Translation and Migration

Translation and Migration

Université Polytechnique Hauts-de-France in Valenciennes

14-16th of October 2021

Migration and translation are closely related phenomena in the contemporary world. The reasons for
moving from one country to another are diverse, ranging from security, demography and human rights
to poverty and climate change. Whether migrants have left their home country to escape political
persecution or to find better living conditions elsewhere, they have to adapt to a new cultural and
linguistic environment. Communication is a key factor in the integration of migrants. The acquisition
of new language skills is often made possible by means of translation. In this context, translation is not
only to be seen as the mere transfer of written or oral discourse from one linguistic context to another,
but also as an act of cultural transfer.
Community interpreters, for example, are directly confronted with the language barrier which
migrants have to face. They intervene at different levels, facilitating exchanges between migrants and
different social actors, such as the police, psychologists, doctors, educators, judges etc. As each
situation involves specific translational and ethical issues, they must be both “language experts” and
“cultural mediators”. They are required to translate accurately and at the same time to shed light on the
exact meaning of the words used in the exchange. The interpreter must also grasp the nuances of
verbal and non-verbal communication and often provide cultural explanations. However, the level of
empathy with the speaker may conflict with the interpreter’s code of ethics, which prescribes neutrality
and impartiality.
In the integration of migrants, education plays an important role. In this context, the question
arises as to how multilingualism is taken into account in the domain of education. Are the native
languages of migrant children actively integrated at school, or are they branded as inadequate in
classes dominated by the majority language? Do national education systems develop specific
pedagogical and translational approaches, helping migrant children to acquire the language of their
host country? Can translation, or the absence of translation, be considered as a political act? It is also
interesting to investigate in which way the language(s) of the receiving society on the one hand, and
languages spoken by migrants on the other interact with each other. Do new linguistic varieties
emerge? What language contact phenomena can be observed?
A further way exploring the link between migration and translation is the investigation of
migrant literature. Frequently, the experience of migration becomes accessible to readers from another
cultural sphere through translation. In the case of authors writing in their mother tongue, the readers of
the host country gain access to their text via translation. If migrant authors have already adopted the
language of their host country, their work may travel to additional countries thanks to translation. In
this context, it is interesting to explore the different ways in which migrant literature as a cultural
product circulates from one cultural area to another. What are the social conditions of production and
reception? What are the factors determining the market for the translation of migrant literature? The
translation of migrant literature presents a particular challenge for translators as the language used by
the authors is often a hybrid type of writing marked by the substrate of their mother tongues.
Frequently, translators are confronted with the effects of diglossia, such as the transcription of a
mispronounced language, the imitation of a foreigner’s accent or a dialect.
The experience of migration finds its expression not only in literature but also in music. Music
is particularly relevant when it comes to understanding the experience of migration, as it does not
concern an elite but a great majority of the population, both in terms of production and reception. In
the context of migration, it is preferable not to study music using the model of literature, i.e. focusing

on the lyrics only, but to have an approach that includes music too, as well as the interaction between
music and lyrics, in cases when lyrics are involved. This allows the researcher to fully grasp the place
of music within migrant communities and its influence on the host culture. The migration of music
from the source culture to the host culture is often caught in a tension between a desire to preserve
some form of purity and the threat of cultural appropriation. This ambivalence is found in the song
translation, more particularly in the choice between domestication and foreignisation, as defined by
Lawrence Venuti.

Possible topics might include:
• The working methods and conditions of community interpreters
• Ethical issues in translating and interpreting in the context of migration
• The influence of power differences between community interpreter on the one hand and
migrants on the other
• The role of specific diaspora in the context of migration – case studies of cultural transfer
• The internet as a platform of (cultural) translation in the context of migration
• The role of education and translation in the context of migration
• The challenges of multilingual education in the context of migration
• Empirical studies on individual migration experiences (school children, young parents,
professionals, …)
• The difficulties of translating migrant literature concerning syntax, phonetics, lexicon, accent,
faulty speech, dialects, realia, borrowings etc.
• The role of regional languages in the context of migration
• The circulation of migrant literature through translation
• Translation and power in the context of migration
• Translation and politics in the context of migration
• Cultural errors of translations in the public sphere addressed to migrants
• Cultural translation in short instructive texts, addressed to migrants, in the public sphere
• The role of social actors involved in the publication of migrant literature in translation (eg.
translators, proof-readers, editors, critics etc.)
• The influence of music on the reception of original and translated lyrics (musicians migrating
with / without their “traditional” instruments…)
• The impact of a different cultural context on the political content of a song
• The construction of a specific “cultural image” both of migrants’ home countries and of the
host country in songs from migrants’ perspective – the role of cultural transfer and translation
• The depiction of migration from the perspective of the host countries in music, literature and
other genres
We invite papers in English, French or German not exceeding 20 minutes. Please submit an abstract of
no more than 200 words accompanied by a short bio of 50 words in a Word file by the 20th of
February to one the following email addresses:

Stephanie Schwerter:
Jean-Charles Meunier:
Nadine Rentel:

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