The purposes of translation are so diverse, the texts so different, and the receptors so varied that one can readily understand how and why many distinct formulations of principles and practices of translation have been proposed.

All who have written seriously on translating agree that translators should know both the source and the receptor languages, should be familiar with the subject matter, and should have some facility of expression in the receptor language. Beyond these basic requirements there is little agreement on what constitutes legitimate translating and how the science of linguistics, or even the knowledge of language structures, can and should be applied. For a better understanding of the causes of this lack of agreement and in order to construct a framework for the analysis and evaluation of the various theories of translation, it is essential to review the relations between the source, the message, and the receptors in the communication process, and also the function of the medium of communication which is employed.

Let us suppose, for the sake of an argument, that there are people who work in the overlaps of cultures. This does not mean these people are somehow without culture, nor that they are in any way universal, nor at an ideal mid-point, nor immobile, without allegiances, nor any such pap. These are simply people whose professions require that they know and operate in more than one culture at once. Further, the people we are particularly interested in know and operate on exchanges between cultures. These are the people who move things across language boundaries, who negotiate treaties, who produce our transnational news and entertainment, who surround our lives with a million products received in cultures different to the ones they were produced in. Such would be the people of professional intercultures: translators, diplomats, traders, negotiators, technicians manipulating complex codes, when and wherever products and their texts cross cultural boundaries.

Such people exist. You and I might even be among their number, as might our multilingual students. The question here is not just who we are, but what we stand for and how we should act. Those aspects can scarcely be separated.

What does it mean to act politically? On the face it, the phrase would involve actions influencing relations between people, particularly the loyalties and alliances that form power and direct its flows. The political pronoun is certainly “we”, variously inclusive or exclusive. To act politically, in the intercultural field, could thus mean siding with one culture or the other, or with one aspect of a culture against another, to some degree or another, for one reason or another.

It is enough for the intercultural subject to seek long-term cooperation between cultures, or to start reasoning from there (cf. Pym 2000b). Although sweepingly general, this precept is not adequate to all occasions. How, for instance, should it be applied to problems where what is at stake is the identity of Translation Studies, the constitution of our own intercultural “we”?

Where, for example, do “we” stand with respect to globalization? Our research community, perhaps a few hundred people, possibly with several hundred more looking on, is surely too small to seek comparison. Our professional intercultures only loosely resemble those in which production is now specialized; our key productive locations are only in some cases next to centers of capitalist production.

Thanks in part to academic distance, we do not particularly follow the orders or either production or distribution. That is certainly one of the reasons why we fail to keep abreast of the way those systems are developing. It is perhaps also why we tend to maintain allegiance to the ideals of former models, believing in translation even when production systems have no great need of it. At the same time, that academic distance might also be why we risk having little of currency to say, or too little power for our voice to be heard.

One can only test those hypotheses on the basis of concrete situations. Here we will briefly consider three cases in which our politics meet globalization, and the ways in which our political configuration might respond.


Translation Studies tends to be proportionally strong in the smaller cultures where translation plays a quantitatively significant role (here we are thinking of cases like Belgium, Holland, Finland, Catalonia, Galicia, Quebec). This is no rule, but it helps explain why our perspectives often concern the defense of minority cultures, the use of general models of cultural alterity, and a certain intuitive focus on distribution rather than production (cf. the target-side epistemologies of Descriptive Translation Studies). A worrying correlative of this is the relative weakness of Translation Studies in the larger monolingual countries where political power tends to accrue, most notably in the United States. We might thus venture that Translation Studies tends to form its intercultures in situations where alterity is already operative as a feature of distribution.

That would be where its politics develop. That is also the place from where one looks at production systems, at the centralized intercultures where English reigns, and feigns to find the enemy of translation.

In discussing the various theories of translation it is important to recognize that these theories are seldom developed in a comprehensive form. In most cases the theories are far more implicit than explicit. Nevertheless, the largely implicit formulations must be treated as theories of translation, because the stated principles or rules for translating rest on important underlying considerations and reflect corresponding theories.

Because translation is an activity involving language, there is a sense in which any and all theories of translation are linguistic. There are, however, three quite different ways in which the principles and procedures of translation have been formulated and defended. These diverse approaches to the problems of translating are essentially matters of different perspectives or foci. If the focus of attention is on particular texts (and especially if these are of a so-called literary quality), the underlying theory of translation is generally best regarded as philological. If, however, the focus of attention is on the correspondences in language form and content, that is, on the structural differences between the source and receptor languages, the corresponding theory may be regarded as linguistic. Finally, if the focus is on translation as a part of an actual communication process, the most appropriate designation for the related theories is sociolinguistic. In actual practice, of course, there is a considerable degree of overlap both in the formulation of principles and in the corresponding recommendations on procedures.

That general process is held to have certain elements of irreversibility thanks to its grounding in technological change. Translators will mostly have to come to terms with those elements, as will everyone else. There are, however, political processes that build on globalization but should not be identified with it. Those processes also have consequences for translation but are not to be considered inevitable. Some of them can be resisted or influenced by the use or non-use of translation. Those political processes can thus be indirectly affected by a scholarly Translation Studies, which might thus develop its own politics with respect to globalization. This means that Translation Studies should seek to understand and explain the effects of globalization, without pretending to resist them all. At the same time, it should attempt to influence the more negative political processes within its reach, developing its political agenda and cultivating its own political organization. In this, the dialectics play out between the technological and the political, between the things we must live with and the things we should try to change. Only with this double vision should we attempt to take a position with respect to globalization.

According to Chilton and Schäffner in translation studies there are three general perceptions, or understandings, of the concept discourse. First, discourse can refer to real-time utterances in general. Second discourse can refer to a number of real-time utterances seen as a single language event, such as a political speech. This view also perceives a sequence of speeches, e.g. at a political debate, as one language event. Third, discourse can also be perceived as “[…] the totality of utterances in a society viewed as an autonomous evolving entity […]”(Chilton, Scäffner 2002: 18). In this sense discourse can also be seen as particular types of language use or language practises, e.g. medical practise discourse. This way of perceiving discourse is closely linked to the theoretical practise of discourse analysis, which focuses on making explicit how language is used to exercise power. (Chilton, Scäffner 2002: 18).

From the above it seems difficult to pinpoint precisely what discourse is, but it appears to have something to do with practical use, or uses, of language, and it seems closely connected to the concepts of power and society. This is at least the case when examining the more precise concept of political discourse. Chilton and Schäffner approach this concept from a philosophical/rhetorical angle to begin with, drawing on the works of Aristotle and Plato.

They claim that present day academic approaches to language and politics all derive from this ancient philosophical tradition of perceiving language as a tool for obtaining or exercising power: “The whole classical tradition from the sophists to the enlightenment wrestled with the relationship between persuasion, truth and morality, carrying a deep suspicion of the power of language” (Chilton, Schäffner 2002: 1). As human beings we are inherently social, meaning that we socialize and form groups, and thus human nature is inherently political as we form coalitions, or social groups, based on shared perceptions of what is just and unjust, useful and harmful etc. This forming of political associations depends on the ability to communicate, and thus signaling the shared perception of values of these associations, as it is this signaling of shared perceptions of values that determines the boundaries of the group.

Because of this, political activity does not exist without the use of language, but on the other hand language did not evolve solely for the purpose of politics (Chilton, Schäffner 2002: 2-3)

On top of this philosophical foundation we find present day linguistic and discourse based approaches to politics, which tend to use real text and talk as empirical evidence, because such approaches perceive politics to be language (Chilton, Schäffner 2002: 3-4). Furthermore, they argue that the concept of genre is important for political discourse analysis, because of the important role genres play in the exercise of power and influence. Politics and political institutions, i.e. political activities depend on “…the transference of customary forms of utterance” (Chilton, Schäffner 2002: 21). This is because “genres specify patterns by which text and talk is sequentially structured, who speaks to whom, when, about what and in what manner” (Chilton, Schäffner 2002: 21). From this, it seems clear that genre is important to political discourse, i.e. political language use, and therefore it highlights the importance of examining the genre when translating political discourse.

When turning to the particulars regarding political speeches we have Schäffner who, in her essay, Strategies of Translating Political Texts, argues that the term of political text is a vague term that covers a wide range of text genres. She implies that political texts are instances of political discourse, i.e. political language use, and that such language use may come in many forms, both within a nation state and between nation states. As a result, she argues that political texts can cover genres such as political speeches, multilateral treaties, editorials, commentaries in newspapers, a press conference with a politician, a politician’s memoir etc. (Schäffner 1997: 119). She also argues that the classification of a text as a political text can best be done based on functional and thematic criteria. Political texts are political because they are the result of or a part of politics, i.e. they are instances of language use for political activities and thus instances of political discourse. They fulfil various functions depending on different political activities, they are determined by history and culture, and their topics are primarily related to politics, e.g. political activities, political ideas etc. Additionally, political texts are often relevant to a wider public and they are often part of a wider political discourse, meaning that they will tend to show a high degree of intertextuality (Schäffner 1997: 119-120). Political discourse can be simply marked as the discourse of politicians, i.e. their text and talk, and their professional activities. The topics discussed usually come from public events that require collective decision-making, policies, regulations or legislation. (Van Dijk 2001. 4) . Political Discourse (PD) relies on translation, in the sense that linguistic behaviour influences political behaviour.

A wrong or inappropriate word choice in the context of politically sensitive issues can lead to great misinterpretations.DA tries to define why a particular word, phrase or structure during the translation process has been chosen over another one. International politics involve translation to a large extent. Agreements between countries are made available in several languages; interpreters participate in the most crucial political events facilitating the work of international institutions such as the European Union, the United Nations Organization, the League of Nations, etc; some governments put translations of significant documents on their websites. As noted by Christina Schaffner, the mass media play an important role in spreading politics and ideologies.

The kinds of transformations that occur as texts move along the political and media chain are dependent on the goals and interests of the context into which the discourse is being recontextualized. According to Saeedeh Shafiee Nahrkhalaji: The competent translator should be aware that translation of PD is not a mere process of transferring words from one text into another. (Codes of ethics issued by interpreters’ associations define standards that should apply for interpreters of PD.) Christina Schaffner stresses that the collaboration of TS and PDA: helps explain that different lexical choices and omissions may point to different ideological , socio- cultural values and reveals the connection between linguistic choices and socio- political structures and processes. That kind of intellectual community carries the weight of history, if nothing else.

Thanks to its principles, there can be no excuse for the collective exclusion of scholars simply by virtue of their national affiliation. Further, there are good arguments, embedded in the very nature of an intercultural community of scholars, for collectively excluding those who seek to impose such measures. Our own globalization requires at least that ethical stance. There is a final irony, however, in the more recent range of the debate. Those who would apply an exclusive nationalism are now initiating moves for an International Association of Translation and Intercultural Studies. Their model would be based on individual membership, effectively setting up a structure parallel to the existing national and regional associations. What becomes of that initiative remains to be seen. It certainly aims to fill a very real gap, encouraging Translation Studies in countries where the discipline is incipient or still weak.


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