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Methods@Manchester

Narrative Analysis: Translation as Renarration

Mona Baker, Professor of Translation Studies, Centre for Translation and Intercultural Studies, University of Manchester

Narrative analysis takes as its point of departure the idea that narrative is the principal mode by which we experience the world, that it is ‘the shape of knowledge as we first apprehend it’ (Fisher 1987:193) rather than a genre or particular type of text.

Moreover, the narratives we tell ourselves and others about the world(s) in which we live construct rather than represent reality. Translation can then be understood as a form of (re)narration that participates in constructing the world rather than merely a process of transferring semantic content from one language to another.

Key strengths

The key strengths of this theoretical approach is that it allows/encourages the analyst to:

  • Treat translational choices not as local linguistic challenges but as having a direct impact on the social and political world. Every choice is considered – at least potentially – as a kind of index that activates a narrative, a story of what the world or some aspect of the world is like
  • Treat translation not merely as a professional service to be ‘perfected’ but as an ethical endeavour to be critically reflected upon
  • Investigate the elaboration of a given narrative in an individual translation or interpreting event as well as across several texts and events, and across different media
  • Avoid streamlining translator choices into types of strategy and acknowledge instead that in the real world, and especially in situations of intense conflict, translators and interpreters vary their strategies in order to pursue concrete political goals rather than adhere to abstract principles or textual formats.

Concepts

Narrative studies of translation and interpreting draw on a number of concepts to investigate these activities as forms of mediation on which society has become heavily dependent.

Using ‘narrative’ as a flexible but powerful unit of analysis, and proceeding on the basis that local narratives, those elaborated in a specific text or event, have porous boundaries and are ultimately embedded in and contribute to the elaboration of larger narratives.

This provides the kind of interface that is necessary to move the study of translation beyond the traditional tendency to compare original and translated texts stretch by stretch and settle for making statements about their relative accuracy or inaccuracy at a semantic level.

Experts and projects

Key publications

  • Baker, Mona (2006) Translation and Conflict, Manchester: St Jerome Publishing
  • Baker, Mona (2007) ‘Reframing Conflict in Translation’, Social Semiotics 17(2): 151-169
  • Baker, Mona (2008) ‘Ethics of Renarration’, Cultus 1(1): 10-33
  • Baker, Mona (2010) ‘Narratives of Terrorism and Security: ‘Accurate’ Translations, Suspicious Frames’, Critical Studies on Terrorism 3(3): 347-364
  • Baker, Mona (2010) ‘Interpreters and Translators in the War Zone: Narrated and Narrators’, The Translator 16(2): 197-222
  • Fisher, Walter R. (1987) Human Communication as Narration: Toward a Philosophy of Reason, Value and Action, Columbia: University of South Carolina Press.

PDF slides

Download PDF slides of the presentation 'What is a Narrative Approach to Translation?'