Flowering tree in the garden of the Summer Palace, Beijing, China

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Flowering tree in the garden of the Summer Palace, Beijing, China

This article was first published as ‘Control in interlingual mediation in practice: Denmark as a case study, in 1985 in Multilingua: Journal of Cross-cultural and Interlanguage Communication Vol. 6. # 2. 169-190.
The actual cases are only relevant in historical contexts, but the principles discussed are interesting.


Every day numerous messages are mediated between languages and cultures by means of translations, interpreting, summaries, etc. In addition to being important linguistic and social acts, all messages mediated by linguistic middlemen also become communication in a cross-cultural framework. Ac­cordingly, we might justifiably expect extensive use of some kind of ‘control’ of the ‘correctness’ of translations, interlingually mediated messages.

The study investigates and describes the types of ‘control’- in the widest sense of the word - of interlingual mediation which are undertaken by senders, by mediators, and by receptors. It is concluded that apart from the EC translation services, such ‘control’ is usually sporadic and confined to special cases in the major social framework of international and cross-cultural communication.

In practice, ‘control’ is the exception rather than the rule. Therefore the most efficient ‘control’ society can undertake vis-à-vis the individual mediator is found at the final exams for future practicioners (translation and inter­preting schools).

Interlingual mediation or transmission (such as translation, interpreting, and summary) is a social act in a cross-cultural framework. In all cases, somebody considers the messages worth mediation. In some language communities the sheer mass of such messages may constitute one of the major forces of language change (Dollerup 1983; Lund 1982: 52-68; Sajavaara et al. 1978). As an important social and linguistic activity, we might logically expect most interlingual mediation to be subjected to control or monitoring.

The present study is a systematic examination of ‘control’ of interlingual messages the way it is exerted in Denmark, and its purpose is primarily to describe the state of affairs. Denmark is convenient as a case study for several reasons: … // 170 …

1. It is a fairly small country with approximately 5.1 million inhabitants, and it is easy to get in touch with people in key positions!

2. There is much interlingual transmission into Danish; and

3. There is a fairly high awareness of foreign influence: foreign language teaching starts in the fifth year at school; approximately forty percent of the popu­lation goes abroad more than five days a year; and the country handles a dis­proportionate one percent of all foreign trade in the world.

The last two points mean that many people recognize the existence of problems in linguistic mediation, and in general, expect a correspondingly high standard in interlingual mediation: Danes are more likely to note errors in linguistic mediation than people in societies with less foreign contact.

In this article, control is defined as any attempt to have a close look at an interlingual message before, during, or after the mediation or transmission it­self. Control may range from a cursory, accidental check to an in-depth scrutiny. It may be informal, or formally institutionalized. It also differs from medium, or ‘channel’, to medium (for example, subtitling of films must be controlled in accordance with other criteria - and often with different methods - than written translation). Control is undertaken to ensure that a specific transmission is acceptable or is improved. It is always conscious and deliberate. It may be a control of the decoding of the source language; a check that the message is essentially the ‘same’ in two languages (content control); or an assessment of the ‘style’ of the message in the target language(stylistic control).

The last type is based on assumptions of what native speakers of a lan­guage accept as authentic, indigenous messages, and as fluency and accuracy in speech and in writing. Yet, it is very important, for it is our only - and fuzzy - criterion for discussing whether mediated languages have been well integrated in the target language or not.

Our point of departure will be a modified model of communication: in the source-language context, a sender formulates a message which, for some reason, is selected for interlingual transmission. Accordingly, the message is mediated, and it may undergo internal control as a part of this mediation pro­cess. The mediation may be followed by external control - the word ‘ex­ternal’ denoting that monitoring takes place after the transmission; it is undertaken by people who know the target language but are not the ultimate receptors. … // 171 …

The major components in this process are shown in Figure 1, in which we indicate: (a) the points where the source-language sender and the target­-language receptor respectively may potentially exert control; (b) a message; and (c) the existence of ‘controllers’ both for internal and external assessment/control, and modification.

Figure 2 is best exemplified by tracing an ideal interlingual mediation from beginning to end: an English bestseller destined for the international market by its author is bought by a Danish publishing house. …// 172 … It is handed over to a reputed translator; the translation is then scrupulously revised by the house editor whose knowledge of English and mastery of Danish is undisputed – a ’mediation process with internal control’. The book is published in Den­mark. On the day of publication, reviews appear in all newspapers; all re­viewers comment on the quality of the translation which they, too, have checked (‘external control’); and satisfied that everything is all right, the Danish reading public flock to buy the book. However, this ideal is far from reality.

In the following discussion of what happens in reality, we shall try to distinguish between the three main components in the interlingual trans­mission: we focus first on control exerted by the sender, then control of the mediation process and eventually on receptor control, although the three inevitably overlap.

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