has spent much time, Mount Royal, a central Montreal landmark. Like many other spaces in this book, it is a translation site, named long ago by the Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) inhabitants, given its first designation in written form by a 16th-century Italian cartographer, and celebrated in Yiddish poetry for its cross, statue, and cemeteries. Much of Simon’s recent writing has positioned translation as something uniquely urban, which occurs in the intercultural spaces and sites of densely populated urban areas. Whether these spaces are charged with tension, conflict, and negotiation or whether they hold successive layers of effacement, memory, and renewal, they remain located in cities. But the “spatial parameter” could well be extended to encompass the investigation of non-urban spaces, including geographical features. Here, I wonder if the land-based learning of Indigenous communities could provide some inspiration. Similarly, there are stories to be told of translation in the regions and rural areas, be it in small communities or in linguistic interactions with the land and nature.

Given that the thread connecting the papers in this volume is participation at a summer school, it is not surprising that the themes are somewhat disparate. Nonetheless, each author makes a solid contribution to current research and debate in translation studies. As editor, Woodsworth has clearly paid attention to the ordering of chapters and ensured that threads can be followed from one to the next. The book’s subtitle, Bridges and Gateways, allows the authors to play around with references to architectural features, most successfully Clayton McKee, who points out in reference to London’s Tower Bridge that “a drawbridge does not guarantee a successful traverse from one side to the other” (p. 167). At the same time, bridges, rightly described by Woodsworth as “a common trope, a cliché perhaps” (p. 10) and famously criticized by Mona Baker, who observes that “just as [bridges] might allow us to cross over and make positive contact with a different culture, they also allow invading troops to cross over and kill, maim and destroy entire populations” (2005, p. 9), may have outlived their metaphorical usefulness. Readers seeking to engage with translational activity from the perspective of space and global transactions, and through that lens with issues of gender, activism, and marginalized and migrant communities, will find much to reflect on in this stimulating volume of essays.