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Panel 18. Expanding the Boundaries or Strengthening the Bases: should Translation Studies explore visual representation?

Roman Jakobson’s definition of the three categories of translation – intralingual translation, interlingual translation and intersemiotic translation (“On Linguistic Aspects of Translation”, 1959) – made it possible for nonverbal sign systems to be examined as translation, and for theories concerning verbal translation to be applied to their study. Book illustrations, for example, can be viewed and approached as translation not only in the sense that their production bears many similarities with verbal translation itself (as both are usually commissioned by an editor, both are metonymic in nature, and both are forms of interpretation [Joseph Schwarcz in Ways of the Illustrator, 1982]), but also in that they involve the recreation of the verbal content in an aesthetic way (as suggested by Haroldo de Campos in “Da Tradução como Criação e como Crítica” [On Translation as Creation and Criticism], 1967).

It is also the case that, in recent years, new theories have proposed a more flexible understanding of translation, as a way to include those forms that would otherwise be relegated to the margins in relation to dominant tendencies – thus enlarging the boundaries of Translation Studies. In “Enlarging Translation Theory: Integrating Non-Western Thought about Translation” (2005), Maria Tymoczko posits three “modes of cultural interface”, by means of which translation can be seen. These modes are expressed by the words transference, representation and transculturation, and can accommodate differences between cultures as well as the multifaceted ways through which these differences can be manifested in translation. In particular, translation viewed as representation can be helpful in that it can involve not only shifts in medium or intersemiotic translation but a broader “perspective on what is represented and a purpose in the activity itself” (p. 22).

In line with these theories, this panel is intended to associate Translation (Studies) and the visual, with particular regard to the relationships between aesthetic (still or dynamic) images and the verbal text. However, what forms of intersemiotic representation could be included under the umbrella of Translation Studies? Does not opening up Translation Studies to such areas risk dissolution and weakening of its disciplinary integrity? Is there not a danger of disciplinary hybridity? The fragmentation and atomisation of Translation Studies run the risk of losing links to a central core of  literature that provides theoretical frameworks shared by those who identify with the discipline. Should not Translation Studies rather concentrate on intralingual and interlingual transfer and on a recognised canon (for example, Benjamin, Dryden, Pym, Schleiermacher, Toury, Venuti) and on refining concepts and ideas, much like Classical Philosophy does? To what extent are our interests moulded, formed, influenced or even constrained by the boundaries of “traditional” disciplines and established university departments and programmes? Should this contribute positively to the analysis of hybrid genres? Or should we look beyond Translation Studies to new paradigms such as those suggested by History of Art and Aesthetic Theory?

One recently established discipline focusing on the analysis of transfers between semiotic systems is Adaptation Studies. Despite the fact that Adaptation Studies scholars analyse intersemiotic transfer and could refer to canonical Translation Studies scholarship to provide theoretical points of reference, they prefer to develop and refer to their own canon of texts that takes its inspiration from Film Studies. This situation begs the question of why two disciplines whose object of study is intercultural transfer, whether from the point of view of language or images, do not work more closely together under the same disciplinary umbrella. Or would collapsing the two disciplines within Translation Studies contribute (inadvertently?) to the atomisation of Translation Studies referred to above?

In order to address these questions, this panel welcomes papers that examine illustrated books, children’s books, films, video games, cartoons, comic books, advertising, etc., in which the word-image association is viewed from the perspective of Translation (Studies). Of particular interest are position papers that argue for or against the expansion of Translation Studies to include disciplines that provide paradigms, models and theoretical frameworks that contribute to the study of the visual in translation.

  • Name(s) of convener(s): Denise Merkle, John Milton, Nilce M. Pereira
  • Affiliation: Université de Moncton, Canada; University of São Paulo, Brazil, State University of São Paulo, Brazil
  • Email address: denise.merkle@umoncton.ca; jmilton@usp.br; npereira1808@gmail.com