Concepts of good language and the construction of expert identities in the translation process of academic non-fiction

Anne Kaarina Mäntynen

University of Jyväskylä, Finland


This paper deals with the construction of expert identities in the translation process of academic non-fiction. In Finland, non-fiction is usually considered to be a significant branch of literature in preserving and developing Finnish standard language; it is understood that Finnish can survive as a language of science and knowledge formation only if it is actively used in this function. Thus, translating academic non-fiction is of national importance and it has a prominent position in contemporary language policy. This concept is in line with the international concern for the preservation of minor languages – among which Finnish is regarded.

The focus of this paper is on the process of constructing and negotiating norms concerning good language and style. The data consists of in-process versions of translations of three academic books from different phases of the translation process. The objects of the analysis are the comments and suggestions concerning language and style made on and for the texts during the translation process by translators, editors and academic experts.

The translation process of academic non-fiction involves several experts or expertises, of whom some are involved due to their expertise on the substance, not on language. Nonetheless, some of the comments extend beyond the subject matter to the language and style aspects of the translation. The comments on translations constitute a discourse of language commentary in which expert identities are constructed and negotiated and they overlap. The analysis of the data showed, that the discourse itself is conflictual, and that the identities under construction can be seen as struggling for prominence, for the “right” concept of good language and style. Furthermore, there is no agreement on which of the experts (the translator, the editor or the academic expert) has the expertise in producing good academic non-fiction.

In this paper, it is argued that whereas there is a consensus on the importance of good language and style on the macro context, i.e. Finnish culture, the analysis of data shows that there are different concepts of good language that are dynamic and mutually inconsistent. Furthermore, it is exactly by displaying these concepts that different expert identities are constructed during the translation process.

Session: POSTERS:Focus on language policy, literacy, education, identity
Saturday, April 5, 2008, 13:00-15:45
room: foyer