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Translation and Anthropology

Traduction et anthropologie

الترجمة والأنثروبولوجيا

Sociolinguistic, Semiotic, and Cultural Forms of Transmission

Formes de transmission sociolinguistique, sémiotique et culturelle

الإحالات السوسيولسانيّة والسيميولوجيةّ والثقافيّة للترجمة

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Published on Friday, June 28, 2024


Le travail du traducteur et celui de l’anthropologue se rejoignent dans leur quête de sens et de transmission de la diversité culturelle. Alors que le traducteur tente de rendre un texte accessible, culturellement parlant, à un nouveau public tout en respectant son contexte original ; l’anthropologue cherche à dévoiler les significations implicites et les dynamiques internes de la population étudiée. C’est ainsi que l’intégration de la diversité culturelle est primordiale dans un contexte où les deux sphères, traduction et anthropologie, sont décidément proches en matière d’interaction sociolinguistique et culturelle.



The comparison which can exist between the role of the ethnologist as a field researcher and that of the translator as a writer, interpreter, and socio-cultural mediator has been the subject of much discussion. Can we then question the type of analogy between the two disciplines, namely translation studies and anthropology, and pose the same question as Hélène Buzelin, "How –  under what conditions and to what extent –  can the reflections of anthropologists shed light on those emerging in translation studies today?" (2004, p.730).

In recent years, studies on cultural diversity have gained momentum. Translators, in this regard, possess both erudition and the potential ability to delve into the text to be translated in order to fathom its deeper meaning and to explore its cultural imprints beyond its formal or purely linguistic surface.

 On a parallel line, the anthropologist goes beyond mere observation of more or less ordinary social or communal actions, relating to the everyday or even the extraordinary, to the analyses and perceptions underlying the dynamics of a particular sociolinguistic community or else. In the majority of cases, this is achievable through fieldwork and through understanding the indigenous mentality as well as the nature of social, cultural, and historical processes in interpreting all human actions.

 Prior to embarking on the act of translation, it is prerequisite that the translator has knowledge of the essence of the translation process by questioning its nature, whether translation is a matter of words or a matter of text, or even entire works.

In the first case, the terminological aspect of specialized language predominates, while in the second case, more frequent, the communicative, contextual, cultural, and even anthropological aspect is significant. Moreover, as Clifford states, "Writing implies - at least - the translation of an experience into a textual form" (1988, p. 25). This reflection underlies what is called the "linguistic turn" and sometimes the "translational turn" of anthropology.

 Is anthropological translation rather a shift from translation at the level of words or even morphemes to the level of text and, furthermore, from a linguistic perspective to another semiotic and especially anthropological perspective?

Several researchers in the field of translation, such as Séguinot 1995, Usunier 1996, Guidère 2000, De Mooij 2004, and Adab and Valdés 2004 (Mi-Yeon Jeon et Annie Brisset, Meta, Vol. 51, n°2, juin 2006), focus primarily on the cultural dimension of translation.

  Moreover, translation is, ultimately, nothing more than the transfer of a discourse that refers to diverse social practices (socio-economic, legal, scientific, religious, ritual, political, artistic, literary, digital, etc.). These researchers have shown how crucial culture is to intercultural communication in general, and advertising in particular.

Translation has two interdependent objectives:

Transmit the source text into a target language in such a way that it preserves all or most of its meaning.

To convey «discourses (underpinned by culturally marked social practices and knowledge) that are intelligible to other cultures» (Schäffner, 1995: 4).

The relationship between translation and anthropology stems from the phenomena of colonization, immigration, intercultural and artistic communication, and in particular the interpretation of foreign signs. Both disciplines are concerned with the quest for meaning: the anthropological meaning of social and existential otherness. "With a certain time lag, translation studies incorporate the epistemological and critical reflections of anthropologists who have already questioned their practices and the effects of these practices: how to translate the meaning of the Others?" (Annie Brisset, 2008, p. 12).

Translation, like socio-cultural anthropology, has benefited from the contributions of structuralism in linguistics. Regarding translation, this can be seen through the extension of the structuralist approach in linguistics to the field of translation. The objective of this approach was to seek the immanent objectivity of the translated text, "the quality of a translation is appreciated on an intrinsic level, that is, solely in its linguistic dimension in relation to the original text" (Christine Durieux, 2009, p. 352).

As for the second discipline, it is the structural method adopted by Claude Lévi-Strauss in his anthropological studies, which has proven its worth, especially in the way it deals with social diversity, by approaching and organizing the complexity of human diversity.

 This structuralist trend deeply influences not only the interpretive path of the utterance that is likely to be translated but also the ethno-semiotic and anthropological dimension, such as the Greimassian approach, especially since it "presents itself primarily as an anthropological semiotics in the broad sense..." (Thomas F. Broden, 2014, p. 3).

Social and cultural anthropology focuses primarily on human beings and their culture, but it also integrates other fields such as linguistic, biological, economic, religious, artistic, medical, and digital anthropology, among others, of course. This disciplinary diversity could create a fertile ground for specialized translation. Thus, this conference echoes the one on "Translating Sciences, Translating Arts: Translating Culture" organized in Tabarka (University of Jendouba, Tunisia) in December 2023.

Translation, as is the case today, is undergoing a new shift towards immediacy. According to Pym, it has become increasingly equipped with the revolutionary introduction of new technologies. "The use of technologies may be changing the nature of translation work significantly" (Pym, 2011, p. 1).

Digital culture is achieved through the tools and means that enable the proper circulation of information: websites, forums, technological and cultural networks, etc. The various types of exchange between individuals, countries and peoples require languages and contacts between languages, hence the need for translation.

Audiovisual translation, for example, often entails difficulties intrinsic to any type of translation. Documentary films and ethnographic cinema, two fields favored by visual cultural anthropology, present major translation problems. These are generally linked to adaptation to the target audience (puns, humorous scenes, phraseological units, etc.).

 In a world where the machine translation system is based on an artificial neural network, is human translation still considered a sufficient condition for a translated text to produce meaning? What does the future hold for semiotic, literary, cultural and anthropological translation in the age of the digital revolution ?  

 The proposed communications can be inscribed in one  of the following axes :

  • Axis 1: The relationship between translation studies and social and cultural anthropology.
  • Axis 2: Translation as transfer and inter-semiotic and cultural interpretation.
  • Axis 3: Terminology (translation of anthropological, semiotic terms, among others), collocation, and metaphorization.
  • Axis 4: Automatic translation in the era of artificial intelligence and its relation to human translation.
  • Axis 5: Audio-visual translation and ethnolinguistic diversity,  diatopic variation …


  • Institut Supérieur des Arts et Métiers de Tataouine (ISAMT.)
    Tataouine, Tunisia (3200)


  • Sunday, October 20, 2024


  • Traduction, anthropologie, sémiologie, sociolinguistique

Information source

  • Riadh BEN ACHOUR
    courriel : ilariadh [at] yahoo [dot] fr


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« Translation and Anthropology », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Friday, June 28, 2024, https://doi.org/10.58079/11wd5

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