What Technical Communicators can Learn from Translation Moments

Are you a multilingual person who has tried to communicate a certain idea so clearly in your mind, but found yourself fumbling over  the right words  to use? Have you had a word at “the tip of your tongue” but had to resort to other terms to make yourself clear? Maybe you are not multilingual but have  encountered a situation where you struggled to communicate with someone who spoke a different language. You may have had to use several other tools such as hand gestures, pictures, maps, or a dictionary to make yourself understood.

In Laura Gonzales’s book, “Sites of Translation,” she calls moments like the above translation  “instances in time when individuals pause to make a rhetorical decision about how to translate a word or phrase from one named language to another.” The author points out that multilinguals usually cannot rely solely on words to express themselves, and instead use any other modality available as a solution to making themselves clear in a way that does not conform to a standardized language system. One of Gonzales’s goals is to highlight the “highly distributed, embodied, translingual, and multimodal aspects of all communicative practice,” which scholars and professionals usually overlook when analyzing texts. Gonzales talks about the use of translingualism in educational settings, which is a way of communicating across languages in daily interactions using words and semiotic practices to produce meaning. This production involves the communicator’s history, life experiences, and rhetorical abilities that their cultural languaging practice reflects. Gonzales states that the field of rhetoric and composition makes important arguments about language fluidity, reminding us that English, like all languages, is also constantly in translation. She emphasizes that the rhetoric that guides all the decisions above can help expose the contributions of linguistic diversity to the field of writing outside of an educational setting.

The purpose of this book is to present methods for studying language differences at a professional level, how marginalized communities use rhetorical strategy for translation, and how technical communicators can help build frameworks to enact social justice concerning language differences. Gonzales says that “by learning about the translation strategies of multilingual communicators, writers of all backgrounds can intricately see the connections between modalities and rhetoric, using and expanding the strategies to describe how communicators can layer and repurpose meaning across languages and modes simultaneously, for specific rhetorical purposes.” This way, as technical writing professionals, we will consider how multi-modality through translation enables us to remain conscious of the relation between rhetorical purpose and modality in our professional communication.


Sites of Translation: What multilinguals can teach us about digital writing and rhetoric, by Laura Gonzales

Viewpoint Written by Christina Rendon, Texas State University

Viewpoint Edited by Rachel Spradling, Texas State University

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