Translation flows

Within Translation Studies and Sociology, research inspired by the polysystem theory called attention to the issue of translation flows, i.e. the intensity of the import and export of information, ideas, and other cultural artefacts - embodied in translated texts - between different lingua-cultures (Heilbron; Janssen et al.). Such cultural exchanges are generally believed to promulgate international cooperation and to foster mutual understanding between nations (Heilbron 433). However, they also serve as sources of information about the developments and changes within different societies. In this context, translation flow studies have investigated which cultural products can be imported through translation, by whom, how frequently, and for what purpose. Adopting a systemic perspective, these studies have found that within specific systems, such as for instance the global literary market, some language communities seem to be placed in the centre while others assume more peripheral positions. The literary products of central language communities, for instance, appear to be frequently translated into other languages, while dominant language communities import considerably less literature from peripheral language communities (see UNESCO Index Translationum for examples). Similarly, translations published in languages close to the centre serve more frequently as intermediary source texts (Heilbron 439). Consequently, it has been argued that those lingua-cultures in the centre exert more influence within the system than those in the periphery. The nature of such cultural exchanges does not only impact on the social and cultural status of the involved lingua-cultures, but also entails economic consequences as cultural exchanges often constitute sites of commercial trade. They are thus a means by which symbolic and monetary, and subsequently political, power can be reinforced, lost, or gained. Thus, the notion of translation flows offers a compelling model to describe and investigate international relations - namely in the context of international news.

However, some concerns have been voiced regarding this approach. One point of criticism is that empirical studies have mainly focused on the comparison of translation flows between central and peripheral lingua-cultures thereby reinforcing this perceived dichotomy, while little is known about such relations within the periphery. Moreover, Hermans pointed out that the assumption that source texts are necessarily selected by the target culture could be hasty and that other causal conditions may be at play (111). What caused the exclusion of certain information and thus the interception of the translation flow is one of the questions this article addresses. Finally, it has been highlighted that while translation flows have almost exclusively been investigated within the literary field, the approach has not been sufficiently applied to other areas of cross-cultural exchange, such as political discourse and international news. Given that the position of a given lingua-culture might suddenly change if “the position of a language depends closely on the political power of a regime” within an otherwise relatively stable system (Hermans 435), the production of international news certainly offers a fruitful field for investigating translation flows. Despite this literary focus, there are two noteworthy exceptions within Translation Studies to be considered: Bielsa proposed that the concept of translation flows is useful if we look into news translation from a sociological viewpoint (166); while in 2009, van Doorslaer presents a case study of a Belgium newsroom in which the discrepancies of the translations flows between Dutch and French within Belgium are highlighted, thus demonstrating that applying translation flows to news translation can produce useful insights into other fields of cultural production. Additionally, it highlights that “agenda-setting” and “framing”, two closely related concepts originating in Media Studies, are useful tools to investigate news translation flows.

Agenda-setting research postulates the existence of a causal relationship between the agenda of the mass media, the public, and politics (Dearing and Rogers 9). It argues that how much salience is given to an issue by the mass media, i.e. whether a topic is reported on or not, how frequently, how prominently, and how extensively, affects the importance the public and political stakeholders assign to it (McCombs 177). Subsequently, agenda-setting can be described as a political process through which the proponents of an issue seek to gain the attention of the media, the public, and the politicians in order to obtain a “political” response in form of a political action (Dearing and Rogers 1). In other words, agenda-setting research reveals which political proponents successfully dominate the political discourse at a given moment in time. Measuring translation flows in international news thus bears the potential of providing useful insights into political dominance within multilingual contexts. Frequently described as second-level agenda-setting, the concept of “framing” refers to a process by which a particular issue, for instance a political event, is presented to the public in such a way that influences the public’s perception of the event, thereby encouraging certain interpretations while simultaneously dismissing other possible interpretations (Oliver and Johnston 3). One way to construct such a representation is the selection and exclusion of information on the “intratextual” level. This means that rather than not importing information about the event at all, only certain selected aspects are translated and presented to the public.

Applying the concepts of “agenda-setting” and “framing” to news translation, should give us insights into the political consequences of the quantitative and qualitative aspects of translation flows; in other words, how often information about a particular topic is translated and what aspects are translated or not translated, entail political consequences. Furthermore, looking into the reasons behind decisions to interrupt or disturb translation flows in this context should allow us to gain a better understanding about the extent to which news translators-cum- foreign correspondents are in a position to shape the political discourse within their newspaper.

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