The role of translation in shaping media and political discourses in times of conflict : the Syrian "Spring" in context

Ayasrah, Bilal Mohammad Farhan (2015) The role of translation in shaping media and political discourses in times of conflict : the Syrian "Spring" in context. Doctoral thesis, London Metropolitan University.


This study is a predominantly qualitative, target-oriented, descriptive and explanatory investigation. It tackles a critical translational issue that has increasingly drawn much research interest over the last couple of decades or so: Translation and Conflict. Generally, it explores the role of translation in shaping media and political discourses in times of conflict within the context of the startlingly unfurling events in Syria. Specifically, it traces the translators‘ normative behaviour and looks into their ideological intervention together with its potential distortion of the ST intended message.

The study generally pertains to the realm of Critical Text Linguistics (CTL) and is located within a translational context. It considers "language as a form of social practice", (Fairclough 1989: 20) and "social behaviour", (Halliday 1978: 12-13) that cannot be studied in isolation from its socio-cultural and contextual considerations. Therefore, the analysis of the phenomenon under observation operates on three main fronts; the Faircloughian Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA), the Hallidayan Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) and the Touryean Descriptive Translation Studies (DTS) at whose heart the Theory of Norms and Comparative Model lie. These hybridised frameworks of analysis provide insights on how to detect and explain shifts which accumulate as a consequence of preferences opted for by the translators or dictated/exerted upon them by other pressures in argumentative type of texts within politically sensitive contexts and ideologically laden situations.

To this effect, the study selects Arabic texts translated from English and chosen according to a well-devised set of criteria that are both text attribute and corpus attribute. The selected texts represent newspaper opinion articles and indiscriminately reflect both voices of the conflicting rivals: pro- and anti-government. With a view to systematically identifying, describing and interpreting regular potential recurrences (reiterations) that may instantiate bias, it develops an empirical method of analysis that consists of a number of pragma-linguistic categories. Analyses are carried out in five main steps: external (context); internal (content); shifts observation (identification); comparison (the what?) and description (the how?). Conclusions of the analysed data (the why/the what not?) - with the "what-else" left for the readership- are critically interpreted in an attempt to demystify the translators‘ practice and delve deep down into its root causes with special consideration of the cross-linguistic and cross-cultural discrepancies that feature English and Arabic which are linguistically and culturally distant.

It has been found that wartime translators tend to manipulate the ST message and sabotage its content in various ways and on different levels. In other words, they tend to manage it syntactically and lexically to serve pre-planned rhetorical purposes and pursue unacknowledged agendas in response to their own in-built belief system (ideology), readers' expectations and their world thoughts, or under the pressure of their commissioner. The study reveals (and emphasises) that translators, who are found vulnerable to ideological intervention, should be fully cautious (and honest) when approaching ideologically-motivated texts in order to avoid emotional engagement or ideological intervention whether this translational attitude feeds into their own belief systems or not, thus maintaining the long-awaited ethical values of the practice.

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