Cultural perspectives on translation


  • Annie Brisset is Professor at the School of Translation and Interpretation in the Faculty of Arts of the University of Ottawa and the author of A sociocritique of translation (Ann Saddlemyer Prize) and many articles on translation theory and criticism. Founder member and current President of (International Association for Translation and Intercultural Studies, she is also a consultant to UNESCO on translation-related projects and a member of the Royal Society of Canada. Email:


The idea of culture is closely linked to translation, but it has evolved a great deal since translation studies emerged as an autonomous discipline. Initially culture was understood as a monolithic whole, coextensive with the use of a language that was thought to reflect a particular life style and vision of the world. Nevertheless equality between languages in relation to naming reduced the differences between cultures that might have been expected to hinder transfer of the meanings to be expressed. With postcolonialism, this linguistic approach to culture was replaced by an approach incorporating human factors. It became apparent that translation is a fiduciary operation between partners in an often asymmetrical relationship. The critique of translation practices drawing on anthropology revealed the relations of domination between translating and translated cultures. This cultural turn of translation called for an ethics of difference that respects identities. Increasingly translation practices that had been observed in the context of colonialisation, in distant times and cultures, were examined in the proximity of contemporary societies. Translation studies then began borrowing its models from sociology. It focused on agents and institutions and on the interests underlying the flow of translation, both within particular societies and on a global scale. On the edges of this sociography, the sociology of communication makes it possible to reintegrate the discursive components of translation. A number of factors, including new technologies, globalisation, conflicts and migrations, have led the forms and media of intercultural mediation to diversify, requiring new theorisations. Formerly the dominant paradigm, western translation studies is now incorporating insights from other cultures, which entails a revision of its concepts and models.