Saturday, October 3, 2009

Language Brokering Research in London

Diana Cossato has kindly drawn my attention to a research project at the Thomas Coram Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London. It’s called Transforming Experiences: Adults Who Interpreted For Their Parents in Childhood, and the leading investigator is Prof. Anne Phoenix, who teaches psychology.

According to the description on the internet:
An increasing number of adults in Britain have, as children, done some interpreting for their parents. This means that they sometimes have to assume responsibilities in situations (for example in shops, in schools and at GP surgeries) where children are often expected to be relatively silent. Very little is known about how the experiences of people who have grown up translating and interpreting for their parents have influenced how they think about themselves over time. In other words, there is little understanding of the impact of such experiences on their identities. The project aims to develop an understanding of how the experience of interpreting and translating as a child impacts the identity and life perspectives of members of a group about which very little is known. The research involves interviewing adults and audio recording their stories.
So the approach is retrospective, and personality oriented. I notice that one member of the project Advisory Group is Nigel Hall of Manchester Metropolitan University, the leading promoter of Language Brokering research in the UK; the others are all psychologists, sociologists or educationists without any apparent connection with interpreting.
It would be interesting if somebody could eventually compare the results of this British research with those of the American researchers like Orellana (see blog posting of September 19).

The project is looking for people to interview.



  1. Brian:
    I’ve greatly enjoyed reading yr blog and would like to pick yr mind on the following.
    At the moment I’m working on the different faces of translation among the group of rebels against Portuguese rule in Minas Gerais, Brazil, in the 1780s, particularly because of the insistence of the Portuguese governors on the payment of unpaid taxes on gold mining. Most of the rebels were landholders who profited from gold mining in one way or another. The thwarted uprising has become known as the Inconfidência, and the main figure of the movement, Tiradentes, a second lieutenant in the local army, took all the blame for the revolt when it was discovered, and was the only one of the rebels to be hung. With the Independence of Brazil in 1822, and the founding of the Republic in 1888, Tiradentes became a revered Brazilian national hero.
    In order to gain support for the proposed rebellion Tiradentes handed his copy of Régnier’s Recueil des Lois Constitutives, which contained a French translation of the constitutions of the founding states of the United States, to friends and associates, asking them to translate sections of it for him. The path of the copy of the Recueil belonging to Tiradentes is noted in the Autos da Devassa, the official account of the trial of the rebels, the Inconfidentes: on 1 May 1789, Tiradentes was given back the book in the house of Simão Pires Sardinha, to whom he had lent it pretending to require some excerpts to be translated. This is the same as he did with the priest, Father Francisco Ferreira da Cunha, and Salvador Carvalho do Amaral Gurgel, who was intending to be a surgeon in the Minas Gerais Regular Army.
    One of the fellow members of the militia troop brought the book to Vila Rica, where it was then confiscated by the Governor of Minas Gerais, the Visconde de Barbacena. Tiradentes was finally captured on 10 May 1789 and hung on 21 April 1792, after the trial of the Inconfidentes.
    The Recueil is now in the Museu da Inconfidência in Ouro Preto, where it has become an icon of the Inconfidência.

    It seems to me that here we have a case of natural translation, Tiradentes asking those who may have had a better knowledge of French than him, to translate sections, with the intention that what they read and translated would have the effect of converting them to the rebellion against Portugal. We have absolutely no knowledge of how they might have translated the sections they were asked to, though Tiradentes did underline certain important sections.

    Brian, it seems that most of the work on natural translation is on child translators. Do you know of any study that might help me and add to this study of mine?

    Best wishes,
    John Milton

  2. Dear John,
    This is an opportunity to recommend to followers who are interested in adult NT your interesting paper "The Selection and Training of Interpreters in the Community at the Catholic University, São Paulo", which is online at Although it's not apparent from the title, its general description of the situation of community interpreting in Brazil includes several mentions of interpreting by untrained bilinguals, mainly in Portuguese and English.
    You’re right that the study of NT has mostly been concerned with children and adolescents; and as for adults, it has looked at interpreters, not translators of written texts. I would say, however, that the complexity of the Régnier text, as well as the level of language proficiency needed, makes it pretty certain that the translators were Native Translators who had experience of and exposure to other such translations and not pure Natural Translators (see Essential Definitions for the difference).
    The Fan Translators mentioned elsewhere in this blog are Native Translators, but we know little about their age. For the moment, I’m afraid I have nothing more to offer. More research is needed. One thing I would say, though. When there is no remuneration there must be other motivation, and a lot of unprofessional translating is done for the sake of a cause.
    Best regards,