Marlene Fheodoroff| PhD Candidate, University of Graz
Introductory Remarks and the Current State of Research
Being affiliated with the main research area Translation and Migration of our department, it was clear to me that I wanted to research Community Interpreting (CI) in my PhD thesis. As the name suggests, CI is often performed by people from the same community for family members, friends, neighbours or strangers. Consequently, research on CI is, in many cases, research on Non-Professional Interpreting and Translation (NPIT), a relatively new branch of Translation Studies (TS). NPIT has been under-researched by scholars and shunned by translation practitioners for decades, as translation scholars, as well as translators and interpreters have respectively focused on establishing TS as an academic discipline and on the professionalisation of translating and interpreting.
Within the context of migration, children may act as interpreters in a variety of settings, e.g. at school, in public-service or medical settings as well as at home, interpreting the news or translating the mail. In the 1970s, the Canadian translation scholar Brian Harris, unlike most of his colleagues at the time, already conducted research on non-professional interpreters, particularly children. Harris introduced the concept of Natural Translation (NT) and defined it as “[t]he translating done in everyday circumstances by people who have had no special training for it” (Harris/Sherwood 1978:155). Harris’s research was long overlooked since it did neither promote the establishment of TS as academic discipline nor the professionalisation of the translation industry. Current research in TS, however, paints a comprehensive but controversial picture of children as interpreters (cf. e.g. Cirillo/Torresi 2013, Angelelli 2010, Ahamer 2013).
In a world where globalisation and migration have placed unprecedented pressure on people to communicate across linguistic borders and cultures, children may also be in need of linguistic support. This chain of thoughts led me to look closer into the matter of interpreting for children, and I found that it is highly under-researched. One reason for this could be that settings where interpreting is provided for children, such as asylum, police or court hearings (cf. e.g. Keselman/Cederborg/Lamb/Dahlström 2008 and 2010, Keselman/Cederborg/Linell 2010, Salaets/Balogh 2015 and 2017, Böser/LaRooy 2018, Matthias/Zaal 2002), are highly sensitive, confidential and potentially traumatizing.
Further settings in which interpreting for children occurs are educational contexts (cf. e.g. Baraldi 2016, Foulquié Rubio/Martí 2013). Schools seemed to be the best choice for my PhD project since many schools in Graz are multilingual spaces given the demographic composition of the city. Furthermore, schools are spaces familiar to the children: they attend their classes, play with schoolmates, some have lunch there and stay the afternoon. So the presence of an unfamiliar adult may not or – as I can report from my first two participant observations – did not unsettle or bother them much. I myself have experienced rather monolingual primary school years in rural Carinthia, which is another reason why I wanted to venture into the multilingual school life in Graz. I was and still am excited to learn how children perceive their everyday life and the various forms of interpreting that may emerge at school due to the many different languages spoken by children and adults in that space.
Conceptual Framework: The Translation Zone
As translation is strongly influenced by the space in which it occurs but also affects said space in return (Simon 2013:182), space is a key aspect in my PhD project. I conceptualise multilingual schools as Translation Zones, a concept which has, thus far, mainly been applied to cities (Simon 2012). Translation Zones are “areas of intense interactions across languages, spaces defined by an acute consciousness of cultural negotiations and often host to the kinds of polymorphous translation practices characteristic of multilingual milieus” (Cronin/Simon 2014:119f.). With regard to multilingual schools, the concept of Translation Zones allows me to “situate translational activity within clearly delimited geographies which are not framed by the nation” (Simon 2013:182). Although Cronin and Simon (2014:119), as well as Simon (2012:1) highlight the importance of spoken language, they emphasise written text in their research. In my PhD project, I take into account not only written text but also focus on spoken text and non-verbal forms of communication, thereby considering all kinds of polymorphous translation practices.
My PhD Project
My PhD project seeks to conceive multilingual primary schools as Translation Zones as well as to explore the children’s perspective on interpreting and the perspective attributed to them by adults in said potential Translation Zone. To do so, I focus on the following three main research questions:
- In what ways can multilingual primary schools be conceptualised as Translation Zones?
- What does interpreting mean to children in said Translation Zone (perspective of the children)?
- What does interpreting mean to children in the eyes of the adults (teachers, lay interpreters) in said Translation Zone (perspective of the adults)?
The limited number of studies which have examined interpreting for children mostly ignored the children’s perspective. In order to address this research gap, I draw on results of New Childhood Studies, which have set themselves the task of recording and exploring the views of children while also understanding childhood as a separate phase of life (cf. Heinzel 2012:9f.). In doing so, New Childhood Studies dissociate themselves from the long-prevailing view of childhood as a transitional period (cf. Rosenberger 2005:43). In New Childhood Studies, children are perceived as competent actors whose everyday actions and environment are of special research interest. Therefore, data will be collected by means of participant observation as well as qualitative interviews not only with adult but also with children. The data will then be evaluated using Qualitative Content Analysis; the evaluation will be conducted software-aided (MAXQDA).
Exploring both the perspective of children on interpreting as well as the perspective attributed to them by adults, my research expands the concept of interpreting and contributes to the still under-researched field of interpreting for children. Furthermore, by conceptualising primary schools as potential Translation Zones and by considering a large variety of translation practices, my PhD project contributes to two fields of research which are flourishing at the moment: translation and space as well as NPIT.
The expected results of the PhD project are also socio-politically relevant. Interpreting for children will gain in importance due to ongoing migration movements. Unaccompanied minors will continue to be in need of linguistic support in the future when arriving in a foreign country. Furthermore, the PhD project aims to illustrate that there is a demand for interpreting services for children in everyday settings such as multilingual primary schools where, at the moment, the right to “[e]ducation […] directed to the full development of the human personality” (United Nations 1948) is not entirely met.